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Welcome to Legal Poker USA!
This site was designed with the goal of keeping all readers up to date with everything that has to do with legal poker in the country. With all the changes that the poker industry in the United States has seen over the years, it can be very confusing, trying to understand exactly what you are allowed to play in each state. Our site has pages dedicated to each state where we break down all the laws as they pertain to residents and give you all the news regarding poker as it breaks.
Bookmark this page if you are a poker fan – we’ve got everything you need!
States where online poker is legal in the U.S.
Let’s start by walking you through exactly where you can
play legal real money online poker in the U.S. Multiple states have now passed
poker legislation, and we will continue to update this list as more states come
New Jersey was the first state to go live with legal
online poker sites after the collapse of the initial wave of online poker. In
2013, the first legal online poker hands were dealt in the state, and today
there are multiple options for players looking for cash games and tournaments.
Nevada was an obvious choice for a state that would lead
the charge into online poker regulations. However, the state has had many
challenges in keeping sites full of players, and as you can see from our Nevada
page, while there aren’t as many choices for residents and visitors to the
state, there are still some excellent reasons to be playing online.
One of the smallest states by population, Delaware, was
actually the first state to pass online poker legislation, narrowly beating New
Jersey to the line. However, the sites in that state launched after the Garden
State, and given the small population, it needed some help to keep games
active. An agreement between Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey allowed for the sharing
of traffic, which in turn had given players in the small state more action when
they log into their favorite poker game.
Pennsylvania was one of the first states to pass
legislation in anticipation of the repeal of PASPA. However, there were many
roadblocks for potential operators, not the least of which was the cost of a
license, which was $4 Million. The first legal online poker site in the state
launched in late 2019, and the momentum from that should be multiple entries to
the market in the years to come.
West Virginia is another state that legalized online
poker as part of a comprehensive online gambling bill a couple of years ago.
However, the launch has been delayed for a long time due to some significant
issues the state had in launching some of the sports betting sites. It is
expected that the online poker games in that state will launch in 2020
Many states are considering adding poker and casino to their sports betting bills, but Michigan is one of the few states that managed to complete the task. In late 2019, the comprehensive gambling bill was passed that would see multiple online poker licenses issued. However, the regulations have yet to be approved, and the early indication is that no poker sites will be able to launch before 2021 at the earliest.
Poker has a long history in the United States, dating
back to the 1800s in some form or another. The game you likely recognize as
poker – Texas Hold’em – was only developed in the middle of the 20th
century. The game that was played before that was Draw Poker. This is the game
you typically see in movies that depict wither mob or cowboy life in the 1940s
Today, land-based poker continues to be incredibly
popular in the United States. The growth of the game can be attributed to many
things, including online play, but also the expansion of poker on television. Broadcasting
major poker events like the World Series of Poker made poker something people
could see and hear and opened the eyes of many who realized that they could
possibly be a World Champion.
The growth in popularity of the WSOP led to the
introduction of the World Poker Tour, and even though online poker was a big
part of growing those tours with the qualifiers that players could enter at
poker sites, the live poker scene continues to thrive in the last decade. There
are now multiple tours that range from localized to national, and with buy-ins
from a few hundred dollars to multiple thousands, there is a live poker
tournament for everyone!
When it comes to poker rooms in the U.S., each state is
different. Some, like California, have dozens of card rooms spread across the
state, while many states are shut out of live poker altogether. Our individual
state pages cover exactly what you can and cannot play in each state and if
there are rooms in neighboring states to provide more options for those in
states with little or no open poker rooms.
Online Poker History
Sites like ours and many others wouldn’t exist if it
hadn’t been for the online poker boom in the U.S. The earliest days of online
poker date back to the mid-1990s, but the online poker you have come to know
and love hit the scene around 1998. Back then, poker sites were slow and
clunky, often requiring a CD to install the software itself. As the industry
grew, it became much easier for players to access games, especially as
broadband internet connections become more common.
In the early days, online poker was dominated by one
company – Paradise Poker. At one point, that company housed over 90% of the
traffic in the industry. In the early 2000s, companies like Party Poker and
Poker Stars launched and started growing their base as well. The Paradise Poker
founders decided it was time to get out, and they sold their business.
The poker industry continued to grow for a couple of
years, with more sites getting in on the action. However, no one could have
predicted what would happen in 2003 when an accountant from Tennessee ended up
on ESPN winning the World Series of Poker Main Event wearing a Poker Stars
logo. From that moment, everything changed – sites saw massive spikes in play
as new players from around the world joining sites in record numbers.
Soon, there would be online poker tournaments on some
sites with prize pools of over one million dollars, and the desire to be the
next Chris Moneymaker brought thousands of online qualifiers to the World
Series of Poker. In 2006, there were over 4,000 online qualifiers joining the
record number of live entries, making it the largest Main Event in history (a
record that still stands today).
