Online Poker in the United States (US): A Comprehensive Guide

There are currently 5 states that offer legal online poker for real money in the United States – New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Delaware.

Best US poker sites (Non-Regulated)

In addition to the state-regulated online poker sites available in the United States, there are several offshore platforms that offer poker games to U.S. players. Although these sites operate outside of U.S. jurisdiction, they are popular among players for their wide range of games, tournaments, and promotions.

It's important to note that playing on these platforms comes with a level of risk. As they are not regulated by U.S. authorities, player protections may not be as robust as on state-regulated sites. Here are a few notable platforms:

 updated: 24.05.2024
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The landscape of online poker in the United States has transformed significantly over the years, shaped by evolving legislation and technological advancements. This article will provide you with an in-depth understanding of the legal situation and history of online poker in the U.S., as well as a detailed list of available platforms and sites in each state.

US Online Poker Sites

Online poker in the U.S. isn't strictly against any laws, but the regulation and legalization of the activity have been done on a state-by-state basis. There are currently six states where online poker for real money is explicitly legal and regulated: Delaware, Nevada, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, and West Virginia. Pennsylvania joined this group when PokerStars went live in the state on November 4, 2019, and Michigan followed in 2021 when PokerStars and BetMGM went live.

West Virginia legalized online poker in 2019, but as of the time of writing, it has yet to launch a poker site. The state faces challenges due to its small population and the need for a shared liquidity pool with other states.

Online Poker in New Jersey

New Jersey has established itself as a thriving hub for online poker in the United States. The state took an early lead in legalizing online gambling, including poker, in 2013. Since then, New Jersey has created a regulated and licensed online poker market, allowing players within the state to enjoy real-money online poker games. The online poker platforms in New Jersey provide a diverse range of game options, including cash games, tournaments, and Sit & Go's, catering to players of all skill levels. The state's stringent regulations ensure player protection, fair gaming practices, and secure transactions. New Jersey's online poker industry has flourished due to its large population, vibrant poker community, and partnerships with renowned online poker operators. With its robust online poker offerings and a thriving player base, New Jersey continues to be a top destination for online poker enthusiasts in the United States. You can play online poker on the following sites in New Jersey:

  • Partypoker (recommended): We can offer new players an exclusive up to $600 signup bonus and $25 in tournament tickets. Players from New Jersey will get 100% on top of their deposit as a bonus with rakeback. partypokerbonus PartyPoker is a highly reputable and popular online poker platform that caters to players from New Jersey. With a long-standing presence in the online gaming industry, PartyPoker offers a diverse range of poker games and tournaments.

    Players can enjoy cash games, Sit & Go's, and multi-table tournaments across various poker variants, including Texas Hold'em and Omaha. The platform features cutting-edge software, providing a seamless and immersive playing experience. PartyPoker also hosts exciting promotions, rewarding players with bonuses, freerolls, and loyalty rewards. The platform places a strong emphasis on player security and fair play, ensuring a safe and transparent gaming environment.

    With a vibrant community, competitive player pool, and professional customer support, PartyPoker provides New Jersey players with a trusted and thrilling online poker destination.
  • 888Poker (recommended): New Players from New Jersey can use the poker-in.com deal to get either $20in free credits or a 100% deposit bonus of up to $1500 with rakeback. partypokerbonus 888poker is a renowned and reputable online poker platform that offers an exceptional experience for players in New Jersey. As a trusted name in the industry, 888poker delivers a wide range of poker games and tournaments. Players can enjoy cash games, Sit & Go's, and multi-table tournaments across various poker variants, including Texas Hold'em and Omaha.

    The platform's software is user-friendly, providing smooth gameplay and intuitive navigation. 888poker also offers exciting promotions and bonuses, including welcome offers, freerolls, and loyalty rewards, to enhance the value for players. With a strong commitment to player safety and fair gaming, 888poker ensures a secure and transparent online poker environment.

    With its vibrant community, competitive player pool, and reliable customer support, 888poker stands as a top choice for online poker enthusiasts in New Jersey.
  • WSOP: WSOP (World Series of Poker) provides an exceptional online poker platform for players in New Jersey. As one of the most renowned and prestigious poker brands in the world, WSOP brings the excitement and prestige of the live World Series of Poker tournaments to the online realm.

