Why The “Online Poker Ban” Isn’t a Ban
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 recent US legislation a ban of online poker?”
Very simply put, “NO!!!”. 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 Gambling 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 gambling 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 gambling by making it unlawful for US banks to send money directly to online gambling 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 gambling 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 gambling 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. They make quotes comparing online gambling to crack. “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 gambling like forward thinking countries in Europe, 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: gambling that is taxed is completely legal. Is throwing away your money on horse racing or 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 gambling. 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 U.S. 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?”
We will continue to update this page with news about this legislation. You can also visit our list of US online poker reviews, our quick roundup of where to play poker from the US, a detailed analysis of poker’s Black Friday, our top American poker site choices, how to make a poker cash transfer, a list of legal poker sites, information on USA online poker, a look at the history of Party Poker for US players, a guide to online poker in the United States, challenges of poker websites for US players, signs of safe poker sites, and an overview on all available poker networks.
“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 our site, you’re entitled to increased deposit bonuses and promotions.
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 40-50% 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.
US credit cards are accepted block-free at a near-100% rate.
Our Increased Bonus: Free tournament dollars and a 25% sports bonus
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 our current top US pick 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 don’t 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 used to offer an interesting deposit bonus for our new players in that 10% of it is given instantaneously as cash on your first deposit. While 10% is a modest amount it was such a rare occurrence these days to be immediately rewarded by the poker room without having to learn a dozen pages of bonus conditions. While they have moved on from the instant cash bonus they now give our players 50% of their deposit as a risk-free sports bet that can then win more bonus money. Bovada also gives players another 100% poker bonus, valid up to $1,000, earned through reasonable playing activity.
All US credit card debit cards should be accepted without issue.
Our Increased Bonus: 100% up to $1,000 + 50% free 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 50% for 6-seated tables and 35-40% 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.
Our Increased Bonus: Free tournament entries and instant sports bonus
POKER ROOMS BELOW HAVE CLOSED TO US PLAYERS
We currently recommend the poker rooms above over Players Only Poker for new US players. Please also visit our US poker room reviews page for a list of all US poker rooms still available.
Players Only Poker is another new poker room with their sights firmly planted on the US online poker market. As this site has opened up past the UIGEA online poker ban legislation, one can clearly see their intentions to stay open to US players indefinitely. This is also one of only 2 poker rooms on this list that accepts US credit cards at a near-100% rate. No additional personal information is required for credit card deposits and the cashier processes the entire transaction within a couple of minutes. If your only deposit option is a credit card and you’ve faced the typical blocks at other poker rooms this site should certainly a strong consideration.
Besides banking, Players Only Poker has a healthy traffic level that seems to be growing as more players learn of the site. The biggest obstacle of any new poker room is traffic and, fortunately, you’ll typically find at least 5-10 active 9-handed cash games up to the $1/2 level. Also, while the bonus numbers look substantial what’s more important is the fact that it’s actually earnable. Our new players receive a 100% bonus in addition to 10% cash that’s automatically added onto the initial deposit.
Carbon Poker seemed like it was on life support prior to the 2006 “online poker ban” of the mega-sites that formerly dominated the US market. Now it is one of the few dependable poker rooms left servicing US players and has received a significant traffic boost in return. Peak times at Carbon Poker usually draw 8-10 active cash games up to the $1/2 NL level with a few scattered tables above that.
Carbon Poker has always been one of the looser US poker rooms in terms of cash games as it is popular with foreign players that tend to gamble more often with substandard hands. The software has always been one of the best-looking and most unique in the US market with animated emoticons, player badges, all-in winning percentages, and rabbit-hunting among other features.
