Things are changing fast for online poker.
There are four states that have regulated games — Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania – plus legal, sweepstakes poker games in other areas. While the boom of 10 years ago is over, online poker for real money in the US is on the rise again.
This is a detailed guide to legal poker sites in the United States. We’ll provide you with information on the current legislative landscape, the best sites to play online poker and the different types of poker bonuses.
Best Online Poker Sites in 2020
Free poker vs. real money poker
As soon as real money is at stake, the game of poker transforms.
Play money poker involves seeing a flop, hitting hands and never folding when there is even a shot at winning the pot. With no incentive to fold or think strategically, it provides light entertainment at best.
Once real cash is involved, poker changes into a mental battle. Playing every hand and trying to hit, will quickly become a losing strategy.
Conversely, playing too few hands becomes predictable and easy to exploit. You’ll need to play a position, work out what your opponents’ bets mean and understand math concepts like odds and equity.
You can play online poker games for real money or for free. I can assure you that once you try for real money, free games will quickly lose its appeal. The beauty of real money poker is that you’ll never stop learning.
Even the biggest stars of the game are working on their strategy; poker takes five minutes to learn and a lifetime to master.
Is online poker legal in the US?
Poker has a long tradition in the US, from boom to bust. There is a new era in real money USA poker games as individual states license and regulate the games.
So far, there are four legal states for real money online poker: Nevada, Delaware, Pennsylvania (where sites have entered a testing phase on November 4, according to the PGCB) and New Jersey. These states require that a brick-and-mortar casino licenses the poker sites.
Three states share players – Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey — at 888 and WSOP online poker rooms. Players from all three states will meet at the tables, which allows for bigger tournaments (many with large, guaranteed prizepools) and a more extensive selection of cash games.
Pennsylvania online poker sites
Online gambling is already up and running in Pennsylvania in the form of PA sportsbooks, casinos and lottery games, but PA online poker is the latest to join the party. On Nov. 4, PokerStars began a soft launch phase that completed two days later. It is now fully operational, and more operators are expected to follow shortly, including WSOP and partypoker.
It has been more than two years since the omnibus gambling expansion was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in October 2017. This legislation made online poker in PA legal, along with online sportsbooks and casino games. Therefore, licenses for sites will be available to PA brick-and-mortar casinos.
In Pennsylvania, you’ll be able to play cash games and tournaments against other players through player pools; however, not with players from other regulated states.
Poker is already successful in states with smaller populations than Pennsylvania. The bigger pool of players will likely mean more choice, bigger tournament guarantees and more generous promotions compared to New Jersey and Nevada.
Seven casinos have Pennsylvania online poker licenses. Of these, several have announced partnerships with the major brands active in other states. Here are the known partnerships:
- Mount Airy Casino: PokerStars
- SugarHouse Casino: Rush Street Interactive
- Hollywood Casino: IGT
- Harrah’s Casino: 888 (WSOP-branded)
- Parx Casino and Racetrack: GAN/custom platform
- Valley Forge: partypoker
- Wind Creek: TBD
When will online poker launch in PA?
PokerStars launched online poker on Nov. 4, becoming the first operator in the state.
Some sites are already in beta-testing mode but will need to get approval from the Pennsylvania Gambling Control Board (PGCB) before an official go-live. The board stated (in relation to casinos and sports betting) that it is in no hurry and want to ensure things are working 100% correctly before they give approvals.
That said, some of the popular PA poker sites may be available before the end of the year.
Here is what we know about each of the sites:
PokerStars PA (live): Its partnership is with Mount Airy Resort and Casino, where you can use the casino cage for deposits and withdrawals. PokerStars offers the best software of any online poker room, which includes apps and a downloadable desktop client. Innovations, including Zoom Poker, Spin and Go’s and progressive knockout tournaments, will come with this new platform.
WSOP.com / 888 Poker: This brand uses the 888 Poker software along with the World Series of Poker branding. WSOP will partner with Harrah’s to bring a mix of tournaments and cash games to Pennsylvania. Unlike New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware, the player pools will not be shared. WSOP.com PA will be a stand-alone poker site and for use within state lines only. In Nevada, WSOP host online WSOP bracelet events. These are not expected in PA, though there should be plenty of qualifier games ready for the next series.
