US Poker sites - Legalization Overview and Top Sites for 2016
In April 2013, legal online poker returned to the United States with the launch of Ultimate Poker in Nevada. Since then, over a dozen legal poker sites have launched and poker players are excited for the game’s future. We present this guide to help you choose the best poker room to make your first deposit.
Legal Poker State by State – A Quick Overview
Online poker regulation in the United States took a dramatic shift in 2011 after the release of a U.S. Department of Justice memo that declared that the Federal Wire Act only applied to sports betting. Following this revelation, some states started looking into regulating online poker for US players.
Nevada was the first to adopt online poker regulations, doing so in 2011. Online poker was officially regulated in 2013 with the passage of AB 114. Ultimate Poker became the first regulated online poker room in the United States, launching on April 30, 2013.
Delaware was actually the first state to regulate online poker, doing so in 2012. However, they were second to launch real money gaming, doing so in early 2013.
New Jersey was third to regulate online poker and the last state of the three to launch. The state decided on a single launch date for their legal US poker sites and online gambling for real money officially launched on November 26, 2013.
Three other states are also in the running for regulating online poker. The first, and the one receiving the lion’s share of regulatory attention in 2015, is Pennsylvania. Lawmakers made tremendous progress last year but fell just short of voting on a bill. Pennsylvania is the one state expected to regulate online poker in 2016.
California is another state within a year or two from passing iPoker regulation. They are finally close to resolving certain issues that have blocked a bill from passing in the past. However, the current Daily Fantasy Sports crisis and this being an election year may push regulation back to 2017.
New York surprised many this year after S5302B emerged from committee by unanimous vote. This is the first time an iPoker bill actually moved forward. However, the chances of it actually passing still remain less than 50%.
Doesn’t the UIGEA Make Online Poker Illegal?
The common misconception about the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) is that it makes online poker illegal. It does not. UIGEA makes it illegal for U.S. based banks to process transactions related to online gambling and poker is considered gambling. There was an amendment to the UIGEA that would have made online gambling activities illegal in the United States but that bill failed to get enough support and was defeated.
So, is online poker legal in the USA? That’s actually a bit of a gray area. Most states do not have laws on the books that make playing online poker illegal. Washington State is one of the few that actually criminalizes playing online poker. In other states, the status is either undefined or it is grouped in as part of antiquated illegal gambling laws.
Can you play online poker in the US? The short answer is yes, but it is not as simple as that. Thanks to the UIGEA, you cannot legally process online gambling activities except in New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada. This typically requires that players use third-party processors that actually lie about the nature of the transactions.
Most online poker sites that accept U.S. customers are overseas sites and are unregulated. This means that your funds are typically not segregated from operating funds and you have little to no legal recourse if the site you’re playing at shuts down.
That is why online poker regulation is important. In Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey, online poker is licensed and regulated to protect players. All deposits are segregated from operating funds, ensuring that players can make a deposit on demand.
Also, sites are regularly monitored by their state regulatory commission to ensure that games are run fairly and that the operators are following the letter of the law. Finally, customers have the added protection of being able to petition the state regulatory commission to intervene if they have a problem with an operator and the operator is unable to resolve the issue.
Which States Are Close to Regulating Online Poker?
There are several states that are close to joining NV, DE and NJ in allowing citizens to play online poker for money in US. The state considered most likely to become regulated in 2016 is Pennsylvania. State lawmakers worked diligently in 2015 to try and get online poker regulated and nearly had it added to the state budget for 2016. While that didn’t happen, many believe that the momentum gathered in 2015 will carry them over the top in 2016. At this point, it is just a matter of submitting legislation that resolves a few minor concerns, something that lawmakers are reportedly already working on.
California is the other state close to regulating online poker. They have been working on the issue for years but issues surrounding participation in the industry by the horse racing industry and bad actors has slowed down progress. A new bill, AB2863, addresses the issues surrounding racetrack participation and the bad actor issue has been deemed moot thanks to the licensing of PokerStars by NJ. Most expect California to off iPoker sometime in 2017.
New York is another state that is on the watch list for online poker regulation in 2016. Earlier this year, S5302B was filed and passed out of the NY State Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee. This bill will make online poker legal in the state but there is talk that lawmakers may slow things down until certain upstate casinos have finished construction. If this bill doesn’t move forward in the next couple of months, it could be 2018 before we see any forward momentum on this bill.
Massachusetts and Illinois are two other states looking to offer legal US poker sites. Out of the two states, Massachusetts is the state with the best odds for regulated iPoker in 2016. Lawmakers filed a bill to regulated the activity in 2015 but it failed to gain any traction. However, due to the attention given to Daily Fantasy Sports, some lawmakers are calling for an omnibus bill for online gambling.
