The 2006 UIGEA
UIGEA is a complicated law for online poker players. It bans types of online gambling that are banned (for telephone lines) under the 1961 Wire Act. Thus, understanding UIGEA requires an understanding of the Wire Act. Signed into law by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, the Wire Act specifically banned interstate sports betting over the phone lines. Using wiretaps, the FBI could prosecute sports betting racketeers. Thus, the Wire Act was used by the federal government to take down organized crime at a time they could not prove many of the mobsters' other crimes.
From 1961 to 2006, the Wire Act was used for phone-based sports betting, but never for poker or casino games. The reason was simply: people couldn't make fair bets on poker, slots, or blackjack over the phone lines. Thus, when UIGEA was passed, many argued that the law only applied to online sports betting. The US Department of Justice in the Bush-era argued that UIGEA also applied to online poker and online casinos, though.
This caused a huge shift in the US online poker market. Some top poker sites left the US market. Many payment processors also stopped processing gambling payments for Americans, because the UIGEA specifically targeted gambling payment processors. Many of the best online poker rooms continued to accept Americans, while new operators emerged. The choice often boiled down to whether a company was privately-owned or publicly traded -- for instance, UK gaming operators that were publicly traded on the London Stock Exchange had to leave the US market. It would have been easy for US authorities to punish them if they didn't.
Thus, poker sites that accepted US players moved offshore. Many were licensed in Antigua or Kahnawake (in Canada), though others received licenses in Gibraltar, Malta, or Cyprus. Over time, Curacao and Costa Rica became licensing hubs for US online gambling sites. Because they were privately owned and based offshore, top sites like PokerStars and Bodog continued to accept Americans.
Black Friday and the 2011 DOJ Crackdown
This led to legal consequences. On April 15, 2011, the US Justice Department unsealed indictments for top executives at PokerStars, FullTilt Poker, and Absolute Poker. In what became known as Black Friday, the DOJ also seized these sites' domains. This led to a huge settlement between PokerStars and the US government, where the world's largest poker site paid over $700 million in fines. It led to the downfall of the other sites -- and many poker players having their funds frozen for years.
In 2012, US Attorney for the District of Maryland, Rod Rosenstein, also brought charges against Bodog, the world-famous Canadian poker site. Bodog soon after stopped accepting US players, though it also launched a sister site, Bovada, which accepted US play. Years later, after Rod Rosenstein became US Deputy Attorney General, his successor in Maryland settled the case with Bodog's founder, Calvin Ayre.
2011 and 2012 appeared to be a dark time for US online poker players, but help was on the way. In 2011, the attorney generals of Illinois and New York filed a question with the Obama-era US Department of Justice. The question asked whether the UIGEA applied only to online sports betting or also to online poker and casinos. In December 2011, the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel replied that the UIGEA only applied to sports betting. It cited that the Wire Act had ONLY been used to target sports betting for the previous 5 decades.
Nevada Legalizes Online Poker
Suddenly, individual US states could legalize, regulate, license, and tax online cardrooms and casinos. This led to three state referendums in 2012 -- in Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware -- that would legalize online poker and/or casinos. All three passed in the November 2012 US presidential election, allowing those three states to launch legal online poker in 2013.
New Jersey and Delaware Launch Online Poker
Nevada was the first state to legalize online poker, though it did not legalize online casinos. Delaware regulated both, then launched online gaming portals for its three horse racing tracks: Dover Downs, Harrington Racecourse, and Delaware Park. In November 2013, New Jersey launched online poker and online casinos. Atlantic City casinos and New Jersey horse tracks could operate such licensed gambling sites.
At the time, JP Morgan predicted that many other US states would follow suit over the next 5 to 10 years. In fact, it was a full five years before another state passed online gambling, when Pennsylvania did so in October 2018. Since then, West Virginia and Michigan also legalized online poker and casino sites. Much of the hesitation came from Sheldon Adelson's attempts to ban online gambling of all sorts, including his pet legislation, Restore America's Wire Act (RAWA), which several top US congressmen supported from 2014 to 2016. Disputes among existing gambling groups hamstrung legalization efforts in some states.
