Finally, The Guide to US Poker Sites Real Players Are Looking For

If you live in the United States and play online poker I think you'll agree that it isn't easy, no matter what you read elsewhere.

You'll usually find these two opposite opinions on the Internet about USA poker sites:

  • ​You shouldn't play anywhere other than regulated US sites that 4% of the country is eligible to play at!
  • Every USA poker site is awesome! They pay out in -3 days and will cure the common cold, too. Here are my magical links!

As usual, the truth is somewhere in between and that's what I'm going to provide on this page. Here's what I'm going to cover:

  • The only USA-facing online poker sites I still trust
  • Is it legal to play online poker from the US?
  • The latest game-changing US poker current events
  • Dispelling the myths you'll find elsewhere

Why I know the USA poker market inside out

Hi, my name's Josh and I launched Beat The Fish back in the wild and crazy days of 2005. Here's the bottom line:

I've been there since the beginning, covering USA poker rooms with honest feature articles literally since the night the party died in 2006.

While everyone was watching the horror unfold on C-SPAN (seriously) I was starting a guide on how Americans could deal with it and still play online poker for real money.

I've stayed current on the sometimes-fascinating and always-frustrating enigma that is US online poker and this is some of my best stuff.

On the actual online poker sites, I've personally played at and reviewed each of them for at least 5-10 years with all of the skepticism in the world. These sites are still standing after 12 rounds.

Honestly I'm new to online poker (as opposed to home games).

BTF has more or less given me the confidence to jump into online poker as a U.S. player.

The reviews of online poker sites, in particular for U.S. players, are convincingly unbiased.

Andrew Zimolzak 

Every US Online Poker Site I've Reviewed Exhaustively

Full Review

"Ignition is amazing. I like the freerolls they have every month. Zone Poker is my newfound obsession."

Brennan Crawford

Ignition Poker

The brand name is new, but their reputation isn't, working under the Bodog sportsbook brand I first reviewed more than a decade ago. Simply put, this is the single elite site for USA players.

Ignition Poker is the only US-friendly real money online poker site that succeeds on just about every level. It might sound like hyperbole, but Ignition has the substance to back it up.

  • The fastest player payouts in the USA
  • The only real-money mobile poker site in the USA
  • The only fast-fold poker room in the USA
  • #1 in traffic in the US poker market
  • "New" ownership is untested

USA Bonus:

100% up to $1,000 for poker

plus

100% up to $1,000 for casino

Why do I stand behind Ignition Poker?

I've stood behind Ignition Poker since their long and winding journey began as a Bodog sportsbook offshoot back in 2004. Largely due to having the quickest payout methods in the American online poker market for more than a decade, they've enjoyed the best reputation and phenomenal growth over the past several years.

Ignition is also the only US poker site smart enough to develop a no-app mobile client and quick-fold poker. They do everything a little better than the other guys. If you have to choose one US-friendly poker destination Ignition Poker is probably going to be it.

Full Review

"I've tried many sites and BetOnline is one of my favorites."

Dan Rizzo

BetOnline Poker

It may be slim pickings, but I believe BetOnline Poker is going to satisfy the needs of the majority of US players. Originally on the Chico Gaming Network, this sportsbook-based site made significant improvements in 2017, including a new real money mobile site.

Deposits are the smoothest in the market, player traffic is fairly high, and the plague of tight online games hasn't quite spread there yet. They aren't perfect, but I've been mostly happy playing here for 5+ years.

  • The best USA credit card success rates for poker sites
  • Top-tier payout speed for USA players
  • One of the USA poker room traffic leaders
  • I've personally played here since 2011.
  • Excellent new mobile client for both cash games and tournaments
  • Tournament schedule is average
  • Allows HUD software

USA Bonus:

200% up to $2,500 (BTF exclusive)

plus

$135 in free bets

Why do I stand behind BetOnline Poker?

I started playing at BetOnline in 2011 before the fallout from Black Friday. It's one of the few that I would currently trust my bankroll with. They also have plenty of money behind them, I've always gotten payouts quickly, they haven't had any major scandals, and some of the behind-the-scenes people are the best in the poker industry.

Full Review

"The software actually doesn't suck anymore. Pretty soft games and Bitcoin is easy."

Donnie Mosier

SportsBetting Poker

They may simply be a skin/rebrand of their parent company, but with so few real money US poker sites remaining it's worth mentioning SportsBetting Poker.

You're still going to get the best credit card success in the market, fairly busy cash tables, and the same robust cashier for payouts.

