LEGAL POKER SITES
An Overview of Licensed and Regulated Sites
More US poker information:
- Why Online Poker Isn’t Illegal
- US Poker Reviews
- Poker’s Black Friday
- USA Online Poker
- Party Poker for US Players?
- Safe Poker Sites
“I want to find legal poker sites to play online for real money. Where can I go?”
First of all, let me preface this response by assuring you that I am not an attorney and do not pretend to provide any sort of legal advice. However, the simple truth is that online gambling is, and always has been, in a gray legal area. More specifically, the laws surrounding strictly online poker site operators have never been clarified.
Despite the fact that the US government occasionally decides to pursue legal action against offshore sportsbetting sites, there has never been a single documented case of a US resident being prosecuted for playing online poker. Even if some antiquated law against betting exists in random cities and states, it has never been enforced. As long as players pay taxes on all of their income, both gambling and otherwise, the government has little concern with what you do with your own money online.
So, what was all the fuss about when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was signed into law? The most important conclusion is that it had nothing to do with whether or not legal poker sites for US players still existed. The UIGEA tries to enforce restrictions on the way banks do business with online gambling sites.
The corrupt 11th hour passing of this bill makes it more difficult for poker players to fund their accounts but, fortunately, numerous easy methods still exist for hard-working tax-paying citizens to spend their money how they see fit. There are plenty of poker sites legal in their respective jurisdiction to choose from.
What Makes a “Legal Poker Site”?
Unfortunately, until the hypocritical domestic laws are changed in the US no online gambling site (poker or otherwise) is going to be stamped with a seal of approval from the DOJ. However, as I’ve tried to cover above, simply playing at these sites isn’t illegal. What I consider to be a legal poker site is one that complies with independent random number generator testing agencies and is certified by its relevant home government. All of the poker sites we link to fall under that category.
Another positive is that the countries hosting our listed online poker sites aren’t third-world tax havens handing out certifications to any shady outfit with a big wallet. Many legal poker sites are owned and operated out of Canada, Great Britain, the Netherlands, or one of their territories. Those certainly aren’t governments with lax rules about who they do business with. The US is way behind the times when it comes to the optimal way to handle online gambling: regulate the games to ensure they’re honest, implement safeguards for underage and problem gambling, and tax the revenues to go towards other civil services.
Where Can You Play Online Poker Easily and Safely from the US?
Below, I’ve listed my top suggestions for US players looking to safely play online poker for real money. Besides the regulations that these sites abide by, one of the most important issues US players face is easily depositing and withdrawing from their accounts. The following sites all have viable banking methods. Finally, keep in mind that these are only legal poker sites in their own jurisdictions so you should check with your local laws prior to playing for real money.
BETONLINE – Initially licensed in Costa Rica back in 2001 under a different brand name BetOnline moved to Panama in 2004, where it has since maintained its license and headquarters as a legal poker site. BetOnline claims to have had an industry presence as a sportsbook since 1991. They are based out of one of the largest and most up-to-date facilities in the industry with several hundred employees subject to annual inspection. They recently expanded their offerings to include an independent poker platform, which accepts all US players. This site has mostly built a rock-solid reputation over the years due to quick payouts, reliable deposit methods, and personalized customer service.
As a new legal poker site licensed in Panama, BetOnline has always accepted all US players and is the only remaining US poker room to offer both e-check and block-free credit card deposits. Making an e-check deposit is essentially like writing a check online and doesn’t require signing up with a third-party e-wallet. While credit card deposits are offered at every US poker room BetOnline is the only one to process them at a near-100% success rate. Payouts are also offered in several more options than competing poker rooms with funds delivered within a week for below-average fees.
Besides the easy deposits and payouts the other main draw of BetOnline is the extremely loose player base with flop percentages often exceeding 40% for full 10-seated cash games. As the poker section is quite new the player traffic is also impressive, rivaling the size of longer-tenured US poker rooms. The bonus for our new players includes free tournament cash and a 25% instant cash bonus in the sports section.
Positives: fully licensed in Panama, accepts all US players, excellent credit card deposit rates, loose tables, e-check deposits. Read full review.
Block-free credit card deposits are accepted from all US players.
