Five states have legalized online poker. Here is a guide to the online poker scene in the US.
Nevada online poker
Nevada was the first state to launch regulated online poker.
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.
Player complaints were common due to the poor software. The site’s inability to locate some players caused it to lose customers.
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
- WSOP.com NV
- (Real Gaming)
NJ online poker
New Jersey is currently home to seven online poker sites. Those sites are spread across four distinct networks, and operate through three different licensees.
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.
WSOP NJ was 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.
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.
New Jersey 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 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
Pennsylvania legal online poker and casino
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 October 30th, 2017. Online poker is expected to launch in early 2019 in Pennsylvania.
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.
The Pennsylvania casinos which have both applied for and been approved to offer online poker are:
- Harrah’s Philadelphia
- Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course
- Mount Airy Casino
- Parx Casino
- Sands Bethlehem
- SugarHouse Casino
- Valley Forge Casino
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 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 in West Virginia won’t appear until 2020.
Online poker bills introduced to state legislatures
Legal US online poker FAQs
Is it legal to play online poker in the US?
It depends on the state.
There are laws that make it illegal to play online poker in Louisiana, Utah, and Washington. In Washington, it is a felony to play any form of online gambling.
It is a misdemeanor in Utah and Louisiana to play online poker or any other form of gambling over the internet. No other states make it illegal to play online poker, even if the site is located offshore.
Global Poker is perhaps the only site to pass any kind of legal muster. The site uses a unique dual-currency model to operate as a sweepstakes site, rather than a straight online poker site.
Is it legal to play on offshore sites like Ignition?
Yes and no. Sites like Ignition Poker or America’s Card Room 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.
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 online poker ever be legal in my state?
It depends on the state.
It seems impossible to think online poker will ever be legal in Utah as it offers no other forms of legalized gambling.
The situation regarding online poker bills is always changing, however. 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
- West Virginia
- H 2934 would make all “interactive” gaming legal
- HB 2321 seeks to study online gambling expansion of all types
Of the six, West Virginia would seem to have the inside track to be next to launch. The Mountain State is already home to online sports betting, and the aforementioned bill is already passing through initial legislative committees.
Three other states, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Michigan, are also interested in online poker. However, they haven’t gotten their collective acts together just yet.
Can I play at a legal online poker site while not in that state?
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.
Is my money safe at legal US online poker sites?
As a matter of fact, money held at legal poker sites is just as safe as it would be behind the cashier cage at the casino.
The very same gaming regulations that apply to live casinos are also valid for regulated sites. All deposits are held in separate accounts from cash used for operations.
How do I deposit at legal poker sites?
Legal poker sites in the US accept deposits by:
- Electronic checks
- Cash at associated casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas
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 and Las Vegas