Gambling: am I liable for minor son's online losses?

I recently discovered my 17-year-old son has been playing poker online for real money. Isn't that illegal? And who is liable for his losses?

The legality of online poker for any age person is becoming a much more common question, according to Brian Weber, an attorney with Johns, Flaherty & Collins.

"If you research this issue on the Internet, you will find a lot of debate over the answer," he said. "However, in Wisconsin, local district attorneys and the state attorney general's office have concluded that playing poker online is just as illegal - a misdemeanor under Wisconsin Statute - as it would be if a bet is made in person."

In terms of liability, there is no "line of credit" or debt that accumulates because an individual has to deposit money in an online account to play poker online. "If the losses were from funds that were sent by check or an automatic deposit from a bank account, your son would be responsible," Weber said.

While it may be possible to make a claim that those losses should be returned since your son was not of legal age to enter into a contract to play poker, it would be very difficult to pursue for a variety of reasons. "If the losses were on credit card transactions, you may be able to contest those charges based on your son not having the authority to make those charges," he said. "However, this is unlikely because most credit card companies do not accept charges from Internet gambling sites."

The bottom line is that anyone who places a bet in Wisconsin, whether in person or online, is guilty of a misdemeanor. "The liability for losses is a more complicated issue which should be discussed in more detail with a knowledgeable attorney," Weber said.

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