Will Online Poker in the US Ever Be Regulated on the Federal Level?


Poker is one of the most popular games in all of America, which makes it a little strange that running an online poker room still remains illegal in much of the country. 

Despite the popularity of the game in live card rooms and casinos in nearly every state, online poker has been heavily cracked down upon ever since 2006.

Back then, the UIGEA Act effectively banned all online poker in the US, and it took a number of years before some states finally introduced their own regulation. Along with online poker, Pennsylvania and Michigan are some of the states that recently legalized some of the best real money online casinos in the US. 

Online gambling overall has made incredible strides in recent years, with online sports betting getting regulated in dozens of states and online poker and casino games getting closer to state regulation in several states. 

Yet, regulation on a federal level still remains nothing more than a dream, with organizations such as Sheldon Adelson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling quoting the dangers of online gambling and promoting a perpetual ban on federal-level regulation. 

So is there a hope online poker will come back to America on a national level, and what will it take to get there? Let’s find out!

How We Got Here

Poker players who were around in the days of the Poker Boom when Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event remember playing online poker at sites like UltimateBet, Full Tilt Poker, and PokerStars quite vividly. 

Online poker was booming in the US and worldwide back in 2006 when the UIGEA was first passed, which caused some operators, such as PartyPoker, to abandon the American market. 

Yet, others stayed, and online poker kept going, seemingly without obstacle, with thousands of American players flocking to online poker rooms like FTP. 

This all came to an end abruptly on April 15, 2011, when the US government cracked down on these major poker operators in a single day, effectively shutting down their operations in the US

This caused Full Tilt Poker and UltimateBet to close their doors forever, while PokerStars was forced out of the US but kept their operation running and became the undisputed champion of online poker. 

For the most part, this ended online poker in the US, as only a handful of smaller poker sites kept catering to US players and continue to do so to this day, but with far less success than the sites that got shut down on Black Friday. 

The Emergence of Legal Online Poker in the US

As soon as the major unregulated poker sites in the US got shut down, talk started of licensing poker operators and allowing sites to operate within the law, pay their taxes, and continue to cater to the massive base of American poker players. 

States like Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey did not wait long to do so either, and by 2013 all three of these states offered licenses to online poker operators. 

Yet, the small single-state markets were nowhere nearly as interesting as the massive global market that existed before, with tournament and cash game player numbers significantly limited across all states. 

It took a number of years before other states, such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, also regulated online poker, as such regulation moved slowly through legislation and was met with significant resistance in each state. 


Today, states like New York, Florida, and California are all working on potential online poker bills, but such attempts continue to get major pushback on all fronts. 

State legislation is slow and generally ineffective, as single-state markets continue to be insufficient to provide big enough pools for fluid online poker play. 

While some attempts at interstate online poker are currently being made, regulation on a federal level is the one thing that players from all parts of the country are really looking forward to. 

Will Online Poker Get Regulated Nationwide?

In 2019, the “Internet Poker Freedom Act” was introduced to Congress and eventually shut down, but it was one of the first major attempts at regulating online poker on a federal level. 

Such attempts have been met with great resistance in the past, with concerns over problem gambling, money laundering, and even moral questions being raised on the issue. 

As the number of states regulating online poker continues to rise, regulation on a federal level is also becoming more realistic, but it does still appear that such regulation is many years away. 

The wheels of Congress and Senate move slowly on all topics, and online poker is not one of the burning political issues in the country anyway, which makes it even less likely to be taken too seriously and approached with haste. 

Instead, it will take a major interest from a particular lawmaker at one point to get the matter of online poker taken seriously, and even then, there may be too much pushback to actually get there. 

Yet, given the interest in poker nationwide, it would be surprising if this matter never got settled, so we can expect federal-level regulation for online poker at one point in time but may have to wait for it for quite a while. 

Where Can I Play Online Poker Today?

If you live in the US, there are still some options to play online poker even before it’s regulated on a federal level. 

If you live in Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, Michigan, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia, you can play poker completely legally at locally regulated online poker sites like PokerStars and PartyPoker. 

If you live in any of the other states, you can still sign up with these operators and play online poker anytime you are visiting one of the states where it’s legal. 

Finally, a number of offshore poker operators continue to cater to American players, and many players choose to play at such sites, as playing online poker is not actually illegal in the US; it’s just pretty hard to fund your online poker accounts. 

Yet, with cryptocurrencies now being widely accepted by offshore poker sites, there are still ways to play online poker on such platforms, regardless of the particular state you live in or any other factors. 

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