US Poker Sites
Online poker hasn’t been around for that many years, but it has already had a rather colorful history in the United States. In the early days of online poker, players from the United States played a huge role in the ever-expanding real money online poker market, comprising about half of this demographic at one point. Now, the once-plentiful amounts of USA poker sites has dwindled mightily after the amazing jumpstart it had back in 2003…
After a modestly successful start during the first few years of the availability of online poker, its popularity, especially with U.S. players, took a giant leap forward when fellow American and recreational player Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event in 2003, capping off a months-long journey that started after he won an online satellite at PokerStars. As fate would have it, Moneymaker’s win catapulted what many of us know now as the modern day “poker boom,” something that would continue on for years in not just the U.S., but also around the world.
The race to grab market share really began around that time, as sites like PokerStars, Full Tilt and Ultimate Bet really began establishing their presence in the United States. At one point, “the big 3” were raking in millions a month just from American customers, with other smaller sites coming out of the wood work to also get a little piece of the action.
Little did anyone know that at this particular time the U.S. government was already looking to take steps to curtail not just online poker, but online gambling (casinos, sports betting, etc) in general, going as far as “strong arming” iGaming safe havens like Antigua and Barbuda by imposing trade sanctions to punish them for allowing online poker to be regulated in their country.
Despite losing a World Trade Organization ruling, who rejected the U.S. claim that curtailing online poker was necessary to maintain moral standards, the US Department of Justice continued looking for ways to shut down online poker, even if that meant circumventing traditional legal hurdles to do so.
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UIGEA and its Impact on Online Poker
After years of unsuccessful lobbying to shut down online poker by more conventional means, Congress finally passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which prevented financial institutions doing business in the U.S. from processing gambling transactions. The UIGEA did not in itself make online poker illegal, although it was the opinion of the U.S. Department of Justice that the Wire Act of 1961 already prohibited online poker and online casino play.
The above opinion was held in spite of the fact that this issue was already decided in U.S. federal court back in 2002, where the court found that the Wire Act only applied to sports betting and did not prohibit poker or casino games being played online.
The UIGEA only prohibited processing financial transactions from illegal gambling, and therefore the gambling in question would have to be shown to be illegal. So an essential piece of the puzzle was missing, but this did not temper the efforts and the rhetoric of federal authorities one bit.
This was never about the law though, and foreign online poker operators weren’t subject to U.S. law anyway, even if there were laws that prohibited it. The tremendous amount of hot air that the UIGEA generated was enough to scare off many online poker operators though, including the then #1 poker site, Party Poker.
Party Poker not only withdrew from the U.S. market, they even paid a $105 million fine in lieu of being prosecuted for breaking a law that they weren’t even subject to, even if it did validly apply to online poker.
The Aftermath of the UIGEA and Black Friday
Although the selection of sites accepting American players was significantly reduced by the UIGEA, several major sites remained for years afterwards, including PokerStars, who instantly rose to the top spot in the online poker rankings. PokerStars believed that they weren’t violating any laws, but as they would come to understand more later, this game was never about who was right or wrong under the law.
The challenge facing the remaining poker rooms was to now find a way around all of the financial roadblocks that the UIGEA presented. While this law scared a lot of online poker rooms, it scared financial transactions processors even more. It became more and more difficult for players in the United States to make deposits and withdrawals, and withdrawals became particularly challenging.
The poker rooms were up to the task to some degree anyway, although some poker rooms struggled with this more than others. A game of cat and mouse was underway, with the government looking to shut things down and the poker rooms coming up with even more creative ways to prevent the seizure of their money.
Due to the fortuitous collection of intelligence by a disgruntled former insider, a net was cast in the operation widely known as “Black Friday,” where the U.S. Department of Justice moved in against the major online poker providers, particularly PokerStars, Full Tilt and Ultimate Bet/Absolute Poker.
On that particular Friday in 2011, without warning, the domains of these poker rooms were abruptly shut down, hundreds of millions of dollars of player money was seized, and indictments for company CEO’s and other executives and poker players were obtained. And while these poker sites quickly got back online by using different domain extensions, the government seizure of that much money and the impact it would have on the stateside financial machine was very real.
