Online Poker is Not Illegal: U.S. Courts

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff of New York sentenced convicted felon Anurag Dikshit, the co-founder of, to a meager year of probation and indicated his skepticism about the legal basis for Dikshit’s prosecution. The action follows a string of court cases that paves a legal precedent for the presumption that online gambling is in fact not illegal under any United States federal laws.

Once upon a time, Anurag Dikshit was the wealthiest man in Gibraltar. At 26 years old, he was asked by the founder of PartyGaming to write the program that would allow people worldwide to compete against one another in online games of poker.  In 2006, he was ranked as the 207th richest man in the world by Forbes magazine (by 2009, he was ranked at 701). But it all came crashing down in 2008 when the U.S. Department of Justice began prosecuting operators of online casinos that accepted wagers from American citizens.

In an attempt to buy leniency from the U.S. agency, Dikshit turned himself in, pleaded guilty to the charged of illegal Internet betting, and paid a fine of $300 million to the U.S. authorities. Dikshit’s actions angered many supporters of legal online gambling in the U.S., who have insisted for years that no federal laws prohibit citizens from engaging in online poker.

After several years’ delay, Dikshit finally received his incredibly lenient sentence, which included no jail time (he could have received up to two years in prison). The leniency did not seem to come as a result of Dikshit’s cooperation with U.S. authorities, but rather Judge Rakoff’s question of whether or not the man should have been prosecuted in the first place. According to observers, the hearing highlighted the extreme confusion of how U.S. law applies to online poker.

Judge Rakoff questioned why only Dikshit had been prosecuted, despite his cooperation and the known fact that PartyGaming’s other founders and current shareholders, Russ DeLeon and his wife Ruth Parasol, are currently living in Europe.

“Nobody else has been indicted,” said Judge Rakoff. “It has been two years since this defendant began cooperating, what’s going on?”

The lenient sentence adds to the building legal precedent in the United States that seems to exempt online poker from any of the possible laws banning online wagering. First there was the question of whether or not the 1961 Wire Act applied to online gambling, which U.S. judges and a U.S. district attorney suggested that it does not, as well as whether or not poker is a game of skill, which would exempt the activity from the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). Several cases have been decided in the last two years that set the precedent to consider poker as a game of skill.