Legal Online Poker in 2019 - Legislation, Regulation & Reviews
Is online poker legal in the United States?
For USA players, the good news is that there is no federal law prohibiting US players from creating online poker accounts and playing for real money online. When it comes to state laws, the picture is much cloudier. Many American states have outdated gambling laws that fail to directly address US poker sites. A few have updated laws to address online gambling and/or poker in general, but just one state – Washington – explicitly makes playing online poker a crime. Conversely, four states have legalized online poker – Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania – and all but Nevada also allow internet casino games in addition to poker.
Our site offers an objective, informed guide to every aspect of online poker sites for players who are serious about playing Internet poker from the United States in the safest, easiest, and most secure way possible.
Stay current with the gambling laws and news within your state here. Our gambling news section covers all aspects of US online poker news including laws and regulations, revenue, internet and brick-and-mortar establishments, and more. To understand the full picture of online poker in the US, it is important to stay informed about all of the laws related to American poker and gambling, even some pertinent happenings overseas as well.
- November 20th, 2019
His nickname was Gentleman John Gale for a reason. Nearly everyone who met Gale at or around the poker tables found him to be a gentleman. He was kind to all, generous with his time and attention, respectful of other players, passionate about poker, and a genuinely lovely human being.Read Full
- November 19th, 2019
Season XVIII of the World Poker Tour kicked off in late July and runs through the spring of 2020. The last tournament on the schedule is WPT Choctaw in mid-May, but there will likely be some season-ending events that have yet to be announced. The first event on the mainRead Full
- November 18th, 2019
The World Series of Poker isn’t just a summer series anymore. In addition to the primary WSOP in Las Vegas each summer, there is a WSOP Europe, along with a WSOP Circuit series that runs from July/August to May/June. The WSOP Circuit has grown so much in the past fewRead Full
- November 16th, 2019
The latest edition of a Poker Central high-stakes poker tournament series is complete. Ten players walked away with Poker Masters tournament titles for winning individual events, all of which played out at the ARIA on the Las Vegas Strip. One of those players, Sam Soverel, not only won the PokerRead Full
Even the best United States poker sites & online gambling sites aren’t equal when it comes to compatibility. Some sites only offer a Windows version of their software, while others are compatible with Macs and mobile devices. Use the links below to read about compatibility with your Mac, Android, or even tablets and Windows devices. Each review covers how to play on your device or setup, how to play for real money, and which poker or gambling sites support your operating system.
- iPhone / iPad Poker AppsPlaying poker on an iPad or iPhone is easy when you know which poker site offers real-money iPad poker games. Our Apple page covers US poker sites compatible with the iPhone and iPad, as well as the steps necessary to play real-money poker on your Apple devices.
- Android Poker AppsSimilar to our iPad page, our Android review covers real-money Android poker sites as well as online casinos. You should be able to find everything you need in this review, including which poker sites have Android apps, how to play for real money, and the specs required to play poker on an Android smartphone or tablet.
- Mac Poker SitesDo you own a Mac? If so, you should have no problems playing poker in the United States. Our Mac review lists the best Mac poker sites for USA players. All of the poker sites featured on our Mac page offer a native download, and some even include special bonuses available only to players that join from our legal poker site
- Linux Online PokerLinux poker players aren’t as lucky as Windows or Mac players as far as options for legal poker sites. Our Linux review covers everything you need to know about playing poker in the US on a Linux. This includes the available options to play poker on a Linux system, how to perform a dual boot, and how to use and/or install Wine and the no-download Flash options.
Online poker in the United States is a topic that generates lots of information, much of it conflicting but all that can be broken down by state, as we have here.
As mentioned, legal United States online poker is not a black and white situation. Adding to the complexity of the issue are new forms of US online poker sites, such as subscription-based poker rooms that defy classification under traditional US gambling laws.
Many of these new formats, along with challenges to decades-old gambling laws, are being tested in courts across the United States and reexamined by legislators on a state-by-state level to keep up with technology, stay competitive with other states, and generate additional revenue.
