Best US poker sites
US poker sites ranked by traffic
|Poker Site||7 Day avg||Online||Cash||24 H Peak||Last Week||Play Now|
|WSOP/888 US||280||141||568||Play Now|
|PokerStars NJ||110||55540||102||249||Play Now|
|PartyPoker NJ||95||33||83||216||Play Now|
|PokerStars PA||280||191||640||Play Now|
|WSOP US||280||141||568||Play Now|
There are currently 5 states that offer legal online poker for real money in the United States – New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Delaware. Pennsylvania joined this group when PokerStars went live in the state on Nov. 4, 2019. Michigan followed in 2021 when PokerStars went live in January followed shortly by BetMGM in March.
WSOP/888 US is currently the only poker site that shares online poker players between all three legal online poker states (NJ, Nevada & Delaware). It’s currently the #1 US online poker site by traffic.
Poker Stars – New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan
Party Poker/BetMGM – New Jersey, Michigan
Pala Poker – New Jersey only
US states launching soon
With the official launch of online poker Pennsylvania and Michigan, there remains only one state that has legalized online poker officially but is still to launch a poker site. West Virginia legalized online poker in 2019, but wasn’t expected to go live until 2021.
The Mountain State, however, has a small population and launching a real money online poker room with a large number of players may be difficult without a shared liquidity pool with other states.
That may be resolved through litigation regarding the federal Wire Act.
Sweepstakes Online Poker – Available to all US Players
Global Poker – Uses a unique sweepstakes model allowing for online poker with cash prizes and is available in all US states.
What is or is not legal in US?
Playing online poker is not strictly against any US laws. Therefore, a number of offshore sites continue to find creative ways around the banking issues created by UIGEA and continue to accept US customers.
In the years following the 2011 indictments, four states have also passed bills legalizing and regulating the activity in fenced-in markets inside state lines. Three of those states have also signed an agreement to share player pools.
In the meantime, Global Poker, which started accepting US customers in December 2016, uses a sweepstakes and virtual-currency online poker model. As a result, it is not considered online gambling, leaving it outside the purview of the UIGEA.
Where can I play poker online in the US?
Outside of state-licensed online poker sites in Delaware, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey, there’s really only one legal online poker site for US players.
Global Poker offers social online poker with cash prizes to players inside the United States. The site launched in December 2016 offering a form of virtual currency gaming. The virtual currency can later be redeemed for cash prizes, but players don’t start out on Global Poker buying into tournaments and ring games with real dollars.
Instead, they purchase Gold Coins which come with bonus sweepstakes prizes called Sweeps Coins. The Sweeps Coins can be used to buy into Sweeps Coins tournaments and ring games. Any Sweeps Coins earned can then be redeemed for cash prizes.
There are also Gold Coin poker games, but no cash prizes are available down that road. Sweeps Coins give players a chance earning some real money by playing poker.
Global Poker uses its own custom-made poker software incorporating its patented sweepstakes technology.
The site is strictly No-Limit Hold’em and Pot-Limit Omaha, but there are ring games, tournaments and sit and go’s. Global Poker runs various freeroll tournaments. There are a variety of options for purchasing Gold Coins and redeeming prizes.
Where can I play poker live in the US?
Poker is America’s game. As a result, most states have tribal casinos, commercial casinos or card rooms where you can expect to be able to play live poker.
In fact, it’s much easier to list the states where you can’t legally play live poker. Although, even in that list of states below, you likely won’t have to look too hard to find an underground game, or a casino in a neighboring state with a poker room tucked right up next to the border.
- New Hampshire
*Texas is experimenting with poker in private social club settings. The state attorney general has declined to issue an opinion so far, leading to sizable operations opening in major cities. However, a recent raid in Houston has cast considerable doubt on the longterm viability of the clubs.
Individual states with real money online poker offerings
Up to and including March 2021, there are just six US states with laws legalizing and regulating online poker. Players can head online via the software clients or use real money poker apps to take part.
Delaware was the first state to do it, passing the Delaware Gaming Competitiveness Act in the summer of 2012. It approved both online poker and online casino games.
In February 2013, Nevada became the second state to come on board, authorizing the issue of online poker licenses. Within a week, New Jersey became the third state to legalize online gambling. It authorized the issue of licenses to casinos in Atlantic City that allowed them to operate both online poker and online casino sites.
In April 2013, the first-ever legal and regulated online poker site in the US went live in Nevada. The site’s name was Ultimate Poker. An offshoot of Station Casinos affiliated with the Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial arts organization ran the site. By November of that same year, legal and regulated online poker sites also went live in Delaware and New Jersey.
Pennsylvania jumps on board
Pennsylvania became the fourth state to authorize online gambling. It passed online poker and online gambling legislation as a part of a comprehensive gambling expansion bill in October 2017.
Since then, there has been much legal and regulatory maneuvering in the state. There has even been an external threat that arose after the Department of Justice revised its opinion about the Wire Act’s applicability.
PokerStars officially launched in Pennsylvania on Nov. 4, 2019.
West Virginia makes it five to go, Michigan Joins
West Virginia was the fifth state to legalize online poker. The Mountain State did so with the passage of H 2934, the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act.
The bill became law after Gov. Jim Justice declined to sign. However, the appearance of online poker (and casino) sites in West Virginia is not imminent.
