US Friendly Poker (January 2021)
Not all poker rooms currently accept US players, but thankfully there's still a handful of reliable places to choose from…
Best US friendly poker sites.
|Ignition Poker||A+||High||Weak||No License||Visit|
|SwC Poker||A||Low||Weak||No License||Visit|
|Americas Cardroom||A||High||Tricky||Cyprus Gaming Authority||Visit|
|Nitrogen Poker||B||Awful||Weak||Costa Rica||Visit|
These are the best real-money US friendly poker rooms that I've played at. I think they're the most reliable online poker sites for American players as of January 2021 I haven't listed any poker rooms I don't trust, which is why this might be a shorter list than you find at other websites.
Unregulated and regulated states
Due to some states deciding to regulate online poker over recent years, your options for playing poker online vary depending on which state you live in.
Here's a colorful map to help you out:
These states have the most freedom. From here you are free to play at "unregulated" rooms, which are currently the biggest and most popular destinations for playing poker online.
Unregulated sounds like a negative word, but in this context these rooms have the freedom to accept players from multiple states, and so therefore have much bigger player pools. Basically, if you live in one of the green states, you are in the best position for playing online poker because you have access to the busiest online poker rooms available.
The biggest rooms in operation are currently:
Note: All of the US-friendly poker rooms I recommend on this site fall in to the unregulated category. I believe they are the best options for playing poker online if you can get to them. I do not believe regulated sites offer anything better in terms of safety.
These states have limited choice. They have regulated online poker, which means they offer poker rooms that only accept players from within the same (or sometimes other regulated) states, and therefore have much lower player traffic.
Regulation sounds like a good thing, but really the primary goal for these states is to be able to profit more directly from the running of online poker. As a result you can only play at the regulated sites (usually), and so you have a much more limited choice in where you can play poker online. For example, these are your options in each of the regulated states:
- Delaware (since 2012): WSOP/888
- Nevada (since 2013): WSOP NV
- New Jersey (since 2013): WSOP/888, PokerStars NJ, Party/Borgata/BetMGM
- Pennsylvania (since 2017): PokerStars PA
- West Virgina (since 2019): (none yet)
- Michigan (since 2019): (none yet)
Ideally it would be good if the whole of the US could pool together at some point, but as it stands the small number of individually regulated states means that you end up playing against a much smaller pool of players than you would otherwise be able to.
Unfortunately the biggest US-friendly online poker rooms tend to avoid accepting players from states with active regulated poker rooms.
These states are in a tricky spot. They do not have regulated online poker rooms yet, but for certain reasons some unregulated sites have chosen not to accept players from these states either.
This is usually because these states either have strong laws against playing poker online (e.g. Washington), or because there's some significant gambling organization already operating in the state (e.g. several state licensed casinos in Maryland). Either way, some unregulated sites feel these states are too risky to open up to, or don't want to step on anyone's toes.
Nonetheless, there are still some decent online poker rooms that accept players from these states:
These rooms are bitcoin-only and are much smaller than the biggest rooms, but they're still worth playing at.
Is it legal to play online poker in the US?
I'm a better poker player than I am a lawyer. So I wouldn't want you to completely trust everything I say on this topic. However, I've been involved with online poker for years, so I'm just going to give you my opinion on playing poker on the the Internet in the US anyway.
Aside from a few states (see below), it appears to be perfectly legal to play online poker for real money in the US. Thousands of American players play online poker for real money every week. No players have ever been arrested.
If online poker is was illegal, the online poker rooms would not be accepting US players. US-facing rooms are vigilant about staying on top of the law. So unless the poker rooms prevents you from creating an account, you are good to go.
It is safe to play online poker in most US states, which is why we have these US friendly poker rooms. If you would like further reassurance from a legal expert in this area, read this article by I. Nelson Rose.
Here's a reassuring quote for you:
You are not going to go to jail for merely playing poker online. It is not a federal crime to make a bet. Half the states do have ancient laws on the books making it a crime, sometimes, to make a bet. But these are never enforced. I have been unable to find anyone who has been charged, let alone convicted, for playing Internet poker. – I. Nelson Rose (Is it safe to play poker online?)
And here's a couple more reassuring quotes from Micheal Bluejay:
No American has ever been arrested, indicted, or prosecuted by the feds for gambling online, because you can't break a non-existent law. – Michael Bluejay (Is online gambling legal in the U.S.?)
