There are four states that have regulated games — Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania – plus legal, sweepstakes poker games in other areas. While the boom of 10 years ago is over, online poker for real money in the US is on the rise again.
This is a detailed guide to legal poker sites in the United States. We’ll provide you with information on the current legislative landscape, the best sites to play online poker and the different types of poker bonuses.
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FREE POKER VS. REAL MONEY POKER
As soon as real money is at stake, the game of poker transforms.
Play money poker involves seeing a flop, hitting hands and never folding when there is even a shot at winning the pot. With no incentive to fold or think strategically, it provides light entertainment at best.
Once real cash is involved, poker changes into a mental battle. Playing every hand and trying to hit, will quickly become a losing strategy.
Conversely, playing too few hands becomes predictable and easy to exploit. You’ll need to play a position, work out what your opponents’ bets mean and understand math concepts like odds and equity.
You can play online poker games for real money or for free. I can assure you that once you try for real money, free games will quickly lose its appeal. The beauty of real money poker is that you’ll never stop learning.
Even the biggest stars of the game are working on their strategy; poker takes five minutes to learn and a lifetime to master.
IS ONLINE POKER LEGAL IN THE US?
Poker has a long tradition in the US, from boom to bust. There is a new era in real money USA poker games as individual states license and regulate the games.
So far, there are four legal states for real money online poker: Nevada, Delaware, Pennsylvania (where PokerStars launched in 2020 and PartyPoker is expected to follow) and New Jersey. These states require that a brick-and-mortar casino licenses the poker sites.
NJ PokerPA PokerNV PokerUS Poker
Rank Poker Site No Deposit Bonus Deposit Bonus Play Now
1. WSOP.com $10 Free 100% up to $1,000 Play Now
2. 888 Poker $20 Free 100% up to $1,500 Play Now
3. Party Poker $25 Free 100% up to $1,000 Play Now
4. PokerStars None 100% up to $600 Play Now
5. Borgata Poker $20 Free 100% up to $600 Play Now
6. BetMGM Poker $25 Free 100% to $1,000 Play Now
Other states will eventually roll out online poker sites including Michigan and West Virginia.
Three states share players – Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey — at 888 and WSOP online poker rooms. Players from all three states will meet at the tables, which allows for bigger tournaments (many with large, guaranteed prizepools) and a more extensive selection of cash games.
PA ONLINE POKER SITES
Online gambling is already up and running in Pennsylvania in the form of PA sportsbooks, casinos and lottery games, but PA online poker is the latest to join the party. On Nov. 2019 PokerStars began a soft launch phase that completed two days later. It is now fully operational, and more operators are expected to follow shortly, including WSOP and PartyPoker.
In Pennsylvania, you can play real money cash games and tournaments against other players through player pools; however, not with players from other regulated states.
Poker is already successful in states with smaller populations than Pennsylvania. The bigger pool of players means more choice, bigger tournament guarantees and more generous promotions compared to New Jersey and Nevada.
Seven casinos have Pennsylvania online poker licenses. Of these, several have announced partnerships with the major brands active in other states. Here are the known partnerships:
Mount Airy Casino: PokerStars
Harrah’s Casino: 888 (WSOP-branded)
Valley Forge: PartyPoker
WHAT LEGAL POKER SITES CAN I PLAY IN PA?
PA Online Poker
Online poker is active in Pennsylvania
PokerStars launched online poker in 2019, becoming the first online poker site in Pennsylvania.
Some sites are already in beta-testing mode but will need to get approval from the Pennsylvania Gambling Control Board (PGCB) before an official go-live. The board stated (in relation to casinos and sports betting) that it is in no hurry and want to ensure things are working 100% correctly before they give approvals.
That said, some of the popular PA poker sites may be available before the end of 2020.
Here’s what we know about each of the Pennsylvania online poker sites:
POKERSTARS PA – $30 FREE WITH $20 DEPOSIT OR 100% MATCH UP TO $600 BONUS!
Its partnership is with Mount Airy Resort and Casino, where you can use the casino cage for deposits and withdrawals. PokerStars offers the best software of any online poker room, which includes apps and a downloadable desktop client. Innovations, including Zoom Poker, Spin and Go’s and progressive knockout tournaments, will come with this new platform.
Join PokerStars here, and choose from one of two welcome bonuses: Get $30 free play with a $20 deposit, or alternatively a 100% up to $600 deposit bonus.