  • All US poker withdrawals within about 10 days
  • Lots of banking options and high credit card success
  • Above-average Fish Rating
  • One of the longer track records in the USA
  • No mobile poker software
  • No large tournament guarantees

USA Bonus:

200% up to $2,500 for poker (BTF exclusive)

plus

$135 in free bets

Why do I stand behind SportsBetting.ag?

For the exact same reasons I stand behind BetOnline Poker. Sportsbetting.ag is owned by the same group so you get the same near-100% credit card approval for deposits and the extensive cashier for payouts. I've played here since I was asked to give them a poker review in 2012 and they've survived as one of the few US sites I recommend.

Full Review

"ACR is among the best fish ponds ever."

Taras Mokhurenko

America's Cardroom

America's Cardroom earned my attention when they bailed out a couple of other failing US sites several years ago.

They've made enough of a name for themselves now to be one of the largest American-facing rooms with occasional $1 million tournaments and a great payout history.

They also have the most underrated bonus online with an instant 20 free tournament tickets worth at least $50 to all new depositors, even those putting in only $25.

  • The only USA instant bonus offer
  • 20 free poker tournament entries on any deposit
  • The oldest surviving US poker site
  • I've personally played on this poker network since 2004
  • No mobile poker software
  • Almost every tournament allows re-buys

USA Bonus:

100% up to $1,000

plus

20 free Jackpot tournament entries

Why do I stand behind America's Cardroom?

For starters, America's Cardroom has actually been around the longest of any site still open to Americans, beginning life as a small offshoot of a sportsbetting site in 2001. Since 2011 they’ve increased to #2 in US player traffic, always delivered my payouts quickly, and host some of the largest tournaments in the market. I’ve played at ACR specifically since 2013 and have played on this poker network going back to 2004 (anyone remember True Poker? Yatahay? Bueller?).

US Poker Sites Chart

Online Poker SiteLinkUSA Players AcceptedReal Money SinceLegal HeadquartersDeposit BonusRead ReviewNotes
Ignition PokerVisitYes2004 (under Bodog/Bovada)Costa Rica100% up to $1,000Site reviewThe largest United States poker site by player volume.
BetOnline PokerVisitYes2011Panama200% up to $2,500Site reviewThe highest level of U.S. deposit success
America's Cardroom (ACR)VisitYes2001Cyprus100% & 20 Free TournamentsSite reviewSecond in U.S. player traffic.
SportsBetting PokerVisitYes2011Panama200% up to $2,500Site review#3 in USA player traffic
888 PokerVisitOnly in New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada2002Gibraltar$88 free & 100%Site reviewThe largest software provider for licensed US states
PokerStarsVisitOnly in New Jersey2001Isle of Man$30 free & 100%Site reviewReturned to the United States market in 2016
Carbon PokerBlacklisted due to clear financial duress and suspicious practices. Still tries to accept American players.
Full Flush PokerBlacklisted from me 18 months before going offline. Currently rogue with unpaid player balances.

Contents

Recent feedback from real players

What I have seen and read at Beat The Fish has been excellent.

Michael O'Brien 

Not only filled with good knowledge, but also isn't boring to read.

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I was so surprised that free content could contain so much information.

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Some of the best, easiest to digest info around.

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It's amazing. It helped me so much!

Everthon Tapia Cayo 

Very interesting lessons and awesome advice.

Matthew Edmondson 
US Poker Sites

Marked by a couple of high-profile events since 2006 the US poker site market has been fairly stable with no major developments for several years.

The irony is that neither the UIGEA nor Black Friday stopped US poker sites, just made them less reliable.

Real-money online poker remains available to USA players at a handful of trusted sites.

United States Poker Deposits

Credit Card

Incredibly convenient for players and fees are rarely added. The biggest issue with credit cards is the decline rate. Stick with US poker sites who have better processors or use a prepaid gift card.

  • Year gained popularity: 1998
  • Typical fees: None
  • Typical success rate: 50-80% depending on the site

Best Options

BetOnline and Sportsbetting.ag likely have the highest rate of US cards that successfully process followed by Ignition Poker.

Cash Transfer

You have to visit a WU or MG station in person or use their websites. Online poker sites will often reimburse cash transfer fees on request. Withdrawals allow you to pick up cash directly with short turnaround times.

  • Year gained popularity: 2006
  • Typical fees: $10-50
  • Typical success rate: 100%

Best Options

BetOnline and America's Cardroom both build cash transfer into their cashiers.

Bitcoin

In my opinion, Bitcoin is the best banking method the US poker industry has ever seen. Secure, nearly anonymous, low minimums, and never gets declined. Payouts within 12-48 hours. The Holy Grail.

