Legal New Jersey Online Poker
New Jersey is a certified poker destination for players not only from the East Coast, but from across the US and around the world. While it may lack a bit of the glitz of Las Vegas, New Jersey remains a significant part of the poker universe.
Online poker has also caught on in the Garden State, so it’s not surprising that we consistently receive questions from our members in New Jersey concerning how poker works online, the process for signing up, which poker sites are in NJ and the legal issues involved in online poker.
Those are all questions we’ll address here in one place with our Guide to New Jersey and Online Poker.
Overview of New Jersey Gambling From 2013 – 2018
No US state has had more changes to its gambling laws than New Jersey in the past four years. New Jersey had its rollout for online casinos and poker sites. The state also has been in a multi-year legal struggle with the major American sports leagues and courts in an attempt to legalize sports betting.
In other news, New Jersey became the only state since Black Friday to offer PokerStars a gaming license. Several bills were passed to help Atlantic City avoid bankruptcy or otherwise help the casino industry there. And a lobbying group continues to fight for the approval of land-based casinos in the northern reaches of the state, near New York City, to which Atlantic City enthusiasts are directly opposed.
I’ll cover each of those happenings below, each in their turn.
The Road to Regulation
In November 2013, the rollout for licensed and regulated online gambling in New Jersey happened. Eventually, five different partnerships emerged, with a number of ancillary companies involved. The five partnerships currently are: Borgata and PartyPoker, Golden Nugget and Betfair, Tropicana and Virgin Casino, Caesars Interactive and 888 Holdings, and Resorts Digital Gaming and PokerStars. It was not always that cut-and-dried, and more companies eventually joined the fray.
A month prior to the rollout on November 21, 2013, the Division of Gaming Enforcement suspended the review of PokerStars’ license application. This did not mean it was rejected — just suspended. PokerStars was left in a legal limbo, which lasted until October 2015, because of its role in the Black Friday scandal of 2011. PokerStars executives were indicted by the US Justice Department, so the DGE did not want to license the company.
In August 2014, Amaya Gaming Inc. out of Montreal, Quebec, bought Rational Group, which owned PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker. Amaya CEO David Baazov campaigned for more than a year to get PokerStars licensed in New Jersey. Ironically, Baazov eventually was indicted in an insider trading scandal in Canada, and he ultimately quit the company entirely, and Rafi Ashkenazi took over as Amaya’s CEO.
While the US poker community awaited PokerStars’ re-entry into the United States gaming market, Borgata emerged as the leader in the online casino market. Caesars Interactive’s various websites combined to make Caesars the number two operator. Tropicana and Golden Nugget were fairly even in the third and fouth spots, while Resorts Casino waited (and waited) for PokerStars to be licensed. About six months before that happened, Resorts Casino entered a partnership with NYX Gaming, which was 10% owned by Amaya.
PokerStars finally won its license from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement in September 2015, and the company launched its online poker and casino games sites on March 16, 2016. Initially, PokerStars became the largest online poker site in New Jersey, but traffic soon evened out and put all of the sites on a very competitive level.
As of August 2017, the market had peaked and started losing ground over the previous year, despite new companies entering the market like Pala Poker. Though Pala was still gaining its footing in 2017, PokerStars and the WSOP-888 shared network were neck-and-neck for the leadership position in New Jersey online poker, with PartyPoker-Borgata trailing behind by about 10%. New Jersey online gambling on the whole remained very lucrative, however. The industry surpassed $100 million in tax revenue in January 2017, and online gambling became an integral part of the overall gambling numbers for New Jersey each month, with online gambling often showing so much profit as to keep the land-based casino revenue from dipping into negative territory.
Improving the Numbers at New Jersey Poker Sites
The initial numbers in the online casino and poker market were disappointing, especially at first. The geolocation software did not work properly, so many gamblers on the borders of New Jersey could not play because their devices showed they were in Pennsylvania or New York State. Also, credit card payments were often declined. Visa payments only succeeded about 43% of the time, while MasterCard payments worked about 70% of the time. This caused significant confusion and frustration with new registrants, helping to slow down signups.
