Although fledging, the Pennsylvania online poker market is growing. And that means you can now access a selection of cash games, tournaments, and promotions within the state. As long as you’re based in the state and are aged 21+, your options are abundant. In this PA online poker guide, we’ve broken down all the technicalities and legalities. But most importantly, how you can ante up and play. So, if you’re ready to learn more about the best PA online poker sites, dive below.
Is online poker legal in Pennsylvania? Yes, it is. Laws were passed in 2017 and the PA online poker launch date was November 2019. As of 2021, the status of PA online poker is PokerStars as the only operator in the state. However, WSOP.com and partypoker have both been given the green light to go live. This means the number of legal Pennsylvania poker sites will increase in the coming years. Add a selection of free-play poker apps and sweepstakes sites (like Global Poker), and the market is shaping up nicely.
What poker sites are legal in Pennsylvania? At the time of writing (Q1 year), PokerStars PA is the only licensed real-money site in the Keystone State. By that virtue alone, it’s our top pick. However, as you’ll see in the section below, it will remain a top pick because it’s a fantastic place to play.
Even when partypoker and 888Poker / WSOP.com launch their PA platforms, PokerStars will still be a top-ranked operator. However, it will surely face some stiff competition. partypoker has partnered with Valley Forge Casino. So under the guidance of its parent company GVC, it will look to challenge PokerStars’ early lead.
The same goes for 888Poker/WSOP. As subsidiaries of Caesars Entertainment, these brands have links to Harrah’s Casino Pennsylvania. This is their route into the state and they intend to use it. Between what’s already available and what’s to come, the regulated PA online poker market is shaping up to be one of the best in the US.
When you’re the first operator into a market, it’s easy to take your foot off the gas and cruise. This operator hasn’t done that. In fact, when it went live in November 2019, it quickly laid a marker. It did this by hosting the inaugural PokerStars Pennsylvania Championship of Online Poker (PACOOP). The 50-event series boasted a $1 million guarantee, but that was soon pushed to $1.6 million following a surge of interest.
By October 2020, the second incarnation of PACOOP had paid out more than $2 million. This not only highlighted the festival’s appeal, but one of PokerStars’ main strengths. As an operator, PokerStars has built its reputation on excellence in all areas but, particularly, tournaments. PACOOP was a demonstration of what it can do not only with regards to prize pools but variety.
Of course, it’s not all about mega festivals. Each week, PokerStars PA hosts five Sunday Majors, including the Sunday Special with prize pools topping $100,000. Beyond that, you can play a variety of cash games at all limits. Including Hold’em, Omaha, Stud, Draw, Mixed Games, and exotic options such as Badugi.
Finally, if that’s not enough, this operator offers fast-fold poker (Zoom) among their unique spread. You’ll also find lottery-style jackpot tournaments (Spin & Go) - always a player favorite for a couple of quick hands on the go from mobile. Plus, plenty of satellites to live events such as the European Poker Tour (EPT) and Asia Pacific Poker Tour (APPT).
For a slightly different experience, Global Poker is great. This site is legal in 49 US states, including Pennsylvania. Because it operates in a different way to other Pennsylvania poker sites. It does this by using a sweepstakes model. Under federal law, sweepstakes are legal across the US (except in Washington), and that makes Global Poker legit in Pennsylvania.
In terms of how it works, the basic premise is: you purchase gold coins to use as the site currency. By removing the ability to play with cash, Global Poker is almost like a free-play site. However, you do have to pay for gold coins (unless you get them through bonuses). Alongside the coins, you’ll also pick up a secondary onsite credit known as sweeps.
Unlike gold coins, sweeps can be withdrawn as gift vouchers. These vouchers can be virtual or physical. The important point to note is that sweeps do have some sort of real-world value, but gold coins don’t. This distinction is important because it means Global Poker can operate as a sweepstakes site. And, therefore, remain legal within the US.
In terms of the site itself, the underlying mechanics might be different to that of PokerStars. But the features you can access aren’t. Global Poker offers a variety of tournaments, cash games, and promotions. The overall vibe at Global Poker PA is fun. Quirky tournament names like The Teaser and Eyes Wide Shut remind you the entertainment is paramount. Everyone is welcome at this site, but we think you’ll find it particularly appealing if you’re a beginner or novice.
PokerStars was the first site licensed in Pennsylvania. However, it won’t be the last. PokerStars Pennsylvania went live in November 2019 after partnering with Mount Airy Casino. The deal marked a change for the company’s fortunes as it had previously struggled to get a New Jersey license.