Our Exclusive Bonus: Free tournament entries and 25% sports bonus
SPORTSBOOK POKER – With deep industry roots going back to 1996, Sportsbook Poker is licensed by the Antiguan government and has won numerous “Best of” US gaming site awards. As is the case with most of the long-tenured all-in-one gaming sites the parent company have a history of strong assets and liquidity. One of the most significant developments was the acquisition of UK Gambling commission license, which gives further credence to this being a legal poker site as it is one of the most sought-after gaming licenses in the world. This is one of the better all-around US options with strong traffic, promotions, and credit card deposits that are rarely declined.
Another significant positive of this site on the player side is the extremely loose player base, which is certainly one of the most inexperienced online. With online poker’s largest non-US sites seemingly tightening up more and more each day, it’s refreshing to find a legal poker site in Sportsbook Poker that still serves up the good old-fashioned online fish. Our new players also receive a no-strings-attached 10-25% instant sports/casino cash bonus on their first deposit in addition to another 200% earned through poker gameplay. In terms of easy deposits, this is one of the only legal poker sites to accept US credit cards block-free.
Best aspects: licensed and located in Antigua, compliant with the UK Gambling Commission, instant cash bonus, US credit cards accepted block-free. Read full review.
US credit cards are not blocked by almost any issuing bank.
Our Exclusive Bonus: 200% up to $2,000 + 10-25% instantly
BOVADA – One of the more popular legal mainstays in the US market has been Bovada (previously known as Bodog). The 2012 sale to a separate corporate entity and subsequent brand name change to Bovada helps to secure its safe status in the US. Once considered a new and niche poker site, Bovada is now one of the most popular US poker rooms and our current top-rated site. They also have one of the more unique histories in terms of licensing and regulation. Originally based in Antigua, Bovada has maintained that license for international gaming but has secured an additional license with the Kahnawake Gaming Commission in Canada. This allows them to offer gaming to North Americans and be accepted as a legal poker site by the Quebec government.
Ultimately, as a combination sportsbook/casino/poker room Bovada is as close to a mainstream legal poker site as you can get with sections of their enterprise dealing with everything from music publishing to martial arts fighting. In terms of the poker room they have one of the most user-friendly software packages, a historically young and aggressive (read maniacal and ready to gamble) player base, and caters to the US market with an exclusive deposit system using existing credit cards. US withdrawal times are also especially noteworthy with checks arriving in less than a week. Our new Bovada players also receive an increased 100% bonus an additional 50% free bet in the sports section in order to win additional bonus funds.
Positives: loose player base, strong bonus, licensed in Canada and Antigua. Read full review…
Near-100% success rate for US credit and debit cards.
Our Exclusive Bonus: 100% up to $1,000 + 50% free bet
SPORTSBETTING POKER – The path of the current SportsBetting Poker towards becoming a legal poker site has been an interesting one. As one of the original names in online betting back in the 1990s the parent company of SportsBetting Poker had taken a dubious path towards neglect and outright theft of player funds following the US legislative issues of 2006 and 2011. It originally held a trusted license from Antigua and Barbuda, a common territory of gaming companies.
Fortunately, the BetOnline Group purchased and resurrected the brand name in 2012. The purchase also allowed SportsBetting Poker to obtain legal poker site status from the Panama government, a rare but powerful country to hold a license from. Panama typically exceeds the regulation, documentation, and licensing standards required by territories with more licensees. The new owners have gone so far as to refunding players that had been denied winnings from the previous owners, which shows a commitment to rebuilding a positive reputation.
For players searching for a legal poker site this is a strong US option thanks to its excellent deposit rates, extremely profitable cash games, and sufficiently-staffed telephone customer service center. This is one of the very few remaining legal poker sites that can boast a near-100% deposit rate for credit cards, debit cards, and even prepaid gift cards to maintain anonymity. There are also no fees involved with any deposit method. SportsBetting Poker is also now on a stable aged poker network with some of the loosest cash games in any market, largely filled with low-experience wanderers from the casino or sports section. Players visiting from our site also receive free tournament dollars and an instant cash bonus available immediately in the sports section.
Positives: located and regulated in Panama, crediting unpaid players from old owners, near-100% deposit rates, excellent payout system. Read full review.
Credit card, debit card, and prepaid gift card deposit rates are nearly 100%.