  • Year gained popularity: 2015
  • Typical fees: None
  • Typical success rate: 100%

Best Options

Ignition Poker, BetOnline, and America's Cardroom support Bitcoin natively in their cashiers with low minimum of $10-20.

Cashier's Check

Rare method largely used after the UIGEA wiped out former e-wallets. Cashier's checks are still accepted at some poker sites. Money orders require visiting a bank, mailing it in to the poker room, and waiting for it to process.

  • Year gained popularity: 2006
  • Typical fees: Minimal
  • Typical success rate: 100%

Best Option

BetOnline is one of the only US poker sites to actively support cashier's checks, but it's likely available upon request at others.

Money Order

Another method that grew in popularity following the UIGEA but has largely been phased out since. Money orders are easier than cashier's checks to obtain since any convenience store or market will sell them. Still requires physically mailing it to the poker site.

  • Year gained popularity: 2006
  • Typical fees: Minimal
  • Typical success rate: 100%

Best Option

BetOnline lists money order as a semi-hidden option, although you may be able to manually ask other US sites to accept them.

Wire Transfer

Rare deposit method not offered by many sites. Wire transfer fees are almost always reimbursed by the poker room. Requires visiting a bank branch and filling out a wire transfer form with details given by the poker room.

  • Year gained popularity: 2006
  • Typical fees: $20-75
  • Typical success rate: 100%

Best Option

Again, BetOnline sort of has the corner on the US poker market for robust cashiers. Wire transfers are supported for larger payouts natively and deposits upon request.

The History of USA Online Poker

  • 1998
  • 1999
  • 2000
  • 2001
  • 2002
  • 2003
  • 2003-2006
  • 2006
  • 2006-Present
  • 2007
  • 2009
  • 2011
  • 2012
  • 2013
  • 2014
  • 2016
  • Present

The online poker market is forever segmented into privately-owned groups still willing to service US players for real-money games and publicly-owned corporations who will only host poker games for the rest of the world.

The latter greatly outweighs the former.

Are USA-friendly online poker sites legit?

I'm convinced there are still a few legit worthwhile US poker rooms still in the wild or else I wouldn't list a single one of them.

How do I know?

Because I let years of personal playing experience and study of this amoeba-like market simmer before I give you my final scores. Real experience is what does the talking.

I still play at US poker sites.

I still want you to feel like you're able to also.

I've dedicated a good part of this site and every poker review I write to educating you on the safest ways to do so.

I've never lost a payout from the poker sites I choose to list here.

I'm also not going to lie to you. 

What is the state of poker sites open to Americans?

The US poker site market still mostly sucks right now.

Almost the entirely of the world can enjoy real money online poker at sites like PokerStars, Party Poker, 888 Poker, Full Tilt Poker and Titan Poker. Texas Hold'em, Omaha, you name it. American online poker players? They mostly get the scraps.

It doesn't mean you can't find a trustworthy online home for your virtual bankroll, but the American poker landscape is going to be a lot murkier than the rosy reassurances you'll read elsewhere.

You can make a deposit with a US-friendly real money poker site only to find out that no one is willing to play for more than .05/.10.

You can deal with declined credit cards, restricted states, slow payouts, hollow bonuses, empty tables, and empty promises.

You can do that, but that's what I'm hoping to help you avoid.​

Residents of 3 states and less than 5% of the country are golden right now.

They can play on a licensed real money US poker site and, you know, only deal with the hollow bonuses and empty tables the rest of the country does.

The other 95% of the US need some sort of roadmap. That's what I'd like to provide here.

There is no federal law against merely playing poker.

Source

Gaming Law Professor I. Nelson Rose 

American Poker Players Are Fighters

All of these hurdles, legal and otherwise, have faced US poker sites since 2006 and yet... US poker still survives.

It may not always be pretty, but US-friendly online poker is still standing after some vicious body blows and cheap shots.

US poker players are non-conformists. They're tough and always get back up. They're Rocky.

Sheldon Adelson's puppet show tells you that moral betting doesn't exist online, but are all too happy to accept your bet in one of many fine Las Vegas casinos, so what do you do? You fight it!

How?​

You play that $1 Sit and Go and click harder than you've ever clicked before.

You play a hand of quick-fold poker on your phone while you bite into a Chipotle burrito, smile as you nod along to some indie pop, and mutter, "Bet you didn't want me to do that, Lindsey (Graham, like the cracker)!"

Keep it up, guys. Keep that eye of the tiger, tiger.

US Poker Site FAQs

Who has the most United States poker traffic?

A lack of player traffic has always been the death knell for online poker sites.

