A judge in Miami ruled this week that Bitcoin is not “real money,” dismissing a case against a man accused of laundering $1,500-worth of the digital currency which he believed was to be used for criminal activity.
Michael Espinoza transferred the Bitcoin to undercover agents posing as criminals, who said they intended to use the funds was to buy stolen credit card numbers.
On Monday, Judge Teresa Mary Pooler agreed with the defense’s argument that Espinoza could not be guilty of money laundering charges because digital currencies do not constitute money under Florida law.
Square Peg in a Round Hole
“This court is not an expert in economics,” said Pooler. “However, it is very clear, even to someone with limited knowledge in the area, that bitcoin has a long way to go before it is equivalent of money.
“The Florida legislature may choose to adopt statutes regulating virtual currency in the future,” she added. “At this time, however, attempting to fit the sale of bitcoin into a statutory scheme regulating money services business is like fitting a square peg in a round hole.
“There is unquestionably no evidence that the defendant did anything wrong, other than sell his Bitcoin to an investigator who wanted to make a case.”
Is Bitcoin Poker Legal in Florida?
Does this mean that Bitcoin online poker operators can operate in Florida with impunity? Well, they’d be wise to be cautious. The Florida ruling is surprising because it flies in the face of federal opinion on the use of digital currency.
The US Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has been particularly active in cracking down on the use of Bitcoin for illegal purposes recently. Meanwhile, the IRS taxes bitcoin, but classifies it as intangible personal property. Since most gaming laws classify gambling as the staking of “something of value,” it probably doesn’t matter whether bitcoin is defined as money or property.
At the state level, while Florida has no regulations whatsoever pertaining to Bitcoin, other states have been more pro-active. New York has introduced a framework of regulation for companies that use Bitcoin, known as BitLicense.
Prosecution in Nevada
Last year, Nevada became the first state to prosecute someone for operating a bitcoin-only poker site. That dubious honor went to poker player and former chairman of the site Seals with Clubs, Bryan Micon. Micon accepted a plea bargain in order to avoid a possible prison sentence of up to ten years. Instead, he received probation and a $20,000 fine.
While many were surprised at Judge Pooler’s decision, there were also many in the bitcoin community, which avidly followed the case, who believe she got it right.
“Florida law enforcement overreached in charging Espinoza as it did,” Charles Evans, associate professor of finance and economics at Barry University, told the Guardian. “This decision will reverberate throughout the country and hopefully cause federal and state prosecutors to think twice before pursuing similar criminal charges.”