Online poker is a billion-dollar industry in the United States, but it’s not legal to play with real money in every state. States regulate this industry and hold gaming operators to high identity, geolocation, and player identification standards. We’ll cover the history of this industry, explore state-by-state legislation, and help you determine whether or not it’s legal to play online poker in your jurisdiction.
A series of events put a damper on the once booming online poker industry in 2006. Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, or UIGEA. This law made it illegal for banks to process payments to online gambling sites. This drove many of the major publicly-traded companies out of the market, although some remained operational in spite of this. Then, the Department of Justice seized domains from several major sites and indicted the owners on charges of money laundering, bank fraud, and other crimes.
Despite these challenges, several states have moved to make online poker legal. Nevada and Delaware were among the first, and New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and West Virginia have joined them. These states have partnered with the poker operators to offer a regulated product. In addition, they have joined a multistate gambling compact to allow players from the various states to compete against one another.
California has yet to legalize online poker, although it has made some progress in recent years. However, disagreements over so-called bad actor language have stalled the process. As we head into the next legislative session, it looks like this issue will remain at the center of discussions. Regardless of the outcome, we expect online poker to be available in more states soon. In the meantime, we recommend that you play at a licensed and regulated site. This will ensure that your personal and financial information is secure and that you’re playing in a safe and compliant environment.