    Operating under the Caesars Interactive Entertainment license, WSOP offers a wide range of cash games, tournaments, and satellite events, allowing players to compete for coveted WSOP bracelets and substantial prize pools. The platform features user-friendly software, a variety of poker variations, and immersive gameplay, providing an authentic and thrilling online poker experience.

    With a strong player base and regular promotions, WSOP in New Jersey attracts both recreational players and seasoned professionals, offering a competitive and rewarding environment for all levels of expertise.
  • Borgata : Borgata, a premier casino and entertainment destination in Atlantic City, extends its excellence to the online poker platform for players in New Jersey. As a licensed and regulated operator, Borgata offers a high-quality online poker experience with a wide selection of cash games, tournaments, and special events.

    Players can enjoy popular poker variants such as Texas Hold'em, Omaha, and Stud, along with various formats to suit different playing preferences. The Borgata online poker platform boasts user-friendly software, sleek graphics, and seamless gameplay, delivering an immersive and engaging environment. With a reputation for hosting prestigious live poker events, Borgata brings its expertise and commitment to excellence to its online poker offering.

    Alongside its reputable brand, Borgata provides a secure and fair gaming environment, ensuring player safety and the integrity of the games. For players in New Jersey seeking a top-notch online poker experience, Borgata is a trusted and exciting choice.
  • PokerStars: PokerStars, a globally recognized and industry-leading online poker platform, offers an exceptional experience for players in New Jersey. Operating under the Resorts Digital Gaming license, PokerStars brings its renowned reputation and cutting-edge technology to the New Jersey market.

    With a wide range of cash games, tournaments, and Sit & Go's, PokerStars provides an extensive selection of poker variants, including Texas Hold'em, Omaha, and more. The platform offers a seamless and user-friendly interface, allowing players to easily navigate the site and enjoy the thrill of online poker. PokerStars also features innovative features such as multi-table functionality and robust player customization options. Additionally, the platform hosts major online poker series and events, providing opportunities for players to compete for substantial prize pools and prestigious titles.

    With a commitment to fair play and stringent security measures, PokerStars ensures a safe and trusted online poker environment for players in New Jersey. For those seeking a world-class online poker experience, PokerStars delivers excellence in both gameplay and player satisfaction.
  • Pala Poker: Pala Poker offers a compelling online poker platform for players in New Jersey. Backed by the trusted Pala Casino brand, Pala Poker delivers a secure and engaging environment for online poker enthusiasts.

    With a diverse range of cash games, tournaments, and Sit & Go's, players can enjoy a variety of poker variations and formats. The platform's intuitive interface and user-friendly software provide a seamless playing experience, allowing players to focus on their game. Pala Poker also features enticing promotions, including welcome bonuses, freerolls, and loyalty rewards, adding value and excitement to the player's journey.

    With a commitment to fair play and player protection, Pala Poker ensures a safe and transparent gaming environment. Whether you're a novice or a seasoned pro, Pala Poker offers an accessible and enjoyable online poker experience for players in New Jersey.
  • BetMGM Poker: BetMGM offers a comprehensive and trusted online poker platform for players in New Jersey. As a prominent name in the online gambling industry, BetMGM provides a secure and immersive environment for online poker enthusiasts. With a wide range of cash games, tournaments, and Sit & Go's, players can enjoy various poker variations and formats.

    The platform features user-friendly software, sleek graphics, and intuitive navigation, enhancing the overall playing experience. BetMGM also offers enticing promotions, including welcome bonuses and loyalty rewards, to enhance the value for players. With a strong reputation, reliable customer support, and a commitment to fair gaming, BetMGM's online poker platform provides an exciting and reliable option for players in New Jersey.

Online Poker in Nevada

  • WSOP
  • BetMGM Poker

Nevada stands as a pioneer and leader in the online poker industry. Being home to Las Vegas, the renowned gambling capital of the world, Nevada took an early and proactive approach to online poker. In 2013, the state legalized online poker and established the first regulated online poker market in the United States. Licensed online poker operators have been able to offer their services exclusively to players physically located within Nevada's borders. Nevada's online poker industry is regulated and closely monitored, ensuring player protection and fair gameplay. The state's online poker sites offer a range of cash games, tournaments, and promotions, catering to both casual players and seasoned professionals. With its rich history and expertise in the gambling industry, Nevada remains at the forefront of online poker, providing a reputable and exciting online poker experience for players in the Silver State.

