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While Connecticut currently lacks for most forms of online gambling, the situation looks very likely to change by next year. The prospects for online poker are a bit less certain, unfortunately.
Sentiment among politicians and the general public runs in favor of gambling expansion in Connecticut. Until this year, the main thing holding it back was a dispute between the state and its two native American tribes over whether sports betting is a form of casino gaming. The tribes enjoy exclusivity over casino gaming in the state, but Gov. Ned Lamont wanted the lottery to be able to offer sports betting in CT as well.
Fortunately, the tribes reached an agreement with the Governor’s Office in March 2021. They consented to allow the lottery to conduct sports betting alongside them, in return for the exclusive rights to online casino gaming. The same bill will also create a Connecticut online lottery, though it will have draw tickets and Keno only, no instant games.
This will probably include online poker, though that hasn’t yet been made explicit. The bigger issue, however, will be the state’s population, which may be too small to make an online poker room viable. West Virginia, which is half the size of Connecticut, does not have online poker yet despite having made it legal. Conversely, the smallest state which does have legal online poker is New Jersey, which has more than double Connecticut’s population.
In time, the expansion of interstate poker should remedy the problem. However, if operators do consider it a prerequisite to offering online poker in the Constitution State, then it means it could longer to arrive than CT online casinos, perhaps by a year or more.
It’s hard to say whether any poker operators will set up shop in Connecticut. It’s comparatively easy, however, to predict who the likely candidates would be if there were to be online poker in the state.
Without interstate liquidity sharing, the likely number of options would be either one or zero. If it becomes possible for players in Connecticut to compete against those in Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, however, then we could see multiple poker rooms operating in the state.
Either way though, there is a hard limit of two brands in the state, because of the agreement between the state and the tribes. One of the terms of the arrangement is that each tribe only gets to offer one online brand, and that it can’t be their own. Indeed, they’re not allowed to mention or promote their brand (or any tribal gaming brand) through the online platforms outside of tribal lands. That means creating a new brand, or more likely, partnering with a company from the commercial sector.
One thing is for sure in the online poker industry: Anywhere there’s online poker happening, PokerStars will be there. It’s the world’s most prominent brand, after all, and core to The Stars Group’s business. The only major exception is Nevada, where the company has been denied a license due to its illegal activities in the US prior to 2011.
PokerStars is known for its great software, wide range of games, and its popular Spin & Go format. The majority of casual players love the brand. However, rake increases, a four-table limit and scaling back of its rewards program have upset narrowly profitable players looking to increase their winnings through volume of play.
PokerStars currently holds a monopoly on online poker in Pennsylvania, and also operates in Michigan and New Jersey. If all goes according to plan, the latter two states should be networked together by next year, which would be promising for the prospects of multi-state poker in Connecticut as well.
For years, PokerStars’ primary competition in the US consisted of WSOP and Partypoker. However, WSOP has been slow to roll out in new states, and Partypoker owner Entain seems less interested in that brand now, and more so in BetMGM.
BetMGM is a joint venture between Entain and MGM Resorts International, the casino and hotel chain. It has largely focused on the BetMGM Casino product, followed by its sportsbook. In New Jersey, BetMGM Poker is simply one of three skins on the Partypoker Network.
With new markets opening, however, BetMGM is now looking to expand its poker vertical. It has launched in Michigan without Partypoker’s presence, and is likely to do so soon in Pennsylvania as well. If it becomes possible to network its sites in various states, it may well launch in West Virginia and Connecticut too.
DraftKings Poker is a bit of an odd inclusion here for the simple reason that it doesn’t exist at the moment. Nonetheless, there are a couple of good reasons that we might well see a DraftKings-branded poker product appear in Connecticut.
Firstly, there have been credible rumors of late that the company is planning to expand into the poker vertical. DraftKings began its corporate life as a daily fantasy sports company, but has since branched out successfully into online casino and sports betting. There’s a lot of overlap between sports bettors and poker players, so a hypothetical DraftKings Poker platform would serve as a useful customer acquisition tool.
