Just as poker players can compete and win big money playing at casinos and cardrooms, the same is true of online poker, which continues to show steady growth and is creating a new generation of players.
Four states now offer legal online poker, with Pennsylvania the most recent to come on board in November 2019, joining Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey. West Virginia and Michigan have legalized online poker but not yet launched, and several other states are considering various forms of poker legislation. More licensed online poker venues mean more options for players, who no longer have to travel to a casino to find a game. Gambling.com evaluates and reviews all U.S. online poker sites and can help players determine the best sites to play.
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Gambling.com has spent years independently reviewing online poker sites around the world. We know what to look for as players seek the best possible online and mobile experience from U.S. poker sites. Among the key factors we consider:
Safety: We only recommend online poker sites that are legal, licensed and regulated by their respective states. We never recommend offshore poker sites, which are unregulated and not subject to the same level of oversight, if any.
User experience: We sign up and play on these sites to determine which websites and mobile poker apps offer the best overall feel, speed and ease of navigation.
Bonuses: New players can expect a selection of welcome and promotional sign-up bonuses. We read the fine print because bonuses have specific terms and conditions that make some more lucrative or restrictive than others.
Game selection: No-Limit Texas Hold’em is the No. 1 game of choice for online (and land-based) players. What other games does each site offer? What is the average number of players available at each site? And some sites may offer more poker tournaments and fewer cash games than you prefer, or vice versa.
Playing online poker for real money is legal and available in four states: Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Three of the four – Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey – are part of a multi-state compact, which allows them to share players, thus increasing player liquidity. New Jersey offers the most legal online poker sites.
A breakdown of each state:
888 is the single provider for online poker in Delaware online casonos. Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway each offer online poker, but 888 powers all of the platforms and Delaware players are all part of the same online poker network.
WSOP.com is by far the major player among Nevada poker sites, with a huge selection of online cash games and tournament play, as well as satellite events in which players can earn entry into the World Series of Poker main event.
There are seven online poker sites in New Jersey that operate over four networks. 888 and WSOP share one network, share players from Delaware and Nevada, and is generally the state’s most trafficked site. BetMGM, Borgata and PartyPoker also share a network. PokerStars and Pala Poker each have their own network of players, with PokerStars generally the second-most trafficked site in the state. You can check these online NJ sites out bu clicking on the name below:
PokerStars in November 2019 became the first online poker site to launch in Pennsylvania, with its software considered the best in the industry. PokerStars is partnered with Mount Airy Resort and Casino. Other PA partnerships have already been announced, including WSOP/888 with Harrah’s Philadelphia; and PartyPoker with Valley Forge Casino, which both could go live later in 2020. Several other casinos have licenses to launch online poker sites in PA, including Parx, Hollywood and Rivers.
Online and land-based poker share the same rules, but each requires a slightly different strategy.
In land-based games, poker players can develop skills to read opponents, either through a form of body language or their reaction to cards. In online poker, no players are physically present, so there are no “tells” to discover. Instead, players must judge others at the table by their betting patterns.
Another significant difference is pace of play. Online poker is a faster game – estimated as three times as fast as land-based games – with no shuffling and less time to make decisions.
Depending on the number of players available, you are likely to find better game selection at online sites. It’s easy to find Texas Hold’em games and usually Pot Limit Omaha. The most trafficked online sites are likely to include more poker variants, such as 7-Card Stud and Razz.
Another difference: Experienced online players often play at multiple tables at once. That’s hard to do in land-based poker, where players can only physically sit at one table at a time.
Of course, some players prefer the social experience of land-based poker. There is interaction between players, you can sit at the same table as friends or make new ones. Online poker is a more solitary experience.
Playing online poker has its share of advantages. Among them:
Convenience: There is no casino or cardroom to drive to. You can log onto your online poker account and play any time, any day.
Lower stakes: In addition to more tables available, many online poker games can be played with low minimums bets, sometimes as low as pennies. That’s especially helpful for players just learning the game.
Less intimidating: Many players simply find it more comfortable to play online, where there is no judgment or criticism from other players. It also allows players to experiment with different strategies without having to offer explanations.
Table selection: There is less waiting for a table when playing online. Often, there are dozens of seats available, each with different stakes and buy-in levels.
Bonus offers: Online poker sites offer new players a range of sign-up bonuses, including deposit match bonus offers, that are not available to retail players.