An omnibus bill would give the state regulatory commission the authority to regulate any form of online gambling that they see fit for Massachusetts, including online poker. This blanket bill would allow them to address each new form of gambling as it pop up instead of having the legislature address concerns every time they arise. If this omnibus solution gains traction, MA could leapfrog over other states to regulate iPoker.
Illinois is always on the radar for online poker but it is a state that is in a virtual holding pattern. While the issue has been debated in the past, lawmakers have clearly stated that online gambling will not be tackled until live casino expansion has been tackled in the state. Casino expansion has been discussed each of the last few years, but progress has been slow to occur.
Why Can I Trust Your Poker Sites?
The truth is that that most online poker sites are concerned only with making money and they don’t care what methods they use to make that money. That’s why you will see a lot of online poker sites promote offers from unregulated online poker rooms, potentially putting their readers at risk.
PokerUpdate only works with the top US poker sites from regulated markets. Presently, that means you will only see offers to US players from Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey. The following sites are the only online poker rooms we work with for US poker players
- WSOP.com (NV and NJ)
- 888 Poker
- Delaware Poker
- PartyPoker NJ
- Borgata Poker
- PokerStars NJ
- Real Gaming (NV)
You may notice that several popular “US facing” online poker rooms are not on this list. If you ever see the term “US facing” or “Accepts US Players” when dealing with an online poker, this means that they unregulated sites. PokerUpdate only works with legal online poker in the US and will continue to do so in the future.
When you play at an unregulated online poker room, you are putting your bankroll at risk. Unregulated sites are not required to provide any safeguards for players or their bankrolls. This often means that your deposits are not segregated and could potentially be used for operating expenses. Remember what happened a few years ago with Full Tilt Poker? They ran unregulated and didn’t segregate funds and ultimately squandered almost $400 million in player deposits.
Also, when you play on regulated online poker sites, you can rest assured that you are not being cheated or scammed by the site. Games are monitored for fairness and collusion, unlike the games at UltimateBet a few years ago when unscrupulous owners used accounts to view player hole cards and scam them out of millions.
If you want an online poker experience that is safe and fair, you want to play on regulated online poker rooms. You can trust that PokerUpdate will only bring you information on regulated US online poker rooms.
How is Online Poker Player Traffic?
Traffic on regulated US poker sites is pretty average considering the size of the states where they operate. If you are ever curious about how much traffic a particular site is averaging, you can always check out PokerScout.com for the most up-to-date traffic numbers.
Presently, legal US poker sites average about 1050 cash game players daily during peak hours. If you include tournament players, you can see up to 2500 players daily on regulated online poker rooms.
Below is a breakdown of the daily peak traffic on regulated online poker rooms in the United States. Note that WSOP.com and 888 Poker NJ share player pools as does Borgata Poker and PartyPoker NJ. Also, WSOP.com in NV shares player traffic with Delaware Poker.
- WSOP.com / 888 Poker (NJ) – 474 cash game players daily
- WSOP NV / DE Poker – 255 cash game players daily
- PartyPoker NJ / Borgata Poker – 301 cash game players daily
- Real Gaming NV – 3 cash game players daily
Deposits & Withdrawals – What to Know Before Playing Real Money Online Poker
Since online poker regulation is still in its infancy, the process for making deposits and withdrawals from your online poker account is a relatively simple one.
Prior to making a deposit on an online poker site, you need to verify that your site takes your funding option. For example, some bank credit cards will not work with regulated online poker sites as some banks have not come on board with
Below are your best options for making a deposit onto US friendly poker sites:
- ACH Check
- Visa / MasterCard
Some other options that you can use depending on your site and location are as follow:
- PayPal (WSOP.com or 888 Poker)
- PayNearMe (Local 7-Eleven Stores in NJ)
Finally, if you are unable to make a deposit online, you can go to the cage of your live casino partner and make a deposit in-person. You will need two forms of ID to make a deposit.
For withdrawals from US poker sites, you can use many of the same options to access your funds. For NETELLER, you will have to have used it to make a deposit in order to use it to withdraw funds.
In addition to the options listed above, you can request the casino to send you a check via U.S. mail for your funds. When all else fails, you can also go in-person to request a withdrawal.
US Poker Sites Accepting PayPal
In 2015, online payment processing company PayPal made the decision to open its services to the regulated online gambling industry in the United States.
The announcement came in September 2015 and came as a welcome surprise to online poker websites operating currently in New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada. According to CNBC, PayPal was prepared to launch a “pilot program to support four leading real-money gaming operators” for which customers can use the PayPal service to deposit and withdraw funds.
Impact of US Poker Sites Accepting PayPal
There are currently four US poker sites accepting PayPal: PartyPoker, Borgata, 888poker, and WSOP. It is highly likely that new operators entering the market in the future will be welcome to use PayPal as well.
