Legal Online Poker by State and Latest News
Last Updated May 11, 2021
Online Poker has had a turbulent legal history in the United States ever since Planet Poker first went online in 1998. In the beginning, online poker was operating in a legal void. Not only was it the start of online poker, but the internet itself was also a new technology that had yet to spark any legislation.
Online poker quickly exploded into an international phenomenon aided by Chris Moneymaker’s 2002 World Series of Poker win. The aptly-named Moneymaker qualified to the $10,000 buy-in WSOP Main Event for just $80 and turned that into a $2 million payday. Millions of dollars pumped into these sites every day and they started advertising and funding poker shows all over TV. Online poker was everywhere except in the federal law books. Then, in 2006, the first piece of federal legislation related to online poker appeared, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).
I say related because the UIGEA didn’t specifically target poker. It had vague language that left poker in a legal grey area. To be specific, the law barred any US businesses from “knowingly accepting payments in connection with the participation of another person in a bet or wager that involves the use of the Internet and that is unlawful under any federal or state law.”
As you can see, poker is never mentioned and the law doesn’t ban anyone from actually playing or gambling online, it just barred businesses from accepting and receiving payments. Playing poker itself was never legislated on at the federal level and still hasn’t to this day. In lieu of the new legislation, some poker sites like PartyPoker pulled out of the United States. Others, like PokerStars, Full Tilt, Ultimate Bet and others stayed in the US.
But these companies started doing illegal dealings with a bank based out of Utah. This bank started processing gaming transactions but labeled them as other types of transactions. The FBI started investigating and on April 15, 2011, it shut down the sites and issued arrest warrants for a number of executives.
Since then, there’s been no federal regulation of poker. It’s interesting because most senators that voted for the UIGEA didn’t necessarily oppose online poker and had no idea what was in the bill. It was attached as a midnight drop to the Security and Accountability For Every Port Act of 2006. The whole bill passed the House in a rare bipartisan 409-2 and 100-0 in the senate because of the necessity of securing the nation’s ports.
There was no federal appetite, but states started getting the ball rolling. In 2013 Nevada became the first state to implement online poker legislation and New Jersey and Delaware soon followed. With more and more states taking up the issue themselves, and with the 2018 Supreme Court ruling allowing states to allow sports betting, it seems like the matter will be left up to each as to whether to legislate online. One final interesting element is that no state has specifically legislated against online poker
It’s natural for online poker players in America to have questions about the legal considerations that go along with playing real money poker online. Not only do players have to be familiar with federal law as it relates to online poker and other forms of online gambling but also with the gambling law of each individual state in the US.
It’s important to note that no website – no matter how well-researched or informed – can be a substitute for advice from a licensed legal professional. Our sole purpose is to give you, as a poker player, a stronger understanding of the fundamentals of gambling laws in your state.
Below, we’ve assembled a list of all 50 states. Click on any to be taken to an in-depth look at that state’s history, including its attitude toward and laws relevant to the game of poker.
We also have a section relating to current legislation and poker bills on both the state and federal level.
Is Online Poker Legal in My State?
Alabama: It’s certainly not a sweet home for gamblers, who face pretty stiff penalties on both the business and player side of the illegal gambling equation. Few regulated options, and likelihood of regulated online poker in near term is essentially nil.
Alaska: State gambling law does not directly handle gambling conducted online. General attitude toward gambling is restrictive, chances of expansion seem quite low. Poker occupies something of a grey area in Alaska law.
Arizona: A litany of regulated options for playing real-money poker coexists with an aggressive stance toward unregulated gambling in Arizona. Internet gambling is directly addressed in state law. Poker handled directly by statute.
Arkansas: Aggressive approach toward prosecuting illegal gambling is aimed primarily at the individuals or groups who are backing, running or otherwise entangled in the business end of the activity. Opportunities for regulated online gambling seem dim.
California: Lawmakers tried to legalize online poker for more than 10 years before quitting after an especially frustrating 2016 legislative session. Many parties made concessions that made online poker appear possible, but a stalemate over a bad actor clause relating to PokerStars ended all talks.
Colorado: Law is clear regarding poker but less so when it comes to the online version of the game. Could be candidate for regulated online poker but lack of obvious support undermines potential. Very tough on unregulated gambling in general.
Connecticut: Tribal gaming is ruled by the Mohegan and Mashantucket tribes, and they want online poker and table games. Lawmakers have been trying to get it done, but the governor and others are concerned about a now-filed MGM lawsuit over an East Windsor casino.
