Why The “Online Poker Ban” Isn’t a Ban

More often than not, it feels like US politicians are the Jokers in the deck when it comes to the “online poker ban”.


Key points on the online poker ban

  • US legislation did not “ban” or even mention poker in its language
  • There is no federal crime on the books simply for playing poker
  • The UIGEA in 2006 and Black Friday in 2011 targeted operators for financial crimes
  • There are still a few privately-owned poker rooms offering US gameplay

“Where can I still play poker online?”

Below is a list of several online poker rooms that still accept new US players and have no plans of changing that policy. By going through BTF you’re entitled to increased deposit bonuses and promotions.


BetOnline Poker

US allowed
Visit Site Overall Rating: 8.1 Review

BetOnline Poker

200% up to $5,000 and $135 in instant free bets
With the pickings painfully slim in the US online poker market after the “online poker ban” the launch of the BetOnline poker room couldn’t have come at a better time.

Remarkably, this combination casino/sportsbook is entering the US market amidst the endless turmoil following Black Friday. This is a highly strategic move that could allow them to dominate the US market should its exposure increase.

BetOnline succeeds because it excels in the priorities of the current market: easy deposits, loose tables, and availability to US players. While they may not offer the massive tournaments or hundreds of cash games of the former industry leaders those US poker glory days are, unfortunately, a thing of the past.

One of the key draws is the US cashier, which somehow offers two of the best possible methods in credit cards and e-checks. Players shouldn’t experience the originating-bank-block that is common at other poker rooms when using the prepaid gift card option.

BetOnline is also the only US poker room to currently offer e-check deposits, which allows players to charge their checking account direct without the need of a third-party e-wallet. It truly is remarkable for a US poker room to offer e-checks in the current climate. This options comes in and out of the public cashier so be sure to ask support if you do not see e-checks as an option.

As for the actual poker room BetOnline has a lot of the right ingredients should their traffic numbers continue to grow. The player quality is probably the lowest of any US poker room with flop percentages frequently exceeding 30% for full 10-seated cash games. As this is mainly a sportsbook/casino destination the inherent gamblers making their way to the poker room is a huge factor in the game quality.

The level of looseness here hasn’t been seen online in at least 5 years with the rest of the industry largely populated these days by tight-fisted grinders. The software is basic but functional, tournament numbers are still quite low, and there are typically a couple dozen active games up to the $1/2 NL level.

BetOnline may not have much in the way of name recognition or player numbers but they make up for it with easy deposits and loose games. Crossover players may also appreciate the sportsbook and casino sections, which can be accessed using the same central cashier.

Our new players also receive free tournament buy-in dollars instantly as well as 25% added instantly to the sports cashier, making for one of the few all-instant offers left in the industry. With so few options left in the US market because of the so-called online poker ban BetOnline seems like the strongest option for new players.

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US allowed
Visit Site Overall Rating: 8.2 Review


100% up to $1,000
Quiet strength is a good term to summarize Bovada and their place in the poker market. A personal favorite site of mine since its poker section opened in the mid-2000s this site has always flown under the radar of the largest poker rooms despite boasting a number of superior features that were never matched by its more popular brethren.

With the US online poker market thinning so rapidly Bovada is one of my current top US picks due to their excellent credit card deposit rates, extremely loose cash games, personalized customer service, and the quickest US payouts in the market.

This is easily the most financially-stable, longest-tenured, and player-trusted poker room remaining that services US players. One of the biggest positives of Bovada is the poor quality of play that is so prevalent at the tables.

All-in-one betting sites like Bovada that also offer sports and casino play inherently feature looser tables than poker-only sites due to the clientele they draw. Bovada has always catered to young egomaniacal sports bettors who do not mind taking risks. These players often spill over into the poker room out of curiosity or simply view it as a new way to bet their money.

In an era of poker where players are becoming tighter, longer tenured, and more educated in advanced play this poker room is a throwback to the wild early days of online poker and the loose action can be extremely profitable for experienced players.

Bovada also offers a highly unique deposit bonus for our new players in that an extra 50% is given instantaneously as cash on your first deposit. While 50% sounds like a modest amount it is such a rare occurrence these days to be immediately rewarded by the poker room without having to learn a dozen pages of bonus conditions.

It is extra money given to use at the tables immediately on deposit. This is in addition to the 100% play-through bonus. Bovada also gives players another 100% poker bonus, valid up to $1,000, earned through reasonable playing activity.

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Sportsbetting Poker

US allowed
Visit Site Overall Rating: 8 Review

Sportsbetting Poker

200% up to $2,500 and 25% free sports bet
SportsBetting Poker has taken an interesting journey since the 2011 update of the “online poker ban”. Its parent company was one of the earliest names in the all-in-one online gaming sector, establishing itself in the late 1990s.

