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Finding Legal Poker in America: a Guide

— March 26, 2020

From New York to Austin, Texas — and everywhere in between — America is one of those countries that has so much to offer its visitors. With so many uniquely different states, exciting big cities and small town culture, you could spend years exploring all that one of the most fascinating countries in the world has to offer. 

Tourists from all over the world come to visit America every year. Approximately 7.9 million people took a trip to the U.S. in 2017, with international spending in the country rising to $251.4 billion. This is a number that is expected to increase over the next ten years as the population around the world grows, and more people want to enjoy what America has to offer. 

One of the reasons that many people choose to take a trip to America is for the gambling and casino culture — especially when it comes to playing poker. With so many different and exciting casinos, from Las Vegas to Atlantic City, there it’s just one of those countries that poker lovers need to explore. 

Whether you’re living in the U.S. or just stopping in for a visit, here’s a guide to how to play poker in one of the world’s most popular destinations. 

History of poker in America

There’s a long-standing history of poker in America. In fact, there are theories that poker was created there in the 1800s, based on the French game ‘poque’, which was brought to New Orleans by French traders and sailors. Poker began in the French colony of New Orleans. A major port on the banks of the Mississippi River, it was brought from the city to towns along the river. By the mid-1800s, people were playing up to 52 cards with betting, with some of the hand rankings being established including ‘flush’ and ‘straight’. 

The spread of poker throughout the U.S. began during the American Civil War when it was being played by both federal and rebel soldiers around the country. Five-card stud poker became popular on the west coast during the California Gold rush. By the 20th century, people were playing Texas Hold’em. Over the past 100 years, the game hasn’t changed much in America, or indeed, around the world. Rules, decks and hands have become standardised. Thanks to the rise of technology and the internet, poker has expanded on the international scene through online poker sites, allowing players to enjoy the game from the comfort of home. 

Laws and regulations around playing poker and gambling

When it comes to real money poker, each state in the U.S. has its own laws by which to abide, as well as federal laws that exist across the nation. The American Gaming Association has stated that gaming in America is a $240 billion industry. Gambling at land-based casinos is legal under federal law — although there are restrictions within each state. The only two states that completely outlaw all forms of gambling are Hawaii and Utah — while Nevada and Louisiana are the only two states across the nation where casino-style gambling is legal across the entire state. Many states allow gambling in only specific locations or on Native American reserves. Others are restricted to ‘river-boats’, meaning they can only be played on a body of water.

New York City; image by Josh Hild, via
New York City; image by Josh Hild, via

Online gambling is an entirely different issue. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 made it so that online gambling wasn’t strictly prohibited, instead outlawing financial transactions that involved online gambling service providers. But again, things vary state-by-state. In Washington, for example, it is a felony to play poker online for money. In Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada, online gambling is legalised and regulated. It’s always recommended to check the regulations on which state you are visiting to get a better idea of the laws around gambling. 

The best poker tournaments in America

There are several big poker tournaments that run across the U.S. The most impressive of them all of course, is the World Serious of Poker (WSOP) — an annual event comprised of more than 70 tournaments that has become one of the most prestigious and watched poker events in the world. Born from the success of WSOP is the WSOP Circuit (or WSOP-C) — a variety of tournaments taking place across America all leading to one main event. Typical buy-ins for a WSOP-C event are between $300 to $1000, making it accessible for players across the country. 

Then there’s the World Poker Tour (WPT). One of the top organisations in the industry, the WPT began as a handful of elite tournaments — and was one of the first UK poker tournaments to be shown live on television. Low stakes players can get in on the action with WPT DeepStacks — a festival for aspiring pros that travels across the U.S. to venues in central California, LA, San Diego and Oregon. 

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