Let’s get something straight off the top here – online poker has never been “illegal” per se in the United States.
The passing of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act – an ill-designed add-on to a port security bill aimed at international money laundering for terrorist organizations – in 2006 made things more complicated though.
Poker Never the Target
Long story short, the US DOJ made it illegal for banks to accept money transfers from offshore companies offering online gambling services.
Some companies offering online poker in the US at the time – including industry leader Party Poker – chose to pull out of the market until further clarification came down over what was and wasn’t considered “against the law.”
A few companies that only offered poker (not casino or sportsbetting services) such as PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker decided, based on highly respected legal advice, to continue serving the US market under the understanding they were doing nothing untoward.
That of course came to a head in 2011 when the DOJ shut down the four biggest US-facing poker sites, seized hundreds of millions of dollars in player/company funds and indicted 11 people involved.
At the end-of-the-day, PokerStars bought out the embattled Full Tilt and came to an agreement with the DOJ to pay back all affected players around the world, including in the US, and was absolved of any “wrongdoing” in offering online poker from 2006-2011.
Licensed Online Poker is Back and Growing
Fast forward to 2013 and the first “legally licensed” poker site in the US – Ultimate Poker – has been launched in Nevada (exclusive for Nevada residents and visitors).
Astate-based surge in online gaming interest is also clearing the way for new federal US legislation and, many think, a brand new “poker boom.”
Dozens of land-based casino in Nevada have sought and been approved for online poker licenses and within the year dozens more sites are expected to come online.
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Iowa and more aren’t far behind with legislation in the works to “legitimize” online poker in each state.
What Does That Mean for You?
What does that all mean for you as an American poker player looking for an online home?
As of right now it means your options are limited to the aforementioned Ultimate Poker (if you’re physically in Nevada) and the sites listed in the top of the page to the right, who continue to operate under the legal opinion they are entitled to offer online poker to US residents
It’s a small list right now, but there’s certainly a growing momentum building again in the US and it‘s only a matter of time before a booming licensed industry is operating full speed again.
In the interim, check our expert-ranked list above for your best and safest options as a US player.
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