Real money online poker is legal in six states in the US right now: New Jersey, Nevada, Michigan, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Gaming regulators in each state are responsible for overseeing the industry, issuing regulations, enforcing the law and granting licenses to potential operators.
New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Delaware are each home to at least one currently active poker site open to anyone located within the state at the time of access. Michigan and West Virginia have fully passed legislation to legalize online poker, but regulators in those states are still drawing up regulations and preparing operators to go live.
Legal US Poker Sites
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States With Legal Online Poker
In none of these states do you need to be a resident to play online for real money; you simply need to be physically located within the borders of the state and be at least 21 years of age.
If you read elsewhere that online poker is available in other states, you should know that you’re not getting the full story. A number of illegal offshore poker sites target customers in other states, but cannot be trusted.
The remainder of this page will provide you with a summary of legal online poker sites and mobile poker apps in regulated states as well as some helpful information.
New Jersey Poker Sites
New Jersey currently ranks as the most active regulated poker market in the USA. Legislation enacted in 2013 allows each of the state’s land-based casinos to partner with one online gaming operator to operate up to five different betting websites.
The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (NJDGE) oversees the conduct of online gaming in the Garden State and maintains a list of licensed poker sites here.
Under state gaming law, New Jersey may enter compacts with other regulated states so that poker sites licensed in both states may share player pools across state lines. This led to the creation of the All American Poker Network, the first multi-state poker network.
Nevada Poker Sites
Nevada was the second state to pass online gaming legislation and host a legal US-based online poker site. The legislation made real money internet poker a reality, but it did not legalize traditional gambling. To date, online gaming in Nevada is restricted to player vs. player poker.
Online poker is regulated by the Nevada Gaming Control Board and the Nevada Gaming Commission. The Gaming Control Board maintains a list of licensed poker sites here.
In April of 2013, Ultimate Poker opened for business and began dealing real money poker hands to people within Nevada. WSOP.com came online four months later as the second-ever legal poker site in the US.
WSOP quickly took the lead in player traffic thanks to superior software and more effective payment processing. In fact, WSOP did so well that it helped push Ultimate Poker out of business. Ultimate Poker eventually closed shop in November of 2014.
A third poker site entered the fray in early 2014 under the name RealGaming.com. Real Gaming operated under the online division of South Point Casino in Nevada and was fully licensed to offer real money games to Nevadans but appears to have ceased operations since then.
Delaware Poker Sites
Delaware was the first state to legalize online poker and gambling with the passage of HB 333 in 2012. The Delaware Lottery oversees the conduct of online gaming, which is offered by the state’s three land-based casinos.
Online poker struggled in Delaware during the first year thanks to a relatively small state population. Delaware enacted player sharing agreements with Nevada and New Jersey to provide a boost in player traffic, but Delaware remains a small market.
Pennsylvania Poker Sites
Pennsylvania legalized online poker in 2018 as a part of a large gaming expansion bill that also authorized online casino games, sports betting, land-based satellite casinos, gambling at airports and gaming machines at truck stops.
Online sports betting and casino games got underway first with online poker delayed amid the mad scramble to enact the massive gaming bill. Under the PA gambling law, land-based casinos and “qualified gaming entities” (QGEs) may apply for licenses to offer online poker.
A handful of local casinos have either launched online poker or have announced plans to do so in partnership with major international operators. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) maintains a list of licensed poker and gaming sites here.
West Virginia Poker Sites
West Virginia legalized online sports betting in 2018 and followed that with another bill the next year authorizing online poker and casino games. The WV Lottery Interactive Wagering Act allows each of the state’s five casinos to launch online poker sites and casinos with approval from the WV Lottery.
Mobile sports betting is now live in WV, but online poker and casino games are moving on a slower timeline. In March 2019, WV Lottery Director John Myers said the goal is to have the first poker sites and online casinos running by February 2021.
Michigan Poker Sites
Michigan legalized online poker with the passage of a large gambling reform package approved in the final days of 2019. In addition to authorizing online casino games and sports betting, the package specifically legalized online poker.
The MI poker law allows land-based casinos to apply for licenses to launch up to two online gambling platforms offering casino games and online poker. The first MI poker sites will launch after regulators finish drawing up regulations and establishing a licensing process for operators.
The law approved by voters in 2018 to legalize sports betting and four casinos in Arkansas may have also opened the door for online poker. Regulations (pg. 77) issued the following year include provisions that allow operators to apply for online poker licenses from the Arkansas Racing Commission.
Other poker-related provisions include rules governing the detection and prevention of criminal activities, maintaining records, setting a minimum age of 21 and establishing an initial licensing fee of $1,000.
