Poker Online Legality by Region
What does poker look like around the world? In general, you can play online for free almost anywhere. However, there are certain rules and regulations that differ from country-to-country, as we’ve explained below.
You can play online in the UK fairly unencumbered. In other words, if you live in England, Wales, Scotland, or Ireland, the local gambling laws are liberal. Online operators do need licences from the Gambling Commission. However, players are allowed to join international playerpools. This means, as a poker country, the UK is brimming with options.
As well as access to every major brand, Brits can play poker using GBP as well as other international currencies. Moreover, you can use desktop or mobile apps from anywhere in the country. Additionally, there are plenty of promotions, cash games, regional poker tournament satellites and series. Finally, all poker winnings are tax free as gambling profits aren’t classed as income!
The US is a mixed bag when it comes to poker laws for the online sphere. In some states it’s legal, in others it’s not. From a general perspective, federal law makes it difficult to play poker online. However, the important point to make here is that it’s not illegal to play online in the US.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) makes it illegal for operators to process payments from US residents. But it doesn’t outlaw the game. So, while the US government did make real-cash poker virtually impossible, it didn’t actually ban the game itself.
In the US, state laws can trump federal law. Because of this, certain states have enacted their own online regulations. Therefore, when it comes to the question “can I play poker in my area,” the answer is: it depends on where you live. To play poker online in the US, you need to be in one of the following states and aged 21+. Moreover, you have to enable geolocation services to prove you’re in a valid location:
- - Nevada
Nevada was the first US state to legalize internet poker. It started out with two operators, WSOP.com and Ultimate Poker. The latter fell away due to financial difficulties but WSOP.com remains active. As part of the 888Poker network, it’s currently offering a thriving online card room. What’s neat about Nevada as a poker area is that it’s home to Las Vegas. As such, WSOP.com not only offers standard cash games and tournaments but championship events. As a local, you can play online WSOP bracelet MTT, which isn’t something you can do in many other US states.
- - New Jersey
New Jersey has the biggest online gaming economy in the US. Anyone asking, “what are the best poker games in my area,” will always get a great answer if you live in the Garden State. From PokerStars NJ and PA and WSOP.com to Partypoker NJ and 888Poker, all the big names are there. Add to this liquidity sharing pacts with Nevada and Delaware, and there are more players grinding online in New Jersey than anywhere else in the US.
- - Delaware
Delaware started its move towards regulated online gambling in 2012. It took until 2013 for the first poker sites to go live but, since then, the market has created a stable base. 888Poker US is the main operator in the state and provides both the software and the network for local race tracks such as Dover Downs and Delaware Park. Like other US states, the legal gambling age is 21 and players must prove they’re based in the state. Other than that, this state has a liquidity sharing agreement with New Jersey.
- - Pennsylvania
The Keystone State is a relative newbie in the game. Pennsylvania poker laws were passed in 2017 and the first sites went live in 2019. PokerStars PA was the first to launch and, since then, Partypoker and 888Poker have been given the go ahead to serve local players.
If you live in Pennsylvania and you’re asking, “where are the poker games in my area,” PokerStars PA is the top answer right now. As well as cash games, events such as PACOOP offer multi-million-dollar prizepools. Looking forward to 2021, expect more of the same and, in turn, major MTTs from Partypoker and 888Poker.
- - Michigan
Michigan signed a bill into law in December 2019 and it has finally been announced as live as of January 22, 2021. Starting with online casino and sports betting, with poker to follow after. You can find our full guide to Michigan gambling laws and poker her: Michigan Guide.
- - States to Look Out For
The US might not be the best country to player poker online in just yet but things are changing rapidly. By the close of 2021, you can expect to see West Virginia, New York and California joining the party. As more states enact their own poker laws for online play, there’s no doubt America will become one of the best places to play poker in the world.
Europe has a mixture of regulated and unregulated poker markets. Germany updated its poker laws in 2020 and now the game is legal across the country. Italy, Spain, France and Portugal all have their own national licencing systems. However, sites active in two or more regions can link their playerpools thanks to liquidity sharing pacts.
With regards to Russia, Scandinavia and the rest of Europe, there are few regulations, which means players can, in general, connect to the top European poker sites such as GGPoker, PokerStars, Partypoker and 888Poker.
Canada is one of those outliers in poker. Certain states have online gaming regulations that, by and large, are controlled by local lotteries. Others don’t. However, there’s also nothing on the federal level that outlaws the game. So, in many ways, Canada is regarded as a grey market.
Based on that, you’ll find a mixture of Canadian-owned online gaming sites and international platforms available across the country. This means Canadians can play poker at PokerStars, Partypoker and many other top-tier sites. Additionally, winnings aren’t subject to any tax, which is another reason Canada is one of the best places to play poker online.