However, as the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement and the online gaming operators found their footing and improved technology to fix problems, the industry began to thrive. Geolocation was working nearly perfectly, and responsible gaming measures worked so well that there wasn’t one single case of underage gambling in the first four years and counting. Payment processing improved quickly, and the initial problems fell by the wayside.
Gov. Chris Christie once predicted New Jersey online gambling would generate $1 billion a year. It turned out it was more like $120 million a year to start. Online casinos did better than online card rooms, with the iCasinos making perhaps 60% to 65% of the revenues.
By the halfway mark of 2017, online gaming was on the rise for New Jersey. The June revenue numbers alone showed $20.2 million from internet gaming for that month alone, an increase of 23.4% over June 2016. And for the first six months of 2017, internet gaming was up 28.1% over the same period in 2016. Online poker was showing signs of struggle, as it dipped 8.4% in June 2017 year-on-year, but still delivered $12.5 million in revenue for the first six months. Other casino games brought in $108.8 million to date in 2017, putting the total for online gambling at nearly $121.5 million. Top ↑
Is Betting on Sports Legal in New Jersey?
In another attempt to help Atlantic City, the leaders of New Jersey have attempted the past five years to promote legal sports betting in the state. In 2011, the people of New Jersey voted in a referendum that would allow licensed and regulated sportsbooks in the state. That led to attempts in 2012 to legalize and regulate sportsbooks in the casinos and racetracks of New Jersey.
When it appeared this might happen, a coalition of the American sports associations filed a joint lawsuit against New Jersey. The group of associations included the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), and National College Athletics Association (NCAA). They argued that New Jersey was violating the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992.
The PASPA law was pushed by the NFL in 1992 because they wanted to ban sports betting at the federal level in all 50 states. Nevada had been operating sportsbooks for year, so they lobbied Congress to avoid having their money-generating bookmakers outlawed. The sports leagues argued successfully that sports betting would undermine their sports, so Congress made a compromise. Those states with legal sports betting would be grandfathered in to the law. This ended up being four states: Nevada, Oregon, Montana, and Delaware. The latter three states had sports lotteries — less than full sportsbooks — but their forms of gambling were protected in those states.
New Jersey was given one year to legalize sportsbooks, but the New Jersey state legislature failed to do so. At the time, New Jersey’s leaders did not see the urgency. New Jersey lost its monopoly and its casino industry collapsed. Sports betting would give the industry an advantage over nearby rivals. So, it attempted to legalize sports betting. So far, that has been unsuccessful.
The Lawsuits That Followed
The case went to the court of U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp in Trenton, who ruled in favor of the sports leagues. New Jersey appealed to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, which confirmed Shipp’s ruling. New Jersey appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.
Taking the advice of the Third Court of Appeals, New Jersey’s lawmakers struck down the state law regulating sportsbooks. Instead, the state would choose not to enforce sports betting laws, providing de facto legalization by choosing not to regulate the industry. Monmouth Park, a racetrack in North Jersey, planned with William Hill to open a sportsbook in October 2014.
After numerous rounds with appeals courts, which ruled against New Jersey on numerous occasions, the US Supreme Court agreed in June 2017 to hear the case. The key argument in the case will likely be the states’ rights issue, which should grant New Jersey the ultimate right to legalize sports betting for its residents. Official arguments will begin in October, and a final decision from the Supreme Court is expected in early 2018. Top ↑
PILOT Bill for Atlantic City Casinos
In 2015, a PILOT bill was passed to help Atlantic City standardize their annual tax burden. PILOT stands for “Payment in Lieu of Taxes”, and it set the tax rate for the combined Atlantic City casinos at $120 million a year for the next 15 years. The idea was to avoid costly annual legal battles the state of New Jersey and the AC casinos have over tax rates. Each year, the state assesses taxes, only to have the casinos file tax appeals. The lawyers win, but both sides waste a lot of money on legal fees.
The bill gives casino operators a chance to project costs years in advance, which is a help itself. The PILOT bill could spell trouble for the future, though. If the North Jersey casino referendum succeeds, the fixed PILOT payments might require a heavier tax burden than otherwise would have happened, as Atlantic City revenues dipped. Also, if one or more Atlantic City casinos closed their doors, it would push more of a burden on the remaining casinos. At the same time, if new casinos appeared in Atlantic City (such as Revel Casino), the casinos might pay a smaller percentage in taxes than they had figured.