While there may be always be some confusion regarding US law as it applies to the best US poker sites thanks to the bedevilling nature of the topic itself, one thing is definitely clear: Almost everyone from the United States has a variety of legal ways to play USA online poker.
As for the options for USA poker players, we have listed the following poker rooms as the best US online poker sites servicing the US market;
Our top ranked poker sites are legitimate, safe, secure and reliable. To gain a better understanding of the state of USA online poker, we have compiled all of the relevant information pertaining to online and live poker laws, the status of the US online poker market as a whole, some happenings around the world that may affect American players, and the potential for the game’s future.
The US Poker Laws at the Federal Level
The United States has been involved in gambling laws since lotteries were prevalent among early settlers and when New Orleans became the gambling center of the country in the mid-1800s. It wasn’t until the 1900s that states began to legalize bingo for charitable purposes, and Nevada led the way to broader legalized gambling in the 1930s.
This section lists pieces of legislation that have had the biggest impact on United States poker sites including;
- The Federal Wire Act
- What is the Unlawful Gaming Enforcement Act?
- The Indictments of 2011 that Caused Black Friday
- The Restoration of America’s Wire Act
Wire Act – How the Wire Act Impacts Poker Deposits
The Federal Wire Act, also known as the Interstate Wire Act of 1961, was the first major law enacted to specifically address sports betting and wagering across state lines using wire communication. It was originally enacted to stop the spread of gambling by organized crime syndicates, and it served its purpose until online gambling became a factor and challenged the applicability of the law to betting over a wireless internet. And eventually, a request by New York and Illinois put the Wire Act up for reconsideration, as the states wanted to use the internet to sell lottery tickets via out-of-state transaction processors.
In 2011, the US Department of Justice rendered a legal opinion changing the scope of the Wire Act. The conclusion noted that “interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a ‘sporting event or contest’ fall outside the reach of the Wire Act.” This decision changed the Wire Act to pertain only to sporting events, not other forms of gambling like lotteries or online poker. It gave every state the right to choose how to regulate and legalize online gambling, with the exception of sports betting, should they so choose.
UIGEA – What Did It Do?
Several years prior to the DOJ decision, the US government passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, also known as UIGEA. It was attached to a must-pass piece of legislation in 2006, the SAFE Port Act, by Republican Representatives Jim Leach and Robert Goodlatte, who previously authored a similar bill. They attached anti-online gambling language to the SAFE Port Act, and fellow Senators Bill Frist and Jon Kyl pushed the bill through the Senate. With port security as an important issue, the bill passed, and President George W. Bush signed it into law.
Essentially, the UIGEA prohibited gambling companies from accepting or initiating “restricted transactions” in the form of internet wagering. Financial institutions were then required to block such transactions pertaining to wagering on any “game subject to chance,” which was written to include online poker and casino games. Players were not to be prosecuted under the law.
Congressman Barney Frank introduced the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act in 2009 in an attempt to counter the UIGEA and provide for regulations instead of prohibition of online gambling, but the bill failed to garner the necessary support for a vote.
Is Online Poker Legal in the USA?
That question is complicated, so our answer is long and complex. In short, the answer is “yes” and “no”. The United States is a patchwork of jurisdictions, so online poker is legal and regulated online in some states. In most US states, online poker is unregulated and exists in a legal gray area. In a couple of states, playing poker at offshore sites is strictly illegal. In some, deposit bonuses are illegal. Meanwhile, the federal government is trying to ban online poker throughout the 50 states, while a few state attorney generals are fighting back with lawsuits against the US Justice Department.
That’s the short of it. The United States has dual sovereignty between the state and federal governments, so neither state or federal laws entirely have primacy over the others.
Black Friday and the Chaos that Ensued
The UIGEA was used by the US Department of Justice to indict owners of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, and UltimateBet online poker sites. On April 15, 2011, the domains of those sites were seized by the DOJ, all funds were frozen, and indictments were served. That day became known as Black Friday, when several of the world’s largest USA online poker sites were forced out of the US poker market. Executives of each company were indicted, with all eventually settling on plea agreements or short prison sentences except former PokerStars owner Isai Scheinberg, who has yet to surrender to US authorities to face charges.