Unfortunately, the UIGEA and the subsequent “Black Friday” events of 2011 had taken their toll with SportsBetting largely being considered a rogue site. Payouts to players were taking excessively long with some sports players being denied winnings entirely.

Fortunately, the BetOnline Group acquired the brand in 2012 and seems intent on returning SportsBetting Poker to one of the US market leaders. They’ve already shown a commitment to player goodwill by refunding any outstanding payout issues to cheated players. Thanks to new ownership this is one of our higher-rated US poker rooms following the pseudo online poker ban and its corrupt implementation.

For US players accustomed to solving puzzles to get deposits accepted the new cashier is a serious selling point. Deposit success rates on any US credit, debit, or prepaid card is nearly 100% using the built-in cashier. No third-party e-wallet signup is required and no additional fees are charged. Players can simply deposit using an existing credit card and get on with life.

The withdrawal choices may be even better both courier checks and wires sent within a week. Along with its new network partner SportsBetting Poker also offers one of the busier collections of cash games with the number of loose tables (i.e. all of them) exceeding just about any other network in the world, US-facing or not.

Average flop percentages almost always exceed 40% for 6-seated tables and 30% for 10-seated tables, which is heads-and-shoulders above the competition and indicates loose-passive action.

The bonus for our new players isn’t enormous but it is straightforward and given instantly in the form of free real-money poker tournament dollars and a risk-free instant play bonus in the sports section that can eventually be cashed out to poker or withdrawn.

With trouble-free deposits and extremely loose cash tables SportsBetting Poker removes a lot of the hurdles that have sucked the joy out of online poker thanks to the “online poker ban”. Any US credit, debit, or prepaid gift card with international capabilities should be accepted with the typical declined notices.

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Let me preface this page by saying that I am not an attorney and you should certainly not take my words as legal advice.

However, I have extensively researched this subject, received advice from those who are attorneys, and have followed this legislation’s progress every step of the way. Here is what you need to know:

“Is the last decade of US legislation and overzealous attacks a ban of online poker?”

Simply put, just no. Not at all. Where did the misguided suggestion that the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act is in any shape or form an “online poker ban” come from? Most likely, it is the result of the mainstream media doing a horrendous job of covering the story.

The entire legislative process for this bill has been a disgrace to our government and should have received nationwide outrage and extensive media coverage. Instead, newspapers and cable news channels glossed over the subject with headlines like, “Online Gaming Made Illegal” or “Senate Decides to Outlaw Online Gaming”.

The preceding headlines are an embarrassment to honest reporting and are fundamentally wrong in their language. Online gaming has not been outlawed despite the media’s inaccuracies. I’d like you to keep in mind a few important points about this bill as a poker player. It would be nice if the media outlets would do the same.


1. FALSE: The UIGEA bans online poker. In fact, the bill never even mentions online poker. It doesn’t single out poker, blackjack, roulette, or any other skill or casino game. Many organizations, including the Poker Players Alliance, are lobbying in Washington to gain an exemption for poker from the bill.

Those sensible enough to listen will realize that poker is a skill game and couldn’t be more different than casino games played against the house or sports betting firms acting as quasi-legal bookies.

2. FALSE: The bill makes it a crime to play poker or any other casino game online. Read that last point again: it isn’t illegal to play online poker. The legislation passed never targets the individual player and was never intended to. The US government doesn’t care enough to throw people in prison for playing $5 Sit ‘n Goes.

The bill doesn’t outline any penalty for players or ban gameplay and it never will. In fact, in the words of 25-year legal analyst and Cardplayer columnist Allyn Jaffrey Shulman, “the legal landscape of online gaming has not changed…the new bill does not make online gaming illegal.” What does the bill actually do? Read on.

3. TRUE: This legislation bans US banks from working with international gambling sites, something that has already been voluntary practice for years.

That’s what this legislation is about – banking. It aims to decrease online gaming by making it unlawful for US banks to send money directly to online gaming operations.

What is so ridiculous about all this is that almost all domestic credit cards and banks voluntarily stopped doing business with gambling sites years ago! Have you ever tried to deposit money at a poker site using your credit card? Most likely the transaction was promptly blocked by your card-issuing bank.

Thus, your next option is to utilize third-party payment services that are used by the poker room. Amazingly, online poker has already come a long way since the UIGEA was enacted.

Several poker rooms now accept direct checking account and even credit card deposits through their built-in cashiers. Check our eChecks and US credit card poker pages for poker rooms that support these simple methods of deposit.

4. TRUE: US Courts have ruled that the Wire Act of 1961 does not apply to poker or online gambling. The Department of Justice would like to believe that the antiquated Wire Act still applies today, making all forms of betting illegal online.

In fact, district courts have ruled the opposite as recently as 2001 when a group of US bettors brought a lawsuit against a major credit company. They refused to pay their bills for gaming transactions and cited the Wire Act as their reasoning, claiming that they should not be held liable since the online gambling sites were committing a crime.

