The Tale of Online Poker in the United States

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In terms of years, online poker’s history in the United States is relatively brief, dating back just over two decades. But between that narrow time frame resides one of the wildest, most thrilling tales in internet history.

It’s the tale of a new style of playing an ancient game (and the industry around it) that captivated a nation so much that it brought the United States government’s intense scrutiny.

Today, only three states in the United States have thus far adopted legislation that permits licensed operators to offer regulated poker: New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware. You can also check out this helpful guide to legal online poker in Michigan, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts, who are contemplating the idea.

With online poker’s blanket ban in the United States lifted in 2012, it’s time to look back at how we got here. The article below tells the story of America’s complicated relationship with online poker in 4 acts.

The Unregulated Era (1997 – 2006)

The Unregulated Era refers to the period between the early release of online games with a monetary reward in or around 1997 and the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in October 2006.

During the wild Unregulated Era, countless new online poker rooms were opened, and a corresponding number of those doors were closed without notice or excitement.

With so many locations open, there was fierce competition for clients, which prompted facilities to offer extravagant bonuses to potential players. Although these juicy incentives did generate more traffic, it was often the case that the casino would be unable to provide all of their promised prizes.

The Unregulated Era’s most distinctive feature is the limited gap in traffic between top rooms.

Another feature of the time was a lack of regulation and supervision. While self-regulatory organizations emerged in certain regions, government influence over them was minor. This helped accelerate development by removing many obstacles, but it also opened the door to several cheating allegations that remain to date.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) Era (2006 – 2011)

Between October 2006, when the UIGEA was passed, and April 2011, several scandals were revealed. Numerous poker sites closed down in the United States.

This period is characterized as the UIGEA era in America.

The UIGEA was a lesson in contrast. Poker appeared to be as robust as it had ever been during the UIGEA Era, with one sign indicating its health being the enormous number of large-ticket poker tournament series that provided tens of millions of dollars in prizes.

However, in addition to the UIGEA, many long-term viability concerns emerged during the UIGEA Era, including the ongoing existence of the black market for sports betting.

At the same time, industry growth increased worries about whether or not certain gambling behaviour was legal at the state level, regardless of whether or not there was a UIGEA.

Black Friday (2012 – 2013)

The Black Friday Era of online poker in the United States began on April 15, 2011, when major American-facing online poker sites were indicted. To this day, it is arguably the most catastrophic time for American internet poker players.

But we recognise the formal conclusion of the age when Nevada granted its first interactive gaming license in June 2012, acknowledging that there is a lot of overlap between the eras.

For American poker players, Black Friday was a gloomy time. It became increasingly difficult to deposit and cash out during this period. Most sites saw a drop in traffic, resulting in an industry consolidation that saw numerous rooms and skins close their doors to players – occasionally without allowing them to cash out first.

And while the games that remained grew increasingly complex, the legal protections that players expected remained elusive until the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was overturned.

Regulation Era (2012 – till date)

The Regulated Era is the current period, with June 21st, 2012, when Nevada offered the first interactive gaming license, generally acclaimed as the starting date.

During the Regulated Era, we’ve seen more states consider some sort of online gambling regulation than at any previous time. While the number of states with legislation remains low, the notion of nationwide regulated poker (or something close to it) now appears far more likely than it did during Black Friday.

The Bottom Line

In the United States, regulated online poker appears to be on a gradual yet steady road to regulation. While most US states don’t yet allow regulated online poker, with many considering it as a form of gambling, others have already passed legislation to legalise and regulate iGaming for their jurisdictions.

As the various pieces of legislation are being adequately implemented in different parts of the country, more and more people seem to be embracing paid online poker as a game they’d like to engage in.


  • Avatar of Cool amit
    Cool amit
    December 12, 2021 at 10:05 pm

    Poker is a game of skills and little bit of luck as well. I really appreciate this blog i haven’t read the history of poker of united states. Thanks for shearing cheers.

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