Where is poker legal in the US?
Navigating the complicated world of online poker regulation in the United States can be tricky. Whether you favour playing on your mobile, tablet or computer, players need to be careful that they are not violating the law by loading up their favourite casino app. Fortunately, we’ve simplified all the information below – so you can check if you’re able to play internet poker from the comfort of your own home.
There are two pieces of federal legislation that regulate online poker in the United States. Both are ambiguous. The Interstate Wire Act 1961 prohibits the transmission of interstate bets and wagers via a ‘wire communication facility’, with perpetrators facing up to two years in prison for such an offence. However, as this legislation was passed long before the invention of the internet, the judiciary have not yet reached a consensus over whether this covers online poker.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 is another piece of regulation. It restricts online gambling on games ‘subject to chance’ but excludes so-called ‘skilled games’. If you’re sitting there racking your brain to work out which category online poker falls into, don’t worry – you’re not the only one. Judicial interpretation of these two laws has fluctuated wildly over the past two decades, meaning that the legality of internet poker varies from state to state.
Which US States Allow Online Poker?
Online poker is currently permitted in just five states: Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, though several others are expected to join them in the future. The first state to legalise internet poker was Delaware who passed the necessary legislation back in 2012. Despite being the second smallest state in the entire country, residents have three different virtual casinos to choose from: Delaware Park, Dover Downs, and Harrington Raceway. Each is linked to a real-life premises and is powered by 888 Poker software with shared player pools.
Unsurprisingly citizens of Nevada – home to the Gambling Capital of the World – can also play internet poker to their heart’s content. Nevadans have two choices for their gaming needs, Real Gaming Online Poker and WSOP.com. Each offers a user-friendly service, but only WSOP attracts enough traffic to regularly host tournaments and high stakes games.
New Jersey became the third state to legalise online poker with a sustained period of lobbying resulting in Governor Chris Christie signing off on the bill in February 2013. The Garden State entered into a cross-border pool sharing agreement with Nevada and Delaware in 2017. This has allowed WSOP and 888poker to host nationwide, online tournaments over the past three years.
As of 2018, it is also legal to play online poker in Pennsylvania but they have not yet entered this shared player pool. The only site currently in operation in the state is PokerStars (in partnership with Mount Airy casino), but six other gambling establishments are awaiting approval to host virtual games.
West Virginia became the most recent state to legalize internet poker in March 2019. However, the necessary regulation has not yet been put in place. Most estimates suggest that online poker will not be available to West Virginians until later this year at the earliest.
In Which States Could Online Poker Become Legal in the Future?
If your state is not one of the above five, you are probably wondering when you will be able to play poker online. Unfortunately, the only states likely to legalise in the near future are Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, New York. A significant number of land-based casinos already exist in these locations with plenty of them pushing lawmakers to allow them to take their services online.
Everywhere else in the United States seems unlikely to allow online poker in the foreseeable future. Saying that, with states searching for additional sources of tax revenue due to the financial uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation could change.
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