NOT YET LIVE, BUT EXPECTED TO LAUNCH
WSOP.com / 888 Poker: This brand uses the 888 Poker software along with the World Series of Poker branding. WSOP will partner with Harrah’s to bring a mix of tournaments and cash games to Pennsylvania. Unlike New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware, the player pools will not be shared. WSOP.com PA will be a stand-alone poker site and for use within state lines only. In Nevada, WSOP host online WSOP bracelet events. These are not expected in PA, though there should be plenty of qualifier games ready for the next series.
Party Poker PA: The “original” poker site is also active in New Jersey. In Pennsylvania, it will partner with the Valley Forge. You’ll be able to deposit via the casino cage there (as well as using electronic methods). Party is famous for its easy games. New and recreational players receive priority to promotions and the novel formats. In other states, players are pooled between separate brands, which work on the Party software. So far, there will only be a single poker site in PA.
Other poker room partnerships in PA which have been announced include Parx Casino with GAN. This will be a new platform, though the popularity of the live poker room at Parx should ensure that it gets plenty of traffic.
Another new platform will be through the Rush Street Interactive platform, which is operational for casino and sports betting (via SugarHouse and Rivers Casino), though poker will be new. Finally, there is a proposed poker partnership between Hollywood Casino and IGT.
NJ ONLINE POKER
888 NJ Online Poker Room
888 Poker features free and real money games in NJ
While New Jersey was not the first state to launch online poker for real money, it was the first state with a large enough population to ensure numerous players in the games.
Following successful launches in Nevada and Delaware, 888 was among the first wave of NJ poker rooms. By the end of 2013, the competition was heating up. PokerStars then joined the fray late, after making a deal with the Department of Justice.
While PokerStars is the most influential single NJ online poker site, there are more players at the WSOP and 888 sites combined. Those sites share players from sites in Nevada and Delaware.
Another shared network includes partypoker, Borgata Poker and BetMGM. These brands only share players in New Jersey. After this list, the other poker sites are too small to host more than a table or two at any one time.
More detail on the biggest poker sites in NJ:
888 Poker / WSOP.com: Experience in Nevada and Delaware meant that 888 was able to get up and running quickly in New Jersey. These poker rooms partner with Caesars Casino Atlantic City. Players share a common back end, which includes players logging on from WSOP.com in Nevada and three Delaware poker sites, too. You’ll get $20 free at either of these poker sites, plus a wide range of player promotions and specials.
PokerStars: This site started later than the others, in 2016. It grew fast and now has a 38% market share. PokerStars partnered with Resorts Casino, where you can deposit via the casino cage. Using amazing software and events like the New Jersey Series of Online Poker helped catapult this brand over its longer-running rivals. New players get a choice of either two welcome bonuses: Either $30 free play on $20 or a 100% deposit bonus up to $600 when you join using the link below.
Partypoker, Borgata Poker and BetMGM: Before the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in 2006, partypoker was the most prominent poker site in the US. It returned in 2013, in partnership with Borgata Casino. The software might have changed, though this is still a popular site for recreational and amateur players. Borgata Poker and BetMGM combine players with partypoker within New Jersey. You can get a generous combination of a $25 no-deposit bonus and a $1,000 matched deposit to your first deposit at partypoker NJ.
Pala Poker also welcomes NJ players. Unfortunately, this site never got much traction, and games rarely run there.
Traffic at the more prominent sites will peak at around 250 cash-game players, and several times more at poker tournaments. While this is enough for the NJ online poker rooms to be able to offer lower- to mid-stakes games, it is not sufficient traffic for high stakes or too many poker variations. If you enjoy Texas Hold ’em at $1/$2 and below, you’ll be able to find plenty of action.
Tournaments feature a lot of smaller guaranteed pools throughout the week. The Sunday Major events have prize pools of around $100,000. There are events, including WSOP qualifiers and the New Jersey championship, that offer higher guarantees. You’ll find some innovative formats for tournaments, which include the popular progressive knockout tournaments, where your bounty increases the more players you knock out.
The major poker rooms in NJ are available via poker apps for Android or Apple mobile devices. For the best experience (especially if you play multiple tables), you can also download a desktop client for Windows or Mac computers.
NEVADA ONLINE POKER SITES
WSOP NV Poker Site
WSOP.com is open to Nevada
There was a lot of excitement in 2012 when the first poker rooms went live in Nevada.