The 2014 Atlantic City Casino Closures
Since it was mentioned, I’ll quickly discuss the wave of casino closures in Atlantic City in 2014. To begin 2014, the city had 12 brick-and-mortar casinos. Almost immediately, the Atlantic Club closed its doors. The closure actually was brought about by Caesars Entertainment and Tropicana Casino, which partnered to buy the Atlantic Club in a bankruptcy option, then close their former competitor. Caesars Entertainment received Atlantic Club’s player database, while Tropicana received the casino’s gaming equipment at a discount.
In August and September of 2014, the real disaster hit the Boardwalk’s casino industry. Caesars Entertainment decided to close the Showboat in late August. The Showboat was profitable, but Caesars wanted to consolidate its customer base in its remaining three AC casinos: Caesar’s Atlantic City, Bally’s, and Harrah’s. Caesars has $23 billion in debt, so the Showboat’s closure is a sign of the financial trouble the biggest domestic casino company in the US has.
On September 16, the Trump Plaza closed its doors. Trump Plaza had been in enough disrepair that Donald Trump wanted his name taken off the property in August 2014, fearing it would tarnish his image. At the time, there were rumors that Trump Taj Mahal would close. Top ↑
Trump Taj Mahal Bankruptcy
The Trump Taj Mahal entered bankruptcy in October 2014. At the time, Carl Icahn was the biggest creditor of Trump Entertainment Resorts, which owns the Trump Taj Mahal. Icahn was owed $290 million and he was clearly in a position to take control of the Taj. In October 2014, the famed activist investor and Tropicana Casino owner filed a motion to have the Tropicana’s worker’s union, the Local 54 of Unite-HERE, lose its health and pension benefits. A judge ruled in Icahn’s favor.
Meanwhile, Carl Icahn was taking control the Trump Taj Mahal in the bankruptcy process. In December 2014, he loaned an additional $20 million to the Taj in order to keep it afloat through much of 2015. In the early months of 2015, Icahn cemented his control of the casino. Donald Trump and his daughter, Ivanka, praised Icahn as a family friend who would turn the casino around. The damage had been done, however, and the casino finally closed its doors for good in October 2016.
Revel Casino Bankruptcy
Revel Casino closed on September 2. Revel Casino had trouble before its doors opened in April 2012. The Revel building is the most expensive skyscraper in Atlantic City history. The $2.4 billion building was conceived as a Vegas-style integrated casino-resort. Morgan Stanley pulled out of construction, walking away from a $900 million investment. Revel Casino was envisioned before the Global Recession and the global financial institution realized it was a bad idea to open such a grand casino in the prevailing economic climate of 2012.
Revel Entertainment Group opened anyway, on April 2, 2012. The casino was in business for 29 months, undergoing two bankruptcies along the way. Its most famous contribution to American culture during its time in operation was to be the setting of the Ray Rice elevator altercation with his then-fiancé, Janay Palmer. Videos of Rice knocking out Palmer in the Revel Casino’s elevator caused a national outrage. Meanwhile, Revel Casino was failing. The company underwent a second bankruptcy in June 2014. After no bidders emerged, in September 2014, it closed its doors.
In October 2014, two bids were entered in a bankruptcy auction for the Revel Building. One was Brookfield USA Holdings LLC, a Canadian developer with global interests. The other was Polo North, a Florida development company (and country club) owned by Glenn Straub. Brookfield Management won the bankruptcy option, with a bid of $110 million against Polo North’s $93 million bid. Brookfield Management could not renegotiate energy prices with the building’s supplier, ACR Energy Partners, which charged $3 million a month for electricity. Citing an inability to make a profit at that price, Brookfield pulled out of the process in December 2014.