Secondly, DraftKings is currently the only company with a market access deal lined up for Connecticut. Even before this year’s progress on iGaming, it had signed a deal with Foxwoods Casino and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe to offer sports betting once legal. That deal will presumably be extended to include iGaming as well. This is particularly relevant if each tribe is allowed only a single brand for both casino and poker.
What the product would look like is a matter of speculation at the moment. DraftKings has the capacity to develop its own platform, but could equally license or purchase one from a third party supplier, or even acquire a smaller poker brand.
Web-based online poker was common in the early 2000s, but not anymore. These days, if you’re going to be playing poker online, there will be a download involved, be it a mobile poker app or a standalone desktop client.
Fortunately, getting a poker app onto your phone or tablet is easy these days. Thanks to a change in Google’s policies, it is possible as of Mar. 1, 2021 to download gambling apps from the Play Store. Meanwhile, iOS users have been able to find them in Apple’s App Store from the start.
In fact, there are now more players using the mobile devices to play poker than there are playing on their computers. It’s not without its limitations, however. Entering bet sizes can be a pain without a keyboard, leading many players to rely on the bet sliders. The small screen also presents a challenge when it comes to playing several tables at once.
Some operators are working on solutions to these issues.
If and when PokerStars arrives in CT, it will use essentially the same app that it does in other states.
The PokerStars app is nice because it was built for mobile from the ground up. Whereas some other sites have just adapted their desktop clients for mobile use, the PokerStars interface is designed with a touchscreen in mind.
Unfortunately, the company also seems to have assumed that serious players still use the desktop client. Thus, the mobile app is designed with casual players in mind. It’s missing some of the more advanced features of the desktop client, and isn’t optimal when it comes to multi-tabling. You can only have one table on screen at a time, while the other tables (up to four in total) are relegated to tiny icons in the top left corner.
BetMGM’s connection to Partypoker is obvious in its software. Unfortunately, while Partypoker itself has rolled out a brand new app, BetMGM’s is still a reskin of the old Partypoker software. On the plus side, the old-school interface should be familiar to any Connecticut players who’ve been out of the online poker game for a decade.
Beyond that, however, it’s firmly in the “just okay” category. There’s nothing in particular to complain about, but it feels a little dated, and not very well-suited to mobile screens. BetMGM’s been making a lot of moves lately, though, so hopefully the company’s plans include building its own app, or at least transitioning to the newer Partypoker software.
DraftKings Poker is a purely hypothetical product at the moment, so there’s no telling what its app might look like. That said, DraftKings is known for developing high quality casino products in house. Thus, we can probably expect to see a slick, modern poker product with some sports-themed bells and whistles.
Right now, there are no real money poker apps you can download in Connecticut. When the time comes, however, it will be much like downloading any other app.
Both Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store now host gambling apps, provided they adhere to regulations. One of those rules is that they must always be free to download, so once online poker comes to Connecticut, you can grab any or all of the available apps and create your accounts without any commitment. Some may even allow you to view the lobby and watch the action at the tables as a guest, without needing to log in.
There are only two retail casinos in Connecticut available for partnerships. One is owned by each of the state’s two federally recognized tribes:
Based on the agreement they have with the state, each will only be allowed to offer a single online brand.
At the moment, the only partnership in place is between DraftKings and Foxwoods. For now, this covers only sports betting and daily fantasy sports, but is likely to be extended to cover online casino and perhaps poker as well, if DraftKings launches such a product.
Multi-table tournaments are a big part of online poker. Unfortunately, they’re also the aspect that’s most affected by site traffic. Connecticut’s small population will mean few players, which means smaller fields and therefore smaller prizes. Of course, the opposite will be true if and when Connecticut pools its traffic with other, larger states.