Social distance: Social media is popular, but some players prefer to play online without distractions or social interaction.
All online poker sites allow players to compete for free and not for real money. There is no registration necessary for many of the games, which allow players to learn the rules and hone their skills before risking their own funds. It’s also a good way to learn poker variants (other than Texas Hold’em), with games available on both desktop and via a mobile poker app. Some sites with free games even offer prizes.
Keep in mind, however, that free games do not always offer an accurate snapshot of games played for real money. For example, players are far less likely to fold their hands in free poker since they have nothing financially to lose.
After testing software, getting a feel for the game and playing for free, the next step is to play online poker for real money.
Players should select a licensed site where online poker is legal and sign up for an account. You will need to complete the registration process and then fund your account. After that, select a table that offers betting limits of your choosing, claim the poker bonuses you are offered and you’re ready to play.
Most online poker sites offer a large selection of cash games, Sit & Go events and daily tournament play, so it’s not hard to find the format you want.
Be aware that while you can set up an account from anywhere, you must be physically located within the state lines of a regulated state to legally play online poker for money in the U.S. Online casino operators use geolocation technology to track your location.
Online poker sites make the sign-up process simple.
Select your site of choice, visit the website and you will be asked to complete a registration process to set up a real money account. Generally, you will need to provide your name, address, username, password, cell phone number and last four digits of your Social Security number to verify identity and ensure that you are of legal age (21 or older) to play. Some sites will ask for the last four digits while others will require the entire SSN.
Licensed online poker and casino sites are required to ask for this information by regulators, and all of your information will be safeguarded. If your identity does not match your Social Security number, an account cannot be created for you.
Once your account is created, you can download the site’s poker app, either from the operator’s site itself or the App Store of Google Play. After completing the registration process, the final step is to fund your account.
All online poker sites offer a range of deposit options to fund your account. Some of these same options can also be used to make withdrawals.
PayPal: The most popular e-wallet (electronic money) option. You can set up an account with a credit card or bank account and transfer money from a PayPal account to your online poker account with little or no deposit fees. Other popular e-wallet options are Neteller and Skrill. Typically, if you deposit with an e-wallet you can withdraw winnings back into that same account.
Play+: A casino-branded or poker site prepaid card with no fees. Can also be used at multiple casino sites, winnings can be withdrawn at an ATM and is a breeze to sign up for and use.
PayNearMe: An easy way to use cash to fund your account. When you click on the PayNearMe deposit option, you will be sent a barcode, which you take to a 7-Eleven, CVS Pharmacy or Family Dollar Store in your state. The barcode is scanned and your cash will be transferred to your online poker account.
E-checks/bank transfer/wire transfer: A connection is made between a player’s online poker account and checking account, either directly or through a third party.
Credit/debit cards: The most popular deposit method, with Visa and Mastercard the most widely accepted options. Funds are deposited instantly. Be aware that some credit cards companies still may reject legal gambling deposit requests, and others treat these transactions as a cash advance and charge fees.
Online poker sites offer different types of poker bonuses to attract new players. The most common are welcome bonuses and deposit matches for new signups, and reload bonuses for existing players. It’s important to read the terms and conditions because bonus offers generally include wagering requirements that must be completed before the bonus money can be redeemed. Many online sites have offers exclusive to poker players and will require a certain amount of play to cash, and will release the funds in stages as you complete those play requirements.
No deposit bonus: A bonus paid to a new player who simply completes the registration process without having to make an initial deposit. The bonus cash is generally subject to wagering requirements before it can be cashed.
Deposit match: Make an initial deposit and your online poker operator will match that amount up to 100%. So, if you deposit $500, you are eligible receive an additional $500. Generally, the higher the deposit match, the more action required to redeem the bonus money.
Reload bonus: Offered as a way to keep existing or inactive players who may have depleted their bankroll.
Freeroll tournaments: Entry into tournaments with guaranteed prizepools with no buy-in required.
Players have the choice to download their poker software and play from anywhere using their mobile app. Or they can choose not to download and play poker on a browser, either on computer or mobile device.
Download: The best option for online poker players who will enjoy better graphics, more features and a more functional overall experience. Downloading and installing the software is free of charge and available on the website of your poker operator.
Poker apps: You can download iOS and Android poker apps from all of the major operators. The apps give you more game choices on smartphones or tablets when playing for real money. There are also several poker apps that allow you to play free poker.