Even in states where online gambling is illegal, prosecution is rare and penalties are usually slight. – Michael Bluejay (Penalties for online gambling, state by state)
The UIGEA (2006)
The UIGEA was passed in September 2006. It stands for the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, and it was attached to the SAFE Port Act. Official details can be found between 31 USC § 5361 and 31 USC § 5367.
Contrary to what some people believe, this did not make online poker illegal. It simply made it a little more difficult to process transactions to and from online poker rooms and online casinos. It does not make the act of playing poker online for real money illegal, so it's not aimed at you.
Black Friday (2011)
On Friday 15th April 2011, the FBI seized the domains of the top 4 US-facing online poker rooms. This is known in the industry as Black Friday. The 4 main affected sites were:
These poker rooms were indicted for apparent bank fraud offenses, although it definitely appeared to just be an attempt to reduce the number of online poker sites that could cater to US citizens. You can't let that kind of money go untaxed, so best to slow the issue down until the Government can think of a solution for getting a slice of the action.
This did nothing to change the legality of online poker -- it simply resulted in these poker rooms no longer accepting or offering real money play to US poker players. This was the biggest change in online poker for US players since the UIGEA came in to effect in September 2006.
The major US poker sites were kicked out, leaving behind a handful of smaller US-facing rooms to soak up the remaining poker players.
US online poker law by state.
Each state has its own laws when it comes to gambling online. Here's a quick overview on playing online poker in the US by state.
States that have big problems with online poker.
These states have explicitly stated that online poker is a felony. Some online poker rooms that accept US players have restricted access to players in these states.
States that have issues with online poker.
- New York
- South Dakota
These states have issues with online poker and online gambling, but it's a bit of a grey area. It may be the case that there are some sort of laws in place, but they are not heavily enforced. I'm sure that there are many people in these states playing online poker on a regular basis, but there must be some element of risk.
As you may have spotted, I'm not a lawyer, so it's definitely in your best interest to do a bit of research for these particular states. This state by state gambling law summary has a lot of helpful information, so check that out.
States that have regulated online poker.
- New Jersey
- West Virginia
These states are beginning to allow regulated online poker through online gambling companies that have acquired permits.
It's early days though, so it's nothing to get excited about. Expect it to be a while before this regulated state-by-state poker situation gains traction and is a worth getting involved in as a serious poker player.
States that seem okay.
- All the rest
As far as I'm aware, the states in white do not seem to have any problems or issues with online poker. You'd obviously want to do a bit of checking around first to be sure, but unless you find anything blindingly obvious on the Internet you're probably fine.
For even more information on the current laws in each individual state (and general thoughts on the risks in each one), have a look at my friend's site: pokerlaws.org/united-states/. He writes more about it than I do, and is also a lot more American than I am.
Why aren't all poker rooms US friendly?
In short, it's easier for some rooms to operate by not accepting any US players at all. The UIGEA has made processing deposits and withdrawals trickier, so some rooms prefer to stick with non-US players to make their life easier.
Poker companies have limited resources, so some have decided to focus on developing their product and servicing players rather than constantly dealing with difficult payment processing. Other's are happy to put up with the effort. Different poker rooms, different plans and ideas.
There are a lot of poker players outside the US, so some have just decided to focus their attention on other markets.
Best US poker deposit methods.
Although deposit and withdrawal options are slightly limited for US players, it is still easy to add funds and withdraw money from your online poker account. Some of the more popular deposit options for US players include:
- Bitcoin - This is the most utterly restriction-free way to send money across the Internet. You just have to be prepared to put up with the volatility of a fledgling currency. Having said that, I think it's amazing.
- Credit Card - The success rate of this method varies greatly from room to room. It's hit and miss, but worth a shot. VISA cards have the highest success rate.
Different poker rooms will have different deposit and withdrawal methods on offer for you, so don't expect to find the exact same methods everywhere. The poker room will let you know your options in the cashier, so your best bet is to just sign up and see what they've got. They'll usually highlight options for US players.
Note: Don't be surprised to have to pay fees for these methods, and higher ones than players outside of the US might be paying. They're not terriby large, but they're noticeable. If you make a deposit/withdrawal without paying a fee, consider it a bonus.
Other useful links.
As I say, I'm not a lawyer (not yet anyway), so I don't have all the answers. Here are a few helpful pages with more in-depth information:
Go back to the Texas Hold'em rooms.