All companies but PokerStars folded and left players without any access to their online funds. PokerStars worked quickly to come to an agreement with the US government to pay millions of dollars in fines, and those funds were eventually used to repay the victims of the other online poker sites.
Over the course of nearly three years, a total of $114.5 million was paid to 45,180 former Full Tilt players, and that process concluded at the end of 2016. In 2017 alone, former UB and AP players were contacted for reimbursement opportunities, and by the end of November, approximately 12,000 players were paid a cumulative total of $37.5 million.
Few US accepted poker sites remain options for players located in the United States. Several offshore websites do accept players from all states, while some exclude only the states with regulated markets like Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, and now Pennsylvania. These sites offer online poker cash games and tournaments to players around the world and accept new accounts and real-money play from customers based in the US.
For more information about Black Friday and its consequences, visit our US history page.
RAWA – Attempts to Reverse Black Friday
The Restoration of America’s Wire Act, also known as RAWA, was an attempt to reverse the 2011 DOJ decision regarding online gambling as restricted by the Wire Act. Several members of Congress have introduced this bill or similar versions of it since 2014 in the hopes of restoring the original meaning of the Wire Act and banning online gambling on the state and federal level. All attempts through 2017 by Senators like Lindsey Graham and Diane Feinstein and Representatives like Jason Chaffetz and Charlie Dent have been unsuccessful.
Billionaire casino mogul and owner of Las Vegas Sands Corporation has been a staunch opponent of online gambling and launched the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling in early 2014 as a lobbying group to push for the passage of RAWA. All efforts to date have been thwarted, including one most recently when newly-appointed US Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced to recuse himself from issues related to the Wire Act and online gambling because of his ties to Adelson.
Which States Have Legalized Online Poker in USA?
Since the 2011 DOJ decision clarifying the 1961 Wire Act, states had the authority to legalize and regulate online poker and casino games as desired. This led to several states choosing to do so several years ago, with Pennsylvania following along in 2018 as the fourth state.
As of the end of 2018, the list of regulated states includes; Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. From those states all but Nevada are offering online casino games. Numerous other states have considered legislation, with some bills making significant progress in 2018, but they will continue to debate legalized online poker in 2019 and beyond.
#1 – 1st State to Legalize Poker – Nevada
As the first state to legalize online poker, Nevada continued with its tradition as a trailblazer in the world of gambling. The law became official in February 2013, though the Nevada Gaming Commission began drafting regulations in December 2011, just one month after the DOJ decision regarding the Wire Act.
Ultimate Gaming was the first company to launch online poker for residents of Nevada in April 2013 via a partnership with Station Casinos. WSOP launched its online poker site in September 2013 in conjunction with Caesars casinos. South Point then launched its own site, Real Gaming, in February 2014 but never gained any traction or enough players to be a viable competitor. Ultimate Poker then left the market in November 2014, with WSOP the only internet poker site continuing to operate today.
Revenue numbers and statistics are not available for much of Nevada’s online poker history because regulations stipulate that there are not enough sites in operation to warrant the distribution of that information.
#2 – Delaware Legalized Poker in 2013
Legislators in Delaware were quick to jump into the online gaming fray and legalized online poker and casino games in June 2013. The Delaware Lottery dictated regulations, and online casino games launched in October 2013, with internet poker close behind in early November 2013.
All three of the state’s racinos – Delaware Park, Harrington Raceway, and Dover Downs – share an online poker network powered by 888poker. Revenue for the online poker sites started with $348K in the first full year of 2014, increased to $392K in 2015 after joining forces with Nevada in an interstate shared online poker partnership, and slowed somewhat in 2016 with revenue of nearly $376K.
#3 – New Jersey Launched its First Poker Site in 2013
New Jersey was the first state of the initial three to consider online gambling, as its legislature passed a bill to legalize internet poker and casino games in January 2011, even before the DOJ’s Wire Act decision, but Governor Chris Christie vetoed it. His concerns were addressed in a new bill that passed overwhelmingly by the legislature in February 2013, and Christie signed it. The industry was authorized to operate for a 10-year period, at which point it will be examined for a possible (and likely) extension.
