Online Poker Report

US Online Poker News And Resources

US online gambling

The United States is something of a unicorn among countries with legal online gambling. The Constitution gives states the right to regulate commerce individually within their own borders, a power that extends to all forms of gambling.

A handful of US states have authorized internet gaming across one or more verticals, including casino games, lotterypoker, and sports betting. This page serves as a hub for legislative and regulatory news from all corners of the online gambling industry.

Where is online gambling legal?

Casino-style online gambling is generally legal in four US states:

Lawmakers in West Virginia also passed a new online gambling bill in 2019.

Six states sell lottery tickets via the internet, and many more have either legalized or launched regulated online sports betting industries.

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Which states have legal online poker?

Online poker is legal and regulated in three US states:

Relatively new laws in Pennsylvania and West Virginia also authorize online poker.

Players in states with legal online poker can now compete against each other thanks to a multi-state poker alliance. All three states with regulated online poker signed onto the compact, though WSOP/888 is the only network operational in more than one of them.

This mechanism facilitates the player pooling and liquidity sharing that are fundamental to the success of US online poker.

New Jersey online poker

The largest of the regulated US online gambling markets, New Jersey is home to seven poker sites across four networks:

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Nevada online poker

Nevada is the second-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:

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Delaware online poker

Delaware is the smallest US state with legal online poker, though a liquidity 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 online poker

You can’t play online poker legally in Pennsylvania just yet, but it’s coming soon. An expansive gaming bill that included online casino/poker and sports betting passed the legislature in 2017. Gov. Tom Wolf signed it into law on Oct. 30.

With that signature, PA officially became the fourth state with legal online poker — and the third with online slots and table games. Launch is approaching, likely late in 2019.

Here’s everything we know about PA online poker and PA online gambling so far.

West Virginia online poker

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.

Legal US online poker sweepstakes

Residents of most other US states can play legal sweepstakes poker for cash prizes on sites like Global Poker.

Legal US online poker news

Which states is PokerStars legal in?

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 will soon operate under the license of Mount Airy.

US online poker: States to watch

Several 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?

New York online poker

New York made significant headway in the fight to regulate online poker in 2016 and 2017, with legislation making it past the introductory phase for the first time. Online poker passed the Senate in both years, but little progress was made in 2018 or 2019.

Now, New Yorkers will have to wait until 2020 to see if the state will take another crack at legalization.

New York voters: Use this simple tool to urge your lawmakers to pass an online poker bill. It only takes a minute.

Michigan online gambling

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

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, Rep. Brandt Iden said he hoped to get his online gambling bill through the House prior to Thanksgiving. That didn’t happen, but the bill did carry over to the 2018 session. Whether or not the issue gains any traction this year is largely dependent on whether or not the state’s tribes will be on board; Detroit casinos are in favor of Michigan online gambling.

In December 2017, language was added to the bill to permit online sports wagering, should the federal prohibition on sports betting fall.

California online poker

Despite some promising developments, California did not legalize online poker in 2016. Nor did it legalize online poker in 2017.

Unfortunately, the same issues that plagued the 2016 and 2017 sessions are bound to reemerge in any 2018 push. They are the same issues that have been stymieing online poker in California for more than a decade.

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, 2016’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.

Likewise, in 2017, a bill was introduced but consensus between the many factions remained elusive. The bill died without much action.

The outlook for 2018 is similarly bleak, with New York and other states now deemed more likely to legalize online poker than California.

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.

2018 – The status quo is likely to persist

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.

2017 – A revitalization of anti-online poker efforts?

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.

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 Grove also serves as a consultant to various stakeholders in the regulated market for online gambling in the United States.
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