US Legal Online Poker Sites in 2021: Safety & Regulations

Posted by Veronica Taylor . Last updated:

Before you enjoy real money poker sites, you need to make sure your bankroll will be safe. While most trusted, legal online poker sites are reputable brands, avoiding the rogues should be a top priority for all players. This page covers the key factors involved in making sure you can play online poker safely and securely.

Safest US Poker Sites

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Safe Poker: Is the Deal Fair?

One of the biggest concerns online poker players have about the hobby is whether the deal is fair. When you are on the receiving end of a bad beat, it can feel like the online poker site is rigged against you.

While this is a common concern, the math does not back up the many claims. Since online poker began, there have been billions of hands dealt. Large-scale testing, player databases and tracking services are unanimous in acknowledging that the shuffle is random.

To back up their claims, the most trusted legal online poker sites regularly use independent auditing companies. Games are tested over millions of hands, and any discrepancies highlighted. Good sites have their deal checked regularly and will display certificates or links to their results. Look out for the following names:

Website Security and Safe Poker

Of all the elements which go into making online gambling safe, website security is the easiest to check. All browsers use the ‘Secure’ tag to show sites that have valid security certificates. SSL is only the start of it. You can check the ‘about us’ information at all the main rooms for information on how your personal data is held. At the time of writing, there have been no data breaches at legit, legal online poker sites for personal or payment data.

Depositing and Withdrawing Safely at Online Poker Sites

You’ll have a lot of options for depositing at real money poker sites. Which you choose will depend on your location (U.S. sites have fewer options due to banking restrictions) and your personal attitude to risk.

Credit cards and debit cards are the easiest way to deposit for both U.S. and international players. Using these is the same as shopping online – and very fast.

Alternative deposit methods that are even safer can be found below.

Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list. You will find many local options around the world, and more brands which fit into the categories above. From a safety perspective, you can choose the method which suits your attitude to risk the best.

Poker Regulations by State

Where is Poker Legal?

Where is Poker Legal?

We look at states where online poker is allowed.

Poker is currently legal to play in these states:

  • Delaware
  • Michigan
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia
Where is Poker Not Allowed?

Where is Poker Not Allowed?

We look at states where online poker isn't allowed.

Poker is currently unavailable to play in these states:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Washington, D.C.
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming
Is legalized online poker coming soon to any state?

Is legalized online poker coming soon to any state?

States where upcoming regulations could see legal poker.

While live poker is legal at tribal casinos in Connecticut, the state has poker implementation included in their two-year budget plan.

Terms and Conditions and Poker Site Safety

The mark of a good reliable poker site is that they administer their bonuses in a fair and straightforward manner. Good online poker games have clear terms and will not void bonuses for small things like playing the wrong games.

Play-through or points requirements to clear bonuses are very different across the sites. You need to ensure that an excellent bonus deal is not impossible to clear due to slow point accumulation or limited time.

Reputable brands have ongoing rewards and promotions to boost the bankroll of loyal players. If you see a big headline bonus, and no promotions, it is possible that that room is not somewhere people hang around for long.

In addition to the bonus terms, look for a responsible gaming policy. This shows how seriously the safest online poker sites take problem online gambling. The best sites have self-exclusion and deposit limits, which players can volunteer to have in place.

Customer Checks and Safe Poker Sites

Many reputable sites will ask for ID. This can happen when you make a deposit, and if not, it will always happen when you make your first withdrawal. Typical requests include a picture of your photo ID, and proof of address. Some sites also ask for a picture of both sides of your credit card (you can black out some of the numbers).

Our view on these is that they protect player funds as they do the poker sites. Without them, poker games would be the target of fraud and money laundering – making the games unsafe for regular players.

Federal Laws Related to Online Poker

There are a few key federal laws that impact online poker — the two you’ll hear referenced most often are the Wire Act and UIGEA. How do they impact online poker? Let’s take a look:

The Wire Act

The Interstate Wire Act of 1961 (often referred to as the ‘Federal Wire Act’) was created to prevent people from placing bets across state lines in the United States. Originally, this was implemented to reduce organized crime and mob involvement in sports betting.

Legitimate gaming operators have made a concentrated effort to distance themselves from organized crime in the 60 years since the ruling. Although the law doesn’t directly mention online wagering, there’s been a lot of debate about how the Wire Act relates to online poker, gaming, and betting.

The law specifically states:

  • Whoever being engaged in the business of betting or wagering knowingly uses a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest, or for the transmission of a wire communication which entitles the recipient to receive money or credit as a result of bets or wagers, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

Since the law was created, there have been new developments as to how the law interprets the relationship between online poker and the Wire Act. Until the most recent ruling involving New Hampshire, various political administrations were able to interpret the Wire Act differently, and the case had never been litigated in court.

Some Wire Act developments throughout the years include:

  • September 2011: The Department of Justice releases a legal opinion that officially concludes “interstate transmissions of wire communications that do not relate to a ‘sporting event or contest” are outside of the Act’s reach.
  • November 2018: The 2011 legal opinion is reversed. The DOJ declares the Wire Act is “not uniformly limited to gambling on sporting events or contests.”
  • January 2019: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announces DOJ will delay enforcing the 2018 opinion to allow businesses and organizations structured around the 2011 interpretation time to adjust.
  • February 2019: The New Hampshire Lottery Commission (NHLC) files a complaint with the US District Court with the DOJ and AG William Barr listed as defendants. The complaint requests the Court to vacate the previous decision.
  • June 2019: U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro issues a judgement that determines the Wire Act is limited to sports betting, which set aside the 2018 DOJ ruling.
  • August 2019: The DOJ files notice to appeal Barbadoro’s ruling.
  • January, 2020: The First Circuit court in New Hampshire Lottery Commission vs. Rosen, the most recent ruling that relates to the wire act, ruled that the most recent interpretation of the Wire Act doesn’t apply to non-sports betting. It’s also worth noting that the recent Biden administration could lead to an expanded understanding of the Wire Act.

UIGEA

The UIGEA stands for the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, passed in 2006. The law prevents poker or gaming operators from accepting transactions from illegal or unlawful betting or gambling sites. Financial institutions were forbidden from accepting transactions that related to ‘games subject to chance’.

Many sites removed themselves from the market when the act was enforced, though many returned when U.S. states began regulating online gaming. Currently, states individually regulate gambling activity with not direct oversight from  the federal government.

Poker Site Licensing

Operating licenses are a great sign that you have found a secure and reputable room. There are very few reputable sites without a license.

Jurisdictions that license poker games will depend on the market they are serving. Big international sites do not accept players from the U.S. These sites are licensed in MaltaGibraltar or the Isle of Man. In addition, many countries have their own site licensing setup. The U.K. Gambling Commission is among the strictest. A poker site licensed by them is more likely to be safe.

For U.S. sites, licenses are awarded by Caribbean nations and Central American countries. Jurisdictions include AntiguaCuracao and Panama. You will also find sites which are licensed by the Kahnawake tribe.

While the lack of a poker operations license should not stop you from playing poker at a site, it should mean your checks on reputation, RNG testing and security need to be more thorough.

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