COMEBACK QUEST: Live Poker Tournaments Begin Returning with Safety Protocols; Challenges Still Ahead
Where is online poker legal in the US?
The following six states have now officially signed legislation to offer legal US online poker:
- New Jersey
- West Virginia (Not live yet)
- Michigan (Not live yet)
As you can see, four currently have open and operating legal online poker sites. And there are some differences between each of the regulated online poker states.
- Nevada only permits online poker.
- New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware also spread casino games banked by the house (More about NJ online casino and Pennsylvania online casinos).
- Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania allow the state’s brick-and-mortar casinos to operate online sites. In Delaware, the state lottery is the sole operator.
- Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have entered into an interstate online poker agreement. If you play in those three states you can compete against each other only on WSOP.com.
Where can I play online poker in the US right now?
NJ online poker
New Jersey is currently home to the most online poker sites. Those sites are spread across four distinct networks and operate through three different licensees. Here are your options:
New Jersey online poker sites
WSOP NJ is the second biggest site after Borgata/partypoker. It used 888 software, but was a standalone room. 888 operated its own platform, but began to share player pools with WSOP.com in January 2015.
PokerStars NJ launched in New Jersey on March 21, 2016.
The site opened at around the same size of WSOP.com and Borgata. Since launch, PokerStars has been the top site in the Garden State for much of its tenure.
In April 2018, New Jersey joined the multi-state compact with Nevada and Delaware. The agreement allows the three states to share their player pools across state lines.
The New Jersey legislature legalized online poker and casino games in the state in December 2012. After some back-and-forth between Gov. Chris Christie and the lawmakers, the governor finally signed the bill into law.
Pennsylvania online poker
Pennsylvania became the fourth state to legalize and regulate online poker and online casino play in the U.S. when Governor Tom Wolf signed bill H 271 on Oct. 30, 2017.
The site is now fully operational with the excellent software, cash games, and tournaments that players have come to expect. PokerStars has promised much more for players in the state and received a nice reception from many in the state.
There are eight casino or operators attempting to launch online poker in Pennsylvania right now. One of them is MGM Resorts, which applied for a license as a qualified gaming entity through its Borgata property in New Jersey.
Pennsylvania casinos which have both applied for and been approved to offer online poker are:
- Mount Airy Casino (now live through its partnership with PokerStars)
- Harrah’s Philadelphia
- Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course
- Parx Casino
- Sands Bethlehem
- SugarHouse Casino
- Valley Forge Casino
Nevada online poker
Nevada was the first state to launch regulated online poker. In December 2011, the Nevada Gaming Control Board adopted regulations pertaining to Nevada online poker sites.
The regulations required affirmation through the Nevada legislature. Nevada lawmakers meet on a biennium. The state passed the regulations governing Nevada online poker in February 2013.
On April 30, 2013, Ultimate Poker launched as the first regulated online poker room in the US. The launch was flawed due to poor software and unproven geolocation services. Ultimate Poker attracted about 300 peak players and the same number of players participated in sit and gos and tournaments.
WSOP.com launched on September 17, 2013. WSOP.com enjoyed massive brand awareness and dominated the market within two months.
Ultimate Poker succumbed to the small intrastate poker player pool in Nevada. It left the Nevada market on November 17, 2014. This leaves only WSOP.com and Real Gaming in the Nevada online poker market.
Technically, there is a second active poker site in Nevada. Real Gaming, backed by South Point Casino, launched in February 2014. However, the site never has gained more than 1 percent of the market at any time. Currently, its influence in the market is small enough that WSOP more or less enjoys a monopoly in the market.
Nevada online poker sites
Delaware online poker
Delaware was the second state to legalize and regulate online gambling. It was legalized through the state legislature in June 2013. Online casino games went live on October 31, 2013. The Delaware online poker network opened on November 8, 2013.
Delaware offers online poker and casino games through its state lottery. Interactive gaming is marketed through its three video lottery racinos.