No download: Some players prefer to play without downloading. You can still play on mobile devices and not downloading may help save space on your computer.
Players have several state-of-the-art mobile poker apps to choose from. Among the most popular:
PokerStars: Generally considered the most player-friendly app available. No poker app offers a larger selection of games and customized features. Offers zoom poker, which allows players to immediately jump to a new table after each hand. Available on iOS and Android.
888 and WSOP: Allows players in New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware to play against each other. Large selection of cash games and tournaments. Plenty of promotions. Official WSOP affiliate with direct-entry satellites available.
PartyPoker: Improved redesign offers new layout; a lobby that allows you to easily filter through game selection; and the ability to online chat with other players. Offers quick fold fast-forward poker (similar to zoom poker).
One challenge to playing on small mobile devices such as smartphones is multi-tabling – playing on multiple tables simultaneously – given the limited screen size.
When it comes to popularity, No-Limit Texas Hold’em sits atop every list, followed by Pot Limit Omaha and then Stud Poker. A brief look at how each is played:
Texas Hold’em: Each player is dealt two cards face down. A round of betting takes place before three community cards (face up in the middle of the table) are dealt. Another round of betting takes place before a fourth (turn) and fifth (river) card are dealt. At each stage of the game, the action only proceeds if there is more than one player in the pot. If at least two players make it to the river, the player with the best five-card hand wins the pot.
Omaha: Differs from Texas Hold’em in that players are dealt four hole cards instead of two, and must use two hole cards to complete the best five-card hand. For example, if four of the community cards were diamonds and you had only one diamond in your hand, you wouldn’t have a flush in Omaha poker. Betting rounds are similar to Texas Hold’em.
Stud: In 7-Card Stud, players are dealt two starting cards face down and then another card face up. Instead of forced antes (blinds) that move around the table clockwise, a round of stud is initiated by the ‘bring-in’ (player with the lowest value face-up card). There are no community cards in stud poker – players are dealt individual cards face up (except final card which is face down). If more than one person survives the river, the best five-card hand wins.
Draw: Unlike Texas Hold’em or Omaha, draw poker does not involve community cards. Each player is dealt five hole cards, then can call or raise to stay in the hand, or fold. Players who remain in the hand can replace any of the cards in their hand by drawing new cards from the desk. Everyone left in the hand has the option to raise, call or fold before a showdown takes place.
While online poker is regulated and legal in some states, it wasn’t always that way. In fact, before regulation, online poker was often dubbed as the “Wild West” of online gambling, with offshore-based sites often popping up and joining a marketplace with little to no oversight or scrutiny.
In October 2006, U.S. lawmakers passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), prohibiting any gambling business from “knowingly accepting payments in connection with the participation of another person in a wager that involves the use of the Internet and that is unlawful under federal or state law.’’ Several international online poker operators immediately left the U.S. market, but others remained.
On April 15, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted the three largest online poker sites (PokerStars, Full Tilt, Absolute Poker) and seized their domains, an event known in the online poker world as “Black Friday.” The shutdown was abrupt and many players lost access to all funds in their account.
In June 2011, Nevada became the first state to legalize online poker. Ultimate Poker was the initial Nevada site to launch in 2013, but would close a year later, with WSOP becoming the state’s dominant online poker operator.
Delaware approved online poker and online casino games in 2012, and New Jersey did the same in 2013. Pennsylvania became the fourth state to legalize online poker in 2017, though PokerStars, its first site, didn’t launch until two years later.
New Jersey in 2017 joined a multi-state agreement with Nevada and Delaware, allowing each state to share players. Pennsylvania has not joined the agreement, but may do so in the future. West Virginia and then Michigan passed legislation to allow online poker in 2019, with both hoping to launch in 2020.
Consider the factors that are most important to you. For example, does the site offer an adequate number of cash games and tournaments you wish to play? Does it offer the game selection you want? Does it offer games with stakes you are comfortable playing with? Are the bonuses too restrictive?
The online poker site reviews at Gambling.com are a good place to start and can help narrow your selection process.
The rules are the same, but strategies can be different. In online poker, no players are physically present, so players must adopt different betting and bluffing strategies. Online poker offers more convenience, game selection, table availability and bonus opportunities.
