Where do U.S. states stand on regulated online poker?

Geoff Fisk
Published by:
Posted on 01/20/2021

President-elect Biden has voiced plans to overturn the DOJ Wire Act Opinion

The current regulated online poker landscape includes only a few states, mostly limited to in-state competition. Incoming U.S. President Joe Biden, however, could set the wheels in motion for expanded interstate player pools within the states.

An article in the upcoming January/February 2021 issue of Gaming America features a prediction from Michigan-based law firm Dickinson Wright that gives U.S. players reason for optimism. The firm’s lawyers told the gaming publication that they expect Biden to overturn a 2018 decision from the Department of Justice that significantly dashed hopes for large-scale interstate poker in the U.S.

The federal Wire Act sits at the heart of the issue. The original language of the Wire Act outlaws any kind of gambling transaction that uses electronic means to cross state lines.

In 2011, however, the U.S. Department of Justice issued an opinion that the language of the original 1961 Wire Act only applied to sports betting. With that ruling in place, a few U.S. online poker networks entered into agreements to allow interstate poker competition.

In 2018, however, the DOJ rendered a reversal of the 2011 opinion. The 2018 change in course put the future of interstate online poker among regulated U.S. networks in jeopardy.

The reversal shuttered the possibility of interstate poker in states like Pennsylvania, which launched online poker in November 2019. Pennsylvania regulators erred to the side of caution in the online poker launch, choosing to limit state-regulated sites to Pennsylvania-only player pools.

If the prediction from Dickinson Wright comes true, however, Biden could void the 2018 reversal of opinion on the Wire Act from the DOJ. This prediction, first reported by PokerNews Tuesday, points to a possible revival of the U.S. online poker market.

Where U.S. states stand on online poker

StateOnline poker launchOperatorsInterstate Play authorized?
Nevada2013WSOPYes (with WSOP NJ and 888 Delaware)
New Jersey2013WSOP, PokerStars, partypoker, 888Yes (with WSOP NV and 888 Delaware)
Delaware2013888Yes (with WSOP NV and WSOP NJ)
Pennsylvania2019PokerStars, partypoker (coming soon), 888 (coming soon)No
West VirginiaTBATBATBA
MichiganTBATBA; partypoker and PokerStars approvedYes

How would Biden’s reversal of the Wire Act opinion expand online poker in the U.S.?

Currently, only one integrated online poker network operates in the U.S. Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware stand as members of the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement (MSIGA), which allows approved operators in those states to share player pools across state lines.

The MSIGA allows WSOP Nevada, WSOP New Jersey, and the 888poker network in Delaware to share player liquidity. Both WSOP.com and 888poker operate on 888 software, as the two brands function as technology partners.

Partypoker New Jersey rebranded as the partypoker US Network last January, possibly pointing as signs of things to come for an expanded interstate partypoker network.

Michigan lawmakers recently approved an interstate poker bill, and the upcoming partypoker Michigan platform could join the New Jersey site in a shared player network. PokerStars NJ could link with the upcoming PokerStars MI site in similar fashion.

Pennsylvania would have to pass an interstate poker bill for any of its state-regulated platforms to join a multi-state agreement. If Biden issues an overturn of the Wire Act, however, any fear of federal legal ramifications for Pennsylvania operators would be out of the way.

Featured image source: Flickr