Delaware: One of only a few states in America to legalize and regulate online gambling, including online poker. The sites launched in 2014. The three horse racing tracks offer online poker, which is connected via a multi-state online poker network with Nevada and New Jersey.
Florida: State frequently mentioned as a possible place where regulated online poker could both come to pass and thrive. Current law does not directly intersect with the issue of gambling that happens online. Regulated choices abound for land-based poker players.
Georgia: A very strict approach to any form of gambling underpins the state law of Georgia. Expansion of gambling on any level – live or online – is unlikely under the current law and political climate.
Hawaii: There is no legal gambling in Hawaii, and the state refuses to consider casinos or any type of online gambling or sports betting. Bills have been proposed and then quickly shut down.
Idaho: Gambling isn’t small potatoes in Idaho, where the law takes an expansive approach to defining illegal gambling. While poker may be a question in some states, Idaho law singles it out as a prohibited form of gambling. Online gambling less clear.
Illinois: After long embracing riverboat gambling, Illinois recently added video gaming terminals to its offerings and then land-based casinos in 2019. While the gambling expansion law was broad, it still did not include online poker and online casino games.
Indiana: The Hoosier State offers an above-average amount of regulated gambling – and as a result, has very strict laws on the books to deal with illegal gambling. Law does specifically address online casinos.
Iowa: A state that has been considering regulated online poker for several years, Iowa takes a middling stance on gambling that takes place in unregulated environments. Penalties for operators can be quite harsh, less so for poker players.
Kansas: Online gambling is not covered directly by state gambling law. While Kansas is home to a wide array of regulated ways to gamble, online gambling does not seem likely to appear on that menu at any point in the near future.
Kentucky: State took a harsh stance on internet gambling in 2008 by seizing more than 140 gambling domains and eventually suing PokerStars for $870 million. PokerStars won the lawsuit in the Court of Appeals but state could take it to Kentucky Supreme Court. Attorney General pushed for legal online poker in 2018 and now-Governor Beshear working to make it happen, along with sports betting.
Louisiana: The state law is complicated by a flawed and incomplete definition of gambling. All parts of the law are subject to interpretation. There was an effort to legalize online poker by voter referendums, but nothing has moved on it since 2018.
Maine: Nothing in state law provides precise guidance on the matter of playing poker online. Other types of poker legal under specific circumstances, but players do not appear to risk arrest regardless of legal status of the game they take part in.
Maryland: One of the more complex webs of state gambling law thanks to additional level of county law with regards to gambling. State has pursued multiple online gambling operators aggressively. Position on players less clear.
Massachusetts: Gambling-friendly state started seriously considering online poker and casino games in 2017, opening first land-based casino in 2018. No serious online gambling bills proposed in 2021 but state remains a strong possibility in coming years.
Michigan: Legislature legalized online poker in 2018 but then-Governor Snyder vetoed it. Similar legislation moved in 2019 with changes ultimately coordinated with now-Governor Whitmer. Online poker and casino games legalized in late 2019 but without interstate network possible for now. Sites likely to launch in early 2021.
Minnesota: Many ways to play poker legally in the state, but also many questions about how the law applies to gambling that takes place online. Law unclear both on the issue of Internet gambling in general and Internet poker specifically.
Mississippi: Law is quite clear on the matter of poker as a form of gambling; poker is included in the statutory definition of the term in Mississippi law. Some past rumblings regarding the regulation of online poker have – to date – amounted to nothing in the way of tangible action.
Missouri: Very severe punishments for all parties involved in illegal gambling. No part of the law mentions online gambling by name, nor have legislators shown interest in clarifying the law regarding online poker or other forms of online betting.
Montana: Big Sky Country is also home to some pretty big penalties for engaging in actions that the state considers to be illegal gambling. Online gambling is directly handled by Montana gambling law. Few poker options.
Nebraska: Online poker seems unlikely in coming years, but Nebraska lawmaker proposed legal live poker in 2021 as a skill game. Law not garnering much support but movement is possible.
Nevada: No surprise that the nation’s gambling capital was the first to offer regulated online poker. However, only one site is available for players in the state. Online casino games are not permitted.
New Hampshire: Poker relegated to legal limbo thanks to vague definition of gambling on New Hampshire’s books. Online gambling exists in similar state by a literal reading of the law, which doesn’t meet the issue directly at any point. Regulation of online possible, but not uniquely likely.