Online Poker in Pennsylvania

  • Pokerstars
  • WSOP
  • BetMGM Poker
  • Borgata

Pennsylvania has emerged as a significant player in the online poker industry. In 2017, the state passed comprehensive gambling legislation that included provisions for legalizing and regulating online poker. Since then, licensed online poker operators have been able to offer their services to players within the state. Pennsylvania boasts a large population, making it an attractive market for online poker operators. Players in Pennsylvania can enjoy a variety of online poker games and tournaments, providing a convenient and accessible way to engage in their favorite card game from the comfort of their own homes. The state's strict regulations ensure a safe and fair gaming experience for players, making Pennsylvania a prominent destination for online poker enthusiasts.

Online Poker in Michigan

The Michigan Gaming Control Board has approved following legal, state-regulated online poker sites:

  • WSOP
  • BetMGM
  • PokerStars

In Michigan, various challenges involving tribal and brick-and-mortar casinos have hindered progress in the online gaming sector. However, in 2018, Bill H4926 was reintroduced, with Section 16 of the bill drawing attention as "the poison pill" due to its assumptions regarding changes in federal law and potential future competition between tribes and commercial casinos in online gaming and poker. The section was later amended by Representative Brandt Iden, resulting in a 68-40 vote in favor of establishing an Internet Gaming Act in Michigan. The bill is expected to proceed to a Senate vote in the fall of 2018. Overall, the gambling laws in Michigan are in need of an update, as they are outdated and confusing, making it difficult to target online poker players.

Online Poker in Delaware

Currently, the state of Delaware allows online poker at three sites that are regulated by the state:

  • Delaware Park: Delaware Park is a premier online poker platform that caters specifically to players in Delaware. As one of the three racetrack casinos in the state, Delaware Park offers a comprehensive online poker experience.
  • Harrington Raceway: Harrington Raceway is a prominent online poker platform that caters exclusively to players from Delaware. As one of the state's three racetrack casinos, Harrington Raceway offers a comprehensive online poker experience.
  • Dover Downs: Dover Downs is a highly regarded online poker platform that caters exclusively to players from Delaware. As one of the state's premier racetrack casinos, Dover Downs offers a top-notch online poker experience.

The sites all operate with 888 Poker software and include similar benefits when it comes to tournaments and promotions.

Delaware stands as one of the pioneering states in the realm of online poker. Since 2013, when the state legalized online gambling, including poker, Delaware has provided a regulated and licensed online poker platform for its residents. Through partnerships with established online gaming providers, Delaware offers a safe and secure environment for players to enjoy real-money online poker. The state's online poker player pool is shared with Nevada and New Jersey under the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement, allowing for increased liquidity and a more robust player experience. Delaware's forward-thinking approach to online poker has positioned it as a leader in the regulated online gaming industry

Other States

Alabama: No Legal Online Poker

As one of the most conservative states, the prospects of Alabama introducing gambling bills, including online poker, are slim. However, players in the state can still access offshore poker sites, often utilizing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin for transactions

Arkansas: No Legal Online Poker

Arkansas follows a conservative approach, and there is little chance of discussing legislation for a local online poker industry at the state level. Nevertheless, players in the state can access offshore poker sites, often using cryptocurrencies for transactions.

Arizona: No Legal Online Poker

Gambling and poker face unfavorable views from state authorities in Arizona. With no efforts to regulate the game at the state level, the prospects of legislation for the online poker industry seem unlikely.

Alaska: No Legal Online Poker

Given its small population of less than 740,000, Alaska would face significant challenges in establishing a locally-based online gambling industry. Online poker options in Alaska are limited.

California: Regulatory Challenges

California experienced the failure of an online poker bill in 2017. Future expansions of gaming, including sports betting, would require a statewide voter referendum. The legislative landscape in California remains dynamic, with possibilities of reintroducing poker bills or comprehensive gaming bills.

Connecticut: Potential for Online Gaming

With the opening of a jointly owned Mohegan/Foxwoods Casino, Connecticut is exploring avenues for incremental revenue through online gaming. The state has already pre-approved sports bets, and legislation for online poker, daily fantasy sports, and casinos could follow, potentially adopting an omnibus approach.