Multi-State Poker Agreements for Increased Liquidity
Players hoping for a return to the glory years of online poker have been disappointed by the slow rollout of online poker one state at a time. Absent federal legislation legalizing poker across the country in one fell swoop, individual states have taken it upon themselves to pass laws legalizing poker within state lines only.
As a result, online poker pools were originally ring-fenced such that players could only sit at tables with other players from the same state. Since then, a growing number of states with legal online poker have formed player sharing compacts allowing operators active in two or more states to seat players at shared tables.
Agreements between New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware fostered the formation of the first multi-state poker network (named the All American Poker Network) powered by 888 Poker. Moving forward, multi-state networks will be crucial when it comes to revitalizing the legal online poker industry.
How Online Poker Became Legal in the USA
To understand how online poker was legalized in the US, we must first look at how it was criminalized.
How Online Poker Was Criminalized
The first online poker sites opened their doors to US players in the late 90s. Although federal law at the time did not specifically criminalize online poker, there were concerns that the Federal Wire Act could be applied to the operators of poker sites. As a result, all the major poker sites of the time operated from outside the US.
The online poker boom of the early 2000s pushed the game to the mainstream consciousness and resulted in rapid industry growth, but the boom also brought with it increased scrutiny from regulators.
In 2006, Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in an attempt to crack down on unregulated offshore poker sites, gambling sites and sportsbooks. The UIGEA itself did not criminalize the act of playing online poker, but rather made it a criminal offense for financial institutions in the US to process transactions related to illegal gambling.
The offshore poker industry largely ignored the passage of the UIGEA and continued operations as normal despite increased difficulties in processing deposits and withdrawals.
On April 15th, 2011, a day now known as “Black Friday” among poker players, the US Department of Justice struck a major blow against the offshore industry. That day, the DOJ indicted eleven individuals and seized the domains and related bank accounts of the three largest US-facing poker sites (PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker) for violations of the UIGEA.
The Black Friday indictments prompted most remaining poker sites to exit the US market completely once it was clear the US government was serious about cracking down on unlicensed online gaming. A handful of smaller poker sites pushed onward despite the legal risk, but the offshore poker industry would never fully recover.
The Legalization of Online Poker
The march to legal online poker in the USA began in earnest just months after the Black Friday indictments. In 2009, officials associated with the New York and Illinois state lotteries asked the DOJ to weigh in on their plans to sell lottery tickets online. Specifically, the lottery operators wanted to know if online ticket sales would violate the Federal Wire Act.
The DOJ responded in September 2011 with an opinion stating that the DOJ interprets the Wire Act as applying to sports betting only. Although the opinion made no mention of online poker, the implication was clear: states could legalize online poker and gambling without fear of violating the Wire Act.
The states’ newfound ability to legalize online poker also cleared the UIGEA hurdle because the UIGEA specifically targets unlawful internet gambling. New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware quickly moved to pass legislation authorizing online poker and would later be followed by additional states.
Legal Online Poker FAQs
Can I play poker from my mobile device?
Yes. Most poker sites offer mobile poker clients for iOS and Android devices. Some mobile poker clients even support multi-tabling.
Can I play online poker from my Mac?
Yes. Nearly every legal poker site offers a native Mac download for desktop users.
Do I have to be a resident of a state with legal online poker to play?
No. Poker laws only require that players be 21 or older and physically located within state lines in order to play online. State residency is not a requirement.
Is online poker safe and fair?
Poker sites licensed in the United States are safe and fair. Regulators in states that have legalized online poker make consumer protection a high priority in terms of licensing conditions, laws and additional regulations.
Acquiring an online poker license in the USA is no small task. Would-be operators must prove to regulators that they are financially suitable, have the technical ability to protect the games, are able to comply with all regulations and more.
Offshore poker sites offer no such guarantees.
How do poker sites make money?
Online poker sites make their money by charging “rake.” In cash games, a little rake is collected from every pot. The percentage varies but is usually somewhere around 4 to 5% with a maximum cap. In lower stake games, the rake may cap at anywhere from $0.30 to $1. As you move up in stakes, the rake caps out at around $5.
Also note that rake isn’t taken out of every pot. If the hand doesn’t make it to a flop, most poker sites do not take a rake. Overall, the rake system is viewed as a fair price to pay. The rake isn’t so excessive that it kills profitability. You can still generate a nice income at poker despite the rake.
In tournaments, a little rake is added to every entry fee. If you see a tournament listed as $5 + $0.50, that means $0.50 is kept by the poker site as rake. The remaining $5 goes directly to the prize pool. In most tournaments, the rake is equal to about 10% of the buyin.