New Jersey: As one of the pioneers of regulated online gaming in the US, New Jersey has seen more than $1B in revenue from those games in the last 5+ years. Success has spurred land-based casinos into profitable territory. Sports betting is now legal in NJ, too.
New Mexico: State does allow some regulated forms of real-money poker, but all unregulated forms are potentially subject to New Mexico’s anti-gambling laws. Online poker players will find no specific mention of their game on the books, but other laws may still apply regardless.
New York: Years of efforts to legalize online poker failed to materialize, with House support not matching that in State Senate. Online poker seemed more unlikely in 2019 but lawmakers introduce bills yearly. May become more of a focus after online sports betting is legalized.
North Carolina: Like its twin to the south, North Carolina takes a dim view of nearly all forms of gambling. Unlike South Carolina, the law in North Carolina offers little risk to players in illegal gambling games. Poker likely, although not definitively, included in statutory definition of gambling.
North Dakota: Online gambling regulation could advance in the state in the short term, but is far from a sure thing. Current gambling laws are quite harsh in theory, and list of permitted gambling outside of directly regulated activities is narrow.
Ohio: As regulated gambling advances in the Buckeye State, so have the chances that online poker will join the list of explicitly endorsed gambling options. Many forms of poker already clearly legal in state, but unregulated forms could run afoul of Ohio law.
Oklahoma: Existing laws aimed at cracking down on sports betting may apply to wagering over the Internet, but that is but one of many conclusions you might reach after reviewing the law regarding gambling in Oklahoma. Chances for regulated online poker in near term are exceedingly slight.
Oregon: State takes rigid approach to gambling that includes a law banning financial activity related to online gambling. Unclear whether poker players are included under the scope of the law. Legal poker available in several land-based formats.
Pennsylvania: Years of consideration finally led to legalizing online poker and casino games, also sports betting, in 2017. Online casinos first launched in mid-2019 and one online poker site (PokerStars) opened in late 2019. Others expected to follow soon.
Rhode Island: Another US state with an excessive amount of vague definitions and statutes regarding gambling. Despite the lack of clarity, punishments for players appear fairly minor. Poker may or may not be treated uniquely from other forms of gambling.
South Carolina: Often employed as a poster child of sorts for the outdated – some would say antiquated – approach of state law toward gambling. Laws are written in such a way as to potentially render playing any game of any sort an illegal act, even if no wagering is involved.
South Dakota: It’s explicitly illegal to operate an online betting website or similar business in South Dakota. What’s less clear is how poker players merely engaging in online poker games fare under South Dakota’s gambling law.
Tennessee: Despite a prohibitionist approach to gambling that is outdone only by Utah and a handful of similar states, Tennessee does not have any law on the books that offers a precise legal status for online gambling.
Texas: The state that lent its name to the most popular form of modern poker has little interest in or legalizing the game. Poker remains technically illegal, both online and live, but poker room operators have found loopholes and opened private poker clubs throughout Texas. Lawmakers have yet to address issues currently in courts’ hands.
Utah: The only state to decide to pass a law essentially forbidding any participation in any sort of federal online gambling network. Few – some would argue no – types of gambling can be conducted legally in Utah.
Vermont: State gambling laws reflect the larger attitude of Vermont toward individual freedoms. While some laws on the books forbid particular acts related to gambling, the charges (and interest in enforcement) appear to be far less intense than the typical state.
Virginia: Virginia has yet to commit to a specific legislative approach to online gambling. Existing laws regarding land-based gambling may apply. Poker players left with something of a mixed bag in Virginia.
Washington State: In theory, the absolute worst state for online poker players as participating in a real-money game online appears to merit a felony charge. Future of online gambling in the state constantly in flux. Multiple regulated options for poker exist.
West Virginia: After expanding land-based gambling with ease, lawmakers finally saw fit in 2019 to legalize online poker and casino games for regulation. Operators are expected to obtain licenses in 2021 and potentially launch their sites in 2022.
Wisconsin: Poker players can legally play real-money poker in a variety of ways. State law lacks absolute clarity regarding the online variant. Overall legal approach to gambling is fairly strict, thanks in part to protections built in for the state-approved gambling outlets.
Wyoming: Few regulated gambling options available except on tribal reservations. Lawmakers considered bills in 2020 for online sports betting and legal games of skill but far to go for expanded poker on any level. We’ll see what happens in 2021.