Poker as we know it today was invented in the United States and is enjoyed by millions of Americans every day -- in home games for pennies, in high-stakes online games for hundreds of thousands of dollars and in card rooms and casinos everywhere in between.
Sadly, for American poker enthusiasts, over the past 7 or 8 years regulation for US poker sites has been a long, difficult process. Just 3 states (Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware) currently have real-money online poker sites for US players with a 4th (Pennsylvania) soon to join in.
Each state now individually decides whether it will officially license US poker sites (and casino games) and the process is a tedious one. That said, though, there are still a few ways US players can log to a real-money poker site and get some hands in. And we hope those ways continue to grow in the near future.
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You Can Legally Play Online Poker in the USA!
The current legal situation for USA poker sites has its roots in the passing of the Unlawful Gambling Enforcement Act all the way back in 2006. As part of then President Bush's efforts to cut off support to offshore militant groups the UIGEA was tacked on to and passed to an unrelated Port Security bill.
The mission was ostensibly to prevent money laundering by criminal groups but online poker players across the US were caught in the crossfire. The UIGEA never actually made online poker illegal - it only made it illegal for banks to process online gaming transactions.
That put the dozens of online poker sites operating in the United States into a legal grey area that each responded to differently. Public companies that traded on the London Stock Exchange like Party Poker withdrew from the US market and returned customer funds immediately.
Some poker sites operating in the US, like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, chose to interpret the legal situation differently and continued to offer online poker games to US players unabated - at least until the DOJ swooped in and shut down PokerStars and Full Tilt, among others, in 2011.
On April 15, 2011, federal authorities unsealed an indictment against those online poker sites still openly operating in the US and forced them out of the US market - at least temporarily.
Fortunately, all players were eventually paid back and now over the last few years online poker brands have slowly made their way back into the US market in three states - Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey - with Pennsylvania soon to follow.
An important thing to remember in all this - online poker has never been illegal in the United States at any point!
Is it Illegal to Play Online Poker in the US?
Definitely not! The important thing to remember, as mentioned, is that while some sites may have operated in a grey 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. Pennsylvania introduced legislation to fully license and regulate online poker and casino games in 2018 and should be live by the end of that year or early in 2019.
California, New York, Michigan and more are also committed to brining online poker back to its citizens sooner rather than later. An interstate player sharing compact has already been signed between New Jersey and Nevada and, as more states join in, we're on our way back to a whole and healthy group US poker sites again.
How long that might take is still to be determined. But in the meantime, as long as you are of legal age and reside in or are currently located inside the state borders or any of the legalized states, you can legally play online poker at any licensed US poker site!
- PokerStars NJ
- WSOP Poker
- Borgata Poker
- Pala Poker
Check our full online poker reviews or the toplist above for the online poker sites open to you!
Can I Play on US Poker Sites if I Live Somewhere Else?
Yes! If you are visiting one of the three states that offer legalized online poker and physically inside the state's borders you are more than welcome to play online poker.
Proper identification and geo-targeting is required to confirm you are within state borders but once you have submitted the proper information and been approved for play you're good to go.
You will need to download the proper local software client to play (and likely pursue an in-person or temporary means of making a deposit like a local pre-paid Visa card) but otherwise it proceeds exactly like it does in your home country.
Many players who visit the WSOP in Las Vegas in the summer, for example, find plenty of action on WSOP.com. You can even play for 4 official WSOP gold bracelets in online events!
If you're visiting New York City, as millions of people do every year, it's a short ride to New Jersey - and specifically Atlantic City, where your options for poker both live and online are plentiful!
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 - at least right now.
European online poker sites tend to share players between countries (eg. PokerStars.eu) 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 poker sites are now regulated to just the state it is licensed in or the shared player pool of all 3 states. 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 while the US poker sites are more conentrated at specific hours (eg. evenings and weekends)
It’s not all bad for US poker sites, 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 sites as rookies who maybe missed out on the online poker craze the first time around venture into the waters 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 US Players?
After the shock of Black Friday in 2011 there just weren’t many online poker sites operating in the USA for a number of years. Poker players also had their money seized for an extended period of time (thankfully, most of it now returned) so it’s taken some time to rebuild the player pool.
On the bright side players have been flocking back to US poker sites over the past year or so and we’re starting to see some big tournaments and cash games start to run again. Nevada and New Jersey have also signed a pact to combine player pools which will help increase overall liquidity and boost prize pools. It will only get better from here on out.
What’s the Best US Poker Site for Real Money?
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?
- 5. What are the promotions and poker bonuses like?
- 6. Does it just offer Texas Holdem or can you also play Omaha, Stud and Mixed Games?
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?
These fully licensed online poker sites operating in hundreds of countries around the world are unfortunately relegated to just a few states right now that have an open-door policy to online poker. You’ll have to check with your online poker site of choice to be sure that it actually offers its product in your home state.
There are usually more online poker options, however, if your favorite site doesn’t operate in your preferred location.
A note on playing with a VPN/on unlicensed poker sites: If you live in a state that doesn't have licensed online poker it can be tempting to try to work around the system by either:
- a) Using a VPN (virtual private network) to play on an online poker site outside of the US
- b) Playing on an unlicensed poker site that accepts US players
From our experience these are both very bad ideas.
As for a) Playing via VPN from the US is against the terms and conditions of all of the major poker sites so you will likely have your account closed and any balances forfeited. The level of security major poker sites use is high so there is virtually no chance your play will go undetected.
As for b), and unlicensed site has no overseeing body or legal oversight so you literally have no recourse to get your money paid out or returned to you. They can close down at any point and take your balance with them. All of your funds are at risk at all times and it's not worth the risk to play at all.
What’s the Future for USA Poker Sites?
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 online poker for the near and distant future — provided you're of age, of course!
Delaware also has legal online poker and shares a player pool with Nevada. New York, Pennsylvania and California are rumored to be close behind and, when legislation is finally passed, adding those states plus increasing the shared player pools will DRAMATICALLY increase the volume of players available to play online.
California and New York are obviously two of the most populous states in the US and would bring immediate liquidity to any shared 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!