Assuming one or more sites launch while the state’s player pool remains segregated, there will still be special tournament series in Connecticut. PokerStars will presumably follow the pattern it has set in other states, with a Connecticut Championship of Online Poker (CTCOOP) in the fall and Connecticut Spring Championship of Online Poker (CTSCOOP) in the spring. Combined guarantees for these would have to be much lower than in other states due to the population, perhaps $350,000 or $500,000, with a $100,000 Main Event seeming likely.
It’s impossible to guess at what other sites might offer, as BetMGM Poker has only just begun operations independent of Partypoker, and DraftKings Poker doesn’t even exist yet. WSOP is unlikely to launch in the state without shared liquidity, but when it does, it will allow Connecticut players to participate in Online Circuit ring events and even official WSOP Online Bracelet events.
Payment processing for legal online gambling sites is easy these days. While the exact options will vary from state to state and site to site, you’ll have plenty to choose from regardless.
A typical list of deposit options would look like this:
Withdrawal options will be mostly the same, but with some methods available. For instance, if you deposit with a credit card, you won’t be able to receive your cashouts the same way and will have to choose another method. Fortunately, every site will offer the option to receive a check in the mail as a fallback plan, though this is the slowest of the methods.
You’ll also be able to make your transactions in cash at the cashier’s cage at the associated retail casino. For instance, if it turns out that PokerStars is partnered with Mohegan Sun, then you could do cash deposits and withdrawals from your PokerStars account at the Mohegan Sun cage.
Online poker promotions can often be more numerous than what’s offered for casino, and more variable from state to state.
The welcome package might be similar to and/or mutually exclusive with the same company’s casino offers. It’s also likely to be the same in all states. However, there are often special limited-time promotions associated with holidays or tournament series, and these can be individual to a state.
Here are the types of promotions you’re likely to see. Most sites will feature several of these, but you might not find all of them in one place at one time:
Nothing makes gamblers happier than free money, so it’s no surprise that many gambling sites will offer that as an enticement. A no deposit offer is exactly what it sounds like, giving you a chance to try the product for free, with the opportunity to win real money. For poker sites, such a bonus usually consists of some mix of tournament tickets and ring game vouchers.
Keep in mind that these bonuses are likely to be small, usually in the $20 to $50 range. When a no deposit signup offer is combined with a first deposit bonus (see below), that’s what we call a welcome package.
First deposit bonuses are standard practice in the industry now and most sites will have one. The norm is that this will be a 100% match on your first deposit, up to some maximum, often $500 or $1000.
Inevitably, these bonuses don’t come in the form of strings-free cash. Rather, you’ll have to clear that bonus credit through play. The ratio of dollars raked to dollars paid out depends on the site, and is known as the playthrough requirement. For instance, a bonus that’s unlocked in $10 increments with a 10x playthrough requirement would add $10 to your account for every $100 in rake you pay, until you’ve cleared the full bonus.
Reload bonuses are the same idea as first deposit bonuses, just for subsequent deposits. Unlike first deposit bonuses, they tend to be limited time offers. In the online poker world, they often coincide with tournament series, since those often provide players with an incentive to top up or redeposit.
When the bonus comes in the form of a match, it’s often less than 100%, and with a lower maximum than the first deposit bonus. The playthrough requirement is often the same, however. Reload bonuses don’t always pay out cash bonuses, however. It’s equally common to receive some satellite or sit-and-go tickets with a certain minimum deposit.
While most poker rooms have a loyalty program of some sort, don’t expect the massive, volume-based rakeback systems of the poker boom years. Those days are gone, as operators seek to court recreational players rather than aspiring professionals. The basic concept is the same, however, with rewards points that accrue as you play and which you can redeem for cash or other benefits.
On the plus side, most poker loyalty programs are now part of larger programs that span the operator’s casino and sportsbook verticals. In the case of companies that also own retail casinos, the program will typically be shared with those as well. In those cases, there’s usually the option to redeem your reward points for things like meals and hotel stays.