The online gaming sites launched in November 2013, and a brief testing period led to open sites for all people within the borders of New Jersey. Ultimate Gaming and Betfair were two of the original sites that failed to prosper enough to continue doing business, but 888poker and WSOP merged their sites to compete with Borgata/PartyPoker. PokerStars eventually earned a license and launched its site in September 2015, and Pala Poker followed in 2017.
All online sites are partnered with land-based casinos in Atlantic City, as required by the law. For instance, PokerStars partnered with Morris Bailey’s Resorts Casino and is the number one poker site in New Jersey. Caesars owns the WSOP.com website, but 888poker provides the poker client for the site. PartyPoker works with Borgata, which has the number two card room in the state. Golden Nugget Atlantic City and NYX Gaming partnered on the number one online casino, but Golden Nugget still hasn’t launched an online card room.
Tropicana Atlantic City, which is owned by Eldorado Resorts, also never launched an iPoker site. The Tropicana online casino and its sister site, VirginCasino.com, use Gamesys software (an offer IGT, WMS, and NetEnt games). Since Eldorado Resorts merged with Caesars Entertainment in June 2019, Tropicana might one day use 888 software for a poker site.
The main reason competitors don’t launch online poker rooms is the dominance of PokerStars. Here’s a video of PokerStars New Jersey’s poker room as of June 2019.
For all online poker and casino games, gross gaming revenue has steadily increased each year since the industry began in New Jersey. The first full-year results for 2014 showed $122.9 million in revenue, which increased 21% to $148.9 million in 2015 and another 32% to $196.7 million in 2016. The final numbers for 2018 far exceed earlier years – the 2018 revenues reached $298.1 million.
#4 – Pennsylvania Finally Regulates Poker in 2017
After several years of states unable to pass online gaming legislation despite significant efforts, Pennsylvania accomplished the feat in late 2017. The legislature passed a comprehensive gambling expansion package in October that included the legalization of online poker and casino games, and Governor Tom Wolf signed it into law in the first week of November. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board will devise all regulations and open the licensing process, most likely at the start of 2018, and the first online gaming sites are expected to launch for real-money play by the summer months of 2018.
#5 – West Virginia Joins the Party in 2019
In late March of 2019, West Virginia officially passed a law to legalize and regulate online gaming, which will include online poker. West Virginia is a relatively small market with an estimated population of just under two million people but it could be a significant market of it’s allowed to share player pools with other states. The new will go into effect mid-2019 and there’s hope that some of the first online poker sites will launch before the end of the year.
What is Interstate Online Poker Sharing and How Does it Work?
The first interstate online poker agreement was signed by the governors of Nevada and Delaware in February 2014, but it took until March 2015 to launch the combined 888/WSOP online poker sites due to the technical complications of linking only poker games and restricting Delaware’s online casino games to Delaware residents only. This allowed more liquidity across the two different time zones three hours apart, and for a larger overall player pool that can offer larger tournament guarantees and more cash game options.
New Jersey finally got in on the interstate liquidity in October 2017 when Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey, Brian Sandoval of Nevada, and John Carney of Delaware signed an agreement. Online poker players will be able to share games across all three state lines, and online casinos will be able to share slot jackpots on progressive games. At the point of the announcement, the only site operating in all three states was 888/WSOP, but more USA online poker operators may investigate possibilities in Nevada in order to compete via the interstate network. The three-state liquidity will likely launch sometime in 2018.
Pennsylvania’s online gaming bill authorized interstate agreements, but the state has yet to participate in active discussions with the others. This is likely to take place in 2018 to broaden revenue possibilities.
Which States Are Most Likely to Legalize USA Online Poker in 2019?
During the second half of 2018, two states remain in contention to legalize and regulate online poker this year. Illinois is conducting hearings to discuss expanding gambling for the state, and the current proposal includes online poker and casino games, as well as sports betting and horse racing betting, and daily fantasy sports (DFS). Michigan has bills open in the House and Senate, though the House proposal (HB.4926) from Rep. Brandt Iden passed in June by a 68-40 vote. There is time during the fall session to pass the bill in the House before the end of the year.
