Legal Online Poker in 2020 - Legislation, Regulation & Reviews
Is online poker legal in the United States?
There is good news for USA players. No federal law specifically prohibits US players from creating online poker accounts and playing for real money online.
State laws are more complicated. Most of them fail to directly address US poker sites at all. Only one – Washington State – explicitly designates online poker as a criminal activity. On the other hand, more states are continuously examining regulating online poker within their borders. As of January 2020, six states have legalized and regulated online poker: Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Michigan.
This website offers an objective, informed guide to all aspects of online poker sites, as well as the broader poker scene in America. We provide information about state and federal laws, all with the goal of keeping all internet poker players – from recreational players to poker pros – informed.
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.
- May 27th, 2020
Remember the Wire Act case? It was kind of a big deal before the coronavirus pandemic flipped everyone’s worlds upside down. The case of the New Hampshire Lottery Commission and NeoPollard Interactive versus United States Attorney General William Barr and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) just inched forward aRead Full
- May 26th, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted many inequities and troubles in today’s world. And as dire situations often do, it inspired many in the poker world to find ways to do something to help. The charity poker events online took shape barely weeks into the stay-at-home orders in the United StatesRead Full
- May 26th, 2020
The World Series of Poker had few choices. When the coronavirus pandemic shut down live tournament options around the world, the company had to cancel numerous tournaments on the WSOP Circuit US-based and international tours. A solution for the US-based tour was fairly simple: Take it online. They announced andRead Full
- May 25th, 2020
The World Poker Tour made some tough decisions in the past few months. The coronavirus pandemic forced WPT executives to cancel or postpone all of the remainder of its Season XVIII events from mid-March onward. For a poker tour that specializes in live tournaments, the shutdowns everywhere from Asia toRead 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 focuses on the most prominent and influential federal laws and proposed legislation that have impacted United States poker sites.
Wire Act – Implications of 2011 and 2018 Decisions
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.
In 2018, the DOJ under the Trump Administration issued a new memorandum to change the application of the Wire Act again. The new interpretation tried to reverse the 2011 decision but merely muddied the waters and created an ambiguous online gaming environment. It put the future of all online lotteries, internet poker, and online casino game industries in jeopardy.
The New Hampshire Lottery Commission and its online platform provider, NeoPollard, sued the US Justice Department and US Attorney General William Barr in 2019 to overturn the most recent Wire Act opinion. The US District Court did just that, but the DOJ and Barr filed an appeal, and the case began 2020 in the First Circuit Court of Appeals. Experts say the case may reach the US Supreme Court.
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.
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.
The fallout from Black Friday left few US-accepted poker sites as options for players in America. Offshore sites gained popularity and remain popular, as only a handful of states have regulated online poker markets – Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and soon West Virginia and Michigan.
For more information about Black Friday and its consequences, visit our US history page.
RAWA – Attempts to Reverse 2011 Wire Act Decision
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.
As mentioned above, the Justice Department did reverse the 2011 Wire Act opinion with the issuance of a new one in November 2018. This happened after Sessions was forced out of his position. The new opinion from the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel took the place of RAWA bills, though it is currently caught up in the federal court system with legal challenges.
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.
The 2018 DOJ memorandum to reverse the 2011 Wire Act decision has the potential to put the above-mentioned states’ online poker and gambling operations in jeopardy, but the issue is tied up in the courts for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, in 2019, West Virginia legalized online poker and casino games early in the year, and Michigan followed in December. That puts the number of states at six, with several more set to debate bills in 2020.
#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 New Jersey law. The following sites and casinos are partnered as of January 2020:
- PokerStars with Resorts Casino
- 888poker with Caesars/WSOP
- PartyPoker with Borgata
- Pala Poker with Borgata but no shared player pools
The 888poker/Caesars/WSOP partnership has been the most lucrative in recent years, likely due to its position as the only poker site in the multi-state network thus far. Its connection to the WSOP poker site in Nevada gives it a leg up on the competition. PokerStars and PartyPoker remain vying for second place, and Pala has yet to truly compete.
New Jersey closed out its 2019 year at an all-time high. Its internet gaming revenue as a whole exceeded $482 million for the year, a 61.6% increase from 2018. The online poker segment has suffered some downswings in recent years, and its 2019 revenue was no different as it was down 2.1% for the year. Even so, online poker contributed nearly $21 million in 2019 to the overall internet gaming revenue numbers.
#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 took much longer than expected to finalize its regulations and issue licenses for online casinos and poker sites, but several sites did obtain licenses with the intention of offering both. Several online casino sites went live in mid-2019, but poker operators remained silent until November neared. At that point, PokerStars announced its plan to launch during the first week of November.
PokerStars, under the US arm of The Stars Group called FOX Bet, along with partner Mount Airy Casino, did launch on November 4 for beta testing. Two days later, the regulator approved the site to go fully live. In the first week of online poker, the sole poker site in the state eclipsed the online poker traffic on all of the New Jersey sites put together. The final 2019 revenue numbers showed that PokerStars generated more than $4.4 million in revenue in less than two months.