The judge emphatically ruled against the bettors, citing the irrelevance of a 40-year old law that only applies to accepting interstate telephone sports bets. Perhaps most pleasing was the judge’s statement that the spirit of the Wire Act does not apply to modern-day internet gambling.

Another fact to consider is that there has never been a single arrest in this country based simply on gaming online.

5. TRUE: The motivation of this legislation was not based on morals. Corrupt Senators like Bill Frist and John Kyl would like you to believe that they forced this legislation through to protect us from ourselves – already a massive destruction of civil liberties.

Corrupted politicians make absurd quotes comparing online gaming to drug addictions. “Click the mouse and lose your house,” was one such quote of rhetorical nonsense. They’d love for you to believe that they’re simply restricting our choices because, left to our own devices, we’re unprincipled and sinful.

Unfortunately, even that “noble” cause wasn’t their motivation. It’s all about money. International gambling sites pay no US taxes and have no reason to. Our government doesn’t receive a slice of the pie so they decided to just try to stop the money flow altogether.

Instead of legalizing and taxing online gaming like forward-thinking countries in Europe and a few US states, a few special interests have thrust our country into another tailspin.

Do you think that I’m just biased? Consider this: the bill carves out special exemptions for online bets placed on horse racing and state lotteries. Yes, you read that right: gaming that is taxed is completely legal.

Is throwing away your money on horse racing or lottery quick picks less wrong than playing online poker? Apparently, to people like Bill Frist morality has a price.


“What should I take away from all this?”

The most important concept of this article is that online poker is still not a crime. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, passed in late September 2006, is not an online poker ban. The bill is entirely a banking transaction and has nothing to do with the individual player.

Going even further, it doesn’t even change the murky legal status of online gaming. It does not set punishments for placing bets and it doesn’t target poker players. You can still play poker online and that still isn’t illegal for all the reasons I outlined above.

“Why are poker sites shutting down?”

Unfortunately, all of the publicly traded online poker rooms have shut their doors to US players. Again, this has less to do with the actual legislation and more to do with money.

Companies like 888, PartyGaming, and Sportingbet have stockholders to answer to. Investors will be extremely leery to do business with a company that appears to be doing something risky on the surface.

The move is intended to cover their butts at the next Board meeting. Consider that the majority of privately owned online poker sites have stuck around whereas every publicly traded company has bowed out of the US market.

“Where can I find more resources?”

More often than not, it feels like US politicians are the Jokers in the deck when it comes to the "online poker ban".

Why the “online poker ban” isn’t any such thing

Is there and has there ever been an "online poker ban" in the US? Unfortunately, casual players and the general public may think so. Here I examine what has actually happened and what this means for US players.

April 15, 2011, immortalized in the online poker world as Black Friday, took out the former Big 3 of the US market.

Poker’s Black Friday

A recap of one of the most significant days in online poker history - April 15, 2011 - in which the US Department of Justice attacked 3 of the largest online poker rooms still servicing American players.

Take a few steps to ensure that you're considering a safe poker site before you deposit.

Count on these 5 Reliable Signs for Safe Poker Sites [2016]

While no website, online poker or otherwise, could be considered 100% "safe" there are certain markers that tend to show health and long-term outlook. Here I rank which poker rooms exceed in terms of history, payout strength, reputation, and lack of scandals.

Cash transfers have become one of the most popular options for US poker rooms. They're guaranteed to work and can be used to receive withdrawals quicker than other methods.

Why cash transfer poker deposits have stood the test of time

One of the most popular deposit and withdrawals options remaining for US poker rooms, cash transfer is likely the quickest way for Americans to get their withdrawals. What is cash transfer and how and where do you use it?


Legal Poker Sites

What do I consider a "legal" poker site and what are the best US options for players looking for a licensed and regulated company?

USA Online Poker

USA Online Poker

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Poker Websites for US Players

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Where to Play Online Poker from the US

Despite a decade of attacks online poker remains an available option to US players, albeit an ever-evolving puzzle full of moving parts. Here's an updated rundown on reputable poker rooms still open to the US to make things as easy as possible on prospective players.

Party Poker disallowed US players in 2006 thanks to the passage of the UIGEA. They've since returned to the market in a limited role, powering real-money games to New Jersey players.

The Accurate Guide to Party Poker for US Players [2016 ed.]

A look at the history of US gameplay at Party Poker, how they exited the American market, and speculation on if they will attempt a re-entry at some point. Includes real-money alternatives for current US players.

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Josh H
Josh H
Owner and Editor-in-chief at Beat The Fish
A lifelong poker player who moved online in 2004, Josh founded Beat The Fish in 2005 to help online poker players make more-informed decisions on where to play and how to win once they got there. He hopes to cut through the rampant dishonesty in online gaming media with objective reviews and relevant features. Mario, Excitebike, and Kirby fan. You can reach Josh directly at support@beatthefish.com.
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