Most poker sites also run various smaller promotions throughout the year. Like the reload bonuses, these are often seasonal or timed to coincide with major tournament series. These days, temporary promotions are almost always opt in, so you’ll have to check the Promotions page in the app or download client to see what’s available.
Daily or weekly missions are perhaps the most common type of limited-time promotion for poker sites. Once you’ve opted in to one of these, you’ll be given a certain goal to achieve, such as playing 100 cash game hands, or winning a sit-and-go. Complete the mission, and you’ll receive a reward. The rewards for these are often randomized.
Interstate poker is currently the exception, rather than the rule. Even so operators try to keep their products as consistent as possible between states in anticipation of the day that this changes. Thus, you can expect that for the most part, CT poker sites will have the same range of games that you’d see at the company’s other US sites.
That said, the smaller the market, the harder it is for less popular games to run. You can’t play poker without an opponent, and online players don’t like to wait around at an empty table. Thus, until Connecticut joins a multi-state poker compact, some more niche products may be either officially unavailable, or technically available but with empty tables in practice.
Cash games, or ring games are every poker site’s bread and butter. In these games, the chips represent real money, and you can play as many or as few hands as you like.
The maximum table size is usually nine players, which is known as full ring. This was once the most popular way to play, but these days most cash game players prefer six max, because it’s faster and the play is looser.
One innovation of the last decade was fast fold poker. This is also known by various trademarked names such as Zoom on PokerStars. These games don’t keep you at a single table. Rather, they move you to a new table every time you fold, so you can keep playing. However, these games require a certain number of players to be viable. Fast fold could therefore wind up being one of the casualties of Connecticut’s small population.
Scheduled tournaments, often called multi-table tournaments or MTTs for short, are appealing because they offer the chance to win a large prize on a small buy-in.
Tournament chips have no cash value, and you can’t “cash out” from a tournament. Rather, you play until you’ve run out of chips or are the last player standing. This can take a very long time, so make sure you have time to finish a tournament before you start.
If you outlast most of the other players, you’ll win a prize based on your finishing position. Typically between 10% and 15% of the tournament field will cash, with the bulk of the prize money going to the winner and runners-up.
The problem with tournaments in a small market like Connecticut is that the maximum multiple of your buy-in that you can win depends on the number of players in the tournament. International poker sites often get thousands of entries, allowing for first place prizes that are hundreds of times the buy-in. For a market the size of Connecticut, you’ll probably be looking at a multiple closer to 10x most of the time.
Sit-and-go tournaments, or SNGs, are similar to MTTs, but are smaller and run on demand rather than at fixed times. In CT, we can expect that most if not all SNGs will consist of a single table. Multi-table SNGs exist too, but mostly in larger markets, as they take too long to fill in smaller ones.
Because they run on demand, they also run with the same number of players each time. This means that the prizes are fixed, unlike MTTs. They’re a good balance between cash games and MTTs, particularly when you’re short on time, as they typically take only an hour to finish, or less if they use a Turbo structure.
Another innovation of the past ten decades is what’s known in the industry as the lottery sit-and-go, or LSNG. Players rarely call them this, instead using the trademark name chosen by the site in question, such as Spin & Go for PokerStars.
These offer the chance to win prizes as big or bigger than those in MTTs, but in a much, much shorter span of time. They’re typically Hyper Turbo in structure, winner-take-all, and seat only three or sometimes four players.
The gimmick is that the prize for the winner is randomized. Most of the time, you’ll be playing for a very small prize, often just twice the buy-in for a three-player LSNG. Sometimes, you’ll “spin” a bigger multiplier, like 4x, 6x or 10x.
Very rarely, you’ll hit a massive multiplier, which can be up to 10,000x depending on which site you’re playing on. In the case of those very big multipliers, there is usually a consolation prize for the players who don’t win. This is usually 10% of the first-place prize, which can still be a substantial win for the biggest multipliers.
