Worldwide, the online gambling market is a 37.9 billion dollar industry. The online poker scene is especially lucrative for both operators and players of online poker sites alike.
But if you aim to play in the U.S. there are few legal hurdles you have to jump through first. As it relates to online gambling – and thusly poker – U.S. laws can be pretty darn confusing.
If you aim to bet money on your card-sharking abilities at a virtual poker table, you’ll want to read this guide on how to do it to safely and legally. In this guide, we’ll run you through the laws (or lack thereof) governing US online poker.
The Federal Government Vs. Poker: A Sordid History
Relative to inventions of casinos, and the game of poker itself, online poker is a relatively new phenomenon. The card game only first came to digital platforms in 1998 when Planet Poker started offering cash games to U.S. residents.
Since then, online poker in the U.S. has had its ups and downs, replete with some pretty dramatic brush-ups with the federal government.
From 1998 to 2011, it was pretty easy to find a place to play poker online. Since it was a new phenomenon, and legislators are famously slow to act, there was very little governing of the industry.
Poker sites proliferated, money was made, and players were happy. However, on April 15, 2011, this all changed. For the poker community, this day came to be known as Black Friday.
Before we get into what happened on that day in April of 2011, we have to discuss a law passed in 2006 by George W. Bush called the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). This bill – devilishly attached to a larger piece of legislation – effectively prevented online poker sites from dealing with U.S. financial institutions.
This meant that U.S. players could no longer cash their winnings. As a result, U.S.-facing sites like PartyPoker and PacificPoker shut down their cash games for U.S. customers.
Other sites like PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker, however, continued operating in the U.S. For untold reasons, their business’ held for quite some time, despite their obvious flouting of this new law.
Then, on April 15th, 2011, this changed. On this day, the U.S. government leveled charges against the top executives of these poker sites claiming that they were in violation of the UIEGA, among other more serious charges.
The allegations claimed that these poker sites misrepresented their business to U.S. financial institutions or bribed banks into doing business with them.
After this day, these sites stopped conducting business with U.S. poker players, severely limiting their options.
These days, the legalities of online poker are murkier than ever and vary widely from state to state. However, the good news is that in 2012, a federal judge and New York ruled that poker is not considered gambling under U.S. law. This is because poker, when played at a large enough sample size, is a game of skill, not chance.
This ruling effectively exempted the game of poker from the 2006 UIEG Act, which only specifically prohibited gambling activity.
Even better, if you live in Nevada, Delaware or New Jersey, online poker is unambiguously legal for you to partake in. Initially, the laws in these states specified that it was only legal if the site, the game, and the player were all based in their respective states.
Since online poker was legalized in these states in 2013, the laws governing the practice have only progressed further. As of May 1st, 2018, poker players in these states are now allowed to combine their player pools and cross state lines.
If you live in these states, you can play online poker on nearly any site available to you, but if you live elsewhere it can be a little more tricky.
Below, we’ll provide you a list of reputable sites that may or may not be available in your state.
Where to Play US Online Poker
Despite the strides made since the infamous Black Friday, online poker is still pretty difficult to access for most people in the U.S. You’ll likely have to rely on international poker sites that hopefully accept players from your state. Despite the federal laws in place, these sites will only accept players from states with clearly-stated laws on gambling and/or online poker.
One of the sites on the following list will be your best bet.
Ignition Casino, formerly known as Bovada, is a Europe-based website with a long, reputable history. It also has the largest U.S. player base so you’ll never have to wait for a table. This also means that it has the most fish (bad players).
The site also has a ton of other casino games and fun twists on online poker. The only downside is that players are anonymous and you don’t get to select which table you want to sit at. You are automatically seated instead. If you like to get to know your competition, this site isn’t for you.
America’s Cardroom is another great site to use if you’re looking for a place with a large player pool. It also serves as an antithesis to Ignition. Players on America’s Cardroom are named, you can select your tables based on how many people are seated at the table or on average pot size.
Here, however, the average player is much better than on Ignition, in our experience.
BetOnline and America’s Cardroom have very similar features and you can’t go wrong with either of them. The only downside is that BetOnline typically has a smaller player pool at any given time.
The three aforementioned sites are your best options. If none of them work in your state, however, you may also want to check out Intertops Poker, Black Chip Poker, and True Poker.
Looking for More Poker Tips?
Poker is an incredibly fun, thrilling, and rewarding game that no one should be deprived of. If you want to become a US online poker player, then hopefully, one of these sites will work for you.
Once you’ve got your account set up on one of these sites, check out our article on how to make a profit playing online poker. Poker is all fun and games until you lose it all on a single hand, so you need to play responsibly.