Although it eventually launched in the Garden State in 2016, its peers had a three-year head start. In the Keystone State, PokerStars was given the green light ahead of everyone else. This made it the only legal Pennsylvania site in 2019 and for much of 2020. However, it won’t hold a monopoly forever. partypoker and 888Poker are set to go live in the state. After that, anything could happen.
With a population of almost 13 million, Pennsylvania is tipped to become a leading regulated gaming market in the US. The current leader, New Jersey, has a population just shy of 9 million. Therefore, based on residents alone, Pennsylvania could become the place to play online.
In fact, you only have to look at the brands currently offering casino games and sports betting in the states. Familiar names like DraftKings and FanDuel may not be well-known for offering poker, but they certainly have the resources to pivot and create a platform.
Then there’s Unibet. Anyone that knows the European scene will know Unibet is a champion when it comes to casual gaming. Unlike many of the major brands, it’s largely aimed at novices and recreational players. There’s no reason Unibet PA couldn’t bring its brand to Pennsylvania - that’s our take on it anyway.
However, speculation aside, PokerStars PA online is the main provider right now (2021). We also know for sure that partypoker and 888Poker/WSOP.com will be legal online poker sites in PA at some point. Beyond that, there are certainly many more possibilities as state regulators look to create a thriving network of operators.
|PokerStars PA||FREE30||$30 free credits|
|PokerStars PA||STARS600||100% match up to $600|
Legal sites don’t only offer cash games and tournaments. As a newbie and returning customer, you’ll get access to freerolls, promotions, and other added extras. If you look at what the best online poker in PA has to offer, all new sign-ups receive a reward.
For example, if you follow our PokerStars Pennsylvania registration link, you’ll receive a 100% deposit match worth up to $600. By using the promo code STARS600 and depositing at least $10, you’ll double your balance (up to $600).
Beyond PA welcome bonuses, the top sites run reload promos, free tournament tickets, and loyalty rewards such as rake back. All of these offers are designed to give you more value and, in certain ways, offset any downswings you might encounter.
No single poker bonus will cancel out a loss. However, if you can pick up enough bonuses, you can offset some of your losses. That’s important because poker is unpredictable. Promotions are a reward for being loyal to a particular site. Beyond that, they’re also a safety net. They provide a small bankroll boost that can ease the blow of a loss or improve your gains when things are going well.
Is online poker legal in Pennsylvania? Yes. The Expanded Gaming Act was passed in 2017. This motion built upon gambling laws that were already in place. The law allows any casinos licensed in the state to apply for online gaming authorization.
As such, this means operators from outside of Pennsylvania must partner with local bricks and mortar venues to get a license. Together, they can launch a legal site. However, any company based outside of the state must have servers in Pennsylvania for the purposes of serving local players.
All legal operators in PA must be licensed by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and abide by the following regulatory conditions:
Pennsylvania’s legislation clearly notes that players must be at least 21 years old and located within state lines if they want to ante up.
“The Gaming Control Board will put in place a system that,
through the use of GPS software and IP Address identification,
will block entry and play of Pennsylvania-licensed internet gaming
if a user is outside of the state.
In addition, participating in internet gaming when in a Pennsylvania casino
will also be blocked,” reads the Extended Gaming Act 2017.
You have to be inside state lines and not inside a licensed casino if you want to play online poker in PA for real money. This is as much for your protection as the operator’s. Anyone playing outside of the state is not only breaking federal laws but could be cheating. In other words, they may be able to get around security systems designed to control and regulate games within the state. Therefore, abiding by geolocation restrictions is as much about keeping you safe as helping the operator stay within the confines of the law.
To ensure everyone is located in Pennsylvania, legal sites use a variety of checks and balances. For starters, you’ll have to verify your identity when you register. You don’t have to live in Pennsylvania to use a PA operator. However, you will need to be in the state when you create an account. What’s more, you’ll only be able to log in when you’re within state lines. Verifying your identity allows the operator to establish a base.
From there, you’ll be asked to install or allow geolocation tracking software to work on your system (desktop and mobile). This software will pinpoint your location and, if you’re not in the right place, it won’t let you access the site. Any attempt to block or subvert the software will cause the site not to load and could result in your account being closed.
US Poker was crippled by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA). This federal law didn’t make the act of playing poker online illegal. However, it did make the processing of funds by offshore operators illegal. In other words, remote sites were no longer allowed to process deposits and withdrawals from customers in the US. This law changed the game and sent a number of operators running for the proverbial hills.
In April 2011, the Department of Justice (DOJ) shut down all operators that hung around after UIGEA in a move known as Black Friday. The indictments brought an end to real-cash poker, casino gaming, and sports betting in the US for two years. However, states quickly pushed for their rights to enact their own laws.
