LEGAL US ONLINE POKER NEWS & UPDATES FOR 2017
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 four 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.

Pennsylvania became the fourth state to legalize online poker and casino games on Oct. 30, 2017 when Gov. Tom Wolf signed the state’s gaming expansion package into law. We expect the market to go live in PA in 2018.

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
  • GRADES
  • 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.

Pennsylvania

Well, you can’t play there legally yet. But a gaming bill with online poker and casino has passed the legislature in Pennsylvania and was signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on Oct. 30, 2017.

With the governor’s signature, PA officially became the fourth state with legal online poker, in addition to slots and table games. The middle of the 2018 would be a likely timeframe for launch.

Legal US online poker news

Snapshot: Week of Nov. 13, 2017

It seems as if Pennsylvania will stand alone when it comes to passing online gambling regulation in 2017. The legislative session in Illinois wrapped up without further movement for the state’s gaming bill. Michigan is still in session but we don’t give it a great shot for this year.

And speaking of Pennsylvania, last week Moody’s had something to say about that too-high online gambling tax rate.

Latest stories

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?

Pennsylvania online gaming

Pennsylvania is on the precipice of legalizing online poker and casino with a bill that made it through both the House and Senate in October.

All that is lacking is the signature of Gov. Tom Wolf, which is expected in the near future.

Here’s what we know about online gambling and how it will roll out in the state, if the bill becomes law:

  • Online poker, slot machines and table games would all be legal.
  • Daily fantasy sports and sports betting are both in the bill as well. Sports betting would be legalized only if the federal ban is altered.
  • The state’s 12 existing casinos would get first crack at online gambling licenses. Licenses are divided up by the three types of games: slots, poker and table games.
  • Tax rates come in at 54 percent for online slots and 16 percent for online poker and table games.

When can you gambling online? That’s not known yet, but it should be sometime in 2018.

PA online gambling backstory

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.

Last year’s push got off to a shaky start. But by late June a multifaceted gaming reform bill that included daily fantasy sports, online poker and casino, and other reforms (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.

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.

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.

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

Looking to 2017, Sen. Mario Scavello is now chairman of the Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee, which acts as the gatekeeper of gambling related legislation. In January he opined that online gambling would pass both the House and the Senate in March.

The state had to wait until fall, however, to see that progress.

 

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.

A strong 2017 push seems imminent, as Rep. J. Gary Pretlow — who chairs the Assembly committee that handles gambling — appears more confident about security issues pertaining to regulated online poker.

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.

That 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 in 2017.

Michigan online gambling

Michigan represents the newest effort to regulate online gambling in the US. But despite making some headway in 2016, the state legislation faces a steep uphill climb if it hopes to cross the finish line in 2017.

A bill —  SB 889 — was introduced by State Senator Mike Kowall back in April 2016. 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 pass a vote 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 were 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 in 2016 were bleak. Ultimately, the 2016 effort stalled.

Turning to 2017, Michigan lawmakers will likely face immense hurdles crafting a bill that balances state law governing commercial and tribal casinos.

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.

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.

Unfortunately, the same issues that plagued the 2016 session are bound to reemerge in any 2017 push.

The 2016 legislative effort  — AB 2863 — kicked off in similar fashion to the year prior, with the bill passing in the committee by unanimous vote.

However, last 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. That’s if lawmakers even bother broaching the topic of online poker.

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.

2017 – Could see a revitalization of anti-online poker efforts

There’s 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.

Still, with the OLC opinion still intact, and several states exploring online gambling legislation, it’s unlikely that we’ll see legislation pushed through Congress that either legalizes or bans online poker.

2016 – The anti-online gambling rumblings continue

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:

  • Lobbying firm McAlvey Merchant Associations penned a letter citing the cannibalization risks of online gambling in Michigan.
  • Pennsylvania Sen. Robert Tomlinson encouraged the PA legislature to remove online gambling language from the host community casino tax fix.
  • A letter signed by 10 attorney generals directed at Vice President-Elect Mike Pence and the Trump transitional team called for Congress to institute an online gambling ban.
  • Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick introduced an anti-online gambling House resolution (H.R. 6453), attacking the 2011 Department of Justice OLC opinion.

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.

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.

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.