A Look at the State Licensed Poker Rooms in America
2015 promises to be a big year for state regulated online poker in the US. So far, the regulated sites have fallen a little flat - though a big state like CA joining the party could make all the difference. It was 2013 which saw the launch of state regulated online poker in Nevada followed New Jersey and Delaware, after many years of failing to see federal legislation passed, although there have been few developments since then.
With California, Florida and Pennsylvania all looking close to introducing legislation and PokerStars on the brink of returning to New Jersey, there is still hope that regulated poker sites will not be a complete wash-out. Keep in mind that there are still signifcant risks from the new Republican majority in the Senate. Here you can see how the current markets have developed in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware. Then the two major sites - WSOP and Party Poker are looked at to see what they have to offer.
State Regulated Online Poker - Nevada
On 30th April 2013 Ultimate Poker became the first regulated online poker site to operate within US laws. Being the home state of Las Vegas it was no surprise that the first licensed hand of online poker in America would be dealt in Nevada, despite Delaware passing similar laws the previous year. Having Ultimate Poker as the first company to do so however was a surprise, although it made sense as this young hungry start-up knew the only way they could hope to compete with Caesars and the WSOP was to get a head start.
Ultimate Poker quickly proved popular, even with their buggy software, although they were soon pushed into 2nd place when WSOP.com opened 6 months later. Caesars had done a deal with 888.com to provide software, so not only did they have the most famous brand in poker, they had a reliable site for players to use. The money behind them from their bricks and mortar operations also met they were able to hit the ground running with many exciting promotions.
State Regulated Online Poker - New Jersey
New Jersey has so far been the largest state to offer regulated online poker and casino games. The launch of real money games in November was greatly anticipated not least because it saw the return of Party Poker to US shores. It was also expected to give a significant boost to waning profits experienced by bricks and mortar operators.
There were some significant technical issues which plagued the start of regulated poker in New Jersey and quickly became off-putting to the players. The most obvious of these affected players close to the state borders, as they could not log on or worse thrown off mid-game because their location was not correctly recognised, causing a lot of frustration. A wider issues affected the banking procedures, as many financial institutions were wary of the legality of processing transactions because of federal restrictions on unauthorised sites.
For the most part these have now all been resolved and many are optimistic for the future of online poker within the state. Not only does New Jersey boast two powerful poker rooms in the form of Party and WSOP, it is well placed to accept more sites and be a key player in future compacts when more states pass legislation.
State Regulated Online Poker - Delaware
While Delaware was the first state to license online poker rooms and casinos, the licenses were used nearly exclusively for casino games. The problem Delaware faced was they simply did not have enough people interested in playing poker within their jurisdiction to keep the games going.
This was changed February 2014 when the state signed a compact with Nevada where they agreed to allow the sites to share play pools between the states. This meant that players using a site in Delaware would also be able to play opponents in Nevada, making the games bigger and healthier.
While this did not have a massive effect on the games themselves, it does give Delaware players the chance of a game, which rarely existed before. More importantly it sets a precedent for the ability to share player-pools when future states become regulated.
State Regulated Online Poker - The Market Leaders
Regulation has not been easy for the different online operators. Many over predicted the numbers they were likely to see while others based their business plans on more states having legislation in place, leading to more opportunities and possible compacts. The result has seen some smaller sites having to close down or withdraw their games. The most notable of these has been Ultimate Poker, which although it struggled in New Jersey, still had a decent customer base in Nevada. This unfortunately was not enough and the company shut down in November 2014.
While there are several new sites lined up, notably PokerStars in New Jersey, although new licenses are slow in being issued. As a result there are currently two dominated companies operating in the regulated market.
*WSOP.com - As noted earlier this Caesar's run operation is supported by software from 888.com, even though the European company continues to operate their own separate poker room in the regulated states. Since its launch in October 2013 WSOP.com has become the dominant room in Nevada and competes with to Party for top spot in New Jersey.
The site offers new sign-ups a free $10 with a 100% match on their first deposit up to $400 as well as the 'Action Club' reward program open to all players. At the time of writing this Nevada players tend to get slightly better rewards and promotions than their New Jersey counterparts although this may well change now that Ultimate Poker has recently folded.
Cash game players can enjoy a range of games running up to $3/$6 for No Limit Hold'em and $10/$20 for Limit meanwhile fans of SNGs can find short-handed turbo games running regularly. Tournament players can find plenty of nightly guarantees for all buy-in levels along with a $200 Sunday tournament guaranteeing $25k in New Jersey and $15k in Nevada.
*Party Poker - Those who played poker pre-2006 will remember Party Poker's dominance, while others have heard the stories of how many of the modern stars built their bankrolls in Party's fishy games. Now thanks to a partnership with Borgata, who share Party's player pool with their own branded site, this giant of the 'poker boom' has now returned to the US.
Currently only operating in New Jersey, Party Poker offers new players a free $25 and a 100% first deposit bonus up to $100, which is then followed by regular reload bonuses. Regular players can also benefit from the rewards program and collect achievement badges by completing different missions. After the initial bonus is cleared smart players may wish to sign up to the Borgata site, where they can get another sign-up package while playing the same games.
Cash games on Party run from $0.02/0.04 up to $25/50 for No-Limit Hold'em and you can find a variety Omaha and Limit games also on offer. SNGs offer something for everyone with games running from a few cents up to $2000, although the rake is significantly higher than games on the non-regulated sites. Tournament players can enjoy a good variety of guarantees with decent sized fields and a $200 Sunday major with a $50k prize-pool.
Offshore Poker Sites
While the state regulated sites have stagnated (at best!), offshore poker has been thriving. Many brands operate out in the Caribbean, in countries where online gambling is completely legal. Brands like Bovada (Bodog) and Carbon Poker have been steadily growing. In fact, one offshore network was able to run the first $1 million guaranteed poker tournament in many years at the end of 2014. You can find out more about the Offshore US Poker sites in this article.