The New York Lottery and Illinois Lottery argued that the 1961 Wire Act (another stick used to beat the industry into submission) didn’t apply to intrastate online ticket sales. Instead, it only prevented interstate (i.e. across state lines) wire communications. The DOJ eventually offered an opinion which, basically, stated that online gaming isn’t prohibited by the Wire Act.
New Jersey was the first state to put forward a bill that would make sure funds weren’t processed offshore. This meant it didn’t contravene UIGEA or the Wire Act. By 2013, that bill was signed into law by Governor Chris Christie and online gaming in the US was back.
The same year New Jersey’s online gaming industry went live, Pennsylvania Rep. Tina Davis introduced legislation that would bring a similar system to the Keystone State. The bill didn’t gain any traction, but it opened up a discussion on the topic.
A study was commissioned to look at the potential impact of online gambling and, in 2014, the Senate Committee on Community, Economic and Recreational Development took on the bill. Again, however, it didn’t gain any traction.
This cycle of interest and political stumbling blocks continued until 2017. That year, both the House and Senate voted in favor of the Expanded Gaming Act (bill H 271). Governor Tom Wolf signed the bill on October 30, 2017, and, with that, online gambling was legal in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) was tasked with licensing and regulating operators in 2018. Online casinos were the first to go live before poker followed in 2019 with the licensing of Stars PA. More poker operators are set to follow, as are additional casino and sports betting sites.
Live poker is great. However, for many players, online sites provide a better overall experience. Of course, the medium you choose will always be a matter of personal preference. But, to give you some insights as to why internet poker has flourished in recent years, here are some of its strengths.
If you have a need for speed, online play is the only option. Live dealers are slick, and the use of automatic shuffle machines can speed up the game. However, even the fastest dealers in the state can’t match what happens online. Random number generators mean you can see hundreds of hands per hour at a single online table. Add to this the fact you can play multiple tables at once and playing online is far superior to live in the speed department.
There are more players online than there are live. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, it’s easier to grab your phone / computer and find a game than it is to travel to your local casino. Secondly, online card rooms don’t have the same space restrictions that live venues have. Yes, there are limits to the amount of activity an operator’s servers can take. However, the average operator site can handle thousands of players at once. A card room inside a brick and mortar can’t.
Bricks and mortar casinos may offer the odd promotion but it’s rare. Online sites, on the other hand, are always offering you something extra. Welcome bonuses come standard at the best online poker Pennsylvania sites, as are reload offers, cashback, and freerolls. What’s more, it doesn’t matter how much you wager. Pennsylvania online poker promos are open to everyone, regardless of the stakes you play.
When it comes to instant payouts, live poker wins this round. Anything you win in a live cash game or tournament is paid out within minutes. Online operators can’t do that because there are security procedures they have to complete. However, this fact aside, Pennsylvania online poker sites still come out top in this category because they offer more in the way of potential.
Visit your local bricks and mortar casino on a Wednesday afternoon and it’s unlikely you’re going to find a high stakes cash game. Log in to one of the top-rated PA online poker sites at any time and you’ll find some action. The same goes for tournaments. Yes, events like the WSOP are great. However, they don’t take place every day and, moreover, they’re not happening in the Keystone State. If you want an ongoing schedule of MTTs and guarantees, playing online is your only option.
Gaming on the go has become big business in recent years. As such, you can now access a mixture of real and free-play mobile poker apps in Pennsylvania. Of the options available, PokerStars comes out top. The developers have been updating and refining the platform for over a decade and it shows.
Today, you can download the PokerStars PA app (iOS or Android) and play in landscape or portrait mode. Not only that, you can access everything the desktop site has to offer. In practice, this means there are cash games, including Hold’em, Omaha, and Stud, at a range of limits.
PokerStars mobile also offers MTTs, sit & go tournaments, fast-fold poker (Zoom), and lottery-style games (Spin & Go). Finally, you can pick up bonuses, customize the look of the table (colors, styling etc.) and review your hands. Basically, the app provides a complete gaming experience whenever and wherever you want it. On top of this, you’ve got the convenience of tapping and swiping; two things that make the overall experience much more tactile and engaging.
Free-play mobile poker apps are just as entertaining as their real-play counterparts. Although they can’t quite match what PokerStars offers in terms of prizes and promotions, they do let you enjoy games on-demand. And, perhaps most importantly, you don’t have to pay to play. When you try the following play-money poker apps, you can get a feel for the game, have some fun, and hone your skills without risking your bankroll:
This free-play poker app is simple, clean, and clutter-free. The interface is far from dull. However, the developers have made a conscious effort not to overload the app with unnecessary features. By removing the bells and whistles, you get instant and easy access to dozens of free cash games, tournaments. And unique variants like Bingo Bango and Double Ups.
