The ruling by U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein in New York was the first time a federal court took up poker's status directly, even though the game is, by and large, considered as a game of chance covered by gambling laws, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Weinstein ruled Tuesday that a New York electronics dealer didn't break federal gambling laws by operating Texas Hold 'Em poker games from his warehouse because poker isn't "predominated by chance," a common legal definition of gambling, the Journal said.
Companies such as Zynga, Caesars Entertainment Corp. and Internet poker giant PokerStars consider online poker a potentially lucrative revenue stream.
Weinstein's decision won't flood the Internet with poker operations because they may be prohibited by other federal and state laws, the Journal said.
Weinstein's ruling isn't binding outside of his judicial district and is subject to appeal.
Still, the ruling chips away at the tools the federal government uses to curb online poker, gambling law and industry experts said. Last year, the government said it wouldn't use the Federal Wire Act, which prohibits the operation of certain types of betting businesses in the United States, to prosecute online gambling companies other than sports-betting Web sites.
William Muller, executive assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said the Justice Department was reviewing the decision and "considering our options."
Backers of online poker said they hope the ruling will spur lawmakers and the courts to open the country to online poker, the Journal said. Some countries, such as Britain, have a legal regulatory framework in place.
Nevada his year began licensing companies to run online poker games within its borders.