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We wish we had a simple answer. The legality of anteing up on the Internet is a complex matter with multiple offshoots, and pertinent legislation is evolving, not locked in stone. The issue of jurisdiction alone - federal versus state versus international law - is only one of several thorny issues that have legal pundits and politicians scratching their heads and burning the midnight oil. In the United States, even Native American rights are in contention.

For example: Do tribes presently owning land casinos offering poker have the right to branch out into cyberspace? And will poker, already defined by many state and national governments to be a game of skill and not one of random chance, be treated differently under possible new Internet regulations as well?

The legality of online poker is a gauntlet of sticky wickets, and you must be prepared to run that gauntlet if you want complete clarity about your rights. That said, let's venture into the briar patch and sort a few things out.

Remember prohibition, or at least movies about it? Were the Feds after the local good ole' boys nipping a bit of the local moonshine, or were They after the guys who brewed it and distributed it? In other words, are you planning to launch a Web site offering cash poker games or merely planning to one?

As this site goes to press, we know of no instance where anyone in the United States has been arrested, let alone prosecuted, for playing poker online. That doesn't mean it couldn't happen tomorrow. But law enforcement logistics preclude a scenario of Keystone Cops taking you away in handcuffs as you're bellied up to the computer playing hold'em in your PJs.

Visualize this lead to a story in your local newspaper: "Caught Dead to Rights With a Mound of Virtual Chips, Joe Aceright was arrested in Plainville late last night for the crime of playing Internet poker on his PC."

Sound absurd? We think it is. The journalistic record tells us we're on the right track. Policemen are already overwhelmed by thieves, murderers, rapists, and other assorted thugs - not to mention international terrorists. Given a choice, the average policeman will be in hot pursuit of the "usual suspects" rather than John Q. Citizen betting his flush online.

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