After all, there is no value to having incredibly innovative software or an amazing bonus if there are no active poker tables. It's the equivalent of a city building a state of the art sports arena with no team to play in it.

Ignition Poker is easily #1 in terms of US traffic and the only poker site able to offer quick-fold because their player base is large enough. They've grown under the Bovada name substantially over the past several years until they re-branded as Ignition.

America's Cardroom has held steady for the last few months at #2 in the US market. Active cash games on the network up to the $5/10 NL level occur late into the night. Poker tournament traffic is some of the best in the US with the largest online Sunday guarantee.

BetOnline is currently sitting at #3 just behind ACR. They also reach the $5/10 NL level for active cash games and only seem to trail slightly with lower poker tournament traffic. Besides Texas Hold'em, Omaha is also popular with dozens of active tables. Other US-friendly sites on the former Chico Poker Network include Sportsbetting.ag.

I've seen plenty of intriguing online poker room startups simply fade away before they even got off the ground because they couldn't get enough real players to fill the tables.

Guides to player traffic are essential for USA players

Looking at player traffic is so important at US sites now because the total poker player pool everywhere these days is much lower.

There are several American-friendly poker sites still operating and trying to attract new players with pathetic traffic counts.

Unless you only care about finding players at Texas Hold'em micro-limits, why bother? Even if you do, why not choose a poker site that has more micro-limit variety? I always include a decent-sized section in my poker site reviews dedicated to player traffic.

John Doe UI/UX Designer

Are there any real money freerolls accepting USA players?

I've largely avoided no-restrictions online poker freerolls like the plague since I was able to scrape together $20 and make my first deposit many years ago.

Hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of poker players pushing chips around for hours hoping to get lucky and win a few free dollars? Yikes.

However, it can be argued that freerolls at US poker sites make more sense than ever these days. With deposits that can be a tricky hassle these may be your only shot at a real bankroll.

I have a page dedicated to freerolls and US ones specifically, but the short answer is BetOnline is where you'll find the best at the moment. You don't have to deposit to play in them, they're accepting almost all Americans, they run every hour, and can have up to a $250 prize pool.

The runner-up would be America's Cardroom and their poker network, which had the very clever idea of making freerolls on-demand. They fill up once or twice an hour. The downside? Paltry prize pools of $10 each.

John Doe UI/UX Designer

Can US players deposit using a Visa card?

One of the main criteria I use to rank a US poker site is how easy it is to deposit using Visa or another major credit card, which is what I covered in my complete guide.

If depositing is too much of hassle most online poker players are going to just give up. I think that's been a big key in the decline of the US market.

There are, however, a couple of surviving options that accept almost 100% of US Visa cards.

Ignition Poker is likely highest in success rates with online gaming processing roots going back to the '90s. The stalwart BetOnline is another leader in the slim US poker pack on credit card success rates.

Visas issued by major USA banks, debit cards, and even prepaid Visa cards should not experience the typical declines seen elsewhere. They must simply have better proprietary processor connections, which tend to come with the history in gaming they've had.

Neither charge deposit fees and, although I've seen the 5.9% fee text in my Ignition Poker cashier, it's always been crossed off for me.

John Doe UI/UX Designer

Who is accepting Mastercard in the US?

As listed above for Visa, the best bets for US players with a MasterCard are going to be at Ignition Poker or BetOnline Poker.

You literally can type in your card number, find your account, and get playing real money poker within a few minutes. They're two of the only American sites to be able to make that claim.

I've heard recommendations over the years that debit MasterCards may yield the best success rates, but I haven't seen any issues with straight credit cards or even prepaid cards with international capabilities.

John Doe UI/UX Designer

Who is the best poker website for USA payouts?

Another essential factor for me in deciding whether or not to even continue listing a US poker site is the speed of their withdrawals.

Ignition Poker has been the most consistent for US player pay outs since I first started playing with their ancestor in 2004. Bitcoin within 24-48 hours and checks within 7-10 days.

America's Cardroom is also very good if you only deal with paper checks as their minimum is low at and they have it delivered to you within a couple of weeks. Bitcoin will often be delivered within 24 hours.

BetOnline has a higher check minimum, but offers more exotic options like wires that hit your bank directly. They also send all poker withdrawals within about 2 weeks. Bitcoin usually takes 1-2 days.

Cash transfers are available from all 3 online poker sites and arrive in as little as a few days.

Bitcoin, which I can't recommend enough, is also available for withdrawal at all 3 and arrive in as little as 24 hours without fees.

One of the first signs of impending doom at a US-facing poker site is a payout delay that isn't a temporary hiccup.

