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Illinois introduced online poker legislation in early 2021 as part of a larger online gambling bill. Though the effort looked promising, the legislative session ended on June 1 without a resolution. The matter may be taken up again in the fall, when the Illinois General Assembly reconvenes for a short time.
Before the bicameral body adjourned, it had been considering HB 3142. The bill, also known as the Internet Gaming Act, would legalize online casino games, as well.
For play-by-play updates on the progress of the legislation, see resource page covering Illinois Online Casinos.
Real money poker isn’t legal yet in Illinois, but the next best thing is: sweepstakes poker. At the moment, there’s only one such site, Global Poker, but it’s legal almost everywhere in the US except Washington State.
Global Poker employs a sweepstakes model which allows you the chance to play legally online for the chance to win real money prizes. It does this using a clever system which allows it to fall under federal sweepstakes law, rather than state-level gambling law. Although Global is the only such site for poker, there are numerous sweepstakes casino sites serving US customers.
Sweepstakes sites use a combination of two virtual currencies, neither of which have any official cash value. Gold Coins are available for purchase, and are purely play money. Sweeps Coins, on the other hand, are the ones that can be traded in for cash prizes. You can’t purchase these directly, but can receive them for free in several different ways.
You can get a small amount of Sweeps upon sign up. Furthermore, you can receive additional Sweeps by sending a hand-written request to the company. These methods fulfill the legal requirement that sweepstakes not require a purchase to participate. If you want more Sweeps, however, the way to get them is to purchase Gold Coins. With every purchase of that purely play money currency, you’ll get additional Sweeps for free. Conveniently, the value of the prizes you can redeem those Sweeps for will exactly match the cost of your purchase.
Users can then play poker on the site with either currency. Playing with Gold Coins is just for fun, like using play money on a conventional poker site. When playing with Sweeps, on the other hand, you have the chance to win more of them. The more Sweeps you win, the greater the value of the cash prizes you can redeem them for.
The overall experience is therefore just as exciting as playing for real money. In the eyes of the law, however, the sweepstakes poker is not the same as real money gambling because neither “currency” has any direct cash value, the Sweeps can’t be purchased directly, and there’s no purchase necessary to try to win a prize with them.
It’s still possible that Illinois will legalize online poker during 2021.
The Internet Gaming Act had been progressing through the legislature. The iGaming bill’s most notable forward momentum happened in April, when several online casino and online poker advocates testified in favor of passing HB 3142 during an Illinois House Executive Committee hearing.
However, the Illinois General Assembly adjourned on June 1 without voting on the matter.
Nevertheless, legislators did vote for another bill, SB 521 during that overtime session. Normally, the body would’ve adjourned on Memorial Day 2021. Instead, lawmakers used the extended session get this bill through, which allows some bets on in-state college teams.
The question now is whether the legislature will revisit HB 3142 in the fall. Lawmakers tend to reconvene each year for a veto session at that time.
Last year was different. The session that had been scheduled for November 17 through 19 and December 1 to 3 didn’t happen during 2020, due to pandemic restrictions. Plus as of June 2021, Illinois was still cautious about the pandemic. For instance, retail casinos were still restricted to 50% capacity.
The good news is that the political will exists for online poker and casino in Illinois sooner or later. Even if legislators can’t get the bill through during the veto session, a similar effort should reappear next year.
Once an online poker bill does pass, it could take anywhere from several months to a year for the first sites to launch.
Speculation about the Prairie State‘s possible online poker operators began as early as February 2021, when the proposed iGaming legislation entered the House.
Online poker operators in Illinois will probably include the same three brands now operating in Pennsylvania: BetMGM Poker, WSOP and PokerStars. BetMGM might also be accompanied by other brands that share its network, like Partypoker or Borgata. A more remote possibility is that other iGaming operators could choose to enter the poker space as well. DraftKings, in particular, has shown some signs that it is considering launching an online poker product.
One positive aspect of the bill is that it explicitly allows for interstate compacts, which would include traffic sharing for poker. Multi-state poker is key for sites to keep games running around the clock at a variety of stakes, and to offer tournaments with big guarantees.
Three states currently allow multi-state poker: Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada. Michigan is actively working on it, and Pennsylvania may do so eventually. However, there’s only one network active at the moment, which is a partnership of WSOP and 888. PokerStars and BetMGM will likely follow suit once Michigan or other states join the compact, but they can’t for now because they don’t operate in Delaware or Nevada.
There are regulatory steps necessary to share traffic between states, however, so when Illinois online poker sites do launch, they will be in-state only to start. Fortunately, Illinois is home to nearly 13 million people, putting it on par with Pennsylvania, which is doing fine on its own for the time being.