Should Illinois and Michigan fail to pass their online gaming proposals in 2018, they will be top contenders to reintroduce those bills or draft new ones that are very likely to pass in 2019. Lawmakers in both states have worked tirelessly with all special interests to bring bills to the floor that satisfy all parties that would be affected by legalized online gaming.
Massachusetts has an open bill that was proposed by Eileen Donoghue early in 2018. The bill was transformed into a study bill that was authorized to research the financial viability and potential benefits of online gaming. It is unclear as to when the study will be completed, but this bill could see action in late 2018 or early 2019.
In 2019, New York should also be a key player in the movement to legalize online poker. However, Senator John Bonacic is retiring in 2018, and he was the prime proponent of legalized online gaming for his state’s land-based casinos, having passed several bills through the Senate. Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow remains in power, and though he has mostly supported the same measures, he was never able to secure a vote from his fellow legislators. New York casinos do want the additional revenue, though, so it is likely that bills will be introduced with a solid chance to pass.
California failed to pass online poker bills for more than a decade but came closest in 2016 with many compromises. A new set of lawmakers mixed with a two-year hiatus from online poker discussions may prompt a bill to move forward again in 2019 if all parties are prepared to try again.
Several states gave more serious consideration to online poker legislation in 2018 than in past years and have more incentive to pass a bill in 2019. These states include Connecticut, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and West Virginia. If voters in Florida win the right to make their own decisions about gambling in the state via the mid-term elections in November 2018, there may be an opportunity to open Florida to online poker. Maryland may also propose a bill, and the state of Washington may make another attempt, though previous ones have not gained any traction.
Less likely states but ones that it is too early to count out for 2019 include Mississippi, Ohio, and Indiana.
How Is Live Poker Regulated in the United States?
The poker industry in live settings, such as cardrooms and brick-and-mortar casinos, is thriving in the United States and legal in many of them. Commercial gambling is legal in 23 states as of the end of 2018, tribal gaming in 29 states, and charitable gambling in all but four states (Utah, Hawaii, South Dakota, and Tennessee).
Many states struggle with various issues related to online poker sites, however, such as whether it is a game of skill or chance and if collecting rake is subsequent to illegal gambling. But the ever-growing popularity of poker and the increasing awareness of its skill factors have led some states to consider legislation to legalize playing poker online. States like Washington and Texas are among those struggling with those issues and if established cardrooms are legal or should be legal.
This site is dedicated primarily to USA online poker, but some live poker issues can impact the online scene. In those cases, we do cover news relating to this topic and we also provide poker reviews of various card rooms where poker is legal.
What Does the Future Hold for US Online Poker Players?
The most popular US poker sites may never again see the level of popularity they did during the poker boom in the early and mid-2000s. The combination of a global online poker market, the effect of Chris Moneymaker winning the World Series of Poker Main Event from a discounted online satellite tournament, and a game that was exploring its potential created the perfect storm. The growth of the top online poker rooms from 2003 to 2008 was unprecedented.
From the moment the UIGEA passed in the United States in 2006, the future of the Texas Hold’em game became uncertain. PartyPoker immediately left the US market, and 888poker left soon after. The years that followed saw other operators grow warier of the risks involved. The major operators that did not leave – PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, and UltimateBet – were the focus of the Black Friday indictments in 2011.
At the same time, countries around the world segregated their markets, ousting international operators in favor of the few that paid licensing fees and taxes to operate legally in those countries. France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal were the largest countries to regulate legal online poker and gaming in this manner, while other countries like Germany and Slovenia continue to struggle with the intricacies and complications of instituting licensing regimes. The United Kingdom regulated its market but allowed licensees to maintain dot-com business at the same time. Countries in South America, Asia, Europe, and the Americas are in various stages of a similar process.
As for the US internet poker market, its future is unclear as many factors may influence its direction. The federal government is unlikely to legalize and regulate poker websites, though that would be the most favorable scenario for American players. But if attempts to pass RAWA are successful in banning online poker and other internet gambling, it would not only take rights away from the states to make their own decisions but would result in states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania taking their cases to court to keep their online gambling rights intact. The ensuing court battle could take years to settle and leave states that are considering the legalization of the games without any motivation to do so. Thus far, however, advocates for bills like RAWA and the overturning of the 2011 Wire Act decision have failed.