It's the reason I de-listed Carbon Poker and Full Flush Poker in such a barren market. They tried to keep ticking, but with their positively rural poker player traffic how long did they expect to continue to be able to afford to? I didn't care to let you find out and, unfortunately, some had to the hard way with Full Flush.

I've listed all the best sites for withdrawals in the US real money poker market because those are the only outfits I'm going to link to.

John Doe UI/UX Designer

Why is Bitcoin perfect for American players?

With the wonderful trend of Bitcoin now being accepted as a deposit and withdrawal option on reputable US poker sites I believe it's the clear winner for best withdrawal method.

With Bitcoin you get anonymity, speed, and the ability to withdraw directly to your bank account through an exchange service. You completely avoid the legal hassle between bank and online poker rooms.

Ignition Poker, BetOnline and the America's Cardroom poker network support Bitcoin poker withdrawals, send them in as little as a few days, and offer tiny minimums as low as $20.

John Doe UI/UX Designer

Are there USA poker rooms with rakeback?

While others certainly disagree, I've always been anti-rakeback for many reasons, namely that it just isn't healthy to be charging some poker players full rake while a privileged minority gets a secret benefit.

The very top online poker rooms did away with their rakeback programs years ago. Rakeback is dying, period. We even did a piece here about rakeback deals being on their way out.

I've seen some rakeback websites advertising for deals at America's Cardroom, but you can essentially get it from them directly these days.

If you're looking for a deal anyway, that seems to be the only trustworthy USA poker option currently offering it.

John Doe UI/UX Designer

Can any USA-friendly real money sites be played from iPhone or iPad?

Unfortunately, one of the sad realities of the US government's fierce obsession with online poker is that US poker sites are forced to dwell in the Stone Age when it comes to mobile options like iPhone and iPad.

Update: Ignition Poker and BetOnline Poker now offer the only mobile clients available to US players.

No app download is required and it works on iPhone and iPad. Every real-money cash game and fast-fold table can be played via the mobile client.

Even though the App Store has seemingly millions of apps at this point, every one of them had to be manually approved.

That's actually smart business, as history has shown that an untamed marketplace can quickly become flooded with half-baked garbage and ultimately drive consumers away.

Unfortunately, that means unregulated US real money poker sites are never going to get an app to pass a manual review as no major company wants anything to do with a touchy controversial issue.

Poker room software developers could make it happen now

The simple answer would be for developers at US-friendly poker sites to develop an in-browser mobile option that could work on iPhone and iPad. No one that I can recommend has done this yet. This one is solely on the poker software developers who I believe are stingy and ultimately missing an enormous opportunity.

It's simply fact at this point that people actually access the Internet more on mobile devices than computers these days. US poker sites have blown it thus far.

The closest thing to a US poker site on iPhone

My one related recommendation would be for Bovada Casino, which accepts US players and does have an excellent instant play version that works on any iPhone or iPad with no download. For payouts they're the best in the market, often delivering checks within a week.

John Doe UI/UX Designer

How about United States players on Android?

The same as above applies to Android's Google Play app storefront with no real-money US site has had an app listed there to date.

Update: Ignition Poker and BetOnline Poker are now the only fully functional real-money US mobile poker options for Android.

You won't find it in Google Play because there is no app to download. Simply visit Ignition Poker from any Android phone or tablet and start playing in-browser.

I've personally had no issues with standard cash games or fast-fold (called Zone Poker) from the mobile client.

One interesting footnote is Full Flush Poker, which actually released a direct download of an Android mobile client instead of going through Google Play.

I actually did a complete review of it as I used to recommend Full Flush until I completely delisted the poker room a year prior to its collapse for failing to pay players in a timely manner.

Android is open-source so certainly a legitimate online poker room can do what Full Flush has done. Only Ignition Poker and BetOnline Poker have so far and they managed to do it without the hoops that Full Flush required players to jump through.

John Doe UI/UX Designer

Almost all of the DoJ’s legal claims depend on the underlying activity, online poker, being illegal. The problem for prosecutors is that the main federal anti-gambling statute, the Wire Act, has been held in a published federal Court of Appeals decision to be limited to bets on sports events and races.

Source

Gaming Law Professor I. Nelson Rose 

Without a doubt, the legality of online poker is the most common question asked about US poker sites since it became its own market in 2006. And it's certainly a good valid question.

Over the last decade I've seen a lot of answers to this question by poker affiliate websites with an agenda to sell you on something. The most common are:

• Yes, nothing has changed for US players.
• Yes, they are all licensed and regulated by ABC Island Tax Haven.
• Check with an attorney

The former 2 answers are laughable to me, not so much for their opinions, but that any writer at a poker website feels qualified to give you an answer on if something is legal or not. I'm certainly not going to do that.