Florida: Liberalization of Gambling

Florida has seen liberalization in gambling across the state, but there have been no specific moves toward interactive gaming. The governor of Florida does not support online gaming, and poker laws remain unchanged.

Georgia: Confusion on Online Poker

Georgia's conservative stance on gambling has led to confusion regarding the legality of online poker. While the state maintains strict anti-gambling laws, residents face no legal repercussions for playing poker online. Several offshore poker providers welcome Georgians to register on their platforms.

Hawaii: Strict Gambling Laws

Hawaii maintains strict gambling laws, addressing them in the "Offenses Against Public Health and Morals" Code. While there are no licensed poker sites in the state, Hawaiians can still play on offshore US-facing sites.

Idaho: Offshore Options

Iowa has laws in place concerning gambling, but offshore poker providers continue to serve the state. No arrests have been made for playing online poker in Idaho.

Illinois: Evolving Legislation

Illinois introduced Senate Bill 3432 for sports betting in anticipation of the repeal of PASPA. Debate on poker and casino legislation may follow. Bills covering DFS and online gaming are still under debate, with the possibility of an omnibus approach. Recent attempts to amend existing land-based casino expansion bills failed to pass the Senate.

Iowa: Lenient Stance on Online Poker

Iowa offers various options for gamblers, including online poker. Iowans can play without fear of punishment, as offshore poker providers continue to serve the state without any arrests for online poker.

Indiana: Potential for Online Poker Innovation

The decline in revenue at state casinos in Indiana has been a noticeable trend over the past five years, especially during the tenure of former Governor Pence, who is now the Vice President. However, with Pence's departure, there is a greater likelihood that Indiana will embrace innovation within the existing casino industry and explore the option of moving business online to revive declining revenues. It is an interesting development considering the current poker laws in Indiana.

Kansas: No Legal Online Poker Options

Unfortunately, the state of Kansas, once known for its free-spirited approach, has become more restrictive when it comes to gambling. The state's laws now prohibit almost all forms of real money gambling, except for those authorized and regulated by the state. Poker players in Kansas who wish to play online have no legally sanctioned options and are forced to resort to offshore poker sites that are friendly to US players.

Kentucky: Limited Online Poker Availability

Kentucky's stance on online poker legality became uncertain after the state attempted to impose a hefty fine of $870 million on PokerStars in 2015 due to losses incurred by residents. In addition, Kentucky made an effort to seize 141 gambling-related domain names in 2008. While some websites reached settlements with the state, others stood their ground and had their domains returned. These actions led several offshore poker providers to withdraw from the state, leaving Kentucky players with very limited online poker options.

Louisiana: Potential for Online Gambling through Voter Referendum

There is a bill, SB322, on the agenda in Louisiana that could potentially introduce online gambling, but the decision would have to be made through a voter referendum. For more detailed information, one can refer to Louisiana's poker legislation page.

Maryland: Home Game Legalization, No Charges for Online Poker

In May 2016, Maryland's state legislature passed HB127, which permitted home games with certain restrictions. These games must not involve wagers exceeding $1,000 within a 24-hour period, and they must be purely social in nature, with no one other than the hand winner profiting from the game. Playing online poker in Maryland has not resulted in any charges or convictions against individuals.

Massachusetts: Legislative Efforts towards Online Gaming, Including Poker

Massachusetts has seen several online gambling bills proposed in recent years, often aligned with comprehensive "Player Research" surveys conducted by the state. While none of these bills have succeeded thus far, the state has shown increasing openness to expanding its gaming industry, evident through the establishment of new properties by MGM and Wynn. One bill currently open for debate, S200, aims to legalize and regulate online gaming, potentially including daily fantasy sports, sports betting, poker, and casino games, following a trend seen in many other states.

Michigan: Progress towards Internet Gaming Act, Unclear Online Poker Status

In Michigan, various challenges involving tribal and brick-and-mortar casinos have hindered progress in the online gaming sector. However, in 2018, Bill H4926 was reintroduced, with Section 16 of the bill drawing attention as "the poison pill" due to its assumptions regarding changes in federal law and potential future competition between tribes and commercial casinos in online gaming and poker. The section was later amended by Representative Brandt Iden, resulting in a 68-40 vote in favor of establishing an Internet Gaming Act in Michigan. The bill is expected to proceed to a Senate vote in the fall of 2018. Overall, the gambling laws in Michigan are in need of an update, as they are outdated and confusing, making it difficult to target online poker players.