Before then, only tiny Delaware had online poker, which was limited by the population size. Nevada saw the first WSOP-branded poker room, which uses the popular 888 Poker software.
Initially, there were two competing online poker rooms in Nevada. Ultimate Poker did not last, failing to gain traction and closing in 2014. There is a new poker site in Nevada in the form of real money online poker that South Point Casino owns. It has yet to gain any traction, and so it is not a viable option if you are looking for action.
WSOP, 888 AND CAESARS ENTERTAINMENT
WSOP.com is a partnership with Caesars Entertainment. It runs the World Series of Poker and has successfully moved bracelet events online. These games feature part of the WSOP events, which run from May to early July each year.
At 3 million, Nevada does not have a significant population. It does benefit from a lot of visitors. You only need to be within state lines to enjoy poker at WSOP.com NV, with no requirement to be a permanent resident.
In 2016, player pools were combined with the 888/WSOP-powered poker sites in Delaware and New Jersey. This merger created the single biggest US-wide site. If legal clarification on the Wire Act moves forward, WSOP.com is in a great position to add other states quickly to its player pool.
While the traffic is not high, there is no shortage of features at the WSOP.com Nevada online poker room. You’ll be able to enjoy cash games, tournaments and sit and go’s along with innovations, including Blast! sit and go’s, which have random prize pools that are only revealed after the game begins.
As you might expect, there are a lot of qualifier tournaments for the World Series of Poker at this site. New players get a 100% bonus matched to their first deposit at this site.
STATE POKER SITES: WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?
Best real money poker sites
How to choose a legal online poker site
To the untrained eye, all the online poker USA sites look similar.
They all offer cash games, tournaments and a few novelty games. They all have comparable welcome bonuses, often mixing free play with big deposit offers.
When you get into the details, there are some essential differences. Aside from the different software, apps and promotions, here are the things that set the sites apart from each other:
Partner Casinos: Every legal US poker site has to be licensed in your state and by partnering brick-and-mortar casino. These vary, depending on the state. For example, PokerStars work with Resorts Casino in NJ, and Mount Airy Casino in PA.
Pooled Players: These work in two ways. Some combine players at two or more sites within a state. For example, you’ll play at the same tables via partypoker, Borgata Poker or BetMGM in New Jersey. Some brands also pool players across state lines. WSOP.com combines players from New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware, along with those playing at 888 NJ. WSOP has created the single biggest player pool in the US.
Events and Specials: Tournament events are big news in the poker world. These allow for bigger buy-ins, bigger guaranteed prize pools and promotions like event-long leaderboards. Examples include the bracelet events at WSOP.com NV and the Championship of Online Poker event at PokerStars NJ. As the sites come into more states, expect these events to become even bigger.
Games: Smaller player pools mean it is only possible to run the most popular formats for now. As online poker grows, or further states can pool their players, we can expect today’s Texas Hold’em and Omaha to expand into stud, draw and even mixed games.
How Easy: Poker is a game of relative skill levels. To win, you need to consistently play with people who are not as good as you. In Nevada, there is only one viable site, so making a selection of the individual tables are important. Where you do get a choice, you should be continually assessing which site(s) have the weakest player pools. Sites like PokerStars tend to attract more experienced players, while sites like partypoker (that restrict third-party software tools) tend to host more recreational players.
Outside of the regulated states, sweepstakes gambling laws allow for “real money” poker action.
Global Poker works by giving free virtual currency called “Sweeps Coins” to players that purchase play money coins.
With more states considering licensing poker, casino and sports betting online, the range of legal US poker sites will only grow in the future.
HOW DO SWEEPSTAKES POKER SITES WORK?
Global Poker uses state gambling laws that cover sweepstakes contests. It brings real money poker action to states that have yet to regulate. While this is a workaround, it is perfectly legal and is becoming popular.
Since this poker room can’t take real money deposits for gambling, it gives you free Sweeps Coins alongside the purchase of play money coins. You can use Sweeps Coins to play poker. Each hand (or tournament) is considered to be an individual sweepstakes contest.
Once you have accumulated enough Sweeps Coins, you can swap it for dollars in the cashier and withdraw them to your bank account.
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF POKER BONUSES
With the poker rooms competing to grow in the most prominent player pools, there are plenty of poker bonuses. These options range from free cash deals to matched bonuses and loyalty schemes.
Keep in mind, you should always read the terms and conditions before accepting a poker bonus. You will find some significant variations in playthrough requirements and time available to complete the wagering.