Our Exclusive Bonus: Free real money for tournaments and instant sports bonus
POKER ROOMS BELOW HAVE CLOSED TO US PLAYERS OR ARE NOT RECOMMENDED AT THIS TIME
CAKE POKER – Another independent US poker room operating its own network is Cake Poker, which formally opened to new players in 2006. It is deemed a legal poker site by the government of Curacao, where it is fully licensed and regulated under local laws. Curacao’s e-gaming licensing commission has been around since 1996 and actually hosts the servers for Cake Poker. All US players are accepted and Cake Poker is actually one of the only US poker rooms offering a checking account deposit service.
The better aspects of Cake Poker include an easy-to-cashout bonus, soft competition, and streamlined software. This total bonus from this legal poker site is 110% for our new players, which is competitive with other top offers online. More important than the actual bonus amount, however, is the fact that it is easily cashed out through minimal gameplay. The Cake Poker rewards system is fairly generous with $5-10 of bonus released per hour being realistic at the $1/2 NL level. The overall Cake Poker cash game traffic has also made a comeback with about 10 active NL tables per limit up to the $1/2 level.
Positives: licensed in Curacao, bonus is easily cashed out, loose tables.
Cake Poker is not currently accepting new US players. Please visit our US poker room reviews page for a list of all US poker rooms still available.
PLAYERS ONLY POKER – One of the strongest new legal poker sites in terms of promotions is Players Only Poker, which is open to all US players. This network has been active since 1996 making it one of the oldest gaming networks online. Players Only Poker is also licensed and regulated by the Netherlands Antilles government, specifically located on the island of Curacao. It is always especially encouraging to see such a large government, in this case the Netherlands, sanction online poker.
New players will also have little trouble funding their accounts as Players Only Poker processed US credit and debit cards with a near-100% acceptance rate. It is certainly a positive that even large US banks don’t classify the payment processors as unacceptable transactions. Finally, one of the biggest positives is the poor player base that dwarfs typical average pot sizes and flop percentages. While Players Only Poker doesn’t have the name recognition of the larger legal poker sites it is still a well-rounded choice for US players.
Best aspects: licensed and regulated by the Netherlands, large bonus, instant cash bonus, all US credit cards accepted.
LOCK POKER – Originally hosted on a network once relying on gimmicky freerolls as its main promotion Lock Poker has grown to become one of the few remaining powerhouses in the US market. Its legal poker site status is provided by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. The KGC is located in Quebec, Canada, and is one of the largest and most trusted online gaming commissions in the world. After outgrowing its origins on the Merge network Lock Poker purchased the old Cake network in 2012 and is now the flagship brand for what is now known as the Revolution Gaming Network. Lock Poker now hosts tens of skins and a respectable number of active games and its network has always accepted all US players.
Besides being a legal poker site in its territory the biggest draws of Lock Poker for US players include the extremely soft tables, a sizable cashier, and a strong rewards system. Typical flop percentages often exceed 25-30%, which is largely unheard of in the current online poker climate and signifies that a larger percentage of the table regularly sees flops. The Lock Poker cashier also accepts credit cards at an above-average rate. The bonus for our players is 200%, good up to $4,000 making it the largest total value in the US market. Cash games are also busy up to the $1/2 level with a few active games at larger stakes.
Positives: fully licensed in Canada, soft games, large bonus.
FULL TILT POKER – One of the best-known legal poker sites still open to US players is Full Tilt Poker. They have the largest and most respected number of professionals and are a poker-only operation, which shouldn’t be overlooked. This site has an enormous player base thanks to its aggressive marketing approach, one of the best software packages online, and a general feeling of professionalism. With the enormous traffic boost Full Tilt Poker experienced from continuing to service US players you’ll find at least 10-20 tournaments per hour and dozens of ring games active at every level.
Earning its place on our poker sites page, Full Tilt Poker is fully licensed and regulated by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. The KGC is a sovereign nation within the borders of Quebec, Canada and shares a positive relationship with the provincial government. The KGC is the only body to officially license online gaming in North America and has grown to host over half of all gaming sites online. Another big positive is that all US Full Tilt Poker players can deposit directly via their checking accounts. The fact that they are able to offer this service alone speaks to their excellent reputation and legal history.
Positives: most professionals, eCheck deposits, licensed and regulated in Canada, large bonus.