The UIGEA seems to have spawned thousands of legal experts on online poker.

Checking with an attorney is good advice certainly, but the problem is that:

  1. The vast majority of poker players aren't going to do that, and
  2. Most attorneys can't even answer the question

...the false message that it made Internet gambling illegal. The UIGEA is actually only an enforcement act... The UIGEA was rushed through Congress by then-Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-TN) and is a mess, with typos and other problems... It is not even clear that online poker is illegal in every state and territory of the U.S.

Source

Gaming Law Professor I. Nelson Rose 

Let's learn from the actual US Poker experts

There are a handful attorneys who can because they actually specialize in gaming and poker law. They're awesome sources of information and some of the few people who can make sense of the legal mess surrounding online poker and explain it to the masses.

I largely base my analysis on what my favorite gaming law expert, the incomparable Professor I. Nelson Rose, has to say on the subject.

I remember him being the voice of reason during the chaotic days following the UIGEA's passing. Why would you really want to listen to anyone else's opinion?

The lack of review of the laws that literally changed the game of online poker and lost hundreds of millions of dollars to shareholders is mind-boggling.

Even more fascinating is that the mass exodus of publicly-traded online poker sites open to the US that changed everything was done as a result of misinterpretation.

Of course, that's history and can't directly answer our question on if US poker sites are legal. Studying the language and even the name itself of that decade-old federal online gambling law, however, can help.

There is no federal law against merely playing poker. Half the states do have mostly ancient laws on the books making it a crime, sometimes, to make a bet. But in the other half, it is not a crime to even bet with an illegal operation.

Source

Gaming Law Professor I. Nelson Rose 

Is it illegal to play poker online from the USA?

Read that quote above from Professor Rose. Isn't that fascinating?

I imagine Americans with a casual knowledge about online poker actually believe that it was made illegal in 2006 and that's what Black Friday was about in 2011.

The media frenzy that ensued in 2006 when the UIGEA was actually referred to as an "online poker ban" by some outlets. It was such a popular (and inaccurate) phrase that I did a whole piece on it.

In fact, there are no federal laws that mention playing online poker specifically. Professor Rose, whom I consider the definitive expert on gaming law, tells you that himself.

Highlights of Gambling Law for US Poker Sites

I've both read Professor Rose's excellent book Internet Gaming Law on the subject and spoken with him personally about this. Here are the highlights:

  • There is no federal law against simply playing online poker or other casino games. States have individual laws that may apply.
  • The UIGEA is a financial enforcement act by its own language. It didn't make any form of gaming, including online poker, illegal that wasn't already.
  • In 2013 the US Department of Justice clarified that the Wire Act only applied to sports betting and races, paving the way for regulated US-based online poker.
  • The crimes that USA online poker operators were charged with after Black Friday were for fraud and other banking-related statutes, not for hosting online poker games. The poker operators charged foolishly paid off a US bank to process payments.

That all seems pretty encouraging if you ask me. You should obviously check with an attorney and relevant law enforcement to determine if you can play poker online, but I think it's fairly clear that reality isn't quite as dire as the perception that's been perpetrated over the past decade.

85% of United States citizens oppose government prohibition of online gambling.

Wall Street Journal poll conducted shortly after the UIGEA passed in 2006 

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Avoiding misinformation targeted towards American online poker players

By this time, over a decade after corrupt special interest politicians added the now-familiar phrase "US poker sites" to our ever-growing poker lexicon, you've seen the rhetoric before at other poker websites.

The refrain has become tiring, nauseating, and insulting to your intelligence.

Residents of 3 states and less than 5% of the country are golden right now. They can play on a licensed US poker site.

The other 95% need some sort of roadmap to this Wild West free market even Ayn Rand would have been perplexed by.

A lot of poker affiliate websites with green cotton/linen-tinged eyes are happy to reassure you.

A sampling of some of my favorites:

"Nothing has changed for US players!"
"There are still tons of great US options!"
"These sites are all legal, licensed, and regulated!"
"Your deposit is perfectly safe and you're guaranteed never to be at risk!"

-Sincerely, every other poker website trying to sell you on the US market

Those words should hold about as much value to you as the droppings from a bulls-only rodeo sponsored by a GMO bologna company owned by Bill Frist.

Don't be distracted by licenses from US poker operators

Yes, pretty much every online poker site ever has obtained a license from some tax-and-gaming-friendly jurisdiction. Well done. It's nice to see.

