Throughout the United States, there are many regions that prohibit all forms of gambling. Others restrict certain forms, like casinos, while permitting race tracks and/or charitable games. The rarest of all is a state that permits the five most popular forms of wagering; casino gambling, tribal casinos, race track betting, state lottery and charitable games, all rolled up into one. That last category is where the state of Iowa falls. But where do the laws of Iowa stand on internet poker games?
Online gambling has been going on since the 1990’s, but the US took a staunch approach to such activities when it passed the UIGEA of 2006 in an attempt to outlaw all forms of wagering over the internet. The effort wasn’t very effective since only financial institutions and operators were threatened with penalty, so Americans were still able to play poker online without much difficulty. Then the Department of Justice made a bold move, shutting down three of the world’s largest online poker sites; PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker.
The DOJ said these sites were in direct violation of the Federal Wire Act of 1961, which prohibited online gambling operations from accepting US customers by way of criminalizing gambling via ‘wire communication’. The indictments were unsealed on April 15, 2011; a date hence forth known as the Black Friday of Online Poker. What happened a few months later was equally shocking when the DOj reversed its stance, saying the Wire Act only applies to sports gambling, thus individual states were awarded the right to create their own laws in regards to online poker and other forms of gambling over the internet. Many citizens of the Hawkeye State have since questioned online poker laws in Iowa.
Legality of Online Poker Iowa
As we’ve already said, Iowa is very open to the concept of legalized gambling. Pari-mutuel wagering was legalized in 1983, followed by the inauguration of a state lottery in 1985 and evolving into riverboat gambling in 1989. Fifteen years later, Iowa continued expanding its gambling industry by giving race tracks the go ahead to offer slot machines and table games, which resulted in racinos across the Hawkeye State.
While gambling makes up a significant portion of Iowa’s taxable revenue, the issue of online poker is still up for debate. There are no laws directly outlawing gambling over the internet, or “online poker” specifically, but there are stipulations that could easily be construed as such. In the following segments, we will dissect the Iowa Code as it pertains to poker and gambling, discuss its meaning and examine any efforts being made to legalize and regulate online poker in Iowa.
Iowa Code – Gambling
The following is a series of experts taken from the Iowa Code, Chapter 725, dealing with gambling and other “vices”.
725.7 GAMING AND BETTING — PENALTY.
1. Except as permitted in chapters 99B and 99D, a person shall not do any of the following:
a. Participate in a game for any sum of money or other property of any value.
b. Make any bet.
c. For a fee, directly or indirectly, give or accept anything of value to be wagered or to be transmitted or delivered for a wager to be placed within or without the state of Iowa.
d. For a fee, deliver anything of value which has been received outside the enclosure of a racetrack licensed under chapter 99D to be placed as wagers in the pari-mutuel pool or other authorized systems of wagering.
e. Engage in bookmaking.
The penalties for a gambling offense are rather verbose, and based solely upon the amount of money involved, so I’ll shorten it for you:
– Under $100
- 1st offense “serious misdemeanor”, 2nd offense “aggravated misdemeanor”, 3rd offense “class D felony”, 4+ offenses “class C felony”.
- 1st offense “aggravated misdemeanor”, 2nd offense “class D felony”, 3+ offenses “class C felony”.
- 1st offense “class D felony”, 2+ offenses “class C felony”.
- All offenses “class C felony”.
725.14 EXCEPTION FOR STATE RACING AND GAMING COMMISSION AND PARI-MUTUEL BETTING.
This chapter does not prohibit the establishment and operation of a state racing and gaming commission and pari-mutuel betting on horse or dog races as provided in chapter 99D.
Game of Skill: means a game whereby the result is determined by the player directing or throwing objects to designated areas or targets, or by maneuvering water or an object into a designated area, or by maneuvering a dragline device to pick up particular items, or by shooting a gun or rifle.
If you’d like to read the Iowa Code in full as it relates to gambling, please use the link provided at the top of this section as there is plenty more literature to be found. We’ve included only those segments that pertain immediately to the question at hand; whether or not online poker is legal in Iowa.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Iowa?
Under ‘Gambling and Betting’, you can clearly see that placing any bet of any kind constitutes gambling. The exception (725.14) is given to state licensed race tracks and gambling facilities operating in accordance with Iowa law. Anything outside that realm is considered illegal gambling. That includes any gamble where “For a profit… give… anything of value to be wagered or to be transmitted or delivered for a wager to be placed within or without the state of Iowa”. In effect, making a deposit and placing a wager with an offshore online poker site could fall directly into the definition of “transmitted or delivered for a wager to be placed”, and “for a profit” would relate to the poker site’s collection of a rake.
I’ve also included Iowa Code, Chapter 99B’s definition of a ‘game of skill’ because there have been plenty of arguments that poker is a game of skill, thus should be excluded from illegal gambling. Unfortunately, the laws are precise enough that poker is not considered a game of skill in Iowa, and any ‘bet’ is still considered gambling, regardless of how much chance or skill is involved.
In the end, we can only conclude that online poker is illegal in Iowa. However, due to the lack of specific literature targeting poker over the internet, we strongly encourage our Iowan readers to consult with their local authorities.
Is Iowa working to regulate online poker?
The governor of Iowa showed his interest in online gambling when he signed a bill initiating a study of the industry in 2011. In January of 2013, Senate Study Bill 1068 was drafted, a bill which would have legalized online poker and other forms of gambling. A previous bill was supported by democrats, but the majority leadership of republicans killed it early on. SSB 1068 remains shelved for the moment, due in part to a lack of residential support. An official poll was issued in February of 2013 that revealed 73% of citizens were against the idea of regulated online gambling in Iowa, with only 24% in favor and the remaining 3% unsure.