This free play-money mobile poker app looks like any other. It’s available for iOS and Android, and you can play a selection of cash games. However, World Poker Club has one special feature: gesture controls. To make games more immersive and interesting, certain gestures will initiate specific moves. For example, flicking up folds your hand. Double taps mean you want to check or call. Holding down your finger on the screen and dragging across will raise it up. These features are offered alongside standard action buttons and make this app truly engaging.
If you want to improve your skills, SnapShove is perfect. This app was developed by British poker pro Max Silver. And it allows you to run through various game scenarios and learn the best moves to make. So, while it’s not technically a play-money poker app, it’s an extremely useful tool to have at your disposal.
At the time of writing (Q1 2021), PokerStars was the only legal site in Pennsylvania. This will change. However, in terms of traffic, it means that this site has a monopoly. Since launching in November 2019, PokerStars PA has seen a steady increase in traffic. Evidence of this came in October 2020 when the second PACOOP attracted more than 21,000 buy-ins.
This resulted in an overall prizepool that was worth $400,000 more than what was generated in December 2019. In terms of daily traffic, PokerStars’ 24-hour peak is just short of 800 players. That compares favorably to what’s happening in New Jersey; a market that’s been live since 2013.
At their current peak, WSOP.com/888Poker NJ have a daily high of just under 500 players. When you take into account the numbers PokerStars NJ and partypoker NJ attract, the overall 24-hour peak is just shy of 1,000. So, already, you can see that Pennsylvania’s poker industry has a lot of potential.
Part of the reason for this potential is that operators have very few restrictions in terms of the games they can offer. Under state laws, all variants are permissible. That means you can enjoy cash games, tournaments, sit & go tournaments, and exotic options such as fast-fold poker. What’s more, there’s room to offer unique innovations such as Home Games.
When you join PokerStars PA, you’ll have the option to create your own private games that only you and invited guests can play. Between this and the fact Pennsylvania has a population of almost 13 million, there’s every chance the Keystone State will have one of the biggest online poker markets in the US.
We referenced it a few times but PokerStars hosted major online festivals in 2019 and 2020. PACOOP set the bar and now you can expect more of the same in the coming weeks, months, and years. Naturally, PokerStars will continue offering weekly and annual guaranteed MTTs.
Then, when WSOP.com and partypoker et al go live, they’ll do the same. What will be interesting to see is whether WSOP.com brings its bracelet events to the state. If that happens, the MTT scene will boom. Moreover, it may inspire partypoker PA to work with its partner and offer WPT tournaments in Pennsylvania.
Cash games at Stars currently attract just over 100 players at any one time. Hold’em is the most popular variant, but you can find Omaha games. Although high stakes games don’t run very often at the moment, you’ll find plenty of action at $50NL and below.
Gone are the days when S&Gs were purely nine-handed affairs. Yes, you can still play these on-demand tournaments. However, the spectrum of options is much broader than it once was. Six-handed, hyper-turbo games, and heads-up sit & go tournaments are all popular now. You can also add to this lottery-style games where the prize pool is random and may be worth more than 1,000X the buy-in.
You don’t have to pay to play online in Pennsylvania. Yes, there are free-play sites. However, you can also take part in freerolls that allow you to win cash prizes. At Stars, all newbies can take part in “Welcome Freerolls” with prize pools worth up to $1,000. Beyond that, there’s a steady stream of daily and weekly freerolls with prize pools worth anything from $100 to $5,000. To take part in these MTTs, you’ll typically need to complete tasks like raking a certain amount or playing specified games.
Pennsylvania online gambling laws are clear: all payments must be processed securely. Plus offering a safe way to deposit and withdraw, licensed operators have to store your funds in separate, secure accounts. This means your money can’t be used for operational purposes. Any operator that can’t meet these obligations won’t be given a license - simple.
Aside from the nuances of PA poker laws, you can deposit by following these steps:
The most common payment options are:
To make withdrawals, you follow a similar set of steps:
All legal online poker sites in PA are safe and secure. The PGCB ensures that each licensee is legit and uses fair business practices. In technical terms, all accounts are password-protected and SSL encryption ensures your personal details are safe at all times. Additionally, every payment method is reputable and safe. Finally, every game you play will be 100% fair. Legal sites must have their random number generators tested and certified by third-party agencies. Every legit operator in PA meets this condition.