A Guide to Online Real Money Poker for United States Players
Though United States poker players don’t have the same range of options that players in European countries do, there are still plenty of real money games out there. The legal status of online wagering makes moving money around a bit complicated and risky, however.
This guide covers the available options, explains exactly how they work, and highlights the best and safest venues for real money poker online.
Legal Online Games Within the United States
The legal status of online real money poker in the United States is murky, due to the broad recognition that it is a game of skill rather than chance. Though there is “wiggle room” of this nature in existing federal law, the federal government position has consistently been that it is just as illegal as any other casino game. After sites like Full Tilt and PokerStars were raided and shut down by the FBI in 2011, no other major sites have attempted to set up shop at a national level within the country.
Federal law defers to state law on this matter, however. Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware all presently allow people who are physically within the state to play online poker for money. Pennsylvania additionally passed legislation legalizing online poker in 2017 and is expected to begin allowing games to operate in late 2018.
The states guard against people logging into poker sites from other states by checking the location of their IP address. They usually further guard against the use of proxy servers and similar measures by asking registered players for a valid mobile phone number they can be contacted at. While the player is logged in, the site periodically “pings” the phone, using cellular towers to determine where the player is currently physically located.
The following sites are available in each state:
- Nevada: World Series of Poker, Real Gaming
- New Jersey: Borgata, 888Poker, World Series of Poker, PokerStars, Pala Poker, playMGM, Party Poker
- Delaware: World Series of Poker (accessed through the shared network of Dover Downs, Delaware Park and Harrington Raceway)
Delaware and Nevada have had a compact that allows players from each state to play together at real money tables for several years. New Jersey joined that compact in October of 2017.
You don’t have to be a resident of one of these states to legally play poker there, you simply have to be within the state borders while you are playing.
Casinos and Poker Rooms Outside the Country
Federal law also forbids anyone in the United States from playing at online casinos located outside the country. However, individual players are almost never punished. Instead, the government opts to fine banks that allow transactions with offshore casinos, and the banks in turn block attempts to fund offline casino accounts.
There are some workarounds that United States players can employ to get around bank restrictions. It’s important to be aware that many of the most reliable casinos around the world forbid players from the United States, however.
It helps to understand a bit about how casinos are regulated in other countries before jumping in. Each country that allows online gambling has some sort of a gaming commission that is supposed to oversee these casinos and ensure they are not cheating or treating players unfairly. However, not all gaming commissions are created equal. Some have better reputations for enforcement of rules and laws than others.
The gaming commissions that tend to have the best reputations, like the UK Gambling Commission and their various whitelisted territories, also tend to require casinos to not allow players from the United States. Unfortunately, the international casinos that accept American players also tend to be in regions that have questionable gambling regulation. Most are licensed in either Curacao or Costa Rica. Players should be aware that they will have very little legal recourse against poker rooms and casinos in these territories if they decide to pull a fast one, and should research the reputation and history of any casinos they are considering making a deposit at very carefully. It’s also important to read the fine print, as many of the international online casinos that accept United States players do have a list of certain states that are excluded.
That said, there are a few overseas poker sites that are popular with United States players and have reasonably good reputations. Most of these are sites that formerly operated in the Kahnawake territory of Canada, but were forced to leave in 2016 when the tribe came to an agreement with casinos in New Jersey to forbid players from other states. They include Ignition (formerly Bovada), America’s Cardroom and Betonline.
Free Options with Real Money Rewards and Prizes
One final possibility for United States players is to play at sites where play money is wagered, but cash prizes and other valuables are given out for winning tournaments and for accruing loyalty points.
For example, though real money games at the World Series of Poker site are limited to people in the legal states, anyone in the United States can play their free games. Tournaments with prizes are sometimes offered, as well as the ability to win a bracelet and a seat at the live World Series of Poker.
Other sites that offer free games with real prizes include PurePlay, FreePoker.Net, National League of Poker and Cafrino.
The Best Real Money Poker Options for United States Players
Players in the US are generally better off staying away from all but the largest overseas poker sites, due to the amount of risk and potential added cost. Serious players may want to plan trips (or even relocate) to one of the legal states, as they are expected to be pooling all of their players in the near future. And if you’re passing the time before a trip to a gambling destination, check out some freeroll tournaments to keep your skills sharp while also potentially winning some pots at no risk.