Is Online Poker Legal in the USA & What Are Your Options for Playing from the States
Online poker is still the favorite pastime of millions around the world, even if its popularity has declined somewhat compared to the poker boom years that came after Moneymaker’s victory in the 2005 WSOP Main Event.
For a long time, the United States of America were the biggest online poker market, producing most players and driving action at the tables. Then came the infamous UIGEA in 2006 and Black Friday in 2011, seriously complicating things for everyone who enjoyed playing online poker from the Land of the Free.
So, what’s the situation today, in 2017? Is online poker legal in the USA and what are the options for those looking to play?
Online Gambling Laws in the USA
The first thing that’s important to understand is that playing online poker isn’t actually illegal in most states. In fact, only Utah and Washington consider playing online a criminal activity, but there’s never been an actual case where someone was prosecuted for playing.
What is illegal, however, according to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) is for a financial institution such as bank to facilitate financial transactions to an online gambling site. This made the crucial part of playing online poker, deposits and withdrawals, extremely difficult, and some of the big poker rooms like Party Poker decided to leave the US market immediately.
Others, like PokerStars and Full Tilt decided to stay, and they successfully served US players for the next five years, until the DoJ unsealed indictments against those in charge of these sites and seized their domains in April of 2011. This event came to be known as poker’s Black Friday, and things have never been the same for US players.
Online Poker Regulation Struggle
When the Black Friday had happened, most people were convinced that this step was a precursor to introducing an online poker regulation on the federal level, which would naturally include taxation, but also a better protection for players. As it turned out, this wasn’t the case.
In terms of any kind of a regulation on a federal level, US politicians have been very passive, and there have been no significant movements in this department since 2011. Only a few states have decided to pass internal online poker laws, allowing and regulating online poker within their borders.
These states are Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey. They allow all the players physically located within their borders to play online, even if these players normally live in a different state. However, apart from these three, no other states have regulated online poker. There have been some movements in California and, as of late, in Pennsylvania, but legislators have been going back and forth, without reaching a necessary consensus.
Regulated Poker Sites in the USA
Those players looking to play on properly regulated sites in the USA can do so from New Jersey, Delaware, or Nevada. As mentioned, everyone can play even when just visiting these states, and they don’t need to have a residency there.
In Nevada, online poker was regulated early in 2013. Ultimate Poker was the very first site to launch in the States, but it is no longer alive. It started to experience problems and eventually went under when WSOP.com was launched. This is currently the leading online poker site in Nevada. It offers WSOP satellites and even some online bracelet events every year during the World Series of Poker.
New Jersey is by far the richest online poker market in the States. There are a few regulated poker rooms battling it out for their share of the players. PokerStars NJ, despite coming late to the party, has quickly taken the lead, and this is the most popular choice for players in New Jersey.
Other than PokerStars, there are 888 Poker and Party Poker, which somehow keep up the pace with PokerStars. Borgata Poker is there as well, although the site has been struggling to attract more players as of late.
Finally, there is Pala Poker, a newcomer to the market, and it remains to be seen how they’ll do in this very competitive environment.
Delaware is by far the smallest of the three regulated states, and they actually entered an interstate compact with Nevada, allowing players from both states to play together. As for the online poker sites, the state has a single provider system, where all online poker sites are funneled through one platform provided by 888 poker. There are three racinos in the state that offer their own clients based on this platform: Dover Downs, Delaware Park, and Harrington Raceway.
Offshore Sites Accepting US Players
Apart from the regulated sites in these three states, there are also offshore sites that cater to US players. Since we answered the question is online poker legal in the USA, and it is clear that players can play freely wherever they want as far as legal concerns go, the only thing to worry about is finding reliable operators accepting players from the States.
Most of these offshore sites have to cope with certain difficulties, especially when it comes to processing deposits and withdrawals, since this is the actual questionable area. So, those sites that are capable of solving these issues most efficiently are the ones that most players flock to.
One of the leaders in this group is Americas Cardroom. They’ve been accepting US players for years now, and have managed to do so without any big problems. Of course, withdrawals aren’t as fast as they used to be, and sometimes there are problems with depositing with some credit cards, Americas Cardroom is still in the top three US-serving sites.
Ignition Poker is another good choice, offering a very tempting welcome bonus as well. Ignition is former Bovada and some people believe Ignition brand was created specifically so they could continue to cater to US players, although there is no real evidence for this. In all relevant departments, Ignition certainly stands out as a very viable alternative for players from the States.
Apart from these two, there are other sites like BetOnline and Intertops Poker. Both of these have also proven to be quite reliable and trustworthy, given all the difficulties US-facing sites have to overcome.