Poker as we know it today was invented in the United States and is enjoyed by millions of Americans -- whether in home games for pennies or in high-stakes online games for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
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Sadly, for American poker enthusiasts, over the past five years or so online poker regulation in the US market has been a long, difficult process with various states deciding individually whether to officially license the game.
This situation was brought about by the passing of the Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006 that some of the larger sites out of the US market immediately and resulted in the shutdown of PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker in 2011.
The weird thing about the UIGEA was that it never expressly made it illegal for people to PLAY online poker. It only made it "illegal" for banks to process transactions from online "gambling" sites.
Some publicly traded companies, like PartyPoker, left the market right away. Other sites, like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, didn’t and flourished because they continued to offer virtual poker.
Things took a turn for the worse on April 15, 2011, when federal authorities unsealed an indictment against three of the biggest online poker sites in the world and forced them out of the US market for good.
Fortunately, all players were eventually paid back and now over the last few years online poker sites have slowly made their way back into the US market in three states - Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey.
Is it Illegal to Play Online Poker in the US?
The important thing to remember is that while some sites may have operated in a gray area, it was never illegal to actually play online poker in the USA at any point.
Online poker is now officially licensed in three US states - Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey - with more on the way.
As long as you are of legal age and reside in or are currently located inside state borders, you can legally play online poker at any of the licensed sites
What’s the Difference Between US Poker Sites and Euro Sites?
The biggest difference between online poker sites in the USA and in Europe is that the Euro sites tend to have much larger player pools.
European online poker sites tend to share players between countries, which makes for a much larger pool of opponents to play against. They also can offer a more varied range of poker games and stakes to play.
Unfortunately in the US sites are quite often regulated to just the USA or even just one state. That means that the Euro sites are generally rocking a lot of easy-to-win action 24/7 with cash games, tournaments and Sit & Go’s starting all the time.
It’s not all bad for US poker players, however, as the promos tend to be quite good as the companies try to attract more players.
There are also quite a few bad players on the US-facing sites as rookies who maybe missed out on the online poker craze the first time around venture into the water for the first time.
Other than the distinctly different player pools you’ll actually have access to a lot of the same poker software that you get in Europe.
Why Aren’t There More Players?
There weren’t many online poker sites operating in the USA for a number of years so it’s taken some time to rebuild the player pool.
On the bright side players have been flocking back to the online poker sites and we’re starting to see some big tournaments and cash games start to run again.
It can only get better from here on.
What’s the Best Online Poker Site for US Players?
It’s hard to answer that question while being objective but there are some key factors you should think about when depositing on an online poker site in the USA.
Here’s a sample of some of the things you should be thinking about:
1. Can you play it in your state?
2. Are there enough opponents?
3. Does the site offer more tournaments or more cash games?
4. Are the players bad?
Some of these factors may be more important to you than others so you should probably be asking yourself what you want to play.
If you’re just starting out we’d suggest playing on a site with a decent collection of players (hopefully not that skilled) that offers a solid sign-up bonus and promotions to help build your bankroll up from scratch.
Fortunately Poker Rooms Online has a comprehensive collection of reviews so you can learn more about the best US poker sites.
Why Can’t I Play on PokerStars/PartyPoker/888poker?
The fully licensed online poker sites are relegated to certain states that have an open-door policy to online poker.
You’ll have to check with your online poker site of choice and make sure that it actually offers its product in your home state.
There are usually some options, however, if your favorite site doesn’t operate in your preferred location.
What’s the Deal with NJ and Nevada?
Nevada and New Jersey were the first two states in the USA to re-open their doors to online poker.
There’s a good chance if you reside in NJ or Nevada that you’re guaranteed to be able to play — provided you are of age of course!
Recently Delaware has also begun offering legal online poker and New York, Pennsylvania and California are rumored to be close behind.
Poker sites operating in these states are restricted to and aimed specifically at players from the United States and offer specific promotions for American players.
For now these poker sites are closed to players in the rest of the US but Nevada and Delaware do share a player pool.
If you played online poker before the shutdown in 2011 you know it was a great experience socializing with people from around the world, but playing poker in a genuinely American environment is equally satisfying.
You can debate the latest local poker news, play together and simply sit back and enjoy a game of cards with other players from your home state. The above list shows the best American poker rooms according to Poker Rooms Online.