U.S. Poker Sites
Since the passing of the UIGEA in 2006, poker players from the United States have had their options narrowed when it comes to picking an online poker site.
When the bill was first passed, many well-established UK poker sites decided to withdraw temporarily from the US market.
Unfortunately, most of those sites are still waiting patiently for government regulations to be established that will allow them to re-enter the US market and resume offering services to US poker players.
To make matters worse, a few of the largest poker sites that have been offering services to US players in the interim have been recently shutdown by the government.
Still, it is not illegal to play poker online, except in some local legislations.
To the left you'll find our list of the best poker sites for U.S. players available today.
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Top US Poker Sites
Finding the best US poker sites can be a tricky proposition given the uncertainty around online poker these days.
In our toplist below you'll find our editors' current picks for the top poker sites for players who reside in the United States.
Top US Poker Sites
Ever since the UIGEA was passed in 2006, it's been difficult for poker sites to deal with the US government like most other businesses do.
Extremely well established, licensed and respected online poker sites that have operated for over a decade in the UK, such as PartyPoker, bwin Poker and 888 Poker, for example, have chosen to not accept American players while the legal situation is still being sorted out.
Some poker sites that have chosen to accept US players over the last few years, such as PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker, have faced continual challenges in simple operating procedures and are now currently off the table for American players since Black Friday (see below for more).
Still, several poker sites continue to accept players from the US and we'll do our best to keep you informed of the best ones.
Our toplist above only includes the safest and most reliable online poker sites available to U.S. poker players at any given time.
Two things are absolutely certain, however, when it comes to poker in the United States:
1) It is NOT ILLEGAL to play poker in most states in the US.
Current legislation restricts the transfer of money to offshore gambling sites, but it has never been technically illegal to play poker.
2) Americans can and will always play poker.
Millions of people play poker as a hobby, it's an inherent right as an American citizen, and it's likely only a matter of time before full, licensed online poker returns to the US.
How We Rank the Top US Poker Sites
Every poker site on our toplist has gone through a detailed review process.
Our experienced editors have put each site through its paces and ranked it on a number of factors including usability, reliability, support, security and more.
Every poker player's preferences are different, and what features some like will obviously not be loved by all, but we try and give an overall rating that estimates how well that site's offerings will meet the needs of the average US poker player.
We also keep in mind that the game of choice for most beginner-to-intermediate poker players is decidedly Texas Hold'em.
Basically that means the sites above have good-to-great software, a legitimate and quick-responding customer support department and, most importantly, a variety of Texas Hold'em games and stakes to keep you entertained.
Another big difference with our reviews is we also rank sites according to the number of “soft” games we can find.
Finding games that are easy to beat are an essential part of building your online poker bankroll, so we put a lot of weight on soft games in our rankings.
Sometimes the best poker sites can have pretty average software, for example, or a clumsy interface, but because they are home to thousands of terrible players you can make a profit off of, we'll rank them fairly high.
By the same token the help desk should be better than terrible, but they don’t necessarily have to knock at your door with a box of chocolate.
In other words, don’t discount a site just because the graphics are a little rough or the support team isn't the best.
If you find yourself raking in huge pots, those things won't make much difference to you.
US Poker SItes vs. Non-US Poker Sites
If it’s possible to download and install the software, enjoy a good game of poker, turn a profit and deposit and withdraw funds fairly easily, you're likely on a good poker site, regardless of where its customer base is located.
Most US poker sites offer online poker for US players but also welcome non-US players as well.
In fact on most US poker sites you'll typically meet the same mix of Europeans, Asians and players from South America and Africa as at your usual top rated European poker site.
A top poker site for US players might also be a top poker site even if you’re not from the US.
The biggest difference for a site offering games to US players primarily is the online poker tournament schedule will be set up to cater to a North American time zone.
That means peak traffic times for game action will be roughly 4 p.m.-midnight (ET).
Transferring Funds to US Online Poker Sites
As mentioned above, since the passing of the UIGEA and the introduction of stricter legislation for the transfer of funds to online gaming operators, many standard ways of depositing cash have been closed to US players and US poker sites.
For hints and tips on this, see our article on online poker funding options for US players.
Why Are There US Poker Sites in the First Place?
Since October 2006, when the US Senate passed new legislation regarding money transfers to online gambling operators (the UIGEA, see more below), many poker sites have opted to close their doors to US players.
Understandably, poker sites want to avoid the possible legal problems involved in continuing their American business, even though in practice the legal status of the new legislation is far from established yet.
"Pure Poker" Offerings Might Make All the Difference
One thing that distinguishes the US-facing online poker sites from many of those that chose to withdraw from the US market is the fact that those that allow US poker do not offer online casino gaming.
Many observers believe that, once the actual interpretation of UIGEA by the legal system is established, online poker will enjoy a different status than pure chance games like online blackjack or online roulette.
Many of the best US poker sites in this vein, such as PokerStars, also happen to be the best poker sites all categories, so US players haven't typically suffered any major loss of quality even though the quantity of choice has decreased.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 is a measure that still has many U.S. online gaming enthusiasts up in arms.
Although online gambling would seem to be a free market enterprise, it was actually a Republican Congress that sneaked the act through on an unrelated bill related to port security.
It was passed quickly under the guise of preventing the transfer of funds to "possible terrorist operations" and had little, if anything, to do with online poker.
Fighting the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act
Will all poker sites ever allow US players again?
At least some people are fighting for this. Spearheading the first efforts to take down the UIGEA was Barney Frank, U.S. Representative for Massachusetts’ 4th District.
To combat the bill, Representative Frank introduced the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act.
Representative Frank’s proposed act was designed to satisfy both the online gambling fans in the U.S. and those who are concerned about the proliferation of unregulated gambling.
The act would create a Federal Regulatory Commission that would be in charge of the licensing of online wagering companies that service U.S. players.
The regulations would contain measures to fight underage and compulsive gambling as well as fraud and money laundering, the main concerns that opponents of online gambling seem to have.
Frank has since left his post, but several other representatives including Congressman Joe Barton have carried on the intentions of the IGREA in similar bills.
The new bill put forth by Barton post-Black Friday and co-sponsored by over a dozen other bi-partisan US representatives is called HR 2366, the Online Poker Act of 2011
At the root of the bill is consumer protection and creating an interstate licensing program for internet poker sites.
As Rep. Barton says on his website:
“Poker is an all-American game, and it’s a game that requires strategy and skill. Millions of Americans play poker online.
"Although it’s legal to play for money, it’s illegal to process the transactions that allow players to collect their earnings. We want to have an iron-clad system to make sure that those who play for money are playing in an honest, fair system where they can reap the benefits of their winnings."
" To put it simply, this bill is about having the personal freedom to play a skill-based game you enjoy without fear of breaking the law.”
What is Black Friday?
On April 15, 2011, the U.S. government indicted three of the biggest U.S. poker sites (PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute/UB Poker) and seized their domains.
All of the above sites were forced to exit the U.S. market and focus primarily on Europe, Canada and Asia.
Many see this as the Department of Justice clearing out the competition to level the playing field for American casinos in advance of new US legislation fully regulating online poker.
There are still some options for U.S. online poker in the interim, but for most players it's a bit of a waiting game to see what will happen in the next few months.