Is Bitcoin Poker Legal?
Bitcoin was unveiled to the world in 2009 by an enigmatic programmer known as Satoshi Nakamoto. Within a year, Nakamoto had disappeared from sight, but his creation would remain and begin an arduous journey to change the face of modern finance.
The individual units of bitcoins serve as virtual currency, with their value fluctuating on a daily basis like paper money (known to Bitcoin users as "fiat currency"). Each financial transaction takes place on a peer-to-peer network, with users known as "bitcoin miners" helping to keep the flow of coins safe and secure.
Online exchanges allow customers to buy and sell bitcoins, and these units of money can also be purchased at a variety of brick-and-mortar convenience stores and retail chains. As the currency has grown in popularity, numerous retailers have jumped on the bandwagon and started accepting the bitcoin in exchange for goods and services.
Bitcoin and Gaming Sites
Perhaps it was inevitable, but the online gambling industry has also taken notice of Bitcoin and its unique status as a potential form of currency. This has led to a number of poker sites and online casinos specifically geared towards Bitcoin, while some existing sites have added it alongside funding options such as credit cards and e-wallet services.
One of the major advantages is the speed with which customers are able to cash out their winnings. A bank transaction can take up to 12 weeks to process, while the average Bitcoin payment is completed in a matter of minutes.
While the U.S. Justice Department has repeatedly declined opportunities to comment on Bitcoin, other industry experts have been less hesitant to share their opinion. According to Jerry Brito, a researcher at George Mason University, "There is no Bitcoin company. There's no Bitcoin building that regulators can get their hands on. It's basically cash."
This sentiment is echoed by Bryan Micon, the representative for a Bitcoin-based poker site known as Seals with Clubs. "We don't have a bank account at Seals with Clubs. There's no bank of any sort that we do. We only do this one weird brand-new Internet protocol transaction that some of the nerds out there are calling money."
The Legality of Bitcoin
According to the official Bitcoin website, the service has not been outlawed by any country. Nations like Thailand have enacted tougher licensing requirements for Bitcoin exchanges, while nations such as Russia have traditionally been less accepting of foreign currency within their borders (both physical and virtual). However, since Bitcoin has yet to be recognized as an official currency in most parts of the world, it continues to slip through the cracks for the time being.
Playing Poker with Bitcoin
If you find yourself in a nation that allows online gambling, you can use Bitcoin without any worries. After all, if the basic game is accepted by the local government, then it doesn't matter if you're wagering with virtual coins, U.S. dollars, or a boxful of toothpicks.
For nations where online gambling is illegal, using Bitcoin doesn't allow one to circumvent the law. That's because the actual act of gambling is what's been deemed illegal, so the type of currency being used is rendered a moot point.
Then there are countries like the United States, where players can legally gamble online but have to worry about banks not accepting their deposits. This is due to the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which prohibits financial institutions from processing transactions involved in illegal virtual gambling.
Fortunately, Bitcoin doesn't deal with banks and credit card companies, so playing poker with Bitcoin may be entirely legal within the United States. The same goes for countries with similar laws, although it's always a good idea to do a bit of research before opening an account at any online gaming site.
The legality of Bitcoin and its corresponding gambling sites have raised numerous questions among industry insiders and observers. Some view it as a legal loophole that sidesteps exiting gambling restrictions in various parts of the world, while others look at the fledgling service as an impending source of endless litigation and headaches. But no matter what side you're on, it's hard to deny Bitcoin's practical appeal and potential game-changing nature.