The US online poker market has slowly expanded since 2011 with a state-by-state approach to legalization. Many in the poker industry expected more states to jump on board early, but it’s been a slow process to add real money online poker in more than a handful of US states so far.
That doesn’t mean online poker hasn’t shown signs of life. There are now several major real money poker sites including PokerStars, partypoker and WSOP.com operating to various degrees in five US states (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Nevada, Michigan). Real money online poker in West Virginia is coming soon.
Prize pools and player pools have also been surging. Many in the industry hope the latest resurgence of online poker offers hope for even more growth across the US market.
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Play legal online poker in the US
Online poker went live in 2013 in three states — Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey. That’s the way it stood for another five years before Pennsylvania joined the fold in 2018.
In 2019, West Virginia and Michigan legalized online gaming, including poker, but games are only live in Michigan as of yet. This movement in the market offers some hope for American players seeking to play online poker for money.
Here’s a complete list of where Americans can legally play online poker for real money:
- New Jersey online poker
- Pennsylvania online poker
- Nevada online poker
- Delaware online poker
- Michigan online poker
- West Virginia online poker (not live yet)
For those who live in a non-regulated poker state, you have two options for playing real money online poker:
- Travel to a regulated poker state to play online.
- Try sweepstakes poker at Global Poker.
Is real money online poker safe?
Yes, online poker is safe and governed by state gaming commissions. For individual legalized states, that means the:
- Nevada Gaming Control Board
- New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement
- Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board
- Delaware Division of Gaming Enforcement
Online casinos, sportsbooks and online poker sites must follow stringent gaming regulations much like retail casinos. Also, when it comes to player bankrolls, those funds are protected in separate accounts from house funds.
Poker sites stress fair play, and a random number generator is used to mimic real life playing cards being dealt as best as possible. Players have come to expect fairness and a “clean game” from online operators.
However, this isn’t always the case with underground and offshore operators. Legal real money poker sites stress security of player funds, deposit and withdrawal safety, and an above-board approach to gaming.
Common complaints from offshore, unlicensed sites have included: lost player funds, slow payouts, software issues and other problems. Using a legal US online poker site offers player protections not available on these other types of platforms. More on safe poker sites here:
What is sweepstakes online poker?
Beyond traditional online real money poker, a few sites offer a poker “sweepstakes model.” Global Poker is one of the best and most played of these.
Global Poker uses a unique sweepstakes model that makes playing its games online legal in much of the US and Canada. Through its social gaming model, players use virtual chips (Gold Coins) they can accumulate but cannot redeem for real money. However, when purchasing more Gold Coins, players receive sweepstakes prizes called “$weeps Coins.”
This virtual currency can be used for $weeps Coin tournaments and ring games, and can also be won in freerolls. As a player wins more $weeps Coins, those coins can be cashed out for real money.
Global Poker is owned by VGW Holdings Limited, a publicly traded company incorporated in Australia. The site is licensed by the Malta Gaming Authority and available in the following North American locations:
- United States
- Canada (excluding Quebec)
Which real money poker sites accept US players?
Here’s a brief look at the legal online poker sites available in various states.
PokerStars is the biggest online poker operator in the world. After Black Friday, the site didn’t return to the US until relaunching in New Jersey in 2016. The site offers great software and security players around the world have come to expect.
The NJ market is much smaller than what many players using the international poker client have come to expect. However, there is some nice action with regular tournaments and cash games. There’s also the Home Games feature where you can set up a private poker club and invite your friends to play free online poker.
PokerStars also offers some of its regular staples such as the NJ Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) and Bounty Builder series. Players can even qualify for live tournament events as part of PokerStars Live.
In November 2019, PokerStars became the first operator to launch in Pennsylvania. With a larger market, the Keystone State has seen some larger guarantees in its first few initial tournament series.
The PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker in both PA and NJ is expected to be the biggest yet in 2020 with prize pools guaranteed at $2 million in Pennsylvania and $1 million in New Jersey.
Despite the site being live in both states, Pennsylvania legislators have not approved interstate compacts as of yet. That could happen if the status of the Wire Act is cleared up in court. Shared liquidity between the two states could benefit both markets.
States available —
This is another respected operator known for its loyal players and solid software. partypoker is also known for its live MILLIONS events, and online players can qualify as well.
partypoker left the US market after the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act in 2006. The law made it difficult for online operators to complete financial transactions.
The property offers some of the best live poker in the Northeast and runs its own partypoker skin at BorgataPoker.com. That partnership allows for qualifying tournaments into major Borgata live events, including World Poker Tour stops at the property.