Partypoker PA: The “original” poker site is also active in New Jersey. In Pennsylvania, it will partner with the Valley Forge. You’ll be able to deposit via the casino cage there (as well as using electronic methods). Party is famous for its easy games. New and recreational players receive priority to promotions and the novel formats. In other states, players are pooled between separate brands, which work on the Party software. So far, there will only be a single poker site in PA.
Other poker room partnerships in PA which have been announced include Parx Casino with GAN. This will be a new platform, though the popularity of the live poker room at Parx should ensure that it gets plenty of traffic.
Another new platform will be through the Rush Street Interactive platform, which is operational for casino and sports betting (via SugarHouse and Rivers Casino), though poker will be new. Finally, there is a proposed poker partnership between Hollywood Casino and IGT.
New Jersey online poker sites
While New Jersey was not the first state to launch online poker, it was the first state with a large enough population to ensure numerous players in the games.
Following successful launches in Nevada and Delaware, 888 was among the first wave of NJ poker rooms. By the end of 2013, the competition was heating up. PokerStars then joined the fray late, after making a deal with the Department of Justice.
While PokerStars is the most influential single NJ online poker site, there are more players at the WSOP and 888 sites combined. Those sites share players from sites in Nevada and Delaware.
Another shared network includes partypoker, Borgata Poker and BetMGM. These brands only share players in New Jersey.
After this list, the other poker sites are too small to host more than a table or two at any one time.
More detail on the biggest poker sites in NJ:
- 888 Poker / WSOP.com: Experience in Nevada and Delaware meant that 888 was able to get up and running quickly in New Jersey. These poker rooms partner with Caesars Casino Atlantic City. Players share a common back end, which includes players logging on from WSOP.com in Nevada and three Delaware poker sites, too. You’ll get $20 free at either of these poker sites, plus a wide range of player promotions and specials.
- PokerStars: This site started later than the others, in 2016. It grew fast and now has a 38% market share. PokerStars partnered with Resorts Casino, where you can deposit via the casino cage. Using amazing software and events like the New Jersey Series of Online Poker helped catapult this brand over its longer-running rivals. New players can get $20 in free play simply for registering.
- Partypoker, Borgata Poker and BetMGM: Before the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in 2006, partypoker was the most prominent poker site in the US. It returned in 2013, in partnership with Borgata Casino. The software might have changed, though this is still a popular site for recreational and amateur players. Borgata Poker and BetMGM combine players with partypoker within New Jersey. You can get a generous combination of a $25 no-deposit bonus and a $1,000 matched deposit to your first deposit at partypoker NJ.
Pala Poker also welcomes NJ players. Unfortunately, this site never got much traction, and games rarely run there.
Traffic at the more prominent sites will peak at around 250 cash-game players, and several times more at poker tournaments. While this is enough for the NJ online poker rooms to be able to offer lower- to mid-stakes games, it is not sufficient traffic for high stakes or too many poker variations. If you enjoy Texas Hold ’em at $1/$2 and below, you’ll be able to find plenty of action.
Tournaments feature a lot of smaller guaranteed pools throughout the week. The Sunday Major events have prize pools of around $100,000. There are events, including WSOP qualifiers and the New Jersey championship, that offer higher guarantees. You’ll find some innovative formats for tournaments, which include the popular progressive knockout tournaments, where your bounty increases the more players you knock out.
The major poker rooms in NJ are available via apps for Android or Apple mobile devices. For the best experience (especially if you play multiple tables), you can also download a desktop client for Windows or Mac computers.
Nevada online poker rooms
There was a lot of excitement in 2012 when the first poker rooms went live in Nevada.
Before then, only tiny Delaware had online poker, which was limited by the population size. Nevada saw the first WSOP-branded poker room, which uses the popular 888 Poker software.
Initially, there were two competing online poker rooms in Nevada. Ultimate Poker did not last, failing to gain traction and closing in 2014. There is a new poker site in Nevada in the form of real money online poker that South Point Casino owns. It has yet to gain any traction, and so it is not a viable option if you are looking for action.
WSOP, 888 and Caesars Entertainment
WSOP.com is a partnership with Caesars Entertainment. It runs the World Series of Poker and has successfully moved bracelet events online. These games feature part of the WSOP events, which run from May to early July each year.
