The United States is something of a unicorn among countries with legal online gambling. The Constitution gives each state the right to regulate commerce individually within its own borders, a power that extends to all forms of gambling.
A handful of states have authorized internet gaming across one or more verticals, including casino games, lottery, poker, and sports betting. This page covers laws and regulations related to US online poker.
Online poker is legal and regulated in four US states:
Relatively new laws in West Virginia and Michigan also authorize poker alongside full-scale online casino gambling.
Players in New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware can now compete against each other thanks to a multi-state poker alliance. This mechanism facilitates the player pooling and liquidity sharing that are fundamental to the long-term success of US online poker.
So far, the WSOP/888 is the only network operational in more than one state.
The largest of the regulated US online gambling markets, New Jersey is home to seven poker sites across four networks:
Nevada is the third-largest state with regulated online gambling, but its industry does not include online casinos. Apart from sports betting, poker is the only form of gambling available over the internet.
The NV online poker industry is essentially limited to one operator:
Delaware is the smallest US state with legal online poker, though a liquidity-sharing agreement with Nevada does help the numbers. Thee state’s three casinos all operate their own branded skins on a shared 888 Poker network.
Pennsylvania is the newest US state with legal online poker after Gov. Tom Wolf signed an expansive gaming package into law in late 2017. So far, there is just one operator serving the state.
West Virginia became the fifth state to legalize online poker with a new law in March 2019.
The WV Lottery Interactive Wagering Act also includes provisions for casino-style online gambling. WV sports betting — both retail and online — were already legal at the the time of passage.
It’ll still be quite some time before West Virginians can pull up a seat at the virtual tables, though. Regulators must promulgate rules and create a full framework for the new industry, so late 2020 looks like the preliminary timeline for launch.
Michigan should have been number five in 2018, but a holiday veto from then-governor Rick Snyder set its plans back a year. The sponsors tried again in 2019 under a new governor, and this time the legislation stuck.
Lawmakers in both chambers voted to legalize online gambling just before the winter break, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed it into law on Dec. 20. Instead of number five, Michigan is number six.
Expect MI online poker to launch in 2021, in all likelihood.
Residents of most other US states can play legal sweepstakes poker for cash prizes on sites like Global Poker.
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PokerStars is currently licensed in two US states, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
PokerStars NJ operates under the land-based casino license of Resorts Atlantic City. PokerStars PA operates under the license of Mount Airy.
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.
With each passing year, it becomes far less likely than any type of online gambling ban is implemented at the federal level.
We now have four states that have legalized online gambling of some sort, with seemingly more on the way in 2018 and beyond. Congress is going to be increasingly unlikely to ban something that is becoming more and more established at the state level. And seeing action from the DOJ seems far-fetched as well.
The possibility of legal sports betting outside of Nevada will also likely have some states looking at online wagering; indeed mobile wagering is a part of many of the bills we’ve seen throughout 2018.
It’s foolhardy to think there will be no attempts at a ban at the federal level this year. But their odds of success get longer as time goes on.
There was reason to believe that supporters of a federal online poker ban will launch revitalized efforts in 2017, if only because the new administration appears more willing to listen to their arguments.
Again, some members of Congress — Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — asked the DOJ to act.
Still, with the OLC opinion still intact, and several states exploring online gambling legislation, it was unlikely that we would see legislation pushed through Congress that either legalized or banned online poker. And that was the case again.
In 2016, there was little movement toward either legalizing or prohibiting online poker on a national scale. This was to be somewhat expected, as 2016 was a presidential election year, which are historically slow on the legislative front.
On the pro-online poker side, no legislation to legalize the activity was introduced.
Opponents of online poker were more active, yet failed to match even the modest traction gained in 2015.
In March, supporters of the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) bill refocused away from RAWA and toward stopping illegal offshore online gambling. This was largely viewed by the industry as a way for backers of the unpopular bill to save face.
Then in May, RAWA senate sponsor Lindsey Graham attempted to backdoor RAWA language into a funding bill penned by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Little would come of the effort.
During the Lame Duck, anti-online gambling supporters attacked from multiple fronts, on both the state and federal levels:
But despite the aforementioned, and rumblings that RAWA would rear its ugly head during the eleventh hour of the 2016 session, the 114th Congress closed without the introduction of RAWA into a larger piece of legislation.
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.