PokerStars is the leading US poker brand. It’s owned by the European conglomerate Flutter, which puts it under the same roof as FanDuel, a top brand in the sports betting space. PokerStars was the first poker room to launch in both Pennsylvania and Michigan, and the story will likely be the same in Illinois.
Aside from its famous brand, PokerStars is known for having good software and the widest array of game options in the US, including its popular Spin & Go format. Another selling point are its semiannual Championships of Online Poker (COOPs). Based on what it offers in other states, Illinois players can expect to play in an ILCOOP in the fall and an ILSCOOP in the spring, each with multimillion dollar guarantees.
WSOP is arguably the world’s best known brand in live poker, and in the US it has its own online poker network as well. It operates in partnership with 888 Holdings, which supplies it with the same software used for 888poker internationally. It has recently upgraded to the newer Poker 8 version of this software, which has a more modern look and better functionality than its precursor.
The official name of the WSOP/888 partnership is the All-American Poker Network. AAPN is currently the only operator sharing traffic legally between states: New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada. WSOP also has a site in Pennsylvania and is soon to launch in Michigan, but will require regulatory approval before adding them to the network.
WSOP’s biggest selling point is the chance to win real WSOP gold bracelets and Circuit rings in online tournaments. Most of these events are only available to players on the interstate network. However, the company did run an eight-tournament miniseries of bracelet events for Pennsylvania players following its launch there, and may do the same for those in Illinois.
BetMGM Poker is live in New Jersey, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Like all BetMGM-branded products, it is a collaboration between MGM Resorts International and the European online gambling conglomerate Entain, which owns the Partypoker brand.
In New Jersey, Partypoker was one of the original online poker brands, and BetMGM Poker launched as one of three skins on the Partypoker Network. However, MGM and Entain seem more keen on making BetMGM Poker the primary brand in other states, and may not even launch a Partypoker product.
BetMGM is the US market leader for online casino, and a strong contender in the sports betting space. For poker, it is playing catch up to PokerStars and WSOP in terms of brand recognition. However, its product, built on Partypoker software, is solid. It needs more players before it can compete with those other brands in terms of tournament size, but it’s a good choice for cash games.
DraftKings Poker doesn’t exist yet, but the company is already working on improving search results for that term. Usually, that’s an indication that a new product is on its way.
It would make sense for DraftKings to enter the online poker market because cross-selling players on new verticals is a big part of its strategy. Furthermore, it’s a dominant force in the sports betting space. Sports bettors tend to enjoy other forms of gambling as well, but usually prefer ones with an element of skill, like poker.
If DraftKings does bring a poker product to Illinois, sports tie-ins are likely to be its big selling point. It also has market access all lined up through the Casino Queen, which it purchased in order to launch quickly in the sports betting space.
Web-based online poker was once commonplace, but no more. Now, downloadable clients are the norm, both for desktop and mobile. In recent years, mobile apps have become many players’ favorite way to play.
Apps are easy to download. The registration process can be more involved, requiring location, age and other verification processes. Those processes, however, serve to protect online gamblers. What’s more, you only have to go through the process once, after which your account will be available for both desktop and mobile play.
Both major app stores offer legal online gambling apps. Google Play began including real-money gambling apps on March 1, 2021. DraftKings jumped right on the opened-up Play Store. Apple’s App Store offered them all along.
So far, Illinois doesn’t have any real-money poker apps – as online gambling isn’t yet legal in the Land of Lincoln. When Illinoisans and those visiting their state are permitted to make iGaming bets, the apps will likely resemble those available in other states.
Bettors will find the gambling apps in Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. For those reluctant to play before understanding the app, many let users view games from the lobby.
Because online sports betting is already legal in Illinois, there are already many partnerships in place. In all likelihood, most of these will remain the same for iGaming, including online poker, when it debuts.
WSOP and DraftKings (if the latter creates a poker product) are the easiest to call, because they both own properties in the state. WSOP is owned by Caesars, which operates Harrah’s Joliet, and DraftKings has acquired the Casino Queen in East St. Louis.
BetMGM has a sportsbook in the state, in partnership with Boyd Gaming’s Par-a-Dice Hotel Casino in East Peoria.
PokerStars is now owned by Flutter, which also owns the FanDuel and Fox Bet sports betting brands. Of those, only FanDuel is active in Illinois, in partnership with Penn National’s Hollywood Casino in Aurora. That would therefore be the likely partner for PokerStars as well.
Illinois is a big state, and a big population means big tournaments. That will be even more true in the long run if it can join an interstate traffic-sharing compact. Even on its own, however, Illinois is comparable in population to Pennsylvania, so that latter state gives us an idea of what to expect from legal online poker tournaments in Illinois.