Revel Casino is still not opened. Glenn Straub, the irascible owner of Polo North, has been mired in lawsuits with Revel’s tenants and with ACR Energy. After months of legal squabbles, Straub eventually bought out ACR Energy for $30 million, so he now controls energy supply to his casino, for what would have been 10 months of electricity. After numerous feuds with the Division of Gaming Enforcement and potential investors, Revel was sold to Polo North Country Club in April 2015 for $82 million. Action has since been underway to reopen the property as a resort with a small casino under the new name TEN. Top ↑
MGM Resorts Returns
Borgata Casino is now fully owned by MGM Resorts, which had been barred from New Jersey gaming for five years. In the interim, Borgata was owned by Boyd Gaming. Borgata is the most profitable casino in Atlantic City, generating almost half of the city’s gaming revenues. Some believe MGM Resorts’ return is well-timed to collect a North Jersey casino license.
The North Jersey Casino Referendum
The biggest issue facing New Jersey gambling in 2016 was the North Jersey casino referendum. The issue of whether to build two casinos in the northern end of New Jersey was going to be on the November ballot. Over the years, the states of Pennsylvania and New York had built a significant number of casinos. Also, New York has approved video lottery terminals (VLTs), while Pennsylvania placed slot machines in their racetracks.
With nearer gaming opportunities, Pennsylvanians and New Yorkers have stayed home to gamble. Atlantic City’s gaming revenues have dwindled from $5.4 billion in 2006 to less than $2.4 billion in 2016. Faced with the saturation and localization of casino gambling, many New Jersey leaders want to build casinos in North Jersey. The voters, however, decided against it. In November 2016, the New Jersey casino expansion amendment was soundly defeated with more than 77% of the citizenry voting against it.
The Changing Gambling Landscape
As readers can see, New Jersey has an evolving gambling industry. Atlantic City might not be the bastion of casino gambling it had been in the Garden State. Sports betting might become legal, while online gambling should continue to expand. Whatever the case, New Jersey is inexorably tied to gambling and should for decades to come.
Daily Fantasy Sports in New Jersey
State Senator Jim Whelan, a Democrat from Atlantic City, sponsored a daily fantasy sports bill on March 7, 2016. The bill would regulate the DFS industry in New Jersey, taxing sites like DraftKings and FanDuel at a 9.25% tax rate. That is the same rate that Atlantic City casinos pay on their revenues, and slightly under the national average for the nascent daily fantasy sports industry. The bill passed several committees but failed to garner the momentum necessary to pass into law.
Whelan and several cosponsors introduced a new bill in 2017 with the same purpose, and the bill handily passed the House by a vote of 56-15. The bill then passed the Senate at the end of June by 29-6. However, Governor Chris Christie has yet to sign it. The state regulator is treating the game as if it is legal, and Resorts launched FastPick, the first daily fantasy sports platform of its kind in New Jersey. While the finality of the bill remains in limbo, most in the state are moving forward as if DFS is legal.
Which Are the Best Poker Sites for NJ Players?
When you start out with online poker, it’s tempting to just sign up at the first room you come across. After all, who wants to go to all of the trouble of comparing room after room when you just want to play poker?
That’s why we’ve simplified the process with this list of the top New Jersey online poker sites. All of the sites on our list receive the highest ratings for operating safely, rewarding players generously and maintaining software that provides a smooth, safe online poker experience. Ignition Poker is our number one online poker site, but there are many other poker rooms to choose from. Top ↑
Watch our poker news section for daily updates on regulation and other important topics for US online poker players.
What About Playing Poker Online?
Unlike neighboring state New York, poker players in New Jersey aren’t restricted from signing up at most online poker rooms. The rule of thumb for New Jersey online poker players: if a site accepts US players, then you can be pretty confident New Jersey residents will also be allowed to create an account.
Is Online Poker Legal in New Jersey?
Two things we always have to get out of the way before talking about online poker and the law. The first is that this page does not offer legal advice, and you should not treat it as any sort of substitute for legal advice. The second is that knowing your state law is always a good idea, so we strongly suggest you bookmark the New Jersey State Statutes online .
Our purpose with this section is to bring some of the crucial elements of New Jersey gambling law to your attention. Hopefully with this quick foundation, you’ll have a much easier time digesting state law than you would otherwise have. Top ↑
Under New Jersey law it’s explicitly illegal to make just about any bet or wager:
“All wagers, bets or stakes made to depend upon any race or game, or upon any gaming by lot or chance, or upon any lot, chance, casualty or unknown or contingent event, shall be unlawful” (Section 2A:40-1).