POKERSTARS – PokerStars has now become the largest online poker room in the world thanks to its continued support of the US market. PokerStars could also be considered a legal poker site because of its poker-only stance. Poker has repeatedly been ruled a skill game by US courts and I believe PokerStars has avoided US government attention largely because of its lack of casino games. Players should also be comforted by the fact that PokerStars is regulated by the Isle of Man, a British Crown dependency. Another massive draw is the ability to accept deposits directly from any US checking account.
PokerStars has always been revered for its consistent games, sharp software, and massive tournaments. Players would most likely be completely satisfied if this was the only legal poker site available. It’s one thing to simply attract the most players through advertising and another thing to keep that player base loyal. The excellent payout times, enormous amount of active games, and the general smooth operation have made PokerStars the go-to site for new players. If poker sites are able to obtain a legal license from the US in the future, I imagine PokerStars would probably be one of the first to obtain one.
Positives: highest poker traffic, licensed and regulated by Isle of Man, tons of tournaments.
US checking account deposits are accepted directly through the cashier.
ULTIMATE BET – Now more than a decade old, Ultimate Bet has been one of the most popular legal poker sites since the beginning. Despite the recent insider scandals players seem to be returning back in droves now that they’ve merged with Absolute Poker to create the CEREUS network. Interestingly, the Ultimate Bet scandal actually helped to prove that licensing is a powerful necessity in the online poker world. The Canada-based Kahnawake Gaming Commission, who provides the Ultimate Bet license, quickly threatened to withdraw their hosting if Ultimate Bet didn’t follow specific steps to remedy their security faults. Players can at least be assured that this poker room is under scrutiny from the KGC.
Scandals aside, Ultimate Bet shows no signs of abandoning the US market and has still thrived as a legal poker site. Many regular players here have remained loyal for years due to the clean software, VIP system, and the general quality of the games hosted. While the Ultimate Bet player base tends to be a bit tighter than average this can benefit aggressive players and those wishing for gameplay that resembles actual cardroom play. The cashier is also one of the more robust online with the big highlight being eCheck deposits that allows direct checking account deposits.
Positives: licensed and regulated in Canada, excellent tournament schedule, large bonus.
ABSOLUTE POKER – Absolute Poker is now essentially an online poker cousin of Ultimate Bet as they share the same tables and tournaments under the CEREUS network name. While they were previously implied in the recent security scandal with UB, Absolute Poker seems to be making an effort to clean up behind-the-scenes. As a legal poker site, Absolute Poker falls under the watchful eyes of the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. As a tribal territory in Quebec, they have the support of the Canadian government and are responsible for licensing and testing hundreds of online gaming operation. Fortunately for players looking for legal reassurance, Absolute Poker has been forced to meet even more stringent requirements to stay online.
As for the poker part of this legal poker site, Absolute Poker offers a well-rounded package, largely as a result of its tournament schedule. This has always been one of the top sites for tournaments with 5-10 events per hour ranging from Bounty events, guarantees, and easy-to-earn satellites to their Sunday $200,000 event. The bonus is also above average at 150% and can be worked off quickly by larger players. These days, easy deposit options are almost as important as the games themselves. Absolute Poker does have one of the best cashier systems with checking account deposits accepted for all US players.
Positives: endless promotions, licensed and regulated in Canada, reload bonuses.
TRUE POKER – True Poker is an interesting case as they’ve been a legal poker site in Canada for over a decade now but are still relatively unknown in the online poker world. Beginning with the legal side True Poker is licensed and regulated by the venerable Kahnawake Gaming Commissions, which handles the bulk of gaming sites worldwide. The Mohawk North American Indians govern the Kahnawake territory, which is near Montreal, Quebec. Their gaming commission has deemed True Poker a legal poker site in their territory and the KGC has historically been one of the more vigilant e-gaming authorities in terms of holding licensees to strict standards.
As for the poker room, True Poker has always drawn attention because of their pseudo-3D software. Even though it’s a dated novelty at this point it’s still the only US poker room that allows you to look through your avatar’s eyes at the table. True Poker also offers a more contemporary 2D mode, which will probably be your preference after a few hands. True Poker also offers our players a 100% bonus, valid up to $200. As players only have to play 100 raked hands per $10 of bonus it’s one of the easiest to cash out online. Player traffic is only modest but has grown lately to offer 5 or 6 active cash games per level.
Positives: licensed by the KGC in Canada, unique software, bonus is earned quickly.