Is Online Poker Legal in the US?

Several US states boast notable poker rooms and premier gaming experiences. Yet, the realm of online poker faces tighter regulations. As of now, a mere four states in the US have given the green light to online poker and set up digital gambling sites — these states are New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Delaware.

Two more states have officially legalized online poker — West Virginia and Michigan. However, they have yet to launch online poker rooms. Until that happens, avid players can enjoy online poker in these four US states.

In this article, we’ll review the current state of online poker in the US, explain how the law works, and show you where to play the best online poker games for real money. Stay tuned!

The History of Poker Laws in the US

When talking about online poker in the US, we find ourselves in a gray area, mainly because there are no explicit laws that ban or authorize online poker on the federal level. Just like with other forms of online gambling, each state has regulatory power over online poker laws.

To better understand the current situation of online poker laws in the US, we need to go back in time, all the way to the Wire Act from 1961. This law was primarily introduced to stop illegal gambling activities across state lines that used wire communication. However, when online gambling appeared, it challenged the Act’s applicability on wagering via wireless internet.

In 2011, the US Department of Justice reversed the Wire Act’s decision, stating that it only applied to sports wagering. Up until that point, the US government used the Act to ban all forms of online gambling. Once the Act was reversed, US states began to consider legalizing online gambling, especially online poker.

In 2018, the DOJ issued a new directive to reverse the 2011 decision again. What the memorandum did was blur the lines and create an unclear online gambling environment. This decision put all forms of online gambling in jeopardy. However, it’s tied up in the federal court system and is facing specific legal challenges. Therefore, the online poker industry is thriving in some US states.

Introduction of Online Poker Laws

While the future of online poker in the US is still uncertain, some states have taken advantage of the 2011 DOJ decision and took the matter into their own hands. Another event that had a substantial impact on the legalization of online poker was the UIGEA — Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act introduced in 2006. It made all internet gambling activities illegal, which resulted in a chaotic gambling environment. Owners of the biggest online poker platforms were indicted, and they left the US market. That led to the rise of illegal gambling and an increased presence of offshore poker sites.

After this fallout, known as Black Friday, only four states have regulated the online poker market, with two more joining the group soon.

Online Poker Laws by the State

Compared to the number of US states, the percentage of those who have a regulated online poker industry is very low. Hopefully, more states will recognize the benefits of having a legal online poker market shortly.

In the following paragraphs, we will see which states have legalized online poker.

Nevada

Nevada was the first US state to legalize online poker. The Nevada Gaming Commission started the process in December 2011, only a month after the DOJ reversed the Wire Act. Officially, online poker became legal in February 2013.

The first poker room to launch an online platform was Ultimate Gaming. The second online poker room to become available to Nevada poker players was the WSOP, which partnered up with Caesars Entertainment.

Then, the Real Gaming online poker site appeared. However, it never gained much popularity and left the market soon after. In 2014, Ultimate Gaming shut down its platform, leaving WSOP as the only online poker site available to Nevada players.

Delaware

In 2013, Delaware became the second state to legalize online poker and other casino games. The Delaware Lottery regulates and oversees all online poker and casino activities. The state’s three racetrack casinos share an online poker platform powered by 888 Holdings.

In 2015, Nevada and Delaware began sharing their online poker traffic through the WSOP.com joint agreement. This venture only benefits the state of Delaware, given that the online poker income isn’t as high as everyone hoped.

New Jersey

New Jersey could have been the trailblazer for online poker since it began the legalization process in January 2011, even before the DOJ reversed the Wire Act. However, NJ’s then-governor vetoed the decision, and the entire process came to a halt. Fortunately, in 2013, a new bill was signed, and the online poker industry was authorized to operate for ten years. After that period passes, the decision will be re-examined for a possible extension.

In 2013, online poker platforms began to appear in New Jersey. While some attempts haven’t been fruitful, others exceeded the industry’s expectations. New Jersey has three poker sites currently operating in the market — 888poker, WSOP.com, and PokerStars.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania was the fourth state to legalize online poker in late 2017. However, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board needed more time to pass the law, which led to two uneventful years in the online poker industry.

Fortunately, in 2019, PokerStars launched its online poker platform, only a couple of months after the first online casinos appeared in the state. While there is still only one online poker site, Pennsylvania will soon launch at least six more poker platforms.

West Virginia and Michigan — Two More States to Launch Online Poker Sites Soon

While these two states have legalized online poker, they have yet to launch first poker sites. West Virginia was the fifth state to join the party in 2019. The West Virginia State Lottery will be in charge of regulating and overseeing the online poker action. Given that the entire process was set in motion in 2020, we anticipate the first poker sites to appear in 2021.

Michigan joined the others in late 2019. The state had been trying to legalize online poker for a couple of years, but it was possible only after some changes were made in the Michigan government. Luckily, in December 2019, the state of Michigan finally legalized online poker. Like West Virginia, we expect to see the first online poker platforms launched sometime during 2021.

How to Play Online Poker Legally in the US

Even though not many states have legalized online poker, those that offer some exciting poker opportunities. If you want to play online poker, you need to see whether this type of online gambling is legal in your state. If it is, you can find the list of available poker platforms or pick one from our article.

The next step is to create an account, which can be done in a few moments. You’ll need to fill out the registration form with all the necessary information and confirm your identity. You can then choose a payment option to fund your online poker account, claim a welcome bonus along the way, and enjoy a wide range of poker games.

Remember, you don’t have to be a resident of a state where online poker is legal — you just need to be there physically. Therefore, if you find yourself in any of the US states we mentioned here, you’ll be able to create an online poker account.

Final Words

Even though there are millions of avid poker players in the US, the legalization of online poker is moving at a slow pace. While the online gambling industry has found itself in an unenviable situation, some states have managed to make the most out of it.

We can’t say with certainty what the future has in store for online poker. Some say that more states will legalize online poker, while others believe the entire online gambling industry in the US is too unstable and that launching poker platforms might be too risky.

However, we’d like to maintain a positive attitude and hope that other states will follow the path forged by allowing their residents to enjoy various online poker games.

FAQ

Currently, only four states have legalized online poker — Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. We have yet to see whether others will follow their path and launch online poker platforms for US players.

US players who want to play online poker legally need to be over 21 years old.

Can US players claim online poker bonuses?

Just like any other gambling platforms, online poker sites offer various bonuses to new and existing players. As soon as you create an account, you can claim a welcome bonus to kickstart your online poker experience.

Texas Hold’em dominates the online poker scene in the US. It’s followed by Omaha, Seven Card Stud, Five Card Draw, Three Card Poker, among others. Every online poker site features a wide range of poker game types. There is something for every player.