Where can you currently play legal online poker in the US?
The following four states are the only ones to offer legal US online poker sites:
- New Jersey
There are some differences between the three regulated-poker states. Also, while Pennsylvania recently signed online poker into law, the state has yet to start running games. Pennsylvania is expected to launch in early 2019.
Nevada only permits online poker.
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.
Finally, Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have entered into an interstate online poker agreement. Players from the three states can compete against each other only on WSOP.com.
Background for 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 was the second state to launch legal online poker. 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 became the third state with legal online poker 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 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 can expect to be able to play online poker in PA in 2019.
What other states are considering legalizing online poker?
Several states are actively considering regulating online poker:
- New York
Of the list above, most experts consider New York to have the greatest chance of passing a bill.
Why should I choose legal poker sites?
One of the biggest advantages to playing online poker at regulated sites in Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey is that all player funds are just as safe as they would be at a licensed land-based casino in any of those states.
This is in contrast to offshore sites where poker players have a long history of seeing their funds held hostage or stolen altogether.
There are also ample deposit and withdrawal methods that are safe and secure.
Players can use Visa, MasterCard, electronic checks, bank wires, Neteller, Skrill, PayNearMe, prepaid card and cash at the associated licensed casino. Withdrawals are processed by electronic check, paper check, Neteller, Skrill, prepaid debit card and cash at the associated licensed casino. The method available depends on the state and participating site.
Finally, regulated sites undergo far more rigorous checks to ensure that games are fair and secure than unregulated sites.
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.