Legal Perspective: You’re (Probably) Breaking the Law Playing Online Poker in the USA

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There is not, in fact, one weird trick to having the government pay your mortgage; there is no one vegetable all gut doctors recommend be eaten daily; and there is most certainly not some prescient fail-safe stock insight from the lone man who predicted the Great Recession, the collapse of the USSR, and Appalachian State’s upset of Michigan.

Nor, for that matter, is there one weird trick that makes the online poker games raided by the Department of Justice in 2011 magically legal today.

With COVID-19 came the closure of every licensed live poker room in the United States.

Some are now flirting with reopening, and while this is surely not an apt forum for the dispensation of medical advice, such setups strike many as unduly risky, while their shorthanded layouts strike others as strategically unpalatable.

Thus, online poker has experienced a marked and rapid renaissance, with nascent mobile poker apps enjoying surges in traffic, offshore websites becoming predictable topics du jour for Poker Twitter, and even the World Series of Poker – our community’s mainstay summer camp destination forced into sabbatical – upping its online offerings.

Yet few of these options are actually legal, let alone reasonably protected from illicit mischief. And for many, those scarce lawful outposts are beyond the reach of respective state lines.

The Clearly Legal Options
Let’s start, though, with safe havens:,, and other licensed poker sites in Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware are safe, regulated, secure gaming outlets.

Do we all periodically bemoan their mishaps? Sure. Is the pro-to-rec player ratio often undesirable? Absolutely. But chasing a Circuit ring online is lawful and generally secure.

A few other operators in the United States do tow the legal line.

This column is not an endorsement of any site or group of sites, but suffice it to posit at least one big-name poker operator has a domestic operation riffing off various states’ sweepstakes laws, and if that platform is available in your place of residence, you should be good to go.

It is normally easy to figure out which sites fall into this category – they tend to be the ones accepting credit cards, offering domestic mailing addresses, and inundating users with geofence checks.


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