The legality of playing online poker in the U.S. for real money is a complex issue. In the United States there are two sets of laws, and they can often be contradictory. There are State laws and then there are Federal laws, which are supposed to trump State laws, at least in theory. There are several different types of legal poker sites open to players from the United States. I will be discussing each in this article. Before I say anything else I should emphasize that checking the laws in your region and making an informed decision is always best. On the other hand I should also emphasize no U.S. citizen has ever been charged with playing poker online for real money. There are an estimated 10,000,000 online poker players in the USA. To put that into perspective, that equals the combined population of 12 of the smaller U.S. States. This includes everyone from movie stars to Senators to millions of ordinary people across the country.

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Legal Real Money U.S. Poker Sites

Real money US poker sites are the focus of this article and they are also the rooms that have always stood on uncertain ground in terms of legality.

These are the regular poker rooms that millions of Americans play poker for real money at on a regular basis.

The other type involves a variation of poker often called duplicate poker, but I will cover that later.

Americans who deposit and play at U.S. friendly poker rooms like Bovada Poker or Americas Cardroom have nothing to fear from the US government. These poker sites may not be licensed in the United States, but that does not mean they are not fully licensed and regulated by close allies of the USA.

  • Bovada Poker – The Kahnawake Gaming Commission in Canada licenses this US poker room and a third party named Gaming Associates monitors their random number generator for fairness.
  • Everygame Poker (ex-Intertops) – Everygame Poker is licensed by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. Established in 1996. Their software is based on WGS, RealTime Gaming.
  • BetOnline Poker – This poker room is licensed by the Panama Gaming Commission.

Online Poker Laws in The USA

The first major U.S. law that impacted the world of online poker was the UIGEA. This Bill was designed to force banks to block the flow of money to and from online poker sites. Many State governments have passed anti or pro online poker laws since the UIGEA was approved in 2006.

Full legalization and regulation of online poker is expected in the near future. Vegas casinos are partnering with European poker sites to get a head start on the development phase. Companies like Harrah’s are investing a lot of money in hopes of legal online poker in the USA. Several lobbying groups including the PPA are fighting for online poker and the results are starting to show.

In some U.S. States online poker for money is perfectly legal. These States are still restricted by Federal laws but the foundation of the online poker industry in the United States is currently being laid.

Legal Online Poker in the USA

With the growth of the Internet over the past two decades, the ability to play online poker has also developed into a multi-billion dollar industry, making Texas Hold ‘em a household name across the USA. Long gone are the days when you have to travel across the country to get in on some poker action. You need only walk across the room. This has made life easier for poker lovers, and the trend that started in the USA is largely responsible for the increase in popularity of the game all over the world. Between the year 2001 and 2005, poker revenues in the United States alone increased from $82.7 million to $2.4 billion.

Online poker is legal in most countries in the world, the United Kingdom included. Regarding legal poker in the USA, however, there have been a lot of debates and controversies surrounding the legalization and regulation of online poker. Some states are on the path to intrastate regulation and some have passed intrastate laws, but the majority of states are still behind the times, as is the federal government for that matter. Online poker is still new though when you look at the bigger picture, and it may take another ten years to get regulations in place nationwide. Either way, legal online poker in the USA will eventually be a reality.

Year 2005

The North Dakota House of Representatives passed a bill to regulate and legalize online poker and poker cardroom operations within the state in February 2005. The legislation wanted the online poker operators to physically locate their poker operations in the state.

In March, the bill was rejected by the State Senate, on the allegation that online gaming was illegal and that the legislation could have been a violation of the Federal Wire Act. This claim by the Department of Justice was, however, heavily disputed by legal experts. The legal concerns it raised with regard to online poker led many operators to cease promoting their online “dot-com” poker sites through the American media. They, instead, created “dot-net” poker sites, which are almost similar to the “dot-com,” but do not provide real cash wagering.

Year 2006

Then president, President George W. Bush, officially signed the SAFE Port Act bill into law. This law aimed at enhancing security in US ports. It came with an attachment, the infamous UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act), which defined unlawful Internet gambling as the act of transmitting a wager through the Internet. The UIGEA thus prohibited online gambling sites from carrying out their transactions through the American financial institutions. This bill forced online poker sites such as the, PartyPoker.Com, and Bwin online poker to close down their United States operations. A small number of sites such as PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker did not shut down their operations in the country, and continued to enable US poker fans to play online poker for real money. These sites quickly became the biggest online poker sites in the world. The UIGEA negatively impacted on the stock value of online poker companies and some actually closed down.

Following the passing of the UIGEA, Al D’Amato, a former United States Senator, joined the Poker Players Alliance (PPA). The PPA aims at fighting for online poker operators to carry out their operations freely through the US financial institutions and ultimately making it legal for US citizens to play online poker freely without worry or shame. Other organizations were later formed to oppose the UIGEA, such as the Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative.

Year 2010

The House Financial Services Committee approved the H.R. 2267 bill on July 28, 2010. The bill was meant to regulate and legalize online poker in the US. However, later in the year, the Washington State Supreme Court approved a law making online poker a crime.

Year 2011

The federal government decided to take matters into its own hands and seized the domains of the three biggest online poker sites serving US players—Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars, and Absolute Poker. They also indicted 11 high-up executives that worked for these sites. This date, April 15, 2011, will forever be known as Black Friday in the history books of online poker. Six weeks later, the feds closed down the majority of any remaining online poker sites serving US players who didn’t heed the Black Friday warning. This day is referred to as Blue Monday.

Year 2013

On August 21, 2013, a New York federal judge made a ruling that online poker games cannot be equated to gambling under the federal law since unlike gambling, it is a game of skills and strategies unlike gambling. This led to the cancellation of the previous bill that claimed online poker is a crime. Those who had been convicted on charges of operating online poker illegally were set free.

Internet Gambling in the US Today

Legal online poker in the USA has been a struggle for years, but many people continue to fight for it, and they aren’t going to stop until it is a reality. Many fail to understand that the UIGEA does not criminalize playing online casino games; it criminalizes the financial institutions for facilitating transactions that are used for playing online poker in the USA. For many poker players, it remains a source of great confusion whether it is legal or not, and it is for this reason that it has become more and more difficult to make online poker deposits from within the US.

There are some states where there is need to consult the relevant state legislation, such as Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, Oregon, New York, South Dakota, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Washington. Some online poker sites continue to accept US poker players for real cash, while others still hesitate to operate in the US due to regulatory concerns, despite operations being legalized by some of these states. Those authorized to operate in the US market protect players from fraudsters and offer them promotional bonuses and rewards.

Legal online poker in the USA will ultimately have its day in court, whether it’s the federal court or within the individual courts of each of the 50 states. And while it may take years, online poker in the USA isn’t going anywhere.