Nobody has even been arrested for playing real money online poker games in the US. This does not prevent the widespread belief that online poker is illegal. Federal laws exist which make financial transactions between banks and gambling sites illegal –though even these have never been properly tested. What the UIGEA in 2006 and ‘Black Friday’ have succeeded in doing is spreading the widespread misinformation that personally playing the game is illegal. This article gives you some history and an insight into both legal offshore poker sites and the newly regulated ‘in-state’ rooms.
You’ll find the history first below. This will give some context to better understand that playing online poker is perfectly legal. Next you can find a run-down of the biggest and best offshore sites and how you can deposit on them in context of the current banking restrictions. After that you can find information on the regulated sites in New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware – followed by a look into the future.
The first bill which still has effects for online poker rooms actually pre-dates the internet. The Wire-Act of 1959 was put in place to stop sports bets over state borders via telephone. It is the interpretation of what constitutes a ‘gambling transaction’ which has divided the pro and anti-poker lobbies ever since.
In 2006, online poker was booming and millions of Americans were enjoying the games – some as a hobby and others professionally. Then the ‘Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act’ (or UIGEA) was passed through the back-door via an attachment to a Port Security bill. The effect was immediate, with major sites at the time including Party Poker and MicroGaming pulling out of the US.
Poker bounced back, with new sites taking over. PokerStars and Full Tilt were two big beneficiaries – with Stars building much of the momentum which makes them the biggest poker site worldwide today.
2011 saw the landscape change once again, with a crackdown on the financial systems behind poker known as ‘Black Friday’. This effectively shut out PokerStars, Full Tilt, Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker. With the last two going bankrupt and disappearing. Fear of being indicted on money laundering charges is a big deal to the executives of some sites, and reparations have been paid on a Federal level to amend for past transgressions (without liability being admitted).
Poker is now in the process of bounding back once again. A new breed of offshore sites still provides games for US players. These sites are perfectly legal in their own jurisdictions and are building enough momentum to be able to offer a big selection of games and tournaments. At the same time there are individual States starting to legalize online poker games within their borders. Those sites have a marketing interest in calling out others as ‘illegal’, spreading yet more confusion for non-informed poker fans on the true legal state of US online poker.
Here are the biggest offshore sites currently available to US players, I have listed these in order of size.
#1 Bovada: This site is part of the better known Bodog Brand and is the single biggest site offering poker from offshore. They accept players from all states, and focus on recreational games – even going as far as to put policies in place to make their site unfavorable for pro-grinders. You can deposit easily here and the promotions often involve live events and the infamous Bodog Parties.
#2 The Winning Poker Network: Also known as the ‘WPN’, this network of sites is growing fast and starting to offer bigger and better tournaments and promo as their player base grows. Sites include America’s Cardroom and True Poker. Players on this network can enjoy jackpots and progressive leader board promotions.
#3 The Merge Poker Network: This network is headed up by the cool Sportsbetting Poker, who run a lot online poker tournament events as well as hosting a huge selection of cash games. Daily cash-back and the biggest welcome bonus package of any site (including the worldwide giants) keep players coming through the door.
#4 The Chico Poker Network: This is a smaller network, though they have been growing recently. Sportsbooks use the back-end software at Chico and pool together their players to offer a great selection of poke games. Sites on this network include BetOnline and SportsBetting Poker.
There are some smaller networks coming through including the Equity Poker Network and the Revolution Network – which is currently rebuilding after a difficult 2013.
Residents of Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey have regulated legal poker sites to play on from within their State borders. You’ll be IP and address checked before you can play. At the moment these sites are smaller than most of the offshore sites listed above. Growth is expected as more people become aware of the opportunity to play in a safe and regulated environment.
Delaware Poker Sites – Delaware residents can play on a platform powered by the software of industry giant 888. With such a small population, you will only find a handful of tables at the regulated sites. These are branded by 3 different casino owners at this point in time, with Dover Downs Casino, Delaware Park and Harrington Raceway all sharing a common back end.
Nevada Poker Sites – Nevada were the second state to offer regulated real money poker games within their borders and have been a testing ground for early adopters keen to perfect their technology before moving on to States with bigger populations. You’ll need to be inside Nevada to access these sites, which include WSOP.com (powered by 888), Ultimate Poker and Real Gaming’s SouthPointPoker – which is in soft launch at the moment and will be open to all in the near future.
New Jersey Poker Sites – At the end of 2013, NJ joined the regulated States list. With 8 million residents, there has been a lot more interest from operators for this State than for Delaware or New Jersey. After a few months the tie-in between Party Poker and The Borgata Casino is emerging as the biggest site, this uses the new Party software – which has big ‘social elements’ in addition to the poker games. Other sites available include the 888-powered WSOP brand, who are leveraging their experience from being the debutant site in NV. 888 have also gone it alone in NJ, with 888Poker and WSOP both being powered by the 888 back-end. The remaining sites are Ultimate Poker (also in NV) and Betfair, who have yet to gain any significant traction.
With more sites preparing to launch, it will be interesting to see who emerges as the single biggest site 6 months from now.
There are at least 10 States who are considering legislation for poker sites, including the massive CA. This means we have a potentially exciting time for US poker over the next couple of years. For now you can play perfectly legally at the many offshore sites.