The state of US politics is somewhat convoluted in 2019 and is on track to remain somewhat chaotic throughout 2019, though it is very likely that more states will join Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania in legalizing online poker. This means the likelihood of Congress or the Department of Justice taking any action on a topic like online gambling is unlikely in the foreseeable future. Sheldon Adelson will undoubtedly continue to wield his influence in the form of campaign contributions and political donations to members of Congress in the hopes of one of them sneaking an online gambling ban into a piece of must-pass legislation, similar to the way the UIGEA was passed in 2006. However, the scrutiny on governmental actions by the American media is likely to detect any such efforts, and groups that support states’ rights and internet freedom will create sound an alarm to stop those actions.
If the US government refrains from enacting laws in favor of or opposed to online gaming and leaves the Wire Act interpretation as it currently stands, more states will likely join the four that have legalized online poker and/or casino games. In this case, it is highly likely that a minimum of one or two states will join Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania in 2019. As the interstate network takes shape, this will also become a motivating factor for legislators to support the industry, which will create jobs for their states in addition to an additional revenue stream.
Organizations in Support of Playing Poker Online
Poker Players Alliance
The primary lobbying group for the game of poker in the US is the Poker Players Alliance (PPA). The non-profit organization was formed in 2005 in response to threats to ban online poker in the US, and it quickly grew to a membership or more than one million poker fans, players, and supporters. While the nuances of the PPA’s efforts have shifted slightly over the years to accommodate the needs of the industry.
The primary goal of the PPA is to legalize Internet poker sites where it’s not legal and protect it from prohibition-type bans and laws elsewhere. The group has also helped in some states and legal matters in which live poker games were in jeopardy, and it has recently begun to advocate for online gaming, as it includes online poker and often requires the addition of online casino games to make it viable and profitable for casinos, lawmakers, and other interested parties.
iDevelopment and Economic Association
The iDevelopment and Economic Association, better known as iDEA, is a recent addition to the online gaming landscape. It is dedicated to expanding online interactive entertainment, along with the accompanying job growth and business development, through advocacy and education. The organization is based in and focused on the US market.
Some of the members of iDEA include Stars Group (PokerStars), Golden Nugget, Paddy Power Betfair, GVC Holdings (PartyPoker), Pala Interactive, Paysafe Group, and Ifrah Law. In its first few months, the collective released an economic impact report based on New Jersey internet gaming, and it regularly lobbies federal legislators and power brokers in the world of gaming.
Most Frequently Asked Questions & Answers
The world of online poker can be complicated. Nearly every country around the world views online poker through a different legal lens, and those views have been changing quite frequently in the past decade. It can be difficult for the most seasoned gaming attorneys to track, so players cannot be expected to keep up with all of the changes.
Online poker is varied enough as it is. There are many decisions when choosing a US poker site online and figuring out how financial transactions and bonuses work. We have a page to answer those questions and give some tips on how to navigate the internet poker sphere.
This page is more specific. These are questions we receive quite often about legal online poker for United States players. The complications within the US market alone are difficult to follow, so we put together some of the most frequently asked questions and provided answers.
Is Zynga Poker legal in the US? If so, how is it different from sites like PokerStars, 888poker, and PartyPoker that had to withdraw from most American states?
Zynga Poker is a poker app that is available on mobile devices and through Facebook. It is classified as a social poker game because players do not deposit real money for poker action. They play for virtual chips, which are allocated to players at no cost. This makes it different from real-money sites like PokerStars, 888poker, and PartyPoker, all dot-com sites that function on poker for money.
Players can buy chips on Zynga Poker. However, they are not necessary to play. Those who lose all of their play-money tokens and want to keep playing without waiting for more free tokens can pay a small fee to obtain more chips. Even so, they are not competing for real money and cannot win cash prizes.