Lottery officials must still promulgate regulations for the new industry. It is likely to be 2021 before any site will possibly launch.
In 2018 and 2019, Michigan also made significant pushes to legalize online gaming, including poker. Once Gov. Whitmer signed the bill into law, online poker sites began to go live in early 2021.
Activity in other states
Of course, a number of other states, including California, New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois have all seriously considered various forms of legislation that would legalize and regulate online poker over the past few years.
The federal government has succeeded in pushing the largest global online poker site operators out of the US market. However, several offshore online poker operators still accept US players.
US real money online poker overview
There are essentially two federal laws that govern online poker in the US.
The Wire Act
The first is the Interstate Wire Act of 1961, aka the Federal Wire Act. The law essentially prohibits the operation of certain types of betting businesses using wire communications. Its original aim was to stop interstate gambling and end organized crime’s interest in the business.
The act passed decades before the internet or online poker even existed. However, since it governed the loosely-related act of betting or wagering using wire communications, many believed it had some jurisdiction over online gambling.
In September 2011, in response to questions regarding the legality of online lottery sales, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) released a formal legal opinion on the scope of the act. The opinion concluded that interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a sporting event or contest fall outside of its reach.
Interested states took it to mean the act did not apply to online poker or other forms of online gambling. Now, four of those states have passed legislation legalizing and regulating the activity.
That may be changing, however. In January 2019, the DOJ reversed its opinion to say that the Wire Act, in fact, does relate to all online gambling.
In June 2019, a New Hampshire federal judge threw out the opinion as it relates to two litigants – the New Hampshire Lottery Commission and an associated vendor. However, the ripple effect of this judgment is unclear at this point.
The second law is the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). Congress passed UIGEA in 2006. It made it illegal for US banks to process transactions for offshore online gambling operators. The law effectively pushed a number of online poker sites out of the market.
Other sites stayed in the US. However, the DOJ forced the largest remaining sites in the industry, including PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet out in 2011. The DOJ charged them with various illegal gambling and money laundering charges, partly under UIGEA.
History of online poker in the US
Online gambling for real money first hit the internet when online casinos started opening in 1994. The operators were mostly based in places like Antigua or the Isle of Man, but they still took customers from the United States and were only too happy to accept US cash.
In 1996, the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake, a First Nations group based just outside of Montreal, Canada brought online gambling to North American soil for the first time. It set up a gaming commission and started issuing licenses to online casino sites. The Kahnawake Gaming Commission helped the number of online gambling websites around the world go from a handful to hundreds.
In 1998, a Canadian entrepreneur launched the first-ever online poker site. Planet Poker advertised in CardPlayer Magazine in the US prior to its Jan. 1, 1998 launch. The first ever real-money online $3/$6 Hold ’em game was filled with US players.
By 1999, the US Senate realized online gambling was widespread across the US and sought to do something about it. The Internet Gambling Prohibition Act was introduced, but it did not pass.
Over the next few years, sites introduced more sophisticated online poker software, and new sites launched around the world, offering cash games and tournaments.
In 2002, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled the Federal Wire Act prohibits sports betting, but not necessarily online gambling. At the time, the DOJ disagreed, claiming online gambling was illegal, However, the industry kept growing as players clamored for an opportunity to play poker online for real money.
The poker boom
In 2003, online poker’s popularity really took off. A Tennessee accountant aptly named Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker Main Event after getting into the tournament through an online satellite. Coverage aired on ESPN, and Moneymaker’s story became a national obsession. Millions of Americans thought they could be next.
Poker was suddenly everywhere on TV, as the advent of hole-card cameras made live games more watchable than ever. Most shows were branded, and the commercial breaks were filled with spots for offshore online poker sites. The productions sold the game to the American TV-watching public and they bought it.
Then, in 2006, Congress took another shot at taming the wild beast. It passed UIGEA, making it illegal for US banks to handle transactions with offshore online poker sites. It certainly pushed a handful of operators out of the US market, but it didn’t eliminate the market altogether.
Several sites still accepted US players and found ways around the banking issues. Online poker continued to grow until April 15, 2011.
On that day, three of the largest online poker operators in the world were indicted on various illegal gambling and money laundering charges, including violating UIGEA. The sites included PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet. Access to the sites from the US was shut down, and the massive US online poker market was effectively closed.
However, it wouldn’t take long before efforts to open it up again began.
US legal and regulated online poker
In response to questions regarding the legality of online lottery sales in December 2011, the DOJ released a legal opinion that the Federal Wire Act only applies to sports betting. Several states took this to mean they could consider licensing and regulating online poker and casino sites if they wanted.
Delaware was the first state to do it, approving both online poker and online casino legislation in 2012.
In February 2013, Nevada became the second state to pass online gambling legislation, authorizing the issue of online poker licenses. A week later, New Jersey became the third state to legalize online gambling and made plans to issue licenses for online poker and online casino sites.
In April 2013, the first-ever legal and regulated online poker site in the US went live in Nevada. Legal and regulated online poker sites went live in Delaware and New Jersey in November 2013. Pennsylvania became the fourth state to legalize online poker when it passed a comprehensive gambling expansion bill in October 2017.
Now, as sites jump through the regulatory hoops to get games up and running in Pennsylvania, Michigan and West Virginia, even more states are considering similar online poker legislation.