Live in the US? Like poker? Not near any brick-and-mortar casinos? The next best thing would be to play poker online. But not so fast – unless you live in a state that has regulated online poker, playing Texas Hold’em or Omaha online is essentially illegal. While unregulated sites exist, they come with their own drawbacks. If you want to play on one of the major sites, like 888Poker or PokerStars, your only choice is to play online poker with a VPN.
We recommend Express VPN to play online poker in the US!
Before 2006, US citizens were able to enjoy their favorite poker games at any online poker site. However, that all changed when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was passed. This new piece of legislation “prohibits gambling businesses from knowingly accepting payments in connection with the participation of another person in a bet or wager that involves the use of the internet and that is unlawful under any federal or state law.”
While many sites pulled out of the US entirely, a few, including Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars remained, disregarding the legislation. But in 2011, the US Department of Justice caught wind of what was going on and evicted the sites, leaving many players not only without a place to play online but no solution as to the money that was left in their accounts.
Aside from a few unregulated websites, which are not recommended to play on, online poker was effectively “killed” in the US.
Now poker players in the United States are stuck in limbo as states try and battle for the right to offer legal online poker, and very few now actually do. However, there is a way for you to still play at online poker sites such as PokerStars, and that’s by using a VPN to play online poker.
Which States is it Illegal to Play Online Poker
The question of whether online poker is legal in any state is a tricky one.
Federally, it is illegal for any US bank to process payments related to online gambling. However, a majority of the states have unclear laws pertaining to online gambling. Most default to the provisions established in the UIGEA but a few have taken further steps to outlaw online poker.
There are several states that have both outright banned online poker and online gambling, or have attempted to prosecute online poker sites in the past. They are:
- New York
- Washington State
For the rest of the states, the physical act of playing online poker for real money isn’t criminalized provided you do not use US banks to transfer money. That’s what makes things very difficult for players as it’s nearly impossible to move money without using a US bank.
Presently, online poker is only fully legal and regulated in four US states:
- New Jersey
But there are a few caveats that people need to realize:
- You can only play on sites in that state. If you want to play PokerStars in New Jersey, that’s fine, but you will not be able to access PokerStars UK.
- Only online poker sites associated with a live casino in that state are legally allowed to launch.
- Geo-restrictions prevent someone from outside the state from playing. Want to play WSOP NV during the WSOP to get that online bracelet? Unless you live in Nevada (or at least get a hotel room inside the state borders), you will not have access.
So in essence, even in states where poker is regulated, international online poker is still restricted.
How to Unblock PokerStars, 888poker and More Online Poker Sites
If you live in the US and try to access PokerStars, PartyPoker, 888Poker or any other regulated online poker site that adheres to US regulations, you will either: (a) be blocked entirely; or (b) be restricted to ‘free play’ only. And it isn’t just the US, recently Australia criminalized online poker and will encounter the same blocks. And if you are a Brit who enjoys playing 888Poker, if you travel to the US, you will find yourself blocked from real money play.
Luckily, there is a way to get around these pesky geo-restrictions and play online poker for real money in the US – a VPN.
A VPN, short for Virtual Private Network, enables users to connect to the internet using a server run by the VPN provider. All the data that travels between your device and the server is encrypted and looks to be coming from the location of that server, not your physical location. If you live in Detroit, Michigan and really want to play NL Hold’em on PokerStars, all you need to do is select a server somewhere in New Jersey, where PokerStars is one of the regulated online poker sites. And voila! Your internet connection and the site think you are in Hoboken and not Motor City.
Below is a list we compiled of the best VPNs for online poker, based on our own trials, including:
- Number of available servers
- Bandwidth capabilities
- Security features
- Money-back guarantee
ExpressVPN is a great choice for anyone looking for a VPN to play online poker. With a large network of over 1700+ global