No other online poker sites have released word about potential launches in Pennsylvania as of January 2020.
#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 West Virginia State Lottery is in charge of devising the regulations, accepting licensing applications, issuing licenses, and overseeing the new internet gaming industry. By the end of 2019, the lottery’s director and a delegation had traveled to Pennsylvania to discuss online gaming. The West Virginians felt that they were on the right track, that the process could move faster than anticipated. Most anticipate the process in motion in 2020 and the launch of online poker sites in 2021.
#6 – Michigan Finally Legalizes Online Poker in Late 2019
Michigan lawmakers had worked to legalize online poker for several years. Now-former State Senator Mike Kowall started in 2017, and State Representative Brandt Iden joined his efforts. In 2018, the duo made progress by passing their Lawful Internet Gaming Act through the House first and then the Senate late in the year. During the week before Christmas and after a few amendments, the bill passed by a wide margin and went to then-Governor Rick Snyder for his signature. He vetoed it on December 28, 2018.
Several months into 2019, and after Kowall retired, Iden partnered with State Senator Curtis Hertel Jr. to introduce another set of Lawful Internet Gaming Act bills. It soon became apparent that new Governor Gretchen Whitmer had concerns about online gambling taking money away from land-based gambling revenues that benefited Michigan students. Iden rebuffed a counterproposal from Whitmer for internet gambling options, and a standstill ensued.
In December 2019, however, Hertel stepped in. He was able to work with another lawmaker representing Whitmer’s views to work out a compromise-laden bill to amend the original one. That bill sailed through the legislature with the promise of the governor’s signature, and she did sign the bill on December 20.
While Michigan online poker sites may not launch until 2021, the state did become the sixth to legalize online poker in the US.
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 gambling laws do authorize interstate agreements, but since there is only one online poker site live at the beginning of 2020 – along with a handful of online casinos – there is little incentive to engage in talks with the other states to authorize interstate liquidity yet. If more poker sites launch in 2020, talks will likely ensue, which could add Pennsylvania to the multi-state network by the end of 2020.
West Virginia is likely to want interstate online poker sharing after its sites launch in 2021. Michigan will be a different story, however, because one of the compromises to pass the bill was to remove the ability to share games across state lines. The governor did not want large online slot jackpots. Online poker supporters in the legislature will likely try to convince her and others of the necessity for online poker sharing to increase revenue in the long run. This is another issue that might be addressed later in 2020 but more likely in 2021 after some poker sites go live.
Which States Are Most Likely to Legalize USA Online Poker in 2020?
Kentucky is one of the most likely states to legalize online poker in 2020. While long regarded as one of the least likely because of an ongoing lawsuit against PokerStars that stemmed from a 2008 seizure of more than 140 online gaming and poker domains. Then-Governor Steve Beshear led the fight against online gaming and aggressively sued PokerStars for offering online poker to Kentuckians after the passage of the UIGEA in 2006.
The first court ruled in favor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky for $870 million, but the Kentucky Court of Appeals overturned that ruling and nullified the judgment. So, when Andy Beshear, Steve’s son, was the state’s attorney general in 2018 and appealed to lawmakers to legalize casinos, sports betting, and online poker, many were skeptical. But AG Beshear not only pushed that idea further, he went on in 2019 to win the governorship with legal online poker and expanded gambling as a part of his campaign platform. Before 2019 even ended, Kentucky State Representative Adam Koenig had pre-filed a new bill to legalize online poker, sports betting, and fantasy sports in 2020. The bill is already making progress in the first few weeks of January.
Connecticut is a state with two primary tribes – Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans – that operate casinos and have long been in favor of online gambling. Their support for the issue helped spur on a new bill in early 2019 for online poker and casino games, but many lawmakers were too uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the topic. Several legal battles over casino rights – especially the one started by MGM Resorts and involving the gaming tribes – threaten to keep online gambling bills from being introduced in 2020. But if the lawsuit can be settled in the coming months, look for a new bill in Connecticut.
New York has been a heartbreaker for online poker supporters over the past several years. Several lawmakers have championed legislation in the Senate only to find excuses in the House. The lack of effort to push bills in 2019 led many to believe there would be nothing in 2020, but there are bills. State Senator Joe Addabbo introduced a bill in the first days of 2020, and Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow did offer a companion bill. Whether there will be any movement in 2020 is anyone’s guess, but New York remains on the list of possibilities for legal online poker.
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.
The US internet poker market is trending positive but at a slow pace and with hurdles along the way. The 2018 Wire Act decision by the US Department of Justice to overturn the 2011 opinion is not likely to succeed, but the eventual outcome cannot truly be predicted. The lawsuit by the New Hampshire Lottery Commission first resulted in a positive ruling from the US District Court, which set the DOJ memo aside. But the case is now in the appeals process and could go all the way to the US Supreme Court. A final decision could take years from this point.
Now that the US market includes six states with legal online poker, other states are more likely to do the same. The revenue results in states like New Jersey and now Pennsylvania are significant. And as more states connect online poker players via the multi-state network, the industry has even greater potential.
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 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.
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.