Legal US Online Poker News & Updates for 2016
Online Poker Report

US Online Poker News And Resources

This page provides a variety of resources regarding legal US online poker.

Get snapshots of the three open markets directly below, click here to jump to the latest US online poker news and developments, click here to learn more about the states that are considering regulating online poker, and click here for some of the legal background surrounding US online poker.

Where can I play legal US online poker?

Online poker is currently regulated in three US states: Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware.

New Jersey

The largest of the three regulated markets in the United States, NJ is home to several distinct online poker networks, including WSOP.com / 888.comParty / Borgata, and PokerStars NJ.

Learn more about NJ online poker here. A snapshot of the leading sites in NJ’s online poker market is provided in the table below.

  • POKER SITE
  • BONUS
  • DETAILS
  • PLAY

Nevada

The second-largest state offering regulated online poker sites in the US, Nevada’s regulated Internet poker space is dominated by WSOP.com.

Nevada differs from NJ and DE in that Nevada only offers poker online – no casino games.

Delaware

Delaware is the smallest online poker market in the status quo, although a recently-signed liquidity agreement with Nevada should help to bolster numbers.

Delaware operates a single online poker site that all three authorized brands feed into.

Legal US online poker news

Online poker USA: States to watch

Four states have active legislation that could allow them to offer legal and regulated US online poker and casino games.

Where do those efforts stand right now?

Michigan online gambling

Michigan represents the newest effort to regulate online gambling in the US. It’s also the only state left that stands a legitimate chance of legalizing online casino and poker games before the calendar flips to 2017.

The bill —  SB 889 — was just introduced by State Senator Mike Kowall back in April. Shortly thereafter, the Michigan Regulatory Reform Committee held an informational hearing on the bill and online gambling in general.

Hopes rose, when in mid-May, Kowall was quoted stating that he was “fairly confident” online gambling legislation could cross the finish line in 2016. His optimism gained merit when SB 889 and a substitute bill sailed by a vote in the Senate Regulatory Reform Committee in early June.

Unfortunately, the ensuing months saw nothing but inaction. And it wasn’t until the legislature reconvened in November that online gambling once again became a hot topic among Michigan lawmakers.

Advocates are hoping for a late push to legalize online gambling, but with only a smattering of session days scheduled for December, and with ambiguity looming as to whether the bill(s) will be addressed at all, the prospects of legalizing this year seem somewhat bleak.

On the upside, Michigan already offers one form of online gambling: The state offers lottery games over the Internet. And with most vested interests either neutral or in favor of online gambling, the future looks bright.

Pennsylvania online gaming

After a roller coaster of a ride, that saw Pennsylvania come closer to legalizing online gambling than any state in the past three years, the 2016 effort stalled in the Senate.

This year’s push got off to a shaky start, as two amendments — one that included the addition of VGTs at non-casino locations — were soundly defeated.

The tide turned in late June, when HB 2150 – a multifaceted gaming reform bill that included daily fantasy sports, online poker and casino, and other reforms – was amended to not include video gaming terminals (VGTs). The Youngblood amendment passed by a 115-80 margin. Just one week later, HB 2150 cleared a vote in the House.

Momentum reached a fever pitch in mid-July, when Gov. Tom Wolf allowed a spending plan to become law. Earmarked as part of the revenue package to fund it was $100 million from gambling expansion within state borders.

However, the Pennsylvania Senate felt no urgency to act on the bill, electing to wait until at least its brief fall session to consider gambling reform, and possibly even early 2017.

A wrench was thrown into the works in late September, when the state Supreme Court ruled that a local casino tax was unconstitutional, and gave legislatures what later turned out to be a soft deadline of 120 days to fix it. If left unresolved, it would lead to a $50 million local budget shortfall; money slated to go to municipalities.

On October 26, the Senate sprang into action, approving an 11th hour amendment to a responsible gaming reform bill, HB 1887, that included a temporary (5 month) fix for the local share tax issue. Online gambling and other gaming reforms were not included as part of amendment’s language.

The following day, the House countered with an amendment of its own; one which tied a patchwork quilt of gaming reforms (including online gambling, daily fantasy sports, and mobile gaming tablets at airports) to a permanent fix for the local share tax. The amendment passed easily, by a margin of 108-71.

Any optimism was short-lived, as sources close to the legislature suggested that the Senate would not be acting on any local share bill that included iGaming language.

Shortly after, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, in an interview with the Morning Call, confirmed that the Senate has not reached a consensus on online gambling, and that the House’s insistence on grouping online gambling with the local share fix “basically killed it” for the 2016 session.

Sure enough, the last scheduled session day for 2016 (November 15) came and went without a vote on online gambling.

Looking to 2017, the next disbursements of the local share funds are scheduled for January 15, just eleven days before the court’s deadline. However, because the following quarterly payment isn’t due until April 15, lawmakers technically have until then before municipalities miss out on a payment.