US Supreme Court Decision on Sports Betting
In fact, an ancillary gambling dispute likely led to West Virginia and Michigan approving online gambling. For years, New Jersey fought the US Department of Justice in court for the right to launch land-based sports betting. From 2012 to 2017, New Jersey lost 5 different federal court rulings on sports betting. Its appeal to the US Supreme Court in 2018 was its last chance to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which had governed US federal sports betting laws for 25 years.
On May 14, 2018, the US Supreme Court voted 6-3 to overturn the sports betting ban. Because PASPA gave four US states the right to offer sports betting -- Nevada, Montana, Delaware, and Oregon -- the Supreme Court deemed PASPA to be in violation of the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution. (The Commerce Clause says the federal government cannot play favorites among US states when it comes to interstate commerce.) Suddenly, any state that wanted to could also legalize sports betting.
From 2018 to the present, over a dozen US states legalized land-based sports betting -- though the Wire Act and UIGEA continue to ban online sports betting. This new revenue source for land-based casinos represented a significant proliferation of gambling in America. It also meant that traditional gambling venues like horse tracks and land-based casinos might face more competition. To maintain their gaming venues' competitive edge and tap new sources of revenue, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Michigan passed not only land-based sports betting but also online poker and casino gaming.
A seventh US state soon will join the fold. On May 27, 2021, Connecticut Gov. Greg Lamont signed an online poker bill into law. The law gives the state's two tribal casinos -- Foxwoods Casino and Mohegan Sun -- the right to launch online poker sites. The bill also legalized land-based sportsbooks at the two casinos.
Latest Legal US Online Poker News
More states could legalize online poker in the coming months and years. US states have chronic budgetary problems. Like Pennsylvania in 2018, those states could look to gambling as an alternative source of tax revenue when they don't want to raise property taxes, income taxes, or sales taxes. If a new US state regulates online poker, we'll update that information here.
Before you continue to the rest of our US state gambling laws page, we want to urge US players to do their own research before playing poker online for real money. No website -- no matter how well-researched and up-to-date -- is a substitute to an offline lawyer when it comes to the federal, state, and local laws in your place of residence. No individual US resident has ever been prosecuted for playing online poker, but that doesn't mean it might not happen in the future. Any random location in the United States could have a local anti-poker law and an overzealous sheriff, so research the laws before playing online.
Poker and Gambling Laws by State
Currently, six US states have active licensed online poker sites. Connecticut plans to implement online poker play in the later stages of 2022, so we'll have 7 legal online poker states by the end of the year. All 50 US states have legal online poker for Americans, though. If you live in one of the other states, read our online poker reviews for a trustworthy cardroom.
Is Online Poker Legal in the USA?
Alabama: Alabama doesn't even allow lottery betting, so it's not likely to legalize online gambling anytime soon. The state does have a few land-based tribal gambling venues but its state government has fought legal battles against slot parlors in these race tracks in the past 10 years.
Alaska: Poker clubs are in a legal gray area in Alaska, but not many exist. Most gambling is handled in Alaska's 11 bingo halls. Both gaming operators and players face stiff fines for illegal gambling. While online poker might make sense for a state with so many wide distances between communities, its small population of 731,545 people means the poker sites wouldn't have a sizable poker community without interstate poker liquidity -- which isn't possible right now.
Arizona: You'll find 28 land-based casinos, poker rooms, and bingo halls spread throughout 20 different Arizona cities. Arizona also has 8 horse/dog tracks and 43 OTBs. This high number of land-based gaming venues means it's unlikely we'll see online poker and casino sites anytime soon. Illegal operators are prosecuted aggressively.
Arkansas: Arkansas has 2 tracks with slots parlors in West Memphis (Southland Racing) and Hot Springs (Oaklawn Racing), plus 2 land-based casinos in Pine Bluff. To protect those venues' business, Arkansas lawmakers are unlikely to pass online gambling legislation. Those who defy the local laws are prosecuted aggressively.