- India and SE Asia
India is very similar to the US with regards to its poker laws. At the federal level, there are no laws expressly permitting poker to be played online. However, there are no laws that ban it. This dynamic has given rise to state-based regulations. For example, the state of Nagaland was the first to legalize poker online and, in turn, license local operators.
There are places in India where poker is classed as a game of luck and, therefore, seen as gambling. Because of that, it’s illegal. However, that only applies to live poker. Because operators can obtain licences in other states, there’s nothing in federal law preventing them from offering games across the country.
In general, poker sites in India are local. In fact, it’s in the rules that every site has to be owned by or linked to an Indian company. Thus, brands such as PokerBaazi and Adda52 are popular in India but unavailable elsewhere. However, there are also some recognisable names in the mix. PokerStars is the obvious one. Overall, despite issues in certain regions, poker is widespread and becoming increasingly popular in India.
The Philippines is another “grey” market. Therefore, we can’t rank it as the best country for playing online. However, it’s also not the worst. It’s currently illegal for Filipino companies to offer any form of online gambling. However, it’s not illegal for offshore operators to serve players within the Philippines.
So, if you live there or are planning a vacation, you should be able to access all the major poker sites, including PokerStars and Partypoker. Alternatively, if you’d prefer to play live, the Philippines has 22 poker rooms housing more than 100 tables!
Indonesia is similar to the Philippines with respect to online gambling laws. Live games are banned and no company inside the country can run a poker site. However, the government hasn’t blocked access to remote platforms.
Therefore, you should be able to access online games if you’re in Indonesia. What’s more, you’ll find that there are payment processors catering to the South East Asian market. Companies such as AsiaPay88 and Mandiri offer safe, efficient ways to make deposits and withdrawals.
Gambling, including poker, is illegal in China. However, the island of Macau, which is a Chinese enclave, does offer poker. In fact, it’s where many of the world’s richest cash games take place. Because of its location, rich businessmen from across Asia converge on Macau to play for pots worth millions. That, of course, attracts the best players in the world.
As such, Macau has become a poker hotspot over the last decade. With regards to playing online, there are no restrictions on poker. It is illegal to bet on horses and sports lotteries online. But there’s nothing that outlaws poker. That means you can get access to international sites when you’re in Macau.
Best Poker Players By Country
Who are the best poker players in the world and where do they come from? Even though “best” is a relative term, there are plenty of standout names. From the US to the UK, Europe and beyond, talent knows no bounds. So, with that in mind, here are the top poker players from around the world.
- Bryn Kenney
- Erik Seidel
- Justin Bonomo
- Phil Ivey
- Phil Hellmuth
It’s tough to say who the best in the US are because there are so many elite players. So our picks are based on earnings, impact on the game and longevity.
Bryn Kenney started out playing Magic the Gathering and transitioned into poker. Later winning a WSOP bracelet in 2017. He is currently number one in tournament earnings on the all-time money list ($51 million) - not just in the US but in the world. He claims not to use solvers to advance his game. The second highest earner of all time is Justin Bonomo with $49 million - he also transitioned from Magic the Gathering. Bonomo seems to cash constantly and regularly gestures in the high Stakes circuit.
Meanwhile, Erik Seidel was crushing long before the internet poker boom and first won a WSOP bracelet in 1988. His knockout hand even made it into the movie “Rounders”. But he keeps the wins coming, remaining active both live and online, and currently sits 4th on the world’s top money list.
Phil Ivey has multiple titles and more than $31 million in tournament earnings. He was out of the mainstream games for a while but seems to be coming back onto the scene with a vengeance. He won his first bracelet in 2000 and nine more after that. Phil’s known for having the best poker face ever.
Phil Hellmuth – Arguably the best-known player for not only his success but his attitude and apt nickname “poker brat”. He’s won more WSOP bracelets than anyone else on the planet and keeps chasing them year after year. No one can keep up! He’s active in many tournaments year-round, and lately crushed Antonio Esfandiari in “High Stakes Battle”. We love his blow ups and self-indulgent speeches at the table.
The UK has long been a strong nation when it comes to poker. In recent years, its position as, arguably, the best poker country means it’s produced some top-class talent. Our three picks are based on skill and their overall contribution to the game.
Stephen Chidwick - A very accomplished (mostoy) tournament player who is number one on the UK money list. And high up on the all-time money list too. He’s feared because of his stoic, steady posture that never gives anything away. We’ve seen Stephen continuously on the rise, even in 2021.
Sam Trickett – A man who not only finished second in the first ever Big One for One Drop, Sam is a force in the biggest live games in the world.