No-Limit Texas Hold’em, or NLHE, is all the rage, but it’s far from the only way to play poker. Unfortunately, most other variations are niche enough in their appeal that they won’t run on a small site. Until Connecticut shares traffic with other states, you’ll probably find only a couple of other options for cash games, SNGs and regular weekly tournaments.
Pot-Limit Omaha, or PLO, is the game you’ll see most often aside from NLHE. It works much the same way, except each player has four hole cards, instead of two. There’s a special rule for these, however, which is that you must form your hand using exactly two hole cards and three board cards. Thus, you can’t make a flush with one Heart in your hand and four on the board as you could in Hold’em, nor can you make trips using three Aces in your hand.
The Pot-Limit part refers to a betting restriction. Like a No-Limit game, the bet size is variable, not fixed. However, there’s a maximum bet, which is equal to the size of the entire pot, including the player’s own calling chips if they plan on raising.
Plenty of other games could appear once Connecticut is part of an interstate network, however. Some may appear sooner, on a one-off basis, as part of major tournament series. Most poker variants fall into one of the following families:
Some readers may wonder what the big deal is about Connecticut legalizing online gambling. After all, many state residents (and other Americans) already play on offshore black market sites. While that is an option, it’s not necessarily a good one. As much as it’s possible to disagree with US gambling prohibitions, the danger is that people and companies willing to break the law in one way can’t generally be trusted to follow it in others.
Given the opportunity to play on a legal, licensed and regulated site, it’s the far superior option. Here’s why:
So, how do you know if a poker room is legal or not? There are a few easy ways.
While you’re waiting for regulated real money online poker in CT, there’s another legal option you can try out in the meantime. Global Poker is, at the moment, the only online poker site using a sweepstakes model. Several casino sites use the same approach, however.
In a nutshell, the way this works is that there are two currencies, neither of which have any official cash value. Gold Coins are available for purchase, and are purely play money with no other purpose. Sweeps Coins, you receive for free through one of several methods, including with the purchase of Gold Coins. Unlike the Gold Coins, they can be redeemed for cash prizes.
You can play games on Global Poker using either currency. By purchasing Gold Coins, then gambling with your free Sweeps coins, you can attempt to run them up and redeem them for prizes greater than the amount of your purchase. The overall experience is therefore similar to playing for real money, yet falls under sweepstakes law rather than gambling law, and is therefore legal in most states without requiring any new legislation.
There’s a lot that remains to be determined about legal online poker in Connecticut, including whether it happens at all. That said, here are our best efforts to answer some other questions you might have.
Not yet, assuming that we’re talking about real money poker. It should become legal soon under more general laws about iGaming, but whether any operators actually launch a poker product remains to be seen.
Not yet, but it is likely to be the first operator active in the state once that becomes possible.
Connecticut’s legislature is working on iGaming laws. If they try to expedite launch, the state could have online casinos by the end of 2021. Unfortunately, because of the state’s small population, online poker operators are likely to wait until they can network with other states. That could take another year of preparation or more, making online poker unlikely before late 2022 or 2023.
If online poker does launch in CT, it will follow the same rules as other forms of online gambling. Legal age will be 21 years old and residency won’t be a requirement but physical presence in the state will be. Self-exclusion will be possible and other restrictions may apply, for instance against operator employees playing on their own site.
Almost inevitably. Or rather, interstate traffic sharing will probably be a requirement before any online poker operators are interested in launching in the state.
Not very much. Poker is a niche gambling product, more useful to operators for customer acquisition than as a revenue stream. Based on its population and the performance of other states, it’s unlikely that operators will produce more than $1 million per month in gross gaming revenue. The state’s share of that will start at 18% and rise to 20% after five years, for a total of something like $2 million to $2.5 million in annual tax revenue.
That’s not entirely clear at the moment. Connecticut lacks retail casinos, and therefore doesn’t have an established regulatory agency. It will either need to create one or, more likely, make it the responsibility of the state lottery.