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What’s The State Of Play For Online Poker In America?

Poker is a game entwined in US culture like no other.

From the dusty bar rooms of the Wild West to the upmarket casinos of modern-day Las Vegas, poker has helped shape the US in many areas. The Wild West conjures up images of many things; six-shooters, cowboy hats, saloon bars and, of course, a game of poker. Some of today’s poker terminology comes from the Wild West, such as the Dead Man’s Hand. The Dead Man’s Hand is believed to be aces and eights, the hand held by Wild Bill Hickok when he was shot down in Deadwood.

Poker was born here in the US as early as 1837. It is referenced in an edition of Foster’s Complete as Hoyle, R. F. Foster wrote: “the game of poker, as first played in the United States, five cards to each player from a twenty-card pack, is undoubtedly the Persian game of As-Nas.” How odd then that the US is one country that does not fully embrace poker in the 21st century. Around the world, casinos welcome players, whilst here in the US, not every state allows games.

The same is said for online poker. It’s a growing industry that recovered from the historical Black Friday crash, another seminal piece of poker history that took place here in the US. In 2011, US regulators closed down many providers, effectively cutting the growing industry off at the stem. Over the last decade, the online poker industry has evolved into a safer, heavily regulated place, safe for global poker fans. One country it is still finding space to grow is the US.

That’s because of all the places in the world you might play online poker. The US is the most fractured and uncertain. Some states allow online games, such as Nevada. It is a gaming center for many worldwide, and the famous World Series of Poker takes place there every year. The poker tournament is moving to the Las Vegas Strip next year and will, of course, be broadcast around the world. However, cross state lines into Utah or California, and you can’t even play on your mobile device.

Currently, six states have legalized online poker, with only five offering games. Those five are Nevada, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Michigan. It’s only a small percentage of the available states, meaning the card game that grew here can’t actually be played here online in 90% of places. West Virginia and Connecticut have the legislation in place but are currently not sufficiently sized marketplaces for providers to move into.

That could be about to change; Illinois and Maryland are both closing in on legalized online casinos. Both are significant states and could see developers move in quickly. Illinois is big enough in its own right to attract a provider, whilst Maryland borders Connecticut and could see a shared provider. Maryland already has a legal online sportsbook proposed to launch in the fall, and many states have proposed poker legislation at the same time. It’s as if the state has one foot through the door, prompting hopes it could look to take the plunge. However, a referendum would be required to approve poker.

As for Illinois, they already have an active sportsbook, which is one step further down the line than Maryland. Stakeholders have also suggested that online casinos, of which poker is a part, could accentuate the current gaming revenue rather than impact physical casinos. That’s an indication that they’re close to approving online poker.

It’s still surprising that an American game steeped in lore and history cannot be played in much of the country, but that’s partly due to the impact of Black Friday and the reputational damage done to the industry. However, online poker is here to stay in some states, and the number allowing such ventures will only grow in the coming years.

This isn’t the only law-based article on our site. You can find them in our law section, including a look at why tech startups need good legal representation. Doubly handy if you’re on an online poker tech startup!

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