Chris Moorman – One of the first online MTT superstars, multiple accolades, including WSOP bracelets, as well as millions of dollars in earnings.
- Daniel Negreanu
- Jonathan Duhamel
- Timothy Adams
- Sam Greenwood
Despite its relative size, Canada punches way above its weight when it comes to poker talent. Maybe it’s the cold winters, maybe it’s the influence of neighbouring America. Either way, our top three Canadian poker players are all world-class.
Daniel Negreanu is the biggest name in Canadian poker and maybe the world. He’s known for being “good for the game” with a larger than life personality, being a sponsored PRO on Stars for a decade and now being key ambassador for GGPoker. He’s had steady continuity over the 20 years of his poker experience and managed to become a household name. Negreanu has won a variety of titles, banked millions and was number 1 on the all-time money list (now 3rd). He even impressed former US President Barack Obama. He was inducted in the hall of fame and remains active in every WSOP, and more recently his highly-popularized feud with Doug Polk.
Jonathan Duhamel – He started online and reached the pinnacle of poker when he won the 2010 WSOP Main Event for $8.9 million. He’s high on the money list. Then there’s Timothy Adams – One of poker’s new generation. He rose up to become Canada’s second biggest earner and seems to win WSOP bracelets and super high roller events for fun.
Sam Greenwood is a classic example of a player who started out online in 2006 and became immensely successful in live poker. Even climbing and smashing high stakes titles. He’s only in his early thirties but already has a WSOP gold bracelet under his belt and a line of deep runs.
- Fedor Holz (Germany)
- Mikita Badziakouski (Belarus)
- Christoph Vogelsang (Germany)
- Rainer Kempe (Germany)
- Igor Kurganov (Russia)
- Bertrand “ElkY” Gosspelier (France)
- Patrik Antonius (Finland)
- Dario Sammartino (Italy)
Germany, France, Spain and Italy have all produced top-level pros. Though Scandinavians dominated the game during the poker boom, many German contenders have emerged with a fearful, solid reputation.
Fedor is in poker’s top 10 - a German all-rounder with wins at all levels. He’s currently one of GGPoker’s ambassadors and creator of “pokercode”. He lives in Austria where he re-emerged on the scene after a short-lived “retirement”. Mikita may not say much on the felt but he’s a ‘new breed’ of poker. The Belarusian won over $28 million in tournaments before even turning 30! In fact, he started cashing big at just 18.
Christoph is another German high stakes stalwart who often dominates live and online MTTs. The High Stakes Pro is on par with another German - Rainer. A dark horse who broke out with a Super High Roller win at EPT Prague 2015. Since then he’s won more than $21 million in live eventsand resides in the UK.
Patrik Antonius was one of the first to successfully transition from high stakes online to live. The Finn gained popularity from appearing on the televised High Stakes Poker show and is still feared today. Meanwhile, Dario is known for being the 2019 WSOP Main Event runner up and for being on 9 WSOP final tables. But he’s been playing poker since 2005 and is number one on Italy’s all-time list.
Russian Igor is known for his high-stakes wins and WSOP bracelet, as well as his philanthropic efforts. You’ll often see him sporting a REG sticker at major events. The former PokerStars PRO sits high on the EU money list. And online gamer ElkY transitioned from Starcraft to poker. He’s known for being one of just 9 Triple Crown Winners (WSOP, WPT and EPT/PSC) and for being a GGPoker ambassador.
- John Juanda
- Paul Phua
- Aaron Zang
John Juanda spent part of his formative years in the US, but is from Indonesia. Despite being less prominent in recent years, he’s considered a pioneer and legend in poker. Paul Phua may not be the best player in the world but he created the Triton Poker Tour and helped kick start a revolution in Asia. There might be other cash games players who are better than Zang, but he’s on the list because he won the most expensive tournament in history, Triton London.
Gambling has always been popular in Asia but it’s only now that the region’s poker talent is breaking through. Thanks to private games in Macau and Triton Poker Tour, we’re now seeing some truly world-class players coming from all parts of Asia.
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How do I find poker tournaments in my area?
You can use this article as a starting point, as well as our country-specific guides. Additionally, you can visit well-known tournaments operators such as the WSOP, WPT, PokerStars, Partypoker and Triton and get details of their latest events.
What country is best at poker?
The US could be the best country at poker simply because it’s home to so many top-level pros. However, it’s hard to say as there are fantastic players living in almost every country. So, in reality, there aren’t really great poker countries, there are only great players.
What country did poker originate from?
Poker as we know it today originated in the US. However, early versions of the game have been traced back to France and a game called Poque. Poker also has links to As Nas from Persia and a domino-card game played in 10th century China.