For US-friendly sites you're also talking about places like Malta, minuscule Indian tribes, or Costa Rica.

Fine parts of the world, to be sure, but likely more concerned about that annual licensing fee than actually regularly testing the games and payouts.

Heck, Absolute Poker and UB were licensed and literally allowed to operate for years after their own employees were found to be cheating poker players. So just throw the license out the window. It doesn't guarantee you anything.

Foreign licenses in small territories are a convenient way for poker marketers to try to reassure you of a US poker site's safety. Don't fall for it.

Ready for USA Online Poker? We Goin' Straight to the Wild Wild West

For better or worse, USA online poker is now essentially a totally free market.

The worst part of that is when innocent players have had to get hurt.

Ironically, the few state-licensed US poker sites pale in size to the offshore leaders.

If you aren't a resident of one of the 3 small-ish US states to legislate online poker (New Jersey, Delaware, or Nevada), you're truly entering a free market.

With no government oversight unregulated US poker sites are really only influenced by you, the American consumer. It's all based on reputation and, to a lesser degree, who advertises best.

That's actually kind of cool... in a way.

The American poker market feels like a Libertarian's dream experiment

If a poker site screws up enough on a large enough scale (e.g. stop processing payouts, cheating scandals) consumers will eventually drive them into the ground.

That's sort of happening right now with Carbon Poker, who has screwed up a good thing beyond repair, but still actually tries to recruit new US players.

Unfortunately, someone will have to get hurt in the process, but in this free US poker site market the cream is going to rise to the top naturally.

Think of the US poker market like eBay or the Amazon Marketplace.

New sellers are unlikely to get many buyers, but when they eventually build up their reputation by being trustworthy to every single customer they snowball into a force that has no trouble attracting buyers.

The few sites I list at BTF have already earned their gold star seller badge.

Because there's little to no oversight no one is going to step in and help you if you get scammed, it makes doing your homework with legitimate third-party information so much more powerful.

Key Poker Sites that left the US market

888 Poker

Left the US market in October 2006. Owned by 888 Holdings.

888 Poker was one of the first online poker sites to voluntarily exit the US market following the passage of the UIGEA.

It's unclear if they later paid a settlement to US authorities.

Currently the #2 poker site in the world.

Exited the US market in October 2006.

Pacific Poker

Owned by 888 Holdings.

Sister site of 888 Poker, Pacific Poker was also among the first to withdraw their services from the United States.

Exited the US market in October 2006.

Party Poker

Exited the USA poker market in October 2006. Owned by Party Gaming.

Party Poker decided to leave the US market immediately after the passage of UIGEA, leaving the door open for their return when separate US states started to pass online poker legislation.

Currently, Party Poker offers their services to New Jersey residents.

Exited the US market in October 2006.

iPoker

iPoker is probably the largest open online poker network in existence.

They feature dozens of online poker sites, with some of the most popular being Titan Poker, Bet365, and William Hill.

iPoker withdrew from the USA immediately after the passage of the UIGEA and thus far have made no efforts to return to the States in any capacity.

Exited the US market in October 2006.

PKR

PKR used to be a standalone online poker room that launched in 2006, mere months before the UIGEA was passed.

As they caught wind of anti-online gambling legislation was in the works they made the decision to never offer play to Americans.

PKR has never attempted to obtain a license to operate in any of the legalized US states.

As of recently, PKR is a part of the Microgaming Poker Network.

Never entered the US market. Currently shut down and filed for bankruptcy.

Microgaming

The second largest open online poker network, Microgaming includes some big names like Stan James and Mansion Poker.

Initially, Microgaming stayed in the USA after passage of UIGEA, but got cold feet in 2008 when several domain seizures took place.

At that point, Microgaming decided to leave the US poker market and so far they have no presence in the regulated states.

Exited the US market in September 2008.

PokerStars

Owned by Amaya. PokerStars continued offering their poker services to US citizens even after UIGEA.

They were forced to withdraw poker games to Americans in the aftermath of Black Friday scandal, which happened in April of 2011.

Settlement for Accepting Americans

PokerStars paid a $731 million fine to the US government in order to continue serving the rest of the world.

PokerStars remains the #1 online poker site by traffic in the world.

They've managed to reestablish their presence in the USA by entering the regulated New Jersey poker market.

Exited the US market in April 2011.

Full Tilt Poker

Owned by Amaya. Like PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker remained active in the USA online poker market until they were forced out.

Unlike PokerStars, Black Friday exposed Full Tilt Poker for its lack of player fund segregation and corrupt practices by its partners.

The poker site was only salvaged when PokerStars decided to buy them and return all players' balances.

