Is Online Poker in the U.S. Legal?
There is no cut and dry answer to that question. The state of online poker in the United States is continually in flux. Countless taxpayer dollars have been spent debating its legality, and the likelihood of these debates continuing for several more years is a virtual guarantee.
Back in 2006 just about every red-blooded poker aficionado could easily deposit funds onto their favorite online site. By 2011, almost no one could. The current situation lies somewhere in the middle, and is looking better by the day.
Right now, there is no federal law that disallows creating and using an online poker account in the United States. On the state level, things aren’t as black and white. Existing state laws either do not address online poker, or only refer to it indirectly. In fact, only one state has passed an actual law prohibiting and criminalizing online poker – Washington.
The good news is that most states either have, or are seriously considering, passing legislation that allows them to regulate online poker.
On this site, you will find a comprehensive collection of information detailing the legal status of online poker on a state-by-state basis. With it, you’ll be able to quickly discover the best and most secure ways to play online poker.
Playing Online Poker in the United States
Attempting to figure out whether online poker is legal in your state can be an arduous process. There are a handful of smaller sites that allow players from most states, and others that have pulled out of the U.S market altogether – at least temporarily. Some sites, like Club WPT, implement subscription-based models that bypass U.S gambling laws.
It seems that each and every day, a new headline is being published that alters how federal government feels towards online gambling. Yet, to date, no bill has been passed confirming its legality. Due to this, most states have taken matters into their own hands, with some, like Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada, already passing legislation that regulates it.
But for those who want to play now, take solace in the fact that there are at least a dozen reputable sites welcoming players from the United States.
Online Poker Regulation by State
Recent History Regarding the Legality of Online Poker in the US
In 2006, the Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board reached an agreement to pass the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). It explicitly
prohibits any person engaged in the business of betting or wagering from knowingly accepting payments in connection with the participation of another person in unlawful Internet gambling
. The bill was met with heavy opposition, and at first, did little to stop the biggest online gaming sites from accepting new players. In fact, to players, its initial impact was nearly negligible.
However, within 24 hours of the bill’s passage, PartyGaming’s stock dropped a staggering 60%. In addition, online gambling sites based in U.K immediately stopped accepting U.S players.
But it wasn’t until 2011, that things really took a turn for the worse:
In mid-April 2011, several of the largest online poker sites, including PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker (FTP), Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet were indicted on charges related to violation of the UIGEA. Subsequently, they all pulled out of all U.S markets.
Full Tilt, in particular, was charged with violations regarding player payment processing. More specifically, the mega-site was accused of using fraudulent methods in order to avoid restrictions imposed by the UIGEA. In July, 2012 PokerStars agreed upon a settlement of $731 million that would see them purchasing their former rival Full Tilt Poker. $543 of this would be submitted directly to the United States government while the remaining $184 would be used to reimburse non-U.S customers of FTP. In turn, PokerStars would be charged with no wrongdoing.
Unfortunately, for those who held money on Full Tilt, it would be a year or more before most of them would receive what was rightfully there’s. The founders of Full Tilt, including professional players Howard Lederer and Chris “Jesus” Ferguson were accused of running a Ponzi scheme, and blacklisted by most of the poker community. As expected, they have denied involvement.
The Aftermath of Black Friday – State Regulation
Although PokerStars left the market, U.S players still had a few ways to play poker online. And in the following months after Black Friday, more and more sites entered the market, notables including the Winning Poker Network, the Merge Network and Bovada (formerly known as Bodog in the United States). Many of these sites house tens of thousands of U.S players.
Then, in August, 2012, online poker experienced a landmark victory. New York judge Jack Weinstein upheld that poker is a game of skill, not luck, and is therefore not illegal under the Illegal Gambling Business Act. Subsequently, the Poker Players Alliance’s (PPA) lawyers began arguing that online poker should be held separate from other Internet Gaming laws and would benefit from federal regulation.
Although federal regulation of online poker is still a distinct possibility, some states decided to take matters into their own hands, if only to accelerate the process. In particular, Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey all passed bills that would allow regulation at a state level. To date, Nevada is the only state to offer a legal, fully licensed online poker site – Ultimate Poker. However, New Jersey is poised to “go-live” this November, as is Delaware. Furthermore, it looks like either PokerStars or the new Full Tilt Poker will be coming to the Garden State, marking the first time in two years either of those sites have opened their doors to U.S players.
Experts believe that more and more states will follow suit, abiding by the guidelines set forth by the pioneers of state-level regulated Internet gaming, especially if the Federal government decides not to impose its own regulations. Time will ultimately tell, but as of right now, the legality and availability of online poker in the Unites States is looking very promising.