888 supplies the platform all three sites. The online poker room shares liquidity between all sites. Delaware and Nevada started sharing online poker player pools on March 24, 2015. New Jersey joined the pool in April 2018.
Delaware online poker sites
West Virginia online poker and casino
West Virginia joined the online gambling party on March 27, 2019. Gov. Jim Justice allowed H 2934, the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act, to become law without his signature.
The law allows the five land-based casinos to apply for interactive licenses. Each license initially costs $250,000 and must be renewed for $100,000 every five years. Casinos will pay 15 percent of revenue in taxes.
The five properties which will develop online casino sites in West Virginia are:
- The Casino Club at Greenbrier Resort
- Hollywood Casino Charles Town
- Mardi Gras Casino
- The Mountaineer Hotel, Casino & Resort
- Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack
Legalization is terrific news, but active online gambling in West Virginia is still somewhat in the future. The state’s officials will have to create a set of regulations. The best estimate from various sources is that the first online casino with online poker in West Virginia won’t appear until 2020.
Can I play at a legal online poker site while not in that state?
No. Legal online poker sites use geolocation software to ensure that players are located in the state at the time of action.
This takes into account the IP address of the player, location of a related cell phone, and nearby wireless access points. It is impossible to play at legal online poker sites when located outside state lines.
You do not have to be a resident of that state to play online poker there, however. If you visit any legal US online poker state you can download and create an account from your home state, claim any no deposit poker bonus, make any additional deposits and then play online poker when you arrive as long as you are within state borders.
Why should I choose legal poker sites?
One of the biggest advantages to playing online poker at regulated US sites is that all player funds are just as safe as they would be at a licensed real money online casino in any of those states.
The very same gaming regulations that apply to live and online casinos are also valid for regulated US online poker sites. All deposits are held in separate accounts from cash used for operations.
There are also ample deposit and withdrawal methods that are safe and secure. Legal poker sites in the US accept deposits by:
- Electronic checks
- PayNearMe (7-Eleven)
- Cash at associated casinos in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, etc
How do I withdraw from legal poker sites in the United States?
Legal poker sites pay winnings by:
- Electronic check
- Check by mail
- Bank wire
- Cash at associated casinos in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, etc
Regulated online poker sites also undergo rigorous checks to ensure that games are fair and secure.
When will online poker be legal in my state?
The situation regarding online poker bills is always changing. There are several states that are considering legal online poker currently. They are:
- S 17 would legalize online gambling and sports betting
- H 175 would legalize online poker, sports betting, and daily fantasy sports
- New York
- A 4924 would certify online poker as a game of skill under New York law
- SJR 165 would legalize all forms of online gambling
- HB 2321 seeks to study online gambling expansion of all types
Two more states, Illinois and Massachusetts, are also interested in online poker.
History of legal online poker in the US
Legal US online poker sites debuted on April 30, 2013.
Ultimate Poker was the site that made history. Nevada was the first state to host fully legal online poker. Texas Hold ’em was the only game spread at Ultimate Poker during its first six months in business.
WSOP.com joined the Nevada online poker market on Sept. 17, 2013. The World Series of Poker’s online site brought the first games of Omaha, Omaha High/Low, Seven Card Stud and Seven Card Stud High/Low to Nevada.
WSOP.com now controls 99 percent of the Nevada market. This near-monopoly was caused by the shuttering of Ultimate Poker in November 2014.
Delaware online poker was the second state to launch. There is one network powered by 888. The state’s three racinos – Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway – are skins on the Delaware poker network. Nevada and Delaware began pooling poker players in April 2015.
WSOP.com and 888 were the sites responsible for creating the first legal interstate online poker pool.
New Jersey online poker came next on Nov. 21, 2013. There are currently three poker networks in New Jersey. One hosts Borgata and partypoker, the other has WSOP.com and 888 on it, and the third is made up solely of PokerStars NJ. All networks are about equal in overall size at any given point in time.
