Betting in Bama: Is online gambling illegal?

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Alabamians who want to gamble often have to travel out of the state to do it. But a growing number of people are placing bets on their computers, and online gambling is legal in a state where most all gaming is not.

The long-time political, moral and legal battles over bingo and the crackdown on the games in Alabama illustrate the state's strict anti-gambling stance. There has also been anti-gambling sentiment among voters who have rejected a lottery, making Alabama one of only seven states without one. But people can gamble on their computers.

Hartselle resident Herb Tapscott won $264,000 at the World Series of Poker tournament in Las Vegas in June. Tapscott said he keeps his skills sharp playing online for money.

"You just find a website that will take you as players, get in and sign up, and start playing. It's very easy," he said.

The answer to the question as to why online gambling is legal in Alabama lies within jurisdictional enforcement and a recent change in federal policy.

"There's not a law on the books that makes a person sitting on a computer playing poker or anything like that illegal," said Decatur attorney Carl Cole.

Cole said as with immigration, over-the-wire business is Federal jurisdiction. In 2002, the Bush Administration made it illegal for gambling transactions to be done through banks. But that did not make internet gambling itself illegal. Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice cleared up its stance, and that opened a door to legal online gaming.

"They actually issued a ruling earlier this year that says that it's not illegal under the '61 Wire Act for an entity to sell lottery tickets across state lines. That's been widely interpreted to also include online gambling," Cole said.

Proponents of legalizing gambling in Alabama say it is another example of tax revenue raised by Alabamians that does not benefit the state. Electronic bingo gaming at so-called "Indian casinos" is the only form of legal gambling.

"The state loses millions upon millions of dollars by going to its surrounding states," Tapscott said.

"That's a public policy question that a lot of people are going to start asking because there is a push for some states right now to allow more gambling. Even sports gambling," Cole said.

Currently. many online gambling sites are brokered through Native American tribes in Canada. There is a push in Washington, D.C. to open to door to online poker businesses setting within the Unites States.

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