States with legal online poker sites
The United States has some strict anti-online gambling laws that have been affecting the poker community for years. Ever since April 15, 2011, a date known more infamously as “Black Friday,” the online poker industry in the U.S. has struggled, mostly because the top poker sites no longer operate within the country.
With that said, each individual state has the right to determine the legality of online gambling. So, in essence, all 50 states could have legal internet poker if the lawmakers would pass legislation. But most states, more than 10 years following “Black Friday,” still don’t have any legal poker sites in operation.
As of 2021, only five states have licensed sites in operation, but seven states passed laws to legalize online poker. Those states are Delaware, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Connecticut. Michigan and Pennsylvania are the only states since 2013 to pass legislation and launch sites, with Michigan the most recent in 2019. West Virginia and Connecticut did legalize poker online since then, but no operators have applied for licenses yet. You can still play online poker on certain sites in other states, but the sites aren’t licensed and regulated locally.
The most important feature for operators in these states is poker liquidity. This is the ability to share player pools for tournaments and cash games across state lines in other jurisdictions, which improves revenue opportunities greatly.
Poker liquidity is the reason poker is so profitable in the global market. All participating states must sign the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA) to allow it. (This is not an issue for online sports betting and other games.) Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Connecticut have yet to sign the agreement.
Nevada was the first state to legalize online poker in the U.S., and that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how gambling-friendly the state is. The Silver State passed House Bill AB 114 into law on February 25, 2013, which permitted certain gambling companies to offer online poker games.
Early on, the state had two poker sites in operation, competing against each other — Ultimate Poker and WSOP.com. The only problem is, Nevada only has 3 million residents, which made it difficult for two poker sites to survive. Ultimate Poker ultimately couldn’t hang and WSOP.com, backed by the major Caesars Entertainment brand, is now the lone legal poker site in the state.
2. New Jersey
One day after Nevada made online poker legal, New Jersey followed suit. Bill A2578, sponsored and proposed by Sen. Ray Lesniak, brought legal online poker games to the Garden State for the first time.
WSOP.com also operates within New Jersey, but poker players in this state have more options available than Nevada residents. That includes partypoker, PokerStars, the world’s largest online poker brand, and BetMGM, operated by MGM Resorts, one of the top casino resort companies in the world.
Delaware is a bit of an afterthought when it comes to online gambling. That’s because the state has a small population of just 970,000, which is only a tiny fraction of the other states on this list. But Delaware has quietly been a major player when it comes to online poker.
The Mid-Atlantic state officially signed a pro-online poker bill into legislation October 31, 2013, eight months after Nevada and New Jersey. Poker players in the state get to compete on the WSOP.com platform, as part of the NV/NJ shared liquidity deal. Delaware brings in the lowest revenue from poker among all states with legal poker sites in operation.
Four years went by without any state passing an online poker bill after Delaware did so in October 2013. That was a frustrating time for the poker community, because it was starting to seem like it could be many years before any other states stepped up to the plate. Fortunately, Pennsylvania lawmakers eventually came to an agreement in November 2017, and has now become one of the top states for online poker.
The current poker sites in the Keystone State include Borgata, partnered through partypoker, Bet MGM, and PokerStars. WSOP launched its site on the 888 poker platform in Pennsylvania in 2021, in time to offer WSOP bracelet events online in the state. PA will offer WSOP events online again in 2022.
Another two years passed before Michigan became the fifth state in 2019 to legalize online poker. But the global health pandemic, which struck a few months later in early 2020, derailed those plans a bit.
Due to COVID-19, lawmakers in the Wolverine State were too focused on health safety guidelines and the economy to worry about the online poker bill they passed late in 2019. Originally, the plan was to approve licenses for gaming operators in early 2020, but the pandemic changed the state’s course of action. It wasn’t until early 2021 that PokerStars launched in Michigan. Bet MGM then hopped on board less than two months later, and the state of Michigan is now pulling in massive online poker revenue.
WSOP is the latest of the online poker rooms to open in Michigan, launching on March 28, 2022. The platform will offer official online Texas hold’em and Omaha WSOP bracelet events in the summer of 2022.
In April 2022, the Multi-State Internet Gaming Association announced that New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware approved Michigan’s entry. This means the state is poised to allow its online poker rooms to share player pools with sites in other states. Operators will be able to link their sites across state lines as soon as Michigan signs the agreement.
6. West Virginia
After a great deal of lobbying, the West Virginia legislature legalized online gaming in March 2019. One year later, the West Virginia Lottery Commission filed its rules for poker rooms to operate online. However, there are no licensed poker rooms online in West Virginia yet, because no sites have applied for those licenses.
Operators will need to partner with a land-based casino and apply for licenses to allow people to play poker in the state under the new law. There haven’t been many applications to date however, possibly because West Virginia is not a part of the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement. When operators know they can share player pools across state lines for better liquidity, they will likely submit applications.
It’s unclear to the poker media whether West Virginia has reached out to other states in the multi-state association to request approval from current member states.
After Connecticut lawmakers approved a bill to legalize online gaming, Gov. Ned Lamont signed it into state law in May 2021. He also reached agreements with the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, which operate land-based casinos in Connecticut. This authorized people in the state to play real money poker and casino games online and engage in sports betting online.
Since then, several gambling sites have launched to offer sports wagering (sportsbooks) and online casino games. However, online poker apps remain untapped. No operator has applied for an online poker room license yet in the Constitution State, as of May 2022.
As with West Virginia, online poker sites appear to be waiting for Connecticut to enter the multi-state agreement. The Connecticut poker market is too small to be profitable on its own, so the only way to make legalized poker worth the effort in Connecticut is via links with sites in other states.
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