Each operator has a different approach.
PokerStars has a robust weekly schedule, and frequent special series. The biggest of these are its Championships in the fall and spring. In Illinois, these Championships would be called ILCOOP and ILSCOOP respectively. Based on what the site has done in PA, each of these series would likely have combined guarantees of around $1.5 million or $2 million. In addition, PokerStars generally has a Summer Series and a Winter Series, each of which is about half the size of the Championships. Finally, it occasionally hosts smaller, more irregularly scheduled series like Bounty Builder.
WSOP also tends to have special series on a quarterly basis, which it calls its Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter Championships. These can be as big or bigger than PokerStars’ COOPs, but that’s for the network comprising NV, DE and NJ. Since the company has only just launched a standalone site in Pennsylvania, it’s harder to predict its plans for a single-state Illinois site.
Since the start of the pandemic, it has also moved some of its Circuit ring and WSOP bracelet events online. That includes a small series of bracelet events for Pennsylvania players, so Illinoisans may get a similar opportunity. These, particularly the bracelet events, have tended to have some of the highest price tags as well as the biggest prize pools in the US.
Ultimately, though, WSOP’s plans for Illinois and other new states will be contingent on being able to add them to its multi-state network.
BetMGM Poker and DraftKings Poker are wildcards as far as tournaments go. The latter doesn’t even exist yet, while BetMGM Poker is only just starting to find its way as a self-directed brand rather than a skin on the Partypoker Network.
BetMGM has hosted short, generically named Online Series in both Pennsylvania and Michigan. Though their guarantees were only in the low six-figures, they had big buy-ins, with most events costing $109 or more. The company may be trying to position itself somewhere in between a typical low-stakes PokerStars series and WSOP’s expensive bracelet and ring events.
Payment processing for legal online gambling sites keeps getting simpler. Card players in Illinois may have several options. While the exact ones vary by site and by state, a typical list of deposit options would look like this:
Withdrawal options will be mostly the same, but with some different 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 that’s obviously slow.
You’ll also be able to make your transactions in cash at the cashier’s cage at the associated retail casino. For instance, if WSOP is live in the state, its partner will probably be Harrah’s Joliet, since it’s owned by the same company. In that case, you would be able to deposit or withdraw in cash by visiting Harrah’s in person.
Various promotional offers are an important part of any iGaming business, perhaps even more so for poker than other verticals. Virtually every poker site has some sort of welcome package for new users, plus periodic short-term promotions for existing ones, and usually some sort of long-term loyalty rewards program as well.
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 jurisdictions. Nevertheless, there are often special limited-time promotions associated with holidays or tournament series, and these can be unique to states.
Here are the types of promotions you’re likely to see. Most sites will feature several of these, but bettors might not find all of them in one place at one time:
Everyone loves free money. That’s why a no deposit offer gets so many takers. Many gambling sites will offer the ability to try the product for free as an enticement. Gambling with no deposit required means players have the opportunity to win real money. For poker sites, this bonus usually consists of some mix of tournament tickets and ring game vouchers.
The wins are usually small – 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. Most sites will have them. Usually, this will be a 100% match on the first deposit, up to some maximum, often $500 or $1000.
Players must 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 follow the same logic as first deposit bonuses, but are for subsequent deposits. However, unlike first deposit bonuses, they tend to be limited-time offers. For online poker players, reload bonuses often run concurrently with tournament series. That’s because 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, though. One caution is reload bonuses don’t always pay out cash bonuses. They can come in the form of satellite or sit-and-go tickets with a certain minimum deposit.
Most online gambling sites these days have a loyalty program of some sort. These might be specific to the poker product, or they might span all online verticals, or even extend to the company’s retail properties.
Generally, these require a large volume of play to be worthwhile, but for serious players can sometimes work out to be more valuable than other sorts of promotions. For instance, BetMGM’s The Grind can be worth up to $6,500 monthly, but you’d need to be a full-time professional to take full advantage of that. Other programs, like PokerStars’ Stars Rewards, cap out at a lower amount, but offer better incentives for casual users.
Limited-time promotions are common on poker sites and run sporadically throughout the year. Due to continued updates to consumer privacy rules, most sites require players to opt into these promotions. To find out if that’s the case for the site or app you use, visit the preference center and the Promotions page.
Daily or weekly missions may be the most common types of temporary promotion poker players will see. 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.
Poker isn’t just one game, but rather a whole family of games. No-Limit Texas Hold’em (NLHE) is by far the most popular in modern times, but it’s far from the only way to play poker. What’s more, even when you’re playing NLHE, you can choose between cash games or various types of tournaments, as well as other options like table size and stakes.