At 3 million, Nevada does not have a significant population. It does benefit from a lot of visitors. You only need to be within state lines to enjoy poker at WSOP.com NV, with no requirement to be a permanent resident.
In 2016, player pools were combined with the 888/WSOP-powered poker sites in Delaware and New Jersey. This merger created the single biggest US-wide site. If legal clarification on the Wire Act moves forward, WSOP.com is in a great position to add other states quickly to its player pool.
While the traffic is not high, there is no shortage of features at the WSOP.com Nevada online poker room. You’ll be able to enjoy cash games, tournaments and sit and go’s along with innovations, including Blast! sit and go’s, which have random prize pools that are only revealed after the game begins.
As you might expect, there are a lot of qualifier tournaments for the World Series of Poker at this site. New players get a 100% bonus matched to their first deposit at this site.
State poker sites: What are the differences?
To the untrained eye, all the legal US online poker sites look similar.
They all offer cash games, tournaments and a few novelty games. They all have comparable welcome bonuses, often mixing free play with big deposit offers.
When you get into the details, there are some essential differences. Aside from the different software, apps and promotions, here are the things that set the sites apart from each other:
- Partner Casinos: Each regulated poker room needs a license holding partner from a brick-and-mortar casino. These vary, depending on the state. For example, PokerStars work with Resorts Casino in NJ, and Mount Airy Casino in PA.
- Pooled Players: These work in two ways. Some combine players at two or more sites within a state. For example, you’ll play at the same tables via partypoker, Borgata Poker or BetMGM in New Jersey. Some brands also pool players across state lines. WSOP.com combines players from New Jersey, Nevada and Deleware, along with those playing at 888 NJ. WSOP has created the single biggest player pool in the US.
- Events and Specials: Tournament events are big news in the poker world. These allow for bigger buy-ins, bigger guaranteed prize pools and promotions like event-long leaderboards. Examples include the bracelet events at WSOP.com NV and the Championship of Online Poker event at PokerStars NJ. As the sites come into more states, expect these events to become even bigger.
- Games: Smaller player pools mean it is only possible to run the most popular formats for now. As online poker grows, or further states can pool their players, we can expect today’s Texas Hold’em and Omaha to expand into stud, draw and even mixed games.
- How Easy: Poker is a game of relative skill levels. To win, you need to consistently play with people who are not as good as you. In Nevada, there is only one viable site, so making a selection of the individual tables are important. Where you do get a choice, you should be continually assessing which site(s) have the weakest player pools. Sites like PokerStars tend to attract more experienced players, while sites like partypoker (that restrict third-party software tools) tend to host more recreational players.
Outside of the regulated states, sweepstakes gambling laws allow for “real money” poker action.
Global Poker works by giving free virtual currency called “Sweeps Coins” to players that purchase play money coins.
With more states considering licensing poker, casino and sports betting online, the range of legal US poker sites will only grow in the future.
How do sweepstakes poker sites work?
Global Poker uses state gambling laws that cover sweepstakes contests. It brings real money poker action to states that have yet to regulate. While this is a workaround, it is perfectly legal and is becoming popular.
Since this poker room can’t take real money deposits for gambling, it gives you free Sweeps Coins alongside the purchase of play money coins. You can use Sweeps Coins to play poker. Each hand (or tournament) is considered to be an individual sweepstakes contest.
Once you have accumulated enough Sweeps Coins, you can swap it for dollars in the cashier and withdraw them to your bank account.
Taking advantage of poker bonuses
With the poker rooms competing to grow in the most prominent player pools, there are plenty of poker bonuses. These options range from free cash deals to matched bonuses and loyalty schemes.
Keep in mind, you should always read the terms and conditions before accepting a poker bonus. You will find some significant variations in playthrough requirements and time available to complete the wagering.
You’ll see the most common types of poker bonuses to take advantage of in this list:
- No deposit bonuses: Some poker sites offer you a small amount of free cash to try out their real money games. This bonus is only for new accounts and gives you up to $30 for play. You’ll need to wager this several times before you can withdraw it. If you are good enough, you might be able to build a bankroll without needing to deposit at all.
- Matched welcome bonus: This is the industry standard bonus offer. Most sites give you a 100% matched bonus on your first deposit of up to $500. You’ll need to earn points from playing real money games and tournaments, which will incrementally clear your bonus.
