Online Poker, the US and 2022

Posted:January 2022

It's now been more than a decade (2011) since Black Friday which saw the Federal Bureau of Investigation temporarily shut down Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars and Absolute Poker, whilst seizing many of their players bank accounts. Whilst Full Tilt Poker was accused by the DOJ of scamming players out of $300M+ (and acting like a Ponzi scheme), PokerStars agreed to the pay out of $1 Billion.
 
Going back even before the events of Black Friday, the legal restrictions that are still seen across most US states today stem from the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), passed into law in 2006 as part of the SAFE Port Act. It has been a law that has been the subject of many challenges and questions over the years. Sheldon Adelson (billionaire chairman of Las Vegas Sands Cooperation) was also seen to be a driving force behind the act, which comes as little surprise, given his interest in land based operations. 
 
It was these two laws that made it almost impossible for US banks to process any sort of internet poker transaction for players living in the US. Whilst the DoJ did indicate that the Wire Act only related to Sportsbetting and not poker, but not before most operators had exited the US. It's a reason to be optimistic as we look forward.
 

What options exist in US to play online Poker?

A number of states have passed legislation legalising play within their state. So for any US based player, there are options for real money game play. Currently these are the states that offer real money game play, but there are certain restrictions that exist. 
 
Nevada - one of the first states to legalise internet poker in the US. Given the reputation of Nevada, this probably comes as no surprise. They passed House Bill AB114 into law on Feb 25th 2013. This Assembly Bill  gives Nevada the permission to enter into agreements with other states to offer internet poker and other online gambling to patrons of Nevada and other participating states. This was sanctioned by the federal government.
 
New Jersey - was the second to follow, all but a day after Nevada. This was passed as part of House Bill A2578 and New Jersey is now the largest online market in the US. The bill was backed by Senator Ray Lesniak and this move was very much seen as a way of stimulating the economy in Atlantic City.
 
This online market share includes an abundance of online casinos in NJ that have also cashed in on this legislation.
 
Delaware - by comparison has a tiny population (under 1 Million) but was one of the first to legalise online poker, operated and regulated  by the Delaware Lottery. This was passed into law by HB333 which enabled a range of online gambling options to become legal in state, including full-service betting websites offering slots play and games like roulette, poker and blackjack. This is different to the likes of Nevada which specifically opened things up for Internet Poker.
 
They also entered into an interstate compact  with Nevada and New Jersey.
 
Pennsylvania - after a number of years, Act 42 was passed in 2017, which was a multi-purpose gaming bill to authorise, regulate and tax online gaming in the state. Specifically.. online fantasy contests, internet gaming websites, and online lottery games. This was a move aimed at closing the $2.2 Billion budget deficit. Act 42, in addition, authorises, regulates, and taxes the operation of land-based and internet sports wagering activities.
 
Michigan - a further 2 years passed before Michigan was the next to pass Senate Bill 991 (2019-2020 legislative session) allowing Michigan to join the list of states to be allowed to offer their residents the option to play online poker as well as the ability to create multistate online poker compacts. The  bill was backed and signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who signed a package of gambling bills in 2019 that legalized online sports betting, online gaming and online poker.
 
West Virginia - 2019 also saw West Virginia to legalise online poker, thanks to the passing of Bill HB2934 (West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act). Whilst it became legal there's been many disruptions to plans and as yet we are still to see any online poker operators opening doors within the state. West Virginias Lottery commission indicated it was "investigating the possibility of joining an interstate compact" . It looks likely that this will be the sensible next step given the 1.7m residents is likely too small to attract any sizeable online poker operators.
 
Connecticut - Governor Ned Lamont signed Connecticut’s online gaming bill into law in May 2021 (HB 6451), opening the door for online poker to be played in state or inter-state. Whilst there are no licenses granted yet, the process to obtain one does take time.

What to expect in 2022

There are a few front runners that could potentially move to offer online poker in 2022. It's very likely the few poker operators will have offerings in Connecticut in 2022. They are very likely going through the process of obtaining a license.
 
Illinois will happen but it looks unlikely this will be in 2022, however you never know. The focus there seems to be with land based casinos ahead of online gambling.
 
There have been attempts to change the gaming laws in Kentucky and there may be progress this year if they can get it through state legislature. 
 
New York has a number of bills that look to make changes to how interactive poker is offered and regulated (S.01447 and A.01668). These bills need some work however there is hope that they may make progress.

 
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