Legal Online Poker Sites in the US 2021
The simple answer is: yes, online poker is legal.
Online poker has had a rocky roller coaster ride since the first online poker hands were dealt in the late 90s. Its biggest setback was in 2011, but after that it’s been steadily rising and things are really looking up. Four states, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware all legalized poker and sites are up and running in each of those states. Most states have at least discussed online poker, many have introduced legislation and Michigan and West Virginia actually legalized online poker. The sites for those states are still in development though but are expected to launch soon.
Several other states are in the process of legalizing it too. This is a big 180 from where poker was a decade ago.
In 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act passed in the United States, making it illegal for U.S. banks to do business with online gaming sites. Some sites left, others stayed. Then in 2011 The Department of Justice seized the domains of major poker sites for charges that included bank fraud and money laundering.
After that, the game pretty much vanished from the United States until a federal judge ruled in 2012 that poker was a game of skill, not luck. This paved the way for Nevada to open up the first state-regulated poker site and several states followed.
The floodgates really opened up after the Supreme Court struck down a ban on sports betting, letting states regulate it as they see fit. Many states have taken the opportunity to address online poker along with sports betting.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, or the UIGEA, passed Congress in September 2006 and was signed into law two weeks later. They made it illegal for banks to process payments for unlawful gambling sites. It did not define what that was exactly, and as a result, most publicly-traded sites left the US market after the UIGEA came to life. This included partypoker, however, many sites returned to the US market when states started to regulate legal online poker.
Why Isn’t There a Federal Online Poker Bill?
While there have been many attempts to pass a federal bill for legal online poker, governments would be more inclined to focus on sportbetting. However, the Department of Justice recently reversed its opinion on the Wire Act and this is definitely a win in the eyes of online gambling advocates, sparking a potentially positive conversation on legal online poker moving forward.
The Wire Act
The Interstate Wire Act of 1961, or the Federal Wire Act, essentially prohibits the operation of certain types of betting businesses using wire communications. Its original aim was to put a stop to interstate gambling and end organized crime’s interest in the business.
The act passed decades before the internet or online poker even existed, but since it governed the loosely-related act of betting or wagering using wire communications, many believed it also included online gambling. In September 2011, the DOJ released a formal legal opinion on the scope of the act. The opinion said interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a sporting event or contest fall outside of its reach.
Some states interpreted this to mean the act did not apply to online poker or other forms of online gambling. In January 2019, the DOJ reversed its opinion to say that the Wire Act, in fact, does relate to all online gambling and what follows this judgment is unclear at this point.
Where can I play Poker in the United States?
No matter where you are in the United States, you can play online poker. Where and which sites you can play on vary state-by-state though. States that have passed online poker legislation have sites that you can only play within state lines. But there are a number of poker sites that accept players from all over the United States.
If you’re in Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware or Pennsylvania, you have access to a few extra state-specific sites. PokerStars is live in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and you can play WSOP Online in Nevada and Delaware. These sites have partnered up with local casinos to offer poker online and you have to be within state lines to play. New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware have share player pools though. That means players from all three states play against each other.
More states are legalizing poker, so this list will grow. We’ll keep it up to date as more sites launch in different states.
But a few sites accept players from all 50 states:
Didn’t the U.S. Ban Online Poker in 2006?
A lot of sites did pull out of the United States after it passed though. The 2006 UIGEA made it illegal for banks and financial institutions to process payments linked to online gambling. The law was a little ambiguous though and there was nothing explicitly banning poker.
Some big sites, like Party Poker, pulled out of the United States, but other giants like PokerStars and Full Tilt stayed in the country. To process payouts for U.S. players, these sites had to break the law. Then, in April 2011, the Department of Justice seized the sites’ domain names and indicted a few key people on charges of money laundering, bank fraud and more.
Absolute Poker imploded, Full Tilt almost went bankrupt. PokerStars, on the other hand, paid the fine, bailed out Full Tilt and is now back in the United States.
New State Laws
After a federal judge ruled that poker was a game of skill, not chance, Nevada took the first step to legalize online poker. The state paved the way for others to do the same. Delaware followed and also legalized lottery and casino games. New Jersey did all of this on an even larger scale. The latest to join the group was Pennsylvania, which passed its law in 2017 and finally launched regulated poker in late 2019.
Michigan has passed legislation but won’t launch any sites until later 2021. West Virginia also legalized it and sites won’t be too far behind.
All these states have sites that are linked with land-based casinos. Several other casinos are developing sites too. We’ll see more develop as online sites keeps gaining popularity. The big question now is whether sites will share their player pools.
New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada have all signed up to share their player pool. Pennsylvania is the most populous state to legalize poker sites, but it has yet to join the pool. A joint pool would be critical to creating large tournaments, a wide selection of cash games and a healthy poker ecosystem.
The Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement
In 2014, Nevada and Delaware signed the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement, authorizing the pooling the internet poker players. This agreement allowed players from these states to play with each other across state lines, as the previous law was players must be within state lines and can only play what is available in that specific state.
The MSIGA is governed by a board, with the member states electing a representative. This board is in charge on approving new members, games, or any changes to the agreement.
We here at USPokerSites have been keeping tabs on several states. Our list isn’t complete, but if you want to find out more information on where each state is regarding poker legalization, just search and click below.
Alabama – Alaska – Arizona – Arkansas – California – Colorado – Connecticut – Delaware – Florida – Georgia – Hawaii – Idaho – Illinois – Indiana – Iowa – Kansas – Kentucky – Louisiana – Maine – Maryland – Massachusetts – Michigan – Minnesota – Mississippi – Missouri – Montana – Nebraska – Nevada – New Hampshire – New Jersey – New Mexico – New York – North Carolina – North Dakota – Ohio – Oklahoma – Oregon – Pennsylvania – Rhode Island – South Carolina – South Dakota – Tennessee – Texas – Utah – Vermont – Virginia – Washington – West Virginia – Wisconsin – Wyoming
Frequently Asked Questions
Online sportsbooks have also been gaining popularity recently. Is that because of poker? Well, not really.
In May 2018, New Jersey won a landmark Supreme Court that overturned a federal ban on sports betting. New Jersey quickly legalized online sports betting and other states quickly followed.
Many states are using the sports betting debate to reconsider other forms of online gaming, especially poker. So many states that are currently debating sports betting are also considering sports betting.
They don’t always go hand-in-hand, but they often do. Many sites that these days even offer both a sports book and a poker room.
The answer is yes. The laws may be confusing, but we tried to break down the individual components of those laws. And as things change, we will update these pages with the most current information. You can check our poker reviews to learn about potential places to play.
If you’re ready to play poker, let’s get to it. We’ll see you at the tables!