- Free tournament entries: New depositors often get entries into free tournaments with guaranteed prizepools. Some poker rooms run these freerolls regularly.
- Loyalty bonus schemes: With loyalty schemes, you collect points while playing. These can move you up tiers or it can be a flat rate. You can cash in points for bonuses or tournament entries.
- Reload bonuses: If you ever deplete your poker bankroll, reload bonuses can help. These work in the same way as the welcome bonus offer, though sometimes have lower percentage matches.
- One-off promotions: What separates the good from the great poker rooms is the promos. Look for sites that look after their players with plenty of offers. These can include satellite qualifiers to the biggest live events.
Remember, you are not restricted to a single poker room. To get the best offers, it can pay to be selective, shifting your money around to take advantage of the best deals.
Which US poker sites offer real money poker apps?
Several of the state-regulated poker sites offer mobile poker apps alongside their desktop-software client. These apps allow for limited access, as it is hard to multi-table on a small screen.
If you do want to enjoy poker on the move, here are the best real money poker sites in New Jersey and Nevada:
- 888 Poker, WSOP-branded sites in Nevada and New Jersey
- PokerStars NJ
- Partypoker, Borgata Poker NJ
- Pala Poker NJ
How to deposit at a real money US poker site?
To enjoy real money poker, you’ll need to get that initial bankroll on board.
When you choose legal, regulated poker rooms, a lot of options open up for you. By sticking to the best-known brands, you can be sure your funds are secure.
The easiest option is merely to use your regular debit or credit card. Making a poker deposit works precisely the same as making any purchase online. Inside the regulated states, nearly all banks will approve these transactions.
If you prefer it, you can buy prepaid debit cards, or for some sites, you can apply for a branded debit card for their license-holding casino that guarantees fast deposits and withdrawals from then on.
Another set of deposit options using your bank account includes e-checks, bill pay or wire transfers. The combination that is accepted will depend on which state-regulated online poker real money USA site you are playing.
With e-checks, a third party (usually a company called VIP Preferred) will verify you, allowing for instant transfers.
Bill pay works with a list of banks provided by each site. You follow the same process as for paying a utility bill. Wires are slower, though still have a place for large deposits.
Third-party-wallet services are perfect for poker fans that prefer to keep their banking separate from their gambling.
The best-known service is PayPal, though you will find Skrill and Neteller welcomed by poker rooms, too. While there is a small downside in terms of fees, the additional security these wallets provide makes them popular choices.
If the electronic options are not for you, you’ll be able to deposit with cash. Again, this does depend on which poker site you choose. Options include taking cash to the casino cage or using PayNearMe, which is available at 7-Eleven stores.
Software options at real money poker sites
Most poker rooms provide a few ways to access their games:
A full download: This is the ideal method if you are playing from a desktop computer or laptop. Once you download the software package, you get full functionality and smooth gaming (there is no need to initialize the games from scratch each time). Downloads are generally available for Windows and Apple computers.
Poker apps: The biggest brands, like 888 and PokerStars, have online poker apps. These offer a limited number of games you can enjoy on the go. It is hard to multi-table using an app, so expect a single-game format. Android poker apps are not available via the Google Play store; you’ll need to get those direct from the poker site.
Instant play: This is the least popular way of accessing the software. Sites allow form-limited gaming action in your web browser. These games will respond to your screen size, though they are not suitable for the smallest (smartphone) screens.
While the branding of each site is unique, there are some commonalities when it comes to getting around.
Sites split the major poker variations with cash games, tournaments and Sit ‘n Gos (SNG) at the top level of their navigation.
Once you access each area, you’ll find tabs or checkboxes that will help you narrow your search. This can be by buy-in level, table size or speed. Tournaments have further navigation to separate qualifiers and major events.
What separates the good from the great is the small software features. Smooth gaming, resizable tables and easy options to top up your stack make for a far better experience. PokerStars is considered by poker players to have the best software client. I also like the interface at the 888 Poker/WSOP brands.
Poker variations available
Traditionally, there are four types of poker you can play online with cash. Note that these are broad categories, each of which contains multiple poker game variants, speeds and small table size/rules/betting format changes.
No Limit Texas Hold ’em dominates the real cash poker scene. At least 80% of the action is in this format. Omaha follows, with the popularity of Pot Limit Omaha, Pot Limit Omaha 8 and Omaha 8 variants growing. Other forms, including stud and draw poker, are tiny by comparison.