California: No US state has more brick-and-mortar gaming venues than California, which has 78 land-based casinos and 60 poker clubs. The Golden State also has dozens of horse tracks, OTBs, casino cruises, and bingo halls. With the many competing betting operators, online poker and casino betting are unlikely to be passed. Since 2012, 6 different lawmakers introduced 11 different online poker bills, but all failed because of "Bad Actor" clauses over the role PokerStars would play.
Colorado: Colorado passed sports betting to boost the revenues of its many land-based casinos, so it's possible that state leaders might pass regulated online gambling in the coming years. Lack of public support appears to be the main drawback, so nothing is imminent. Colorado punishes gambling violations stringently.
Connecticut: The Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot (Foxwoods) tribes have pushed for online gambling legalization over the past several years. Connecticut Gov. Greg Lamont signed an online gambling bill into law in May 2021, so expect to see Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods launch their online poker sites in 2022 and 2023. A longstanding lawsuit by MGM Resorts over a Hartford-area casino could delay implementation.
Delaware: Delaware was one of the first states to launch legal online poker and casinos in 2013. Three operators have poker sites: Dover Downs, Delaware Park, and Harrington Racecourse. Delaware also signed the Multi State Internet Gaming Association (MSIGA) with Nevada in 2014, which New Jersey joined in 2018. This interstate poker compact's future is down due to a 2019 US Justice Department opinion on interstate poker -- a final resolution depends on federal court cases.
Florida: The Seminole Tribe of Florida (Hardrock International) has a state-sanctioned gambling monopoly for most forms of gaming in the Sunshine State. If Florida ever legalizes online poker, expect the Seminoles to launch any casino or poker sites. This isn't likely to happen, as Florida lawmakers show very little interest in online gaming. Florida is quick to prosecute illegal operators, including the sweepstakes cafes that proliferated a few years back.
Georgia: Georgia has online lottery sales, which makes it slightly more likely to pass online poker than other states in the deep south. That's not likely, because Georgia's lawmakers continue to reject bills for legalized land-based casino gaming. Until that happens, don't expect any talk of legal online poker sites.
Hawaii: One of only two US states that bans 100% of gambling, players shouldn't expect to see regulated online poker in Hawaii in the near future. Given the number of cases of illegal operators that have been prosecuted in recent years in Hawaii, the demand for gambling opportunities seems significant. For now, online poker is handled at offshore cardrooms.
Idaho: Idaho specifically stipulates that land-based poker is illegal, though online poker exists in a gray area. Idaho actually has 10 small slots venues in 7 different cities, along with 7 different pari-mutuel racetracks operating. Online poker happens at offshore card sites.
Illinois: Riverboat casinos were a mainstay of Illinois gambling for decades, though the state passed land-based casinos in 2019. Illinois also allows video gaming terminals (VGTs) in local bars and restaurants. Each community has the right to legalize VGTs in their area. With so many land-based gaming operators, don't expect poker sites to be legalized anytime soon.
Indiana: The Hoosier State has 11 land-based casinos, 2 horse tracks, 4 off-track betting facilities, and many bingo halls. With so many legal gaming venues, it also is aggressive in prosecuting illegal operators. We've seen no indication that Indiana will legalize online gambling in the near future.
Iowa: Lawmakers have considered online poker in recent years, though no bill has gained traction in the legislature. Iowa has 20 land-based casinos, plus pari-mutuel wagering at horse tracks and dog tracks. With so many vested interests in brick-and-mortar gaming, we don't expect to see regulated online poker anytime in the coming years.
Kansas: Kansas offers players several ways to gamble, including 11 land-based casinos and a bevy of charitable bingo halls. It does not appear close to legal online gambling in the near future. Online gambling isn't addressed in the Kansas state constitution.
Kentucky: The Bluegrass State has taken a harsh stance against online poker in recent years. It seized 140 gambling domains and sued PokerStars for $870 million in lost tax revenues. That ploy failed in 2018 when PokerStars won in the Court of Appeals, though the Kentucky Supreme Court could take up the case. Despite all of this, Kentucky is a dark horse to legalize online poker, as Gov. Andy Bashear supports sports betting and online gambling legislation.