The sites regularly finish third among New Jersey operators in terms of traffic but offer a nice platform for players. partypoker features some nice regular tournaments and cash game action.
States available —
This is the online poker site of the famous World Series of Poker brand. Available in Nevada and New Jersey, it offers a shared liquidity market in the two states as well as with 888poker in Delaware.
The site is based on partner 888poker’s software and allows players in Nevada and New Jersey to play for online bracelet events as part of the live WSOP each summer in Las Vegas.
WSOP is a safe, proven brand and caters to players with cash games, sit and gos, multi-table tournaments and other events players have come to expect. The site offers regular tournament series including events for WSOP Circuit rings, WSOP Las Vegas qualifiers and numerous other events and promotions.
Because of shared liquidity, WSOP.com regularly features larger player pools than competitors. It is regularly the No. 1 platform in New Jersey and the only operator in Nevada.
States available —
Real money poker apps in the USA
In recent years, online poker has shifted to mobile and tablet devices for many. These operators currently offer real money online poker apps:
Most apps are home to most of the same tournaments that can be seen on the desktop version. Players will find a condensed version but improved mobile platforms have made even multi-tabling an easier task.
That includes the use of a single hand to play, falling in line with popular social gaming apps. For example, partypoker recently greatly enhanced its mobile gaming app. Players can bet, check, fold and raise easily with a single hand.
The online lobby may be more compact on a poker app with a few screens to search out games and tournaments.
How to create a poker account online
Getting started with real money online poker play is easy. Each platform’s desktop software or app is available from the operator’s site. Players can then set up an account by offering some basic information such as:
Once that is complete, players may be asked to confirm their identity and email. After that a player’s set to go and hit the tables.
Depositing to a real money poker account
Depositing to a real money poker account is also a safe and simple process. With most operators, deposit methods players can use include:
- E-check bank payments (ACH transfers)
- Wire payments
- E-wallets such as Neteller
- Cash at partner casinos
Global Poker also makes use of many of these types of deposit options when purchasing Gold Coins. Depositors will then receive $weeps Coins as a bonus, which can be redeemed for cash.
How to cash out your online poker winnings
After playing a bit, a player might have had some good nights at the cash games or won a big chunk of cash in a tournament. Sending some or all of that to your own bank account is also simple and secure.
Getting those winnings is an easy process, just look for the “banking” or “withdrawal” tabs or icons on the poker client.
Most operators offer quick payouts via the method a player used to deposit. Some may also offer payment via a paper check sent to a player. A few may even offer cash payouts via their casino partners at the cashier cage.
Game options on a real money poker site
Once that’s complete, playing is as easy as navigating through the poker client to find something that fits your tastes. However, operators make use of geolocation software to make sure a player is in the legalized jurisdiction.
It’s important to note that players don’t have to be in a legalized state to open an account or deposit. Once they are in the state, players can then get in on the action. Here are some general definitions for new players:
- Cash games — These games are offered at various stakes and allow players to enter and leave at any time.
- Multi-table tournaments — A larger tournament experience with a set buy-in and larger payouts for winners.
- Sit & Go — These are single-table tournaments allowing for a quick tournament experience.
- Spin & Go (names may differ) — These are usually three-player tournaments with players spinning a wheel before getting started. A portion of each buyout is withheld, so players may be playing for even bigger payouts — depending on where the wheel lands. These add a fun element of luck to spin and go tournaments. These have also become extremely popular for playing on mobile devices because of the small number of players and quick pace.
Texas Hold’em is still the dominant form of poker you’ll find online but you’ll also be able to access Omaha, 7 Card Stud and even Crazy Pineapple. depending on the poker site.
For more on Texas Hold’em games in particular, check our dedicated page here:
Free real money poker bonuses
Most online poker sites offer players a deposit bonus for signing up. A few even offer no deposit sign-up bonuses between $10-$30 — free money to play just for creating an account without even depositing.
The real money deposit bonus at legal poker sites will be paid out over time as you play. Some sites may also pay players tournament tickets as an added bonus, as well.
To receive these bonuses, players may need to enter a bonus code. This comes during the registration process and is as simple as typing in one of the codes.
USPoker offers several deposit and sign-up bonuses. See our poker bonus comparison page here:
How much does it cost to play real money online poker?
Online poker offers stakes and tournaments for every level of bankroll. Tournaments buy-ins start at $1 — or even less. But with large player pools, a tournament allows a player to make a considerable return on a small buy-in.