It’s April 15, 2011, the day the U.S. Department of Justice indicted the three largest online poker sites for U.S. players - PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker - for violating the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. Much of the online poker world was shut down, domain names were seized and hundreds of thousands of players who had online accounts were unable to retrieve their funds.
The U.S. online poker sites that are licensed and regulated by their respective state gaming agencies offer fair games. These agencies are required to rigorously test and certify all electronic equipment, ensuring that games are fair to all players.
Players can withdraw funds from their account at any time. Online poker sites generally offer multiple options, including e-wallets such as PayPal and Neteller; prepaid and Play+ cards; bank and wire transfers; and check by mail. Withdrawal times can be as little as one or two days for e-wallets; more than a week for a physical check.
As long as you are playing at a licensed and regulated online poker site in the U.S, your account is secure. Offshore-based poker sites are unregulated and not subject to the same oversight as legal U.S. sites.
You can play online poker for free at most sites. When playing for real money, the minimum deposit to fund your account is usually $10.
Yes, online poker winnings are taxed, though the rate depends on each state. New Jersey, for instance, is 3% while Pennsylvania is 3.07%. Additionally, poker sites will withhold 24% federal taxes and file a W2-G with the IRS on winnings of $5,000 or more (minus buy-in), though the actual percentage owed depends on your tax bracket.
Nearly all online poker sites offer state-of-the-art, multi-functional software. PokerStars is generally considered the industry’s premier software choice, based on customization options, game selection and graphics. Several other online sites, such as PartyPoker and 888Poker, also boast outstanding software features.
Whether you use Apple or Windows operating systems, simply go to your online poker operator’s website, click on download and then follow the prompts to install the software. It’s free, easy and fast. No other software if required.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) became law in 2006 and prohibited U.S.-based financial institutions from transacting payments with internet gambling and poker sites. That led to ‘Black Friday’ and the near shutdown of online poker at offshore sites and led lawmakers in certain states to legalize and regulate online poker. To this day, it’s a gray area whether it’s illegal in the U.S. to play online poker at an offshore site, but it’s clearly not recommended. The UIGEA blocks U.S. financial institutions from processing any transactions with offshore poker sites, making withdrawal attempts uncertain and risky.
Yes. One of the most obvious differences is currency, with some European countries using Euros and others using their own local currency. It’s recommended to convert your U.S dollars into local currency before sitting down to play. Some other differences: minimum age is 18 to play in most European casinos (21 in U.S.); and you may be asked to register with an ID or passport before being allowed entry into a European poker room. Europe has far more legalized online poker sites than the U.S., and several European countries do not tax winnings. You can’t play on European sites for money from the US.
Playing at offshore-based poker sites is never recommended. Since it’s illegal for banks to knowingly engage in financial transactions with offshore internet gambling and poker sites, withdrawals can be risky. In addition, unlicensed offshore sites can abruptly shut down, leaving players with no recourse as they are not regulated in the US.
| No. It is free to sign up for an account and download all software. You can even play online poker for free. When playing for real money, there is a “rake,” a percentage of the pot from each hand that goes to the house for operating the game.
Yes, and this is an area in which online poker is growing quickly. Online tournaments, which may require an entry fee and/or buy-in and offer guaranteed cash payouts and prizes, are offered daily. Satellite events and state championship tournaments with huge payouts are now part of the annual online calendar. For example, WSOP offers monthly online satellite events that allow players to win their way into the World Series of Poker with buy-ins for as little as $10. PokerStars hosted $1 million online championship events in New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 2019 and plans a $2 million PA tournament series in 2020.
Player liquidity is important. The more traffic and players available, the easier it is for online poker sites to operate more tables, a wider selection of games and more lucrative tournaments. Generally, players are drawn to the most trafficked sites.
No-Limit Texas Hold’em is by far the most popular poker game. Pot Limit Omaha ranks a distant second, followed by stud games such as 7-Card and Razz. Zoom Poker, in which players can jump from table to table after any hand, continues to gain popularity online.
Players can contact problem gambling support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous (gambersanonymous.org), the National Council on Problem Gambling (www.ncpgambling.org) and Gambling Therapy (www.gamblingtherapy.org). They can also self exclude from playing online poker for a period of time by clicking the responsible gaming link on their poker operator’s website. Or players can contact their state’s online gambling regulatory agency and request to join their self-exclusion program.
"A longtime reporter and editor who began writing on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened, Bill covered the world Series of Poker and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for a decade."
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