Besides the beatable games the other standout features are the extensive US cashier and the simple bonus system. US deposit methods include cash transfer and credit cards, which now process at an excellent near-100% rate. The deposit bonus for our new players is increased to 200% up to $5,000 and can be cashed out via less gameplay than the average bonus offer. Playing at $1/2 NL levels can easily net players $1-2 or so of bonus per hour. Carbon Poker is another low-profile US poker room sticking around after the online poker ban and is certainly worthy of consideration. Their beatable games, strong software, and excellent bonus package that now includes free personalized poker training and tracking software for our players are the most attractive positives.
New cashier accepts US credit/debit cards at a near-100% rate.
Our Increased Bonus: 200% up to $5,000 + training and tracking software
Sportsbook Poker certainly doesn’t have the name recognition of the larger rooms but has really impressed me in a number of important aspects. One of their largest draws comes in their ability to process US credit cards directly from their cashier without being blocked by your originating bank. Unlike every other poker room accepting credit cards aside from BetOnline, Sportsbook Poker has a near-100% acceptance rate and doesn’t require a third-party e-wallet signup. This is, by far, the easiest poker room in terms of deposits for the US market.
The strong traffic is also surprising given its lack of marketing and age. Players should expect to find at least 5-10 active ring games at limits up to $1/2 NL. Beyond that, there are still a few active tables up to the $5/10 NL level. Sportsbook Poker also earned our top Fish Rating due to its awful player base. Both flop percentage and average pot numbers far exceed the more popular sites signifying competition that is willing to gamble often for large amounts. Thanks to joining the Merge network several years ago Sportsbook Poker also employs its unique software with features like deal it twice, smilies, and rabbit-hunting.
Finally, new US players signing up through our site are eligible for an increased 200% bonus, good up to $2,000, with an extra 10-25% as instant cash for use in the casino or sports sections. Despite the instant portion not being able to be used for poker immediately if it is used and rolled over in other gaming sections it can then be transferred back to poker. The 200% play-through bonus is 50% larger than what other players receive and cashes out at an above-average rate. The poor players, credit card deposits, and large bonus currently make this one of our top sites remaining in the US market after the “online poker ban”.
All US credit cards are accepted.
Our Increased Bonus: 200% up to $2,000 + 10-25% instantly
We do not current recommend True Poker. Please visit our US poker room reviews page for a list of all US poker rooms still available.
Perhaps surprising to those who are newer to online poker True Poker has actually been around for over a decade now. Despite never catching on with the poker community at large True Poker was once considered a pioneer because of its pseudo-3D software. While the graphics haven’t aged well since its launch in 2001 this is actually still the only US poker room with a first-person view. This “3D” mode is more of an archaic novelty now and can be removed altogether in favor of a more traditional birds-eye view.
Aside from the software I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for True Poker due to its potential for running a solid platform with a friendly community feel and unique software. Previously, this poker room hadn’t been able to meet its potential because of the lack of cash game traffic. Fortunately, this has actually improved substantially as of late due to the recent “online poker ban” and by attracting a few key skins to join its network. Cash games have always run on the soft side, largely due to the casual player base and the software creating a friendlier feel to the games.
The deposit bonus for our new US players is pretty generous at 100% with a $200 cap. They also accept US credit cards at an above-average rate. True Poker has always held the stance that poker is a skill game and should be excluded from any legislation targeting online gaming. I can’t envision them leaving the US market anytime soon, which is good news for US players looking for an interesting alternative to the bigger brands.
Full Tilt Poker is currently unavailable to US players and cannot be recommended by us for any players. Please visit our US poker room reviews page for a list of all US poker rooms still available.
Full Tilt Poker has really thrived since they decided to continue US operations. Once relegated to the second tier in terms of popularity this is now one of the largest online poker rooms. Such massive traffic actually largely benefits players with tens of active cash games at every limit and at least 10-15 tournaments per hour drawing thousands of players. This is also one of the few online sites where the sponsored pros can actually be found at the tables regularly.
US players looking for easy deposits after the so-called online poker ban shouldn’t overlook the Full Tilt Poker eCheck service. eChecks offer one of the most hassle-free options as they work with any US checking account and have a 100% acceptance rate. Checking account deposits are made directly through the cashier without requiring prying personal information.