A player can also jump into micro stakes cash games, playing for as low as pennies each hand. Players can also deposit small amounts to get started. Minimum deposits can be as low as $10-$20 depending on the site. Industry observers have found that 90% of all real money poker games are for $25 or less.
One advantage to playing online is that players can learn the game at lower stakes. They can also overcome a learning curve much faster and for lower amounts. There is also not an intimidation factor a new player might experience at a live casino.
How to win playing poker online
Just like in real life, winning online will require some skill and playing well. Players can sharpen their skills to use some of what they know at the virtual tables. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Play fewer hands — Hand selection is key in poker. Playing fewer hands in general will help players lose less in the long run while also winning more when they do get a nice starting hand.
- Play position — Players can open up their starting hand range the later they act at the table. Obviously acting last is advantageous, so playing on the button can help bring a player some extra pots.
- Bet those strong hands — Many players often get too cute with strong hands. When picking up something like A-A, K-K, Q-Q or A-K, it can be a bad idea to simply call — especially at tables with more players. Don’t wait for someone else to raise pre-flop and then plan a three-bet of your own afterward. If several players call and there isn’t a raise, there’s a good chance those pocket aces will get cracked.
- Shift gears — Poker is a fluid game. Playing fewer hands is key, but it’s also important to read your opponents well and figure out ways to extract more chips out of them. Also, it’s a good idea to alter styles once in a while after your table image is established. Keep those opponents guessing.
Real Money Poker FAQ
How safe is real money online poker?
Real money online poker is safe, and player funds are secure. Legalized online poker sites must go through stringent licensing and meet all gaming regulations.
Can I play real money poker on my phone?
Yes, most legal, regulated major online poker operators now offer a mobile app. If you don’t want to download the app, most sites also have an Instant Play option where you can play via any standard internet browser (Chrome, Explorer, Firefox, etc.).
What are the major differences between play-money/social poker and real money poker sites?
Playing for real money is much different from games for play money. It requires more skill when players have real “skin in the game.” Players will play much looser when their own money isn’t on the line. Folding becomes more of an afterthought when no money is really on the line.
Poker is intended to be played for money, and it becomes a much better and more skillful game when a bit of cash is on the line. The overall quality of the software and the variety/amount of games at a real money poker site are also better.
You can also take advantage of play money games at real money poker sites. These are called “free play” games and are great for working on your game or practicing to get used to playing online poker.
How good are the players at real money poker sites?
Just like any game, the level of skill depends on the player. At most real money poker sites, the players who sit in the highest-stakes games and tournaments are typically very good players. At the micro stakes (i.e. under $5), the average player is exactly that — average. You will find a wide range of players at the lowest stakes in both cash games and tournaments. The level of play is, on average, higher than what you’d find at a social poker site, though.
How much money can you win in real money poker online?
Winnings depend on the stakes a player plays. Players may win only a small amount at micro stakes, but events with buy-ins in the hundreds could pay out thousands of dollars.
What’s the difference of “legal” versus “offshore” poker sites?
Offshore sites are run unregulated and lack player protections and security one might find in a legal, regulated market. Players will find much more protections and security with legal online poker sites.
Can I play real money poker online against players from other countries?
The US regulated markets feature “fenced in” or “closed” markets where players only play others in that regulated jurisdiction. However, there is a shared liquidity market via WSOP.com among players in New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware through 888poker.com.
Why is there no nationwide real money online poker in the US?
Black Friday put an end to that as the government used the Wire Act as a means to clamp down on open online poker. However, a later Justice Department opinion noted that the act applies only to sports betting and that states could enact their own online gaming laws. The issue continues to be hashed out in court, however, in regard to interstate online poker compacts.
Are there free poker sites where you can win real money?
There may be some social poker sites and sweepstakes-style online poker sites offering cash prizes. But regulated real money sites offer the most opportunities to win real cash.
Can I play for real money on PokerStars in the USA?
Players in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan can now play real money poker on PokerStars online. They are “fenced-in” sites specific to those particular states and player pools, however.
Is it legal to play on offshore online poker sites?
Offshore poker sites exist in a legal zone some call the “grey market.” Basically, these sites are operated and monitored by entities outside the United States. Most state laws in the US do not say one way or another about the legality of these sites.
However, this lack of legislative mention puts any of these sites at risk of closure should a state or federal executive branch choose an unfavorable interpretation of existing law. Also, these sites are less accountable to their players due to their international status, and as such, disputes over money can be much more difficult to resolve.