Social games are falling under more scrutiny for the in-game chip purchases. In the state of Washington, for example, some social games have been the subject of recent lawsuits. A recent ruling that virtual chips were, in fact, “something of value” under Washington’s state laws has prompted more lawsuits, and many free-play sites – even PokerStars-dot-net – have left the market to ensure compliance with the current interpretation of that state’s strict laws.
Are sites like Americas Cardroom legal in the United States?
This remains a gray area of US law. Americas Cardroom and other similar US sites have continued to operate in the American market in the years since Black Friday, and the US government has not taken any action thus far against those operators.
For the most part, sites that are based outside of the United States offer poker to customers in states without specific laws in place addressing internet gambling. For a state like Kentucky, which has proven hostile to all types of online gambling by previously seizing domains and fighting intense legal battles against companies like PokerStars, players may not have many choices for online poker whatsoever. Offshore operators also tend to avoid states like New Jersey, which has a strictly regulated market that requires sites to be licensed to offer games like online poker.
How do online poker sites gain legal status in the US?
The United States as a whole does not have a federal regulatory system for internet gaming or poker. And a 2011 ruling by the US Department of Justice regarding the Wire Act put the ultimate decision for legalization and regulation to each individual state.
Legal online poker means something different to the four states that have legalized it thus far. Nevada will not accept license applications from companies like PokerStars that operated in the US after 2006, while New Jersey and Pennsylvania have no such stipulation. Most states with legal online poker require the poker operators to partner with a land-based casino operation in order to obtain licensing. Each state has its own set of laws and regulations.
A poker site that wants to be legal in the US must check with individual states and interpret their laws and regulations per legal advice.
Can poker players legally participate in backing or staking in the US?
Yes. There are no laws that question the legality of a player supporting another in poker, whether in cash games or tournaments.
There was a recent case with a poker staking site called YouStake that illustrates the point. For quite some time, the owners of the site were forced to stop accepting business from players seeking backers or those wanting to support other players, all due to an investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The investigation went on for some time, questioning the legality of its business model, but there were never any charges filed or conclusions reached. Finally, YouStake filed a lawsuit against the SEC demanding charges be filed or the investigation be dropped. The SEC subsequently ended its investigation, finding no legal fault with YouStake’s business.
The site – and many others like it – are now operating without any legal worries.
Will online poker ever reach its former level of popularity, like during the poker boom?
The poker boom was a time when online poker thrived in nearly every country in the world, and it translated into record numbers of players entering the game on every level. Whether live or online, poker was at peak popularity. It all ended when various countries began to regulate the industry within their borders, and the United States destroyed it all when it indicted the heads of the top poker sites in the world on Black Friday in 2011.
It is tough to foresee a situation in which US online poker could reach the levels of popularity of the poker boom. Even if the US legalized poker online, players in the US would not be able to share the same tables with those in European countries and many others around the world. India has its own segregated market, China has banned all things poker, and European countries are only now beginning to share their player pools. The entire market has changed in the past decade.
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sometimes rhymes. Attitudes change and gambling has more acceptance now than it ever has. As the American public’s attitudes towards mobile and online poker change, legalization efforts could pick up steam. New ways to play poker legally — such as Global Poker’s “sweeps cash” — should contribute to a new proliferation of legal card sites. Tools like Red Chip Poker make the game more accessible to average players. While another poker boom might not happen, a poker surge is likely in the 2020’s.
What is the legal and corporate status of Full Tilt Poker?
On Black Friday in April 2011, the US Department of Justice revealed indictments for top executives at several USA online poker companies, including Full Tilt Poker. The domain was seized by the DOJ and eventually closed, leaving players without funds while PokerStars paid all players immediately and resumed operations. By September 2011, Full Tilt players remained unpaid, and the DOJ charged company directors with running a Ponzi scheme that paid them hundreds of millions of dollars while leaving no funds to settle player balances.
Some Full Tilt executives, like Chris Ferguson and Howard Lederer, reached deals with the US government, while Ray Bitar was arrested in 2012 and plead guilty to criminal charges. Ultimately, PokerStars worked out an arrangement with the US government to purchase the assets of Full Tilt Poker and repay all of its players as part of its own Black Friday settlement.