However, there was always something nagging at those in
the industry. The operators of these sites were based out of the country, and
there was no clear indication that what they were doing was, in fact, legal. What
the government did know was that these firms were generating hundreds of
millions in revenue and not paying any U.S. tax, so they had to do something. Rather
than make online poker illegal to play, they instead made the banking transactions
illegal, forcing the banks to stop allowing Americans to use their cards to
This changed everything once again. Within days of the
passing of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act in October 2006, all
the publicly-traded gaming companies accepting U.S. players left the market. This
caused major panic for players, but the privately held sites, including Poker
Stars, decided they would stay and continue to operate in the market. Over the
following five years, these sites would see massive revenue numbers from the
U.S. market. Everything seemed to be going very well for these operators and
for the players continuing to play in the millions from across the U.S.
Until…Black Friday. On April 15th, 2011, the
Department of Justice seized the domains of the remaining U.S.- facing sites as
part of an indictment of the four remaining operations (Poker Stars, Full Tilt
Poker, Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker). At that moment, everything changed
once again for poker players in the U.S. – there were no games to play.
The reason for the long history lesson is to explain that
his industry has seen an awful lot over the last 20 years, and still poker
players from across the country love the game. Legal poker sites will come back
to the U.S. – it isn’t a matter of if, but when. Yes, the landscape will look
very different, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the population’s desire to
play legal real money online poker.
Banking at Legal Poker Sites
As mentioned, the first nail in the coffin of the first
wave of online poker sites was to cripple the banking options available to
players. This sent operators scrambling to find options that U.S. players could
use for deposits and withdrawals. Now, with the introduction of legal online
poker sites in some states, the payment methods are more plentiful than ever. We’ll
walk you through each of the payment options and how they work on pages
Alternatives to real money online poker
While all the attention was paid to real money online
poker, there was a large group of players for whom online poker was for
entertainment purposes only. These players used the chat boxes in the poker
rooms as one of the first “social networks,” playing for play money chips and
the simple love of the game.
When the online poker bubble burst in 2011, players went
searching for alternatives, and operators looked for new ways to attract poker
fanatics. From this came several alternatives to the traditional online poker
This is a kind of poker variant where players pay a
monthly fee to access games that give away prizes. They have become popular
with a very small niche group of players in the United States, but they are
totally legal in 36 states.
Just like Subscription Poker, Sweepstakes Poker is legal
and takes advantage of sweepstakes laws in each of the 50 states except
Washington. Sites can offer sweepstakes currency as a reward for purchasing
other forms of virtual currency or goods. The sweepstakes currency can be
“gambled” against other players, and the winner can cash in the tokens for cash
The rise of Facebook opened up a whole new market for
games, including poker. These social poker sites allow players to play for
free, working their way up to levels to more exclusive games, but they also
give those who are interested the ability to pay their way up into those levels
as well. Millions of players generate billions of dollars for the social poker
sites, so you can imagine just how popular they remain almost a decade later.
How to Pick the Best Online poker sites
Those of you lucky enough to reside in a state that
offers legal online poker may have some choices to make when it comes to where
to play. We have an entire page that reviews what our experts look for when
choosing an online poker site. We encourage you to visit that page and our
review pages for the sites on the market today. Here’s a quick overview of what
we look for when reviewing a site.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a way to play offshore poker legally in the U.S.?
Technically, online poker is not illegal to play anywhere
in the U.S. There are a few different poker options still available for play
across the U.S. These sites are based in countries like Costa Rica, which make
it difficult to get money to and from them. While we don’t recommend these
sites, we know people are going to play them if they become desperate for real
Do you have to be a resident of a state with legal poker to play at its sites?
No, you do not have to be a resident. You do, however,
have to be physically located in the state to access the sites and the games. Even
if you have set up an account at one of these sites, once you leave the
borders, you will most likely not be able to see the lobby or the games.
Are online poker winnings taxed?
If you live in a state with legal online poker and you
are a big winner, then you will be taxed on those winnings. The state will know
from the operators which players were winners, so you won’t want to be hiding
those winnings from your tax returns, that’s for sure!
Why isn’t online poker legalized across the country?
This is an excellent question, and it comes down to the
fact that online poker, and all forms of gambling, are regulated at the state
level. The federal government cannot create legislation to cover the entire
country as this would interfere with State’s Rights (which, by the way, was the
argument New Jersey used to successfully have the Professional and Amateur
Sports Protection Act repealed in 2018).
How can I get better at poker?
In a nutshell: Play More! The good news in this day and
age is that there are so many poker learning and training tools available that
you can use to better your game. Our site will chip in as well with guides to
all the poker games so you can get to know more games than just No-Limit
How do I get paid if I win at a legal poker site?
Each site will have its own set of withdrawal options,
many of which will match the ones for deposit. Once you choose a site to play,
you can read the Terms and Conditions so you know exactly how to go about
withdrawing your winnings, as well as how long it will take to receive your
How do I know online poker sites are legit?
Well, if you are playing with a legal online poker site
in the U.S., you know that the operator has passed the due diligence to be
licensed. Furthermore, the software companies all have to have their games
tested and audited by third-party firms in order to be given clearance to
supply poker games in a state. This means that you should feel very comfortable
that the games you sit at are credible.