Louisiana: With nearly 150 land-based casinos and gaming halls, Louisiana is a southern state that loves gambling. Louisiana gaming laws have a somewhat confusing definition of gambling that complicates any legislation in the state. Residents pushed a 2018 online gambling referendum, but the measure failed to gain a vote. Since then, regulated online poker seems doomed for the time being.
Maine: Maine state law does not strictly forbid playing online poker. Land-based poker is legal in specific situations. With 1 land-based casino, Oxford Casino, and 10 different horse tracks, Maine has a fairly established land-based gaming industry. We've seen no indication these operations want online gambling, so Maine players can expect to play poker at offshore sites.
Maryland: With big venues like the MGM National Harbor, Horseshoe Baltimore, and Live! Casino in Hanover, Maryland embraces land-based casino gaming. The state also supports bingo halls and pari-mutuel racetrack betting, but online gambling sites do not appear to be on the horizon. Maryland gambling laws are complicated by county-level gambling bans in some parts of the state.
Massachusetts: Massachusetts is a gambling-friendly state. Big venues like MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor launched in 2018 and 2019. For a time in 2017, it appeared lawmakers might pass legal online gambling. That never materialized -- even during the Covid lockdown -- so don't expect licensed online poker in the coming years.
Michigan: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a sports betting and online gambling legalization bill into law in late 2019. With the legal framework in place, Michigan saw a launch of online poker sites in 2021. Top operators now compete for players in the state. Michigan also has a significant land-based casino industry, including MGM Detroit and Greektown Casino.
Minnesota: Minnesota embraced tablet gambling in order to fund U.S. Bank Stadium, the home of the Minnesota Vikings. The Land of 10,000 Lakes also has many forms of land-based gambling, but it has unclear laws on poker in the state. No initiatives have formed in recent years for online gambling legalization, so Minnesota players gamble at offshore online cardrooms.
Mississippi: Due to its longstanding embrace of land-based casinos, Mississippi has clear poker laws. The state's economy is intertwined with casino gambling, with a major hub in Tunica County in the northwestern portion of the state plus casinos on the Gulf Coast around Biloxi and Gulfport. Because Tunica casinos have struggled in recent years, Mississippi passed land-based sports betting in 2018. There was some talk about online gambling legalization but those talks have subsided for now.
Missouri: The Gateway State has 13 land-based casinos tied to famous names like Harrah's, Bally's, Ameristar, and Isle of Capri. It also has strict laws where illegal operators are prosecuted aggressively. Online gambling is not mentioned in Missouri statutes, and there are no indications state lawmakers plan to take up the issue anytime soon. Missouri poker players bet at offshore cardrooms.
Montana: Big Sky County has few poker options. The state has serious penalties for illegal gambling, while Montana has 207 different land-based casinos and cardrooms. Most of these venues are tiny, with cardrooms containing as few as one poker table and casinos having no more than 20 slot machines. With the many small venues, the chances of online gambling being legalized are minute.
Nebraska: A Nebraska lawmaker supported a poker bill in 2021 that would have recognized land-based poker as a game of skill, but the bill gained little traction in the legislature. Drives to have a casino credendum stalled a couple of times in the past 10 years as state officials kicked off 35% to 40% of the signatures gathered for minor oversights. Though the population appears to support gambling expansion, lawmakers do not support the issue at present. Nebraska card players thus play at offshore online poker rooms.
Nevada: The Silver State was the first US state to legalize online poker, though it did not legalize online casino gambling. Nevada also signed the Multi State Internet Gambling Association (MSIGA) in 2014 with Delaware, thus creating an interstate poker compact for shared player liquidity. Despite the forward-thinking legislative outlook, Nevada's casino operators never embraced online poker. Only one poker portal continues to operate, despite the 100+ brick-and-mortar casinos in the state.
