Can I Go to Jail for Online Gambling?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on June 03, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Yes. Probably not. Maybe. Odds aren't good. In your case? Who knows? I'd say there's a 50-50 chance. Wanna bet?

As with most legal questions, whether you'll do hard time for playing a little online poker or daily fantasy sports will depend on a variety of factors, not the least of which is what state you live. Here's a quick look at federal and state online gambling laws, as well as which bets are (legally) safe to place.

Federal Table Stakes

The federal government has the first crack at regulating online gambling and in 2006 Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which outlawed "staking or risking ... something of value upon the outcome of a contest of others, a sporting event, or a game subject to chance, upon an agreement or understanding that the person or another person will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome." This is the law that was used against the sports gambling site Bodog and online poker sites PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker.

However, under UIGEA it's still legal to wager in online contests that have "an outcome that reflects the relative knowledge of the participants, or their skill at physical reaction or physical manipulation (but not chance), and, in the case of a fantasy or simulation sports game, has an outcome that is determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of sporting events." Many daily fantasy sports websites have seized upon this language to avoid federal scrutiny.

Violating UIGEA, however, can get you jail time -- up to five years worth under the statute.

The State of Gaming

With limited federal oversight, many states have banned daily fantasy sites like DraftKings and FanDuel while others have embraced and regulated daily fantasy. That's because state gambling and gaming laws can vary significantly.

While sportsbooks are cool in Nevada and a few other states, and some states are cool with dog racing while others prohibit it, placing bets online becomes a different scenario. To date, federal and state authorities have not aggressively pursued individual online gamblers, choosing instead to go after gambling sites and online operations instead. But that may not always be the case.

If you've been charged with gambling online, or want to confirm if a gambling website is legit, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney for the best answers.

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