Exited the US market in April 2011.

Absolute Poker

Cereus Network, featuring the two brands Absolute Poker and UltimateBet, stayed in the US poker market until the bitter end.

After their domains were seized by the US DoJ in April of 2011 these two sites never came back online.

Unlike PokerStars and Full Tilt, AP/UB disappeared completely and no salvage of their assets has ever been attempted.

Thousands of players who had bankrolls there were robbed of their funds and to this day no one has been repaid a penny.

Completely shut down in April 2011. Players are now able to request refunds of their player balances.

How USA Online Poker got here

The twists and turns experienced by the US online poker market would make a fascinating book someday. We're all characters in it awaiting the final chapter.

US online poker is at a crossroads and I would like to help players navigate it as painlessly as possible.

History of USA poker sites

Prior to late 2006 the US online poker market was no different than the rest of the world (ROW). American players could play at the same sites and use the same convenient e-wallets (e.g. NETeller) as their ROW brethren. Online poker was booming with no end in sight.

The UIGEA in 2006

Everything changed in September 2006 when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was secretly attached onto an unrelated must-pass port security bill at the 11th hour before a recess of congress.

Smoking gun: proof of corruption

Several senators and congressmen even attest that no one apart from the Act's sponsors was aware of its inclusion and that no one outside of the bill's sponsors even had a chance to read the final draft.

Subsequently, all publicly-traded poker sites stopped allowing US players, allowing private mega-sites like PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker to take over the US market.

Payment options slowly returned to US players and the market seemed to stabilize into a new normal: a distinct separation between US poker rooms and those serving the rest of the world.

Black Friday in 2011

The next shoe to drop was online poker's Black Friday in April 2011, which involved a district of the US Justice Department taking action against the 3 largest remaining poker sites servicing US players.

PokerStars was the only outfit that survived the ordeal, settling up with the US government to the tune of $731 million and maintaining its dominant position for ROW players.

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While I still believe there are a handful of legitimate unregulated US poker destinations, I'm not going to lie to players and pretend this market is thriving. You have to work a little harder than players in just about any other country in the world. One signiticant positive is that USA online poker has free from a major disturbance for several years.

It's a testament to the will of Americans to play online poker that any USA poker sites still operate

If you call the USA your home, take the time to learn about who has the quickest withdrawals, most deposit methods, and other essentials. That's what I hope to help you with.

The current state of US-friendly online poker

Small privately-owned online poker rooms have filled in the gaps for US players in non-regulated states.

No US-facing poker site currently has exceedingly high traffic, aside from Ignition Poker and the market is at its smallest point with previous mainstays removing their emphasis on new players.

Still, real-money online poker in the US remains a viable option and I've reviewed those allowing new players extensively.

Deposit options still exist with Bitcoin leading the way, but are highly dependent on the poker room.

Regulated states

The US online poker market is also fragmented with a select few legalized US states offering state-sanctioned games.

This is currently limited to less than 5% of the USA's population, but appears likely to expand to more states in the future. It's an intriguing possibility that's progressing about as fast as a poker chip sinking in molasses.

The future of US poker sites

We're at a crossroad for online poker players in America. I see 3 main possibilities for online poker over the next 5 years with none able to be ruled out.

1

We maintain the status quo of privatized offshore US poker

A handful of smaller US states offer legalized games while the majority of the country gets by with small private offerings.

This is where we have been now since 2013 when a smattering of US states took the brave leap to license and regulate online poker.

I could easily see this scenario playing out indefinitely, which wouldn't really be the worst thing in the world. We've got a free poker market, Bitcoin, and most of us feel the games are fair. Sounds reasonable to me.

2

State-based online poker legislation develops significantly

Online poker gets legalized in a major state and a majority of the Union follows their coat tails. This could be California, Pennsylvania, or New York.

Should one of those states finally get through the red tape it would be a game-changer.

3

Lightning strikes thrice and destroys USA poker

We see a coordinated attack on the USA poker industry, bringing down the remaining privately-owned sites. I don't see this as a likely scenario unless a UIGEA-like backdoor effort is orchestrated by corrupt politicians and casino owners.

Of course, the United States now has a president in office that received $5 million dollars for his inauguration fund from old friend and online poker public enemy #1 Sheldon Adelson. The piper always comes a-piping, right?

Actually, that last option doesn't sound so far-fetched. Yikes.

It's already happened once. No, make that twice.

On that note, why don't we all just think happy thoughts and quit while American-friendly online poker is kinda sorta in the black?

May the red, white, and blue flop held together by popsicle sticks and bandaids always be with you.​

 

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