New Hampshire: New Hampshire law has a vague definition of poker that leaves the game in legal limbo. New Hampshire is one of the states which has legal online lottery ticket sales. In fact, the state joined New Jersey's and Pennsylvania's online gambling lawsuit in 2019 that challenged the Trump-era DOJ's opinion on the UIGEA. This makes New Hampshire a bit of a dark horse to one day legalize online poker and casino sites, though there's no other indication that will happen at present.
New Jersey: Of all US states, New Jersey is the primary example of successful legal online gambling. Then-Gov. Chris Christie launched licensed online poker and casino sites in November 2013. Despite trouble at first with geolocation software and the absence of PokerStars from the online poker industry, Atlantic City casinos eventually launched successful online gambling operations. Borgata had been the top poker and casino sites for a time, though the PokerStars/Resorts Casino combination eventually challenged in online poker and the SugarHouse/Golden Nugget partnership seized first place in the online casino market.
New Mexico: New Mexico's various tribal casinos have poker rooms, but the state still doesn't have legal online poker. In recent years, one or two casinos have focused more on land-based sports betting than online gambling. For now, no one expects regulated online poker sites in New Mexico.
New York: The Empire State has a patchwork of tribal casinos and commercial casinos, along with horse tracks like Tioga Downs. Several times in the past 5 years, state lawmakers like Joe Addabbo and Gary Pretlow have supported online gambling bills. None of those have passed, and New York lawmakers now seem more preoccupied with the legalization of sports betting. New York is one of a handful of states that might legalize online poker in the coming years, but it's not on the horizon at present.
North Carolina: Like most southern states in the USA, North Carolina takes a dim view of most forms of gambling. Poker is not specifically banned under state law, though it appears to fall under the definition of banned gaming. North Carolina is unlikely to pass online gambling legalization in the coming years, though state officials are more focused on the legality of "fish games" (video sweepstakes machines) than online gambling at the moment.
North Dakota: North Dakota has 10 land-based casinos and 19 land-based card rooms at the present. To protect these venues, it has strict anti-gambling laws that ban poker gaming. Despite that, North Dakota lawmakers have discussed in recent years the legalization of online gambling. Nothing is pending at the moment.
Ohio: Gov. Mike Dewine has advanced gambling in the state during his term in office, while online poker and casino gaming have been up for inclusion at times. Despite some hopes that online gambling would be passed, nothing has happened. With 4 land-based casinos and 4 land-based card rooms, the mix seems right for legal online poker in the state. Dewine faces a tough reelection battle in 2022 if Donald Trump endorses one of his rivals in the GOP primary, which could throw any online poker legislation into doubt in the coming years.
Oklahoma: Oklahoma has a substantial land-based tribal casino community with nearly 145 different gaming venues. This complicates any potential online gambling legislation, though the tribal gaming operators' support of table games like craps and roulette a couple of years ago shows that change can happen quickly. With budgetary shortfalls and its large regulated gambling industry, Oklahoma is a dark horse for online poker -- though nothing is imminent at the moment and chances remain slight.
Oregon: Oregon bans most forms of online gambling at present, though the state lottery offers mobile sports betting. Poker is listed among the banned activities, though Oregon has 10 land-based casinos and 14 land-based card rooms. These are the main obstacles to online poker in the near future. With punitive laws for illegal gambling, don't expect legalized Oregon online poker in the coming years.
Pennsylvania: Faced with a $2 billion budget shortfall, Pennsylvania passed legal online poker in October 2017. The omnibus gambling bill also includes legal sports betting, online casinos, daily fantasy sports, video lottery terminals (VLTs) at truck stops, and tablet betting at international airports. The new influx of gaming is expected to generate $200 million in tax revenues for Pennsylvania each year, while top online poker operators would team up with famous land-based PA casinos like Parx Casino, Hollywood Casino, and SugarHouse Casino.
Rhode Island: Rhode Island's statutes include a number of vague statutes and legal definitions involving gambling. For that reason, poker exists in a kind of legal gray area. Though it has several anti-gambling laws, the punishments for banned play are minor.