The poker-only stance of Full Tilt Poker allows them to work with a larger number of payment processors and separates them from the legal wrath incurred by online sportsbooks. With the 100% bonus given to our new players this is one of the most well-rounded poker rooms online.
PokerStars is currently unavailable to US players.
Now the largest poker site in the world, PokerStars hasn’t been affected in the slightest at the online poker ban legislation. In fact, they’ve benefited immensely by continuing to accept US players. While PokerStars certainly promotes themselves a great deal they’re one of the few icons that actually lives up to their reputation. PokerStars is the go-to poker room for so many players because of the unmatchable cash game traffic, the largest tournaments online, one of the most seamless software packages, and an overall professional feel.
Behind the scenes, the PokerStars banking system should be extremely appealing to US players. On the depositing end, all new and existing US players are able to deposit directly using their checking accounts. Players simply enter their banking information directly into the cashier and the funds are immediately available for gameplay. PokerStars is one of the very few poker rooms that supports this eCheck service.
As for cashing out, PokerStars never takes any fees and supports both paper check payouts with 3-5 day delivery times and wire transfers for larger amounts. While the $50 bonus may not be much, it is very easy to clear and PokerStars has such excellent performance in every other facet that bonuses are merely the cherry on top.
Absolute Poker is currently unavailable.
Despite taking a hit to its reputation because of past security flaws, Absolute Poker has since seemed to rebound with substantial player growth. US players will like that Absolute Poker has been one of the biggest names to claim that the hypocritical online poker ban legislation doesn’t apply to them. The best features of this poker room include the above-average player traffic, a large deposit bonus, and the ability to accept all US checking accounts directly for deposits.
Absolute Poker features one of the more extensive cashier of any poker room remaining in the US market. The best option is the eCheck method, which allows you to use your existing checking account directly in the cashier. Checking accounts are accepted at a 100% rate and will be immediately available for gameplay. Deposit limits also increase after the first successful transaction. I also appreciate that Absolute Poker doesn’t require players to send in sensitive documentation prior to depositing.
In terms of promotions, our new Absolute Poker players receive a 150% bonus, good up to $500. This is one of the larger bonuses offered online and middle-stakes and higher players should earn this at a quick rate. This network has a large loyal following so cash games can be found up to the $5/10 NL level during the day and several full $2/4 NL games can be found overnight. Absolute Poker is a solid above-average poker room overall with a great cashier and a strong initial bonus.
US checking account deposits are accepted.
Lock Poker has been delisted due to massive payout delays and corruption within management. We do not recommend any player visit this poker room.
Lock Poker, once a flagship Merge network site but now running its own independent network, claims it will continue to serve US players indefinitely despite the “online poker ban”. Our players receive a 200% signup bonus, good up to $4,000, in addition to a built-in rake rebate of 36% paid daily as cash into your player account. This increased offer is actually one of the largest available online and is especially attractive to larger depositors. In terms of playability this is actually one of my favorite software packages online because of all the unique features. The other main draws include weak competition, an excellent loyalty program, and an extensive US cashier.
As I eluded to above, this poker room really does feature several software features that should become standard in the industry. To name a few, you’ll be able to see all-in winning percentages, rabbit-hunt for the remaining community cards, use animated smilies, and show only one card after the hand. Each of these features may be small but it contributes to an overall friendlier experience with more interaction. The cashier also supports and processed US credit cards at an extremely high rate without fees.
Lock Poker had initially suffered from very poor traffic but has really grown since the online poker ban placed a premium on US poker rooms. You can usually find at least 10-15 active NL tables at each limit up to the $1/2 level with scattered high-limit tables also regularly active. The loyalty program is also one of the most extensive online with tiers that enable hundreds of freerolls, premium customer service, and free merchandise. Overall, this is a well-rounded choice for US players looking for a contrast to the familiar feel of the formerly dominant mega-sites.
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