There were three additional poker platforms in New Jersey when the state launched regulated poker sites. 888 was originally a standalone site before it merged player pools with WSOP.com. Ultimate Poker was unable to gain more than 3 percent of the market share.
The Ultimate Poker site was shuttered on Oct. 5, 2014. The associated UCasino was also closed at that time. Betfair failed to attract any players and closed its poker site on Dec. 1, 2014. Betfair still operates an online casino in New Jersey.
After a long legislative battle, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill into law that legalized and regulated online gambling in the state of Pennsylvania on Oct. 30, 2017, making it the fourth state to legalize online gaming. The bill legalized online poker, online casino table games, online slots and daily fantasy sports.
It also allowed for a number of other gambling expansions such as online lottery, tablet gambling in airports, video gambling terminals at truck stops and 10 satellite casinos. Players were officially able to play online poker in PA in 2019.
Why isn’t there a federal online poker bill?
There have been many attempts to pass an online poker bill at the federal level.
- 2009 – Rep. Barney Frank first proposes regulated online poker.
- 2011 – Frank and Rep. Joe Barton attempt to get Congress to repeal the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).
- 2012 – Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Jon Kyl combine to propose a poker-only bill, known in the poker community as Reid/Kyl. The bill dies when Congress adjourns.
Nowadays, the federal government is more likely to focus its attention on sports betting. Unfortunately, online poker and gambling just doesn’t rate for many constituencies as key issues.
There does seem to be a movement towards greater states’ rights, however. The dismissal of PASPA in May 2018 allowed sports betting to proceed at each state legislature’s discretion.
A recent reversal of Department of Justice opinion on the Wire Act may also end up being a net positive for online gambling advocates. The DOJ seems to have been swayed by anti-gambling lobbyists funded by Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon Adelson.
Neither the states nor the media are amused by the appearance of corruption and impropriety. As a result, online gambling might become a medium for states to argue a greater issue, and thus, rise in prominence.
What is the UIGEA?
UIGEA is an acronym for the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. It passed Congress in September 2006 and was signed into law by President Bush two weeks later.
The UIGEA made it illegal for banks to process payments for unlawful gambling sites. It did not define what that was. Most publicly-traded sites immediately left the US market after the UIGEA was enacted.
These included Party Poker, iPoker, Microgaming Poker Network, Ongame, and 888. All of these examples returned to the US market when states started to regulate online poker.
What is Black Friday?
Black Friday was the day the US online poker community describes April 15, 2011.
On that date, PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker were charged with gambling crimes by the US Department of Justice in the Southern District of New York.
Unfortunately, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker did not have enough cash on hand to pay players. PokerStars paid all customers within weeks. Strange as it may seem, it was PokerStars that eventually made all Full Tilt Poker players whole after coming to an agreement with federal authorities.
Will the federal government ban online poker?
Federal law allows states to legalize and regulate online poker. This is specifically exempted from the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. A September 2011 Department of Justice opinion confirmed this and explicitly gives states the right to permit intrastate gaming.
There was an attempt in Congress to reverse this legal opinion. The effort was spearheaded by Sheldon Adelson, founder and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, the parent company of Venetian in Las Vegas.
Adelson’s lobbyists submitted the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA). The bill failed in 2016 and does not appear to have much support in this Congress. Libertarian groups, states’ rights activists, governors, state lotteries and most of the gaming industry have come out in opposition to RAWA.
Since then, Adelson and company have been working through other channels to head off online casino and online poker play. It is extremely likely that the group effected some degree of influence over the Department of Justice’s January 2019 opinion to reinterpret the Wire Act.
In that opinion, the DOJ essentially reversed its prior position on the statute to say that the law actually pertains to all gambling, not just sports betting. Needless to say, there were many parties in opposition to this opinion.
So far, the opinion has not found much success in court. A June 2019 ruling from a New Hampshire federal court dismissed the opinion from affecting that state’s lottery commission and an associated vendor. Only time will tell if the precedent will ripple out to other interested and/or affected parties.