Online poker website operator Brent Beckley surrendered to prosecutors and pled guilty to accepting credit cards for player bets, despite a United States ban. Credit card purchases for pet food and fitted sheets led federal investigators to Beckley's collection of front companies. Although Visa and MasterCard statements showed transactions from legitimate-sounding retailers, officials discovered the orders matched deposits and withdrawals from players on Beckley's Absolute Poker website.

According to federal prosecutors, a 2006 law criminalized credit card processing for known gambling operations. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act bypassed arguments about the legality of online wagering by limiting website operators' abilities to accept payment for wagers and rakes. Many of the world's most popular poker websites denied access to American players before the law took effect. Beckley's workaround may have pleased his customers, but prosecutors suggest his plea deal could net him 12 to 18 months in prison.

Surprise DOJ memo backs poker players, lottery operators

However, an attempt to pave the way for new state lottery games could bring legal online poker back to the United States. After lottery officials in New York and Illinois drafted plans to bring small games of chance online, they asked Department of Justice attorneys for guidance on how to operate their plans without violating federal laws. The DOJ responded with a memo stating that the 1961 Wire Act prohibits only sports wagering, not gambling based on small games of chance.

American poker fans have struggled to frame their pastime in terms that can make courts comfortable. Arguments that poker requires skill have led to prosecution under the Wire Act. Framing up a poker match as a small game of chance puts fans at risk of violating state and local laws. The Poker Players Alliance cheered the DOJ ruling in a statement that suggested lottery officials and entrepreneurs could now collaborate on ways to legally accept credit cards for online poker bets.