Minnesota: Offshore Poker Platforms Operate Freely

Minnesota has a history of pursuing offshore gambling websites. In 2009, the state requested that internet service providers block specific domain names. However, the Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association opposed this order and successfully fought against it. Eventually, under public pressure, the state withdrew its request, allowing offshore poker platforms to operate freely within the state.

Mississippi: Poker Legal Only in Casinos, Online Gambling Prohibited

Mississippi had already prepared sports legislation prior to New Jersey's successful challenge of PASPA. This proactive approach may pave the way for further developments in daily fantasy sports, casinos, and poker. According to the Mississippi Gambling Commission's FAQ page, playing poker is only legal within licensed casinos, and online gambling is generally prohibited. However, some residents of the state still engage in online poker through offshore websites.

Nebraska: Lack of Live Poker Industry, Unclear Online Poker Legality

Given the absence of a live poker industry, online poker appears to be the primary option for residents of Nebraska. However, the laws in Nebraska statutes do not explicitly address poker or online poker, so it becomes necessary to examine the state's general gambling laws for a clearer understanding of the situation. It is evident that the gambling laws in Nebraska require significant modernization, as they do not adequately address online poker players.

New Hampshire: Unclear Online Poker Status

The online poker status in New Hampshire remains unclear, as the state's current laws do not address real-money online gaming. Efforts to pass online gambling bills in 2017 and 2018 have faced challenges, including legal charges against a bill sponsor, making the future of online poker in the state uncertain.

New York: Potential for Online Poker Combined with Sports Betting

New York has undergone significant gambling liberalization in recent years, and there is ongoing debate about legalizing online poker, potentially in combination with sports betting. While the state has cracked down on illegal operators, offshore poker sites continue to serve New York residents.

New Mexico: Strict Gambling Laws, Limited Exceptions

New Mexico has some of the strictest gambling laws, but there are exceptions that allow for certain types of gambling activities, including contests of skill and lotteries. The state's laws do not explicitly address online poker, leaving its status unclear.

North Carolina: Poker Laws Found in Specific Statutes

North Carolina's laws concerning poker can be found in specific statutes related to lotteries, gaming, bingo, and raffles. While the state has some gambling provisions, the status of online poker remains unclear under current legislation.

Montana: Clear Internet Gambling Laws, Online Poker Allowed

Montana stands out among states with its clear laws addressing internet gambling. The state's legal code specifically mentions online gambling, providing a straightforward understanding of the legality of online poker in Montana.

Missouri: Debate over Poker as Game of Chance

Missouri's gambling laws define gambling as risking anything of value in a game of chance. While the debate about whether poker is a game of chance or skill continues, the state's laws do not specifically mention online poker, leaving its legal status open to interpretation.

New York: Punishments for Illegal Operators, Offshore Sites Available

While New York has seen crackdowns on illegal operators, the penalties for misdemeanors related to gambling are not severe. Some offshore poker companies have chosen to leave the state, but there are still offshore poker sites available to New Yorkers.

North Dakota: Lack of Notable Poker Laws, General Gambling Regulations Apply

North Dakota's legal code does not contain notable laws specific to poker. Therefore, to assess the legality of online poker, one must refer to the state's general gambling laws, which govern all forms of gambling.

Oregon: Specific Legislation Addressing Online Gambling

Oregon is among the few states with legislation specifically mentioning online gambling. The state's legal code covers online gambling in the context of crimes and punishments, providing clarity on the legality of online poker in Oregon.

Oklahoma: Strict Regulations on Real-Money Gambling

While Oklahoma has expanded its gambling activities in recent years, real-money gambling remains strictly regulated. Under Title 21 of the state's legal code, engaging in illegal gambling activities carries harsher consequences than individual players face.

Pennsylvania: Comprehensive Laws Covering Gambling, Likely Inclusion of Poker

Pennsylvania's gambling laws, although concise, encompass a broad range of gambling activities. Although not explicitly mentioning poker, the state's laws generally consider poker as a form of gambling.

Rhode Island: Potential Impact from Massachusetts Gaming Liberalization

Rhode Island's small size and existing casino industry may be influenced by Massachusetts' gaming liberalization. The state's laws do not specifically address online poker, requiring interpretation based on broader gambling regulations.