Whether the Senate will reach a consensus on online gambling and tie it to the fix remains an open question. What is known is that any online gambling legislation will essentially be starting from scratch.

And with Payne retiring, and new officials being sworn in, online gambling may face an uphill climb.

California online poker

Despite some promising developments, California did not legalize online poker in 2016. The latest effort officially died when legislators failed to act before adjourning on August 31, 2016.

The 2016 legislative push — AB 2863 — kicked off in similar fashion to last year’s, with the bill passing in the committee by unanimous vote.

However, this year’s effort held more potential than the 2015 push in that the horse racing industry was largely in favor of the bill. This was thanks to a subsidy in the tens of millions of dollars it would receive as part of the legislation. In exchange, the horse tracks gave up the right to be an online poker operator.

At the same time, the “bad actor” debate — aka whether PokerStars would be allowed in the California market — reared its ugly head yet again.

A June amendment to AB 2863 further defined the tax rate and moved the bad actor bright-line to December 31, 2011, but that was hardly enough of a compromise for an influential coalition of tribes spearheaded by the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians and Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

Despite the ongoing debate, the bill passed Appropriations, leaving hope that it would head to the Assembly floor in August.

That never happened. In an attempt to get the bill to a vote, Assemblyman and AB 2863 author Adam Gray introduced 11th hour amendments that would place PokerStars in the “penalty box” for a period of five years.

While the amendment satisfied the Pechanga coalition, it was now the PokerStars coalition — consisting of Amaya/PokerStars, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, and three of the state’s largest card rooms — that strongly opposed AB 2863.

Ultimately, without both sides on board, the bill could not drum up the necessary support to justify a vote.

Suitability is likely to be at the center of the debate once again in 2017, and if the competing coalitions do not reach a compromise, online poker proponents in California may be in for another long year.

New York online poker

New York made significant headway in the fight to regulate online poker in 2016, with legislation making it past the introductory phase for the first time.

Optimism ramped up this year when a standalone bill passed a committee vote, and then again when regulation was tied to the Senate’s state budget.

Optimism gave way to malaise when the bill’s progress came to a standstill, and when iPoker didn’t survive in the final budget.

Assembly member Gary Pretlow further dampened hopes when he put the odds of online poker reaching a vote at 100-to-1 or worse.

A late legislative push brightened the outlook momentarily, but on the same day S5302 passed by an overwhelming margin in the Senate, Pretlow pronounced the online poker bill dead in his chamber. An explanation as to why the bill stalled in the Assembly has yet to be provided.

Although NY online poker failed to cross the finish line in 2016, momentum is building rapidly, rendering New York an odds on favorite to pass a bill next year.

There are currently no federal laws that directly prohibit or authorize online poker.

However, several federal statutes have the potential to prohibit online gaming in some way shape or form, if state laws are ambiguous. That said, only two of the four federal statutes that could apply to online gambling, IGBA and UIGEA, could reasonably be applied to online poker.

The other two federal laws often cited in online gambling discussions, 1992’s Professional and Amateur Sports Act (PASPA) and the 1961 Wire Act, are sports betting specific.

For the Wire Act, this wasn’t always the case.

Up until 2011 The DOJ’s interpretation of the 1961 Wire Act (first officially entered in 2002) effectively made online poker illegal in the US. That changed when, at the urging of Illinois and New York, the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel reexamined the Wire Act, and concluded its scope is limited to sports betting.

2015 – Online poker USA advocacy comes up short

Congressman Joe Barton introduced his semi-yearly online poker legalization bill in 2015, dubbed The Internet Poker Freedom Act of 2015 (HR 2888). Unfortunately, there is simply no momentum for this issue at the federal level and HR 2888 managed to entice just two other members of Congress as cosponsors in 2015.

On the opposite side of the coin, the continued efforts, led by Sheldon Adelson, to ban online gaming has also garnered little support in Congress.

In 2015, the Adelson-inspired Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) bill was introduced in the House and Senate for the second consecutive year by Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) respectively.

RAWA managed to muster two hearings in the House in 2015, but both hearings seemed to have done more harm than good, as they hypocrisy of the bill was on full display, and the wind has completely been taken out of its sails. RAWA is one of the rare bills in Congress that has widespread bipartisan opposition.

A late effort to attach RAWA to the budget bill passed in December of 2015 never received serious consideration, and warranted a single sentence in a Politico column on the bill.

2016 – Some progress, some steps back for USA online poker legalization

Progress on a bill either legalizing or prohibiting online poker is unlikely in 2016 for several reasons:

  • 2016 is a presidential election year, which are historically slow on the legislative front;
  • Efforts to prohibit online gaming have failed to gain any traction in 2014 and 2015;
  • There is little appetite for legalizing online poker at the federal level now that states have the capability of doing so thanks to the 2011 opinion by the OLC.
Chris Grove
- Chris is the publisher of OnlinePokerReport.com. Grove also serves as a consultant to various stakeholders in the regulated market for online gambling in the United States.