The last 5-7 years or so have been eventful for online poker players, namely those living in the United States. First there was the UIGEA, then Black Friday and now intrastate poker is becoming a reality. Between these 3 events it’s understandable if US players are confused as to what’s legal and what’s not in terms of playing online poker in America.
Here at 4Flush we understand your confusion, uncertainty and more importantly, the need to find a safe and legal poker site for US poker players. What we’ve done to help is create a list of recommend poker sites for Americans. Following that you’ll find a brief explanation of the legality of online poker in the US.
Is Online Poker in the US Illegal?
One of the most common questions we’re asked is if online poker in the US is legal or not. These players are worried that maybe they’ve already broken the law or want to know the severity if they’re caught playing online. Other players think it’s (online poker) is illegal because of the UIGEA.
However, the legality of online poker in the US is not that black and white.
Online poker is both legal and illegal. It depends on what state you live in. The government has left it up to each state to determine their own stance on gambling online (for now). So far there are 12 states that have laws in place banning online poker:
- New York
- South Dakota
The most severe would be Washington state. It’s considered a felony to gamble online within this state. That said, no one that we’re aware of has been arrested, much less prosecuted for it.
And you can still play poker online from within these states, so long as you’re willing to take the risk and you can find a poker site that will accept you as a customer. More and more poker sites are not allowing players from these states to sign-up for an account — even for play money.
Can You Explain the UIGEA?
A lot of confusion about the legality of online poker in the United States stems from the lack of understanding people have about the UIGEA. So I’ll try to give you the short version here.
In short, the UIGEA was created to prevent banks, credit unions and other financial institutions from processing transactions to and from online gambling sites. That’s it. The UIGEA has nothing to do with players or playing online poker.
Poker’s Black Friday is a good example of the UIGEA in action. These poker sites, which include PokerStars, Full Tilt, Absolute and Ultimate Bet Poker, were indicted on charges of money laundering and bank fraud. They created fake companies so that the banks would process their payments. They got caught, and in 2011 the DOJ charged them with said crimes and forced them to pay fines. Only PokerStars managed to come out “ok” from the incident.
How to Choose the Best Legal (US) Poker Site
Choosing the best legal poker site for US players is a little more difficult than, say, choosing a site for Macs, based on traffic levels or promotions.
One reason why this is, is that once the larger sites left the market, it left a big void to fill. So, a lot of sites entered the market to try to fill that void (rather, take advantage of it). Unfortunately, not all of them were/are trustworthy sites, while others didn’t have the resources (traffic, software, etc) necessary to handle the demands. As a result many sites left or closed up shop, leaving unpaid, pissed off poker players in their wake.
Another reason why finding a US poker site is difficult is the banking. Since it’s illegal for banks in the USA to process gambling transactions, poker site operators have a hard time finding and keeping processors. And once they do you still have to deal with declines, workarounds and delayed payments.
So, in short, there are just more risks to playing online poker in the US. Not all sites here are trustworthy, let alone worth playing at even if they are. And once you do find a site you still may have to jump through hoops to get money on and off the site.
That being said, you can still find a poker site to play at. You just need to be patient and do your homework.
The fastest and easiest way to research a poker site is to use 4Flush.com. We handpick the best sites, review them and relay the information to you. In fact, you can find our recommendations for US players at the top of this page. To the best of our knowledge they are the best poker sites for US players at this time. Just read the reviews and find the site that is the closest to what you’re looking for in terms of games, stakes, banking options and promotions.
I also recommend checking out forums like 2+2, PartTimePoker and Pocket 5s. If a poker site doesn’t pay, isn’t fair or in some way isn’t good for poker players, you’ll hear it there first. You can do a Google search, too.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter too much how you research sites. Just so long as you do it. It’s much easier to find the right site than it is to get your money back from a rogue one. Especially for players in a country where the legality of online poker isn’t so black and white.