South Carolina: Strict Laws against Gambling in General

South Carolina maintains a strong opposition to gambling, evident in its comprehensive list of laws against the practice. The state's legal code, under Title 16, Chapter 19, prohibits gambling and lotteries.

Texas: Limited Live Poker Opportunities, Little Movement in Gaming Legislation

Texas, known as the birthplace of Texas Hold'em, offers limited opportunities for live poker. However, the state has made little progress in terms of online gaming legislation, including online poker.

Tennessee: Limited Live Gambling Options, Strict Laws Apply

With limited options for live gambling, Tennessee's strict laws extend to all forms of gambling. The state's legal code, under Title 39, criminalizes gambling activities, including online poker.

Utah: Strong Opposition to Gambling, Availability of Offshore Poker Sites

Utah takes a firm stance against gambling, both online and offline. Despite strict laws, offshore poker sites continue to serve Utah residents.

Vermont: Limited Land-based Gambling, No Specific Online Poker Law

Vermont's limited land-based gambling industry does not have specific laws addressing online card games like poker. However, the state references poker in relation to a lottery game, creating ambiguity regarding online poker.

Virginia: Strict Stance against Most Forms of Gambling

Virginia maintains strict regulations against most forms of gambling, including online poker. The state's legal code reflects its stringent stance on gambling activities.

Washington: Existing Anti-Gaming Laws, Felony for Online Poker but No Arrests Made

Washington faces challenges in introducing new online gaming legislation due to existing anti-gaming laws. While playing online poker within the state borders is a felony, authorities have not arrested online poker players, who continue to access offshore poker sites.

Wisconsin: No Specific Poker Laws, Reference to General Gambling Regulations

Wisconsin's legal code does not contain specific laws regarding poker. Determining the legality of online poker in the state requires consideration of Wisconsin's gambling laws in general.

West Virginia: Pressure from Neighboring Pennsylvania, Online Gaming Bill on Agenda

West Virginia has faced pressure from neighboring Pennsylvania's gaming expansion. The state's legal code covers various forms of gambling but does not explicitly mention online poker, leaving its status unclear.

Regulated Online Poker in the U.S.

Under the leadership of New Jersey, a new chapter in the story of online poker was initiated. The state, seeing the deteriorating fortunes of Atlantic City over the years, decided to take a bold step. Senator Raymond Lesniak, with the backing of co-sponsors John Burzichelli, Vincent Prieto, and Ruben Ramos Jr., championed bill A2578, which aimed at legalizing online poker and casinos in the state. This bill, initially introduced on February 16th, 2012, was the result of persistent efforts after two previous failures.

On December 17th of the same year, the New Jersey House of Representatives passed the bill with a 48 to 25 majority, and it was subsequently approved by the state's Senate on December 20th, with 33 senators voting in favor and only three against. Governor Chris Christie ratified the bill on the same day.

This legislation promised a fresh start for Atlantic City's struggling casinos, permitting all licensed establishments to offer online poker and casino games. The revenue generated from these platforms was subjected to a 15% tax, compared to an 8% tax on land-based casinos. To align with the state's constitution, all online gambling sites were required to have their physical locations within Atlantic City. Additional measures were put in place to curb underage gambling and use geo-location technology to ensure no cross-state gambling occurred, which kept potential federal bills at bay.

The next challenge was the actual launch of online gambling, an area where European operators had a significant lead due to their decade-long experience in technology, software, and marketing. To bridge this gap, Atlantic City casinos formed partnerships with European brands eager to tap into the American market. In November 2013, a number of Atlantic City casinos and their European partners unveiled their online brands. Some of these partnerships included Borgata with Party Poker, Caesars with 888, and Tropicana with Virgin.

A significant milestone occurred in May 2018 when WSOP initiated a liquidity sharing program, merging their player pools from New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada. This action tackled initial apprehensions about interstate online poker.

Around the same time, the Supreme Court ruled against the NCAA, effectively overturning the Federal Sports Betting Ban known as PASPA. This verdict has opened up potential avenues for the regulation of various forms of online gambling. The legalization of sports betting is expected to have a sweeping and rapid effect, potentially accelerating the growth of online poker and iGaming in general. In June 2018, following the successful litigation of PASPA, a sports bill was passed and is currently awaiting the governor's signature.