The repayment process was finally completed in 2017 after five years of administrative work by the government-appointment claims administrator, Garden City Group. All players with claims to funds that were deemed valid by GCG were paid, which included more than 53,000 claims and more than $118 million in total.
Full Tilt Poker was relaunched by PokerStars – now owned by the Stars Group – and continues to operate as a skin of PokerStars. It shares tables and players with PokerStars in available markets, and all promotions and bonuses are the same as those offered by Stars. Full Tilt is not available to any players in the United States.
How are online poker sites licensed and regulated in Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania?
Legal real-money online poker is available in four states as of mid-2018, and each state has its own unique licensing process. Sites wanting to offer internet poker in any of those states must apply for a license, pay fees, and establish service per the regulations of that state.
Nevada is the only state that has legalized only internet poker. All other states also offer online casino games, like slot play and table games. Nevada is also the strictest with its laws regarding the industry, as it has a “bad actor” clause in place. This means that any poker operator that accepted US customers after the passage of the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) is not eligible to apply for a Nevada online poker license. This includes PokerStars. Other companies that are willing to partner with a land-based casino property in Nevada are welcome to contact the Nevada Gaming Commission to inquire about licensing requirements, fees, and processes.
Delaware regulates its online poker and casino games through the Delaware Lottery. Since the state has only three racinos, all of which are connected, there is only one online poker network in the state, and WSOP/888poker is it. There are no more licenses available for online poker operators at this time.
New Jersey poker sites online are run through the Division of Gaming Enforcement, which offers all pertinent information for operators on its website. PokerStars and others are licensed through the DGE, and all were investigated, approved, and invoiced for the appropriate fees. The regulations are strict in New Jersey, but several poker sites operate there successfully.
Pennsylvania legalized online poker and casino games in 2017, and the initial licensing process is underway in 2018 with an expected launch of the first sites by the end of 2018. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has set the regulatory framework for the industry, and though there are some revisions taking place in 2018, license requirements and other information can be found on the PGCB website.
The basic requirements of all four states are that the poker operators must restrict their customer base to players located within the state’s borders via geolocation technology. “Know your customer” regulations must be followed to ensure customers are of legal age to play while also allowing them to self-exclude from online gambling. Responsible gambling rules are in place for all states, as are parameters pertaining to advertising, marketing, and responsible gaming measures.
What are the biggest challenges faced by US online poker players today?
USA online poker players today face the challenge of choosing the right poker site. In certain states, it means choosing from licensed operators only – only one exists in Nevada – and in others, it requires making choices about which sites are based offshore but are properly regulated and can be trusted.
Recreational players can more easily find online poker sites for US players than semi-pro or professional poker players, as the latter require more buy-in options, tournaments, cash games, and higher limits than many sites today can offer. The key is then to decide if they can continue in an online poker career or adjust their play to incorporate live poker.
Some challenges are universal, such as how much of one’s bankroll to risk at any given time, how to properly manage a bankroll, when to move up in stakes, and how much study is required to continue improving and making more money. Some players also face decisions about finding backers or backing other players.
US players, however, must also decide if available poker sites are enough or if they should consider relocating to another country in order to have more access to online poker. Or if relocation to a different part of the US may be ideal in order to live near more live poker options.
What are the current US laws regarding cryptocurrency like bitcoin for online poker and gaming?
In the United States, the government has yet to regulate the cryptocurrency industry, meaning bitcoin and others like Litecoin are free of any governmental rules or oversight.
Poker players can use cryptocurrency for many online poker rooms based outside of the US that offer services to American players. Sites like Ignition Poker have already implemented new cashier options that allow players to deposit and withdraw via bitcoin and Litecoin, all of which is perfectly legal.
Sites in regulated states like New Jersey have yet to open their player options to cryptocurrency because it is an unregulated form of payment, and there have been no decisions regarding its viability in an online poker market with heavy regulations.
More people are using cryptocurrency like bitcoin around the world, especially for online poker and other internet gaming and e-commerce. Few governments have chosen to regulate the crypto market thus far, meaning there are few regulations, tax hurdles, and legal challenges at this point in time.