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 and legal online poker. Those states are Delaware, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Michigan and Pennsylvania are the only states since 2013 to pass legislation, with Michigan the most recent in 2019. You can still play online poker on certain sites in other states, but the sites aren’t licensed and regulated locally.
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. As of 2021, WSOP.com was also attempting to obtain a license to operate in Pennsylvania, in time for the summer World Series of Poker Online Bracelet Series.
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.
Featured image source: Flickr