South Carolina: South Carolina gambling laws ban almost any form of gambling, so poker is seen as a banned activity. The state even makes it illegal to own old slot machines, while any game -- even those which don't involve gambling -- could be considered illegal. South Carolina is nowhere close to passing online poker legalization.
South Dakota: South Dakota has 44 different casinos, most of which have 50 to 350 gaming machines. Deadwood itself has 28 casinos. This state government makes it illegal to operate an online gambling website with servers in South Dakota. Despite that, individual residents who play poker online do not face prosecution.
Tennessee: The Volunteer State prohibits most forms of gambling, though it has no specific laws on the books against online gambling. Thus, online poker and casino gaming exist in a gray area. While Tennessee is like most southern states in banning many forms of gambling, the state legislature did pass a forward-thinking daily fantasy sports bill a few years ago. Despite that, legal online gambling doesn't appear close to passage.
Texas: While The Lone Star State does not regulate online gambling, Texans play at offshore online poker, casino, and sports betting sites. It bans several forms of gambling, including most land-based casino gambling. Texas allows pari-mutuel race track betting, charitable bingo gambling, poker clubs, 8-liners (maquinitas), and one tribal casino (Naskila Gaming) owned by the Alabama-Coushatta tribe. Poker rooms are not supposed to allow cash prizes, but use seat licenses and expensive refreshments to make up the difference. Texas gas stations host 8-liners, a kind of slot machine that is legal as long as the operator doesn't offer cash prizes. Instead, they pay in gas, groceries, and lottery tickets.
Utah: Like Hawaii, Utah has a 100% ban on all forms of gambling. Utah is one of the US states least likely to regulate online gambling. Despite that, Utah poker players can play at offshore online cardrooms without fear of prosecution.
Vermont: The Green Mountain State's gambling laws reflect its people's love of personal freedom. While there is a ban on certain forms of gambling, the punishments (fines) are relatively light for such activity. While no lawmakers have introduced online poker legalization measures, Vermont poker players can play at the offshore cardrooms without being prosecuted.
Virginia: The Commonwealth of Virginia doesn't have a specific ban on online gambling, though its ban on specific forms of land-based gambling might apply to players. With online gambling existing in a legal gray area, card players can play at the offshore online poker sites.
Washington State: Washington is one of the few US states that have a specific ban on online gambling. In fact, playing at an online poker site is considered a felony under Washington state law. The Washington State Gambling Commission (WSGC) has been fairly aggressive when it comes to other forms of online gaming -- specifically against Seattle-based Steam gaming -- but it has never prosecuted a resident for playing at real money offshore online gambling sites. Washington poker players should take greater precautions than most US card players, though.
West Virginia: In 2019, West Virginia became the 5th US state to legalize online poker and online casinos. Since then, the Mountaineer State has undergone the long process of licensing and launching online gaming portals. That process should be complete by the end of 2022.
Wisconsin: While Wisconsin state law allows poker players to enjoy their game in a variety of ways, Wisconsin online poker lacks absolute clarity. A few years back, one Wisconsin judge admitted in an aside that poker is a game of skill, but he also cited a law from the 1960s that seemed to ban organized poker despite that pronouncement. With 26 tribal casinos owned by groups like the Ho-Chunk, Potawatomi, Oneida, and St. Croix tribes, the state's approach to banning gambling is fairly strict. Still, Wisconsin card players can play at offshore online poker rooms without fear of legal consequences.
Wyoming: Wisconsin has 4 small casinos, one poker room, 2 pari-mutuel horse tracks, and 17 off-track betting facilities. It also entertained legalizing sports betting and gambling on "legal games of skill" in 2020, but the bill did not pass. Because Wyoming has a number of state-sanctioned gaming venues, it has fairly strict laws on illegal gambling. Wyoming residents can play at offshore online poker sites, despite the legal gray area in which it operates. Given the fact Wyoming has the smallest population of any US state, single-state poker sites wouldn't have sizable player communities if they were allowed to operate, anyway.