While most banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions still hesitate to adjust their policies for states’ new gaming laws, the fact that PayPal became an option welcomed new customers to the online poker industry. With the US poker sites accepting PayPal now, the American market will continue to grow.
Poker Rooms Accepting PayPal
What Is PayPal?
PayPal is an online payment processing service that is currently used by hundreds of millions of people around the world to transfer funds. It is a well-respected and trusted company, which is why there are now US online poker sites accepting PayPal.
The PayPal website is very simple to use, and the creation of a new account takes only a few minutes. With the input of an email address and creation of a password, customers can then link the account to a bank account or credit or debit card and transfer money. There is also a mobile app that allows for even easier access.
Players on US poker sites accepting PayPal can now fund their accounts directly from PayPal, which is convenient for people who already use the company for other online payments.
Large payments for US poker sites accepting PayPal may be charged a fee, but that fee is limited and detailed on the PayPal website. In addition, smaller transactions typically require no fee at all.
How Do Online Poker Sites Make Sure Players Are of Legal Age?
One major difference between regulated and unregulated online poker sites is that regulated ones actually bother to try and stop underage gambling. Legal US poker sites go through a verification process to determine whether a player is of legal age.
Players must meet the following guidelines to play poker online for money in US:
- Players must be 21 years of age
- Players must submit their Social Security Number on registration
- Players must be physically located in the regulated state – verified via Wi-Fi
For most players, this process can be done automatically via identify verification software. When a site is unable to verify a player’s identity, they then request that a player submit two forms of identification. These forms of ID include a driver’s license, social security card and passport.
In rare cases, a player may be required to physically go to the casino to verify their identity. When this happens, you will need to take your two forms of ID and head to the main cage of your partner casino.
Age verification is necessary to prevent underage gambling on regulated websites. So far, there have been zero instances of underage online gambling in New Jersey, Delaware or Nevada since iPoker went online in 2013.
But I Don’t Live in Nevada, New Jersey or Delaware. Can I Still Play on Their Sites?
You DO NOT have to be a legal resident of regulated states in order to play on their sites. However, you must be PHYSICALLY LOCATED within the state boundaries of a regulated state in order to play poker online for money in US.
How can a site determine where you’re physically located? Every site takes advantage of geolocation software that is used to pinpoint your exact physical location via Wi-Fi. This means that you must have Wi-Fi enabled on your device in order to access online poker in regulated states.
Don’t have Wi-Fi? No problem! Online poker sites will provide you with a Wi-Fi adapter that you can use to hook up to your computer in order to become verified.
How accurate is this software? In 2015, a spokesman of the NJ Division of Gaming Enforcement gave a demonstration of the state’s geolocation technology. They were able to determine the location of two specific players down to which side of a coffee shop they were sitting.
Geolocation software is amazingly accurate but we would be remiss to overlook a few small flaws. Players that are located very close to the borders of a state sometimes have a problem being verified via Wi-Fi. This is likely due to the proximity to towers from other states and the potential to bounce from one tower or another.
However, this limitation has not impacted a large enough percentage of players to become a significant issue. Often, visitors in a state that offers online poker will be located close to a live partner casino, thus eliminating this potential issue.
If you are visiting states that offer legal US poker sites, you can play online poker provided that you meet their age requirements. Should you find difficulty in connecting and are physically located within a regulated state, call the customer support number for your site. They can assist your further.
Rating Online Poker Sites – How Do We Do It?
Have you ever noticed how that the reviews at some poker news sites look similar to reviews at other sites? That’s because these sites have hired non-poker players to write the reviews.
You won’t get that with PokerUpdate. Our reviews of US poker sites are written by poker players who have actually played at each of the sites reviewed. They have tested the features, played the games and even had chats with customer support agents to get the most information possible.
Our players use a specific set of criteria when rating the best US online poker sites. Some of those criteria are as follows:
- Brand History – A lengthy history in the online poker industry is both good and bad. It helps us identify problem sites and those that have a history of honest operation
- Software – A poorly designed online poker client is the #1 reason a player abandons a poker room. Sites that don’t offer mobile clients are those that will fall behind the rest
- Traffic – Online poker traffic is a direct reflection of how popular a site is with players. The more players, especially at cash games, the more popular the site.
- Competition – Nobody want to play on a site full of pro players. We tell you how easy it is to grow a bankroll and where the juiciest cash games are
- Promotions – Players are always looking for a deal and sites that fail to give customers added value for their online poker dollar struggle to grow
- Rewards Programs – Players expect to be rewarded for their loyalty. The best sites are those that offer generous rewards programs – including rakeback or cash back
- Deposit and Withdrawal Options – The more options you have for funding and cashing out from online poker accounts, the more accessible your client will be.
- Customer Support – Most players won’t have an issue playing online poker, but when they do, they want support that is available at a moments notice and knowledgeable to resolve their problems in one call.