U.S. Poker Down, But Not Out
After a few weeks of legal maneuvering and negotiation, those aforementioned poker sites finally agreed to exit the U.S. market, much to the chagrin of a great many U.S. poker players who now had no major online poker sites to play at, and it was believed that online poker in the U.S. was now dead.
Some of the more known online grinders relocated to other countries such as Mexico and Canada, where they could play at PokerStars once again. It became even trickier and more difficult to support the players that didn’t give up and remained, but several online poker sites were up to the task.
While these sites did end up attracting the attention of U.S. authorities for a time, they survived these attempts without any trouble.
Eventually, the U.S. government came to admit that the Wire Act indeed did not apply to poker. This was put forth as some kind of new revelation, even though there was no good reason to ever believe it did.
The Legality Of U.S. Online Poker Today
There had been a movement afoot, spearheaded primarily by former U.S. congressman Barney Frank, for the regulation of online poker at the federal level. At the very least, the government standing down on its efforts to use the UIGEA to interfere with it was sought.
In the end, that wasn’t needed, as with the Wire Act not applying to poker, there isn’t any federal law that prohibits it in any way now. So the states are left to decide this, and the states retain the right to regulate gambling anyway.
So whether or not it is legal to play online poker depends on what state you live in. In some states they may have clear laws against it, like the State of Washington for instance, which prohibits online gambling explicitly. In other states it may or may not be illegal, depending on the interpretation of the laws, while other states may not have any laws that prohibiting it whatsoever.
The UIGEA still applies in cases where online poker is illegal though, and many of the online poker sites still doing business with Americans are careful to avoid accepting players from certain states where it may not be legal to play.
Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware all currently have legal and regulated online poker available, with more states expected to follow, although the process has been a pretty slow one. Many players in other states play at online poker rooms located in other countries though, who are happy to accommodate them.
In the end, no one has ever been charged for playing online poker in the U.S., and there’s no reason to believe this is about to change. So players continue to play with confidence, in spite of everything that has happened.
The New Frontier of “Unregulated” Online Poker in the U.S.
The biggest issue with playing unregulated poker online in the U.S. over the last few years has been moving money in and out of the poker sites. While the options remain limited, and more patience is required as far as the time it takes to withdraw money, what is available is found by players to be quite sufficient.
Internet wallets, the preferred method in other countries, aren’t really available to U.S. players, although there are other methods that do work.
Some credit cards work and some don’t. This is the easiest option to try because it doesn’t involve buying a prepaid card, and some of those work and some don’t as well. You can always use the prepaid card to purchase something else though, so trial and error doesn’t really hurt.
One of the newer tricks is to use methods such as Western Union or Moneygram, which can be used to collect withdrawals as well as make deposits. Withdrawals by check are available as well, although these take longer.
Bitcoin is also now available to be used at select sites, including the two we will be recommending for you, and that’s a good option for sure, as it’s completely off the grid.
There Are Still Several Good Choices Out There For U.S. Online Poker Players
For those who don’t live in a state with regulated poker yet, and particularly those who may be wondering when it will ever come to them, if ever, there are still some very good options for those who still want to play.
These sites offer all of the fun and excitement of online poker, with all of the major forms of poker being laid out. You can play cash games, tournaments, sit and go’s, whatever you want, at a number of different stakes. There are also some nice welcome bonuses available for players new to these poker sites.
America’s Cardroom accepts players from all over the world, but from their name, it’s easy to figure out that they are very U.S. friendly. They have an array of bonus and promotions, including a very nice 100% match of your first deposit with them, up to $1000. On top of this, their cashouts are the fastest in the business right now, with checks, cash transfers and wires taking only a few days to 2 weeks to process at most.
BetOnline also warmly welcomes American players, and offer not only online poker but sports betting and casino games as well. They also offer plenty of rewards and bonuses, including a massive first deposit match of 200% up to $2000 in bonus cash.
Both of these online poker sites are well trusted, and take players from all states except Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Washington. They both have a very good amount of traffic and are both very popular with American players in particular.
Some players are sitting back and waiting for online poker to come back, and don’t realize that it never really left, as long as you know where to find it.