The 4 main poker variations you can play online:
- Cash games: This is the traditional poker format, where the chips you play with have a direct monetary value. You’ll find full-ring and six-max games to be the most popular, though you can find other table sizes. You can find most of the cash game action at the micro stakes ($25 buy-in and under).
- Poker tournaments: This format has the most rule, structure variations. The basis is that you buy in for a pile of chips and play until one player has them all. The bet sizes increase to ensure action. Usually, 10% of the field are paid, with the biggest prize going to the winner.
- SNGs: While poker tournaments have big fields and scheduled start times, SNGs have a fixed size and start when all the seats are full. The basic format is one (nine-seat) table. Three players get paid in this format. Lottery SNGs, which are three-handed games with randomly selected prizepools up to 10,000x your buy-in, are now popular, too.
- Fast Fold Poker: This variation crosses cash game and tournament formats. Instead of sitting at a table, players are in pools. Each hand sees six to nine players combined from each pool (which is by buy-in). When you fold, you go straight to a hand with new players from your pool. This format requires a lot of players and is not widely available at the regulated US sites just yet.
A big appeal of the online poker real money USA sites is the range of buy-ins available. You can enjoy cash games where the blinds are pennies (as little as 1c / 2c or 2c / 5c). That means you can buy-in for a full stack for just $2. Most of the action is in the 5c / 10c to $1 / $2 blinds range. There are bigger buy-in games – especially at the 888/WSOP or PokerStars NJ.
You can join tournaments for $1 or less. The biggest weekly games take place online on Sundays, with guarantees of up to $100 available. Bigger real money poker rooms have special events, for example, the New Jersey Spring Championship of Online Poker, aka NJSCOOP, which features a week or more of significant guaranteed events.
How to cash out quickly
If you win a tournament or accumulate money in the cash games, you’ll need to get your money safely out of the poker rooms.
As a rule of thumb, the sites will ask you to use the same method you initially deposited with to return your money. This will not always be possible, in which case, an alternative (for example a paper check) is an option.
You can withdraw quickly using the e-wallet services like PayPal, Skrill or Neteller. If you are verified, then an ACH transfer will also send the funds to you quickly. Alternatives include paper checks, which they can send to your home.
All poker rooms will take a day or two to verify your withdrawal request. You will also need to have completed the ID verification process before you can withdraw.
Are poker sites safe? Are the deals fair?
If you have been around online poker for long, you are sure to have come across at least one player who is convinced that “online poker is rigged.” The fact is that billions of hands have been dealt, and tracking services (including individual player databases) have uncovered zero anomalies with the deal.
Add to this the requirement for regulated, legal sites to have their Random Number Generator software audited. You can feel 100% certain that you are getting a fair deal.
Safety and security of your deposit can depend on individual sites. With some of the biggest and most reputable global brands providing the technology for US poker rooms, I have absolutely no concerns in this area.
You can take simple security measures, for example, by not playing on shared machines, and making sure that the https header is showing on the poker site’s homepage.
Understanding KYC requirements at USA real money poker sites
Many players are happy to join a legitimate, regulated, legal USA poker room and then are surprised when it asks for backup documentation.
ID checks are part of a process of keeping online poker clean. Money laundering and fraud on any scale would mean online poker simply could not happen. Everyone has a role to play, and providing backup documents is a vital part of this process.
These legal poker websites will ask for proof of ID, proof of address and backups for your deposit method. Examples include a photo of the front of your credit card. You are welcome to black out all but the last four numbers if you prefer.
Know Your Customer, aka KYC, also helps prevent underage gambling, which is a critical component of responsible gaming. Other parts of this include links to help organizations, and the ability to self-exclude from a poker site.
Wrap up of online poker in 2020
Poker has come a long way since the dark days of 2011 when the Department of Justice chased away the remaining global giants. Four states have legal online poker (with Pennsylvania about to go live).
Also, sweepstakes poker is available in many more states under existing laws. Better still, there is a growing list of additional states considering their regulation.
You can take advantage of bonus offers which range from entirely free cash to matched offers and free tournament entries. Once you join, you’ll find a lot of action focused on Texas Hold ’em and covering many poker formats.
As the player pools grow between the states, the choice of game, size of the tournaments and number of niche variations can only get better.