The law offers a supplemental (and very standard) definition of gambling:
“staking or risking something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under the actor’s control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that he will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome” (Section 2C:37-1).
Just like Nevada, the overwhelming focus of gambling law in New Jersey is on the operator, not the player. Players do not face a specific criminal charge for simply participating in illegal gambling activity, although the line between a player and an operator can begin to blur very quickly. For example, telling a friend about an illegal poker game or offering to step in as dealer could move you from the “player” column to the “promoting gambling” column under New Jersey law.
“Promoting gambling” (2C:37-2) is a charge with a broad scope. It includes participating in the “proceeds” of gambling activity as well as conduct that “materially aids any form of gambling activity.” Depending on the size of the illegal gambling operation, punishment can run from a citation to several years in jail.
What constitutes material aid? Section 2C:37-2(a(2)) makes it clear that just about anything could potentially fall under this term, which
“includes but is not limited to conduct directed toward the creation or establishment of the particular game, contest, scheme, device or activity involved, toward the acquisition or maintenance of premises, paraphernalia, equipment or apparatus thereof, toward the solicitation or inducement of persons to participate therein, toward the actual conduct of the playing phases thereof, toward the arrangement of any of its financial or recording phases, or toward any other phase of its operation.”
New Jersey Gambling Facts
Many assume that the story of gambling in New Jersey begins and ends with Atlantic City, but there’s a longer tale behind the casinos on the boardwalk, which have only been open since 1978. Over a century before an Atlantic City casino took its first bet, New Jersey residents were risking their paychecks on horse races at Monmouth Park. That industry was shut down by the law at the turn of the century, and regulated gambling didn’t return in earnest until 1970 when the state approved a lottery. Top ↑
Current Regulated Gambling Options in New Jersey
Today that lottery sits aside one of the largest collections of commercial casinos found anywhere on the globe. Atlantic City made it an even dozen in 2012 with the opening of Revel. Outside of Atlantic City you’ll find other regulated gaming activity like pari-mutuel wagering at tracks and OTBs, charitable gambling events and social gambling (as permitted within the law).
Current Regulated Online Gambling Options in New Jersey
Online gambling, including poker and casino games, was legalized by the state legislature in February 2013, and Governor Chris Christie subsequently signed it into law. The industry will initially be allowed to run for a ten-year period for evaluation, as the land-based Atlantic City casinos partner with various online gambling operators to grow the new industry. Players are required to be located within the state’s borders, which is tracked by geolocation systems developed for New Jersey online gambling. The first online casinos virtually opened in November 2013 for a soft launch, and all operators were approved to move forward. Nearly four years into the “experiment,” all parties involved agree that the industry is growing and increasingly successful.
New Jersey Gambling Research
CityofAtlanticCity.org . The official website of the city provides information about the casinos that drive Atlantic City, along with a detailed picture of the region beyond the casinos.
Division of Gaming Enforcement . Complete set of resources regarding land-based casino gambling in new Jersey. Financial records, self-exclusion information, game testing and all other relevant information can be found at the DGE’s homepage.
GamblingAndTheLaw.com . Site of gambling law expert I Nelson Rose, who frequently writes about New Jersey’s push into online gambling and sports betting.
New Jersey’s Place in Poker History
While Las Vegas may be the ultimate poker destination, Atlantic City is arguably just as iconic for a certain generation of poker players. It is, of course, the casinos of Atlantic City – not Vegas – that provided the backdrop for Rounders, what many consider the definitive modern poker movie.
New Jersey is also the original home of the man many consider to be the absolute best in the game: Phil Ivey And the 2017 World Series of Poker Main Event champion, Scott Blumstein, hails from New Jersey and credited the new online poker industry with much of his knowledge of the game. His play on the legal internet poker sites in New Jersey led to his WSOP victory worth $8.15 million. Top ↑
Sources & Citations For This Article on New Jersey Online Poker
- New Jersey Legislature
- Trouble in Atlantic City - Barrons.com
- City of Atlantic City
- State of New Jersey
- New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement
- Office of New Jersey Attorney General – Internet Gaming
- National Council on Problem Gambling (New Jersey)
- Official State Website
- Laws/Code of New Jersey
- New Jersey Legal Guide
- New Jersey Casino Control Commission