Even when they’re not set up for multi-state poker, operators keep their game offerings pretty consistent from state to state. If you want to know what games a given brand will be dealing in Illinois, you can look to what they’re doing in other states where they operate currently, like Pennsylvania.
Here are the basic variations on poker that you’re likely to see for most operators.
Cash games, or ring games, are every poker site’s staple. 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. At one time, this was the most popular way to play poker. However these days, most cash game players prefer six, max; because it’s faster and the play is looser.
One innovation of the past decade is fast-fold poker. This is also known by various trademarked names, such as Zoom on PokerStars. These games move you to a new table every time you fold, so you can keep playing. However, poker played this way requires a certain number of bettors to be viable.
Scheduled tournaments are often called multi-table tournaments, or MTTs. They are appealing because they offer the chance to win a large prize on a small buy-in.
These games require patience. They’re games of attrition. Players are at the table until they’ve run out of tournament chips, which have no cash value. In other words, they can’t “cash out” from a tournament. They play until they’ve wagered their last chip, or they’re the final player.
If players outlast most of the other tournament participants, they’ll win a prize based on their 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.
This is an advantage in a populous state like Illinois. Because in this game, 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.
Sit-and-go tournaments, or SNGs, are similar to MTTs. However, they’re smaller and run on-demand – rather than at fixed times. Most of the time, SNGs will consist of a single table. Multi-table SNGs exist, too; but are more rare, as they take too long to fill in smaller markets.
Because they run on demand, SNGs 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 is the lottery sit-and-go, or LSNG. It’s called a lottery because the prize is randomized. Players rarely call them LSNGs, though. Instead, they tend to use the trademark name chosen by the site in question, such as Spin & Go for PokerStars.
These games offer the chance to win prizes as big or bigger than those in MTTs. In contrast, it’s a much, much shorter span of time. They’re typically Hyper Turbo in structure, winner-take-all, and seat only three or four players.
About that random prize: Most of the time, you’ll be playing for a very small one. Often, the prize is 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, may have its own song, 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. The shared traffic of multi-state poker allows for more options. Without it, players may 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. Nonetheless, 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 Illinois is part of an interstate network, however. Some may appear sooner, on a one-off basis, as part of major tournament series. Until then, most poker variants fall into one of the following families:
For anyone still using offshore or illegal apps and sites, this is the section to read. If there’s a doubt about the legality of an operator, the Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) has a list of applicants and licensees. The entity overseeing online gambling in each state does the same. For instance, the Michigan Gaming Control Board even separates out a downloadable list of Michigan’s licensed Internet gaming providers.
Some readers may choose to go the more intuitive route. In that case, they may select from the known legal app providers. For instance, they may select the app they see advertisements for in their retail casino. Or they’ll see that an app is asking them to provide their location, age and deposit information. Three more how-tos are bullet points in the final list below.
Still other gamblers know that they’re using offshore, black market sites – and they continue to take that risk. The risk is that entities willing to break one law may break others. Those other laws can cost gamblers.
Given the opportunity to play on a legal, licensed and regulated site, online bettors should select this option. Here’s why:
So, how do you know if a poker room is legal or not? There are a few easy ways.
There’s a lot left to determine about legal online poker in Illinois; including whether it happens at all. That said, here are some answers to frequently asked questions:
Real money online poker is not yet legal in Illinois, though lawmakers are working on it. In the meantime, social play money poker apps and sweepstakes poker are legal, as it in-person real money poker at casinos.
PokerStars can’t launch until Illinois permits legal iGaming. However once that happens, that’s likely to be the first operator active in the state.
HB 3142 didn’t make it through the Illinois General Assembly during the regular 2021 session, but may be taken up again in the fall. If it’s approved then, it needs the governor’s signature. From there, operators need to meet regulatory approval and launch their apps.
Anyone within the boundaries of Illinois and 21 or older can bet on online poker, once the state legalizes it and an operator launches an app. Those apps will use geolocation technology to enforce the player location requirements. Wagers must be placed within state borders.
Responsible gambling sites allow for self-exclusion. Casino employees may not be able to bet on their company’s site.
Interstate poker won’t be available in Illinois right off the bat. However, HB 3142 does include provisions that make it clear that the state plans to work with other regulators to do cross-border gambling. It’s quite likely that operators will be able to network their Illinois sites with those in other states within a year or so of launch.
It’s unclear how much revenue will come in from online poker, but it should be in the millions each year. It’s likely to be the lowest money generator for state coffers of all of the iGaming verticals.
Operators tend to pursue it mainly because the players can be valuable for customer acquisition purposes, as they do tend to gamble in other verticals.
The Illinois Gaming Board will regulate online poker. It already oversees retail casinos and online sportsbooks.