When you play on regulated online poker sites, you have the advantage of knowing your site is safe from scammers and collusion. This makes our job easier as we can focus on giving you the most accurate and complete online poker room reviews possible.
Can Online Poker Sites Prevent Cheating?
Cheating is a major concern for any online poker player. If you know anything about the history of online poker, you have likely heard the horror stories from sites such as UltimateBet. You may even be wary of playing online poker due to its past.
The great thing about regulated online poker is that top US poker sites are required to take steps to eliminate cheating and collusion on their sites. This is done in a variety of ways. Online poker regulations in all states requires that iPoker sites have software installed that look for specific abnormalities in the play of their players.
For example, if a pair of players are always playing in the same six-handed sit and go tournaments, the software would pick up on this and investigate their play. If abnormalities are determined, further steps are taken as necessary.
New Jersey actually takes things a step further. In their regulations, a member of casino security is actually required to monitor online poker sites in much the same way that live casino floors are monitored. This means that a live human is always watching over online poker games in addition to the software security provided as part of regulation.
Remember how we said that regulation offers you the chance to seek arbitration. If you play real money poker in US on regulated sites, you can also request your site to open an investigation if you suspect that there is cheating or collusion occurring. If you feel that your operator is not sufficiently investigating the matter, you can contact your state regulator and have them step in.
Since iPoker was regulated in NJ, NV and DE in 2013, there’s yet to be a single instance of collusion or cheating reported.
I’m Busy; Can I Get a Bot to Play for Me?
Sure you can, but make sure you have your lawyer on retainer for when you get arrested. In seriousness, you cannot use a bot to play online poker on legal US poker sites. Remember how we just talked about software that sniffs out cheating and collusion? That software works wonders for bots.
You have to remember that online poker bots play in a way that is predictable and traceable by most advance tracking programs. Using a bot to consistently win will flag you as a potential cheater and the gig is up. You can be prosecuted for cheating at online poker just like cheating in live poker.
Besides, online poker bots are bad for the game. The best US poker sites exist to provide a safe playing environment for players that want to compete against other players. They are not expecting to play against a computer program that will extract a profit over time no matter how well you play.
Also, once a site gets a reputation for having bots, players start leaving the site for greener pastures. When you play with online poker bots, you may think that you’re helping yourself by growing your bankroll, but you are making a long-term –EV play as it will result in players leaving the site and a likely arrest by regulatory authorities.
How Can I Make Sure to Get the Money from My Account When I Request a Withdrawal?
In the past, there have been issues with certain players getting paid when requesting an online poker withdrawal. The most famous case is the one we mentioned earlier with Full Tilt Poker. They squandered almost $400 million in player funds and never repaid their customers. Players only were repaid after PokerStars purchased the company and made thing right.
Most recently, players that used to play at Lock Poker were scammed out of their deposits when the site unexpectedly shut down and never repaid customers. It is estimated that over $24 million in player deposits were stolen by Lock Poker.
So how do you know you will be repaid? Legal US poker sites are required by law to segregate online poker deposits in separate accounts from operating expenses. This means that if you deposit $100 onto WSOP.com, it is put into a separate account and held until you request that money in the future. The operators cannot use these funds for any other reason or risk significant fines and jail time.
Also, players at regulated online poker sites have an option that players on unregulated sites do not. You can go to the casino partnered with your online poker site and request a withdrawal in-person. When you do this, you will receive your funds immediately.
When you play real money poker in US, you can rest assured that you will be paid when you request a withdrawal. You can always contact customer support for more information regarding withdrawals.
PokerStars, Is It Coming to the US Anytime Soon?
Yes! PokerStars will be returning to the United States in 2016. Back in September 2015, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement determined that PokerStars was suitable to offer online poker and iGaming services in the state. They issued the company a transactional waiver dependent on their meeting certain conditions, including the return of NJ player funds still in their possession from before April 11, 2011.
PokerStars US met the conditions set forth by the DGE and have announced that PokerStars NJ will officially launch on March 21, 2016. This will be a historic day for online poker as it will open the door for PokerStars to operate in other states.
The DGE decision is viewed as precedent setting and certain opposition to PokerStars is now considered moot. Some states had considered trying to block PokerStars from operating in the United States by instituting a “bad actor clause” that would punish the company for accepting bets in the U.S. following the passage of the UIGEA in 2006.
Now that PokerStars is returning to the United States, online poker players can look forward to the same world-class poker experience enjoyed by the rest of the poker world. It has already been announced that PokerStars NJ will offer Spin & Go tournaments and their premier event will be the weekly Sunday Special.
For now, PokerStars will be limited to operating in regulated markets. As other states regulate the activity and more legal US poker sites go online, expect PokerStars to expand and maybe even form their own interstate market with PokerStars sites in other regulated states.