The History of Online Poker in the U.S.

The origins of online poker trace back to January 1998, with the inception of Planet Poker, a venture created by Canadian entrepreneur Randy Blumer. This was the venue where the inaugural real money poker hand was dealt online. In the same year, Yahoo Games unveiled play money Texas Hold'em games, which significantly contributed to popularizing this new version of poker amongst a broad audience.

As Texas Hold'em began gaining popularity in both casinos and the nascent online poker industry, Paradise Poker emerged in late 1999. This platform introduced a more professional branding and superior game quality, quickly ascending to the top spot in the online poker world after just a day of operation.

Given that the industry was still in its infancy, it was unsurprising that the legal framework surrounding online poker was undeveloped and ambiguous. While the early online poker platforms operated legally in jurisdictions such as Costa Rica or Antigua, questions concerning the legality of online poker in certain locales remained unanswered. For instance, where was the bet technically placed? Was it legal for a player to participate in online poker? And were the laws surrounding online poker federal or state-specific?

It's important to note that while the laws of the United States may hold sway within its borders, they do not extend globally, though their influence can be felt internationally. This is a significant point to bear in mind when discussing the legality of online poker.

During the eras of Planet Poker and Paradise Poker, the operators relied on legal opinions that mainly took into consideration the Federal Wire Act of 1961. This act, primarily targeting sporting events or contests, made specific reference to a wire communication facility, an instrument used by organized crime syndicates for bookmaking operations, long before the advent of the internet. Labeling poker as a sport was a contentious point, and many believed that poker, being a game of skill, should not be classified alongside betting games.

In 2002, a noteworthy U.S. court case involved the Federal Wire Act in relation to poker and casino operations. On November 20th, the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, ruled in favor of some online casinos accused of illegality. The court stated that these online platforms were not in violation of the Wire Act (18 U.S.C. § 1084) which, in the court's interpretation, did not outlaw non-sports internet gambling. This was a positive development for the online gambling industry.

Fast forward to 2006, a U.S. federal bill, known as the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), was passed on September 14th. The act was enacted without standard discussion or voting, as an amendment to the unrelated Port SAFE Act, and was pushed through the Senate on the last day before the summer recess. The Act focused on payment procedures, making financial institutions and banks liable for actively limiting transactions potentially related to gambling. While the UIGEA largely relied on pre-existing laws to determine the legality of games, it stated that any game that involves chance constitutes gambling. Furthermore, it clarified that betting occurs where the user is located, not on the remote server. The passing of the UIGEA caused many online poker operators, especially publicly traded ones, to leave the U.S. market before the October 13, 2006 deadline, leading to a significant reduction in player liquidity for brands like Party Poker, Paradise Poker, and 888.

In 2007, the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued subpoenas to several investment banks such as HSBC, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, and Dresdner Kleinwort, which had transacted with various publicly traded companies. The DOJ's actions were met with widespread criticism in Europe, as U.S. authorities were considered to be overstepping their jurisdiction.

From 2007 to 2010, several public brands, under pressure, reached settlement agreements with the DOJ. Party Poker settled first in April 2009 for $105 million, followed by Sportingbet (owner of Paradise Poker) in September 2010 for $33 million. These settlements involved admissions of illegal gambling, bank fraud, and wire fraud, although these were largely viewed as nominal pleas intended to create an impression of successful law enforcement.

In 2008, a shocking development occurred when Anurag Dikshit, a founding shareholder and software chief of Party Poker, pleaded guilty to wire charges and agreed to pay a staggering $300 million settlement. Dikshit, who had traveled from India to a Manhattan courtroom, was believed to have succumbed to enormous pressure, and his actions were criticized by industry insiders. For instance, Ruth and Russ Parasol, key founders of the platform, never considered admitting guilt, especially not to wire charges, which were the basis of their legal stance from the beginning.

The era between 2007 and 2010 was dominated by Poker Stars and Full Tilt, while European companies were dealing with settlements related to pre-Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) activities. These two privately owned brands, along with Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet, thrived in a less competitive landscape, despite the new federal law. Notably, they continued to advertise on major networks through their .net domains. Their success was partly attributed to a coding workaround that miscoded the required 7995 credit card code, making poker deposits appear as purchases for items like jewelry and golf balls.

Poker Stars, in particular, capitalized on this era by leveraging their American player pool to attract European and global players. Meanwhile, European brands, such as Party Poker, iPoker, and Ongame networks, faced difficulties competing in this environment and were also preparing for early stages of regulation. Party Poker, with a 10% global share, led the way in Europe during this time. The private companies' public data from this period is limited, but it's widely accepted that Poker Stars greatly benefited from the lack of serious competition in the USA, except for Full Tilt.

The period of advantage abruptly ended on April 15, 2011, a day infamously known as Black Friday in the poker world. On this day, the U.S. government indicted the founders of Poker Stars, Full Tilt, and Absolute Poker on charges of bank fraud, money laundering, and illegal gambling. The charges, which were primarily focused on payments and fraud, carried hefty penalties totaling $3 billion.

Later in 2011, on September 20th, the Department of Justice (DOJ) opined on the legality of online state lottery sales in New York and Illinois, in relation to the Wire Act. The DOJ concluded that the Wire Act only applies to sports events or contests, thereby giving online poker a reprieve and providing New Jersey with the green light to proceed with their online licensing plans.

In 2012, the DOJ took control of the Poker Stars and Full Tilt .com domains. Full Tilt was found to be spiralling out of control due to their failure to protect their player's deposits, as per the regulatory requirement, which made it resemble a Ponzi scheme. Poker Stars managed to mitigate the situation by forfeiting $547 million related to their US operations and agreed to pay an additional $184 million to reimburse Full Tilt players. As a result of these negotiations, Poker Stars was given a clean slate for their eventual re-entry into the U.S. market, and Mark Scheinberg, the founder's son, was cleared of any wrongdoing, unlike his father who remained indicted on personal criminal charges.

Also in 2012, a significant ruling occurred in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Judge Jack Weinstein declared that Texas Hold’em, a game being offered in a warehouse by Lawrence DiCristina, is a game of skill, marking a major ruling for the game of poker. However, in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, avoiding the issue altogether.

Between 2012 and 2020, the aftermath of the notorious Black Friday poker scandal, only two representatives of poker brand operations underwent incarceration. Brent Beckley, a prominent figure in Absolute Poker, served 10 months, while Scott Tom, the head of the same organization, was incarcerated for a week. These two were instrumental in the controversial operations of Absolute Poker.

However, the harshest sentences were imposed on individuals who acted as payment processors - third parties responsible for misencoding credit card transactions. Among them, Ira Rubin received the most severe penalty, a three-year prison term. Ray Bitar, Full Tilt's CEO, was exempt from jail time owing to his serious heart condition and fragile health, although his health appears to have considerably improved since then. Many others had to face relatively minor penalties, with charges primarily based on the Illegal Gambling Business Act, UIGEA, and instances of bank fraud.

As of this writing, Isai Scheinberg, the founder of Poker Stars, is the last individual awaiting his sentence, which was scheduled for the summer of 2020 in Manhattan. Scheinberg, alongside his wife, has been residing in Manhattan's luxurious Sofitel hotel, the only guests at the moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to the hotel's shutdown. His anticipated sentence is likely to be a substantial fine amounting to billions of dollars, but it is not expected to include any jail time.

In 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) controversially revised its stance on the Wire Act, opining that it also covered non-sports related gaming, including online poker. The poker industry viewed this decision with skepticism, attributing it to the influence of traditional brick-and-mortar casino lobbyists.

New Jersey's online gaming regulators were incensed by the DOJ's flip-flop, leading NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to challenge the ruling in the First District Federal Court of Appeals. This was understandable, given that the DOJ's reversal could potentially render their operations illegal, especially since many operators were pooling liquidity across states.

The New Hampshire lotteries also took umbrage at the DOJ's opinion, filing a lawsuit in District court in June 2019. The verdict was in their favor, with Judge Paul Barbadoro ruling that the Wire Act did not apply to all forms of online gambling, including poker.

The likelihood of the courts siding with the DOJ is slim, and it is even less likely that regulated states will comply with this desperate attempt to revert to a previous legal interpretation of an outdated federal law. It appears that they are more inclined to prosecute traditional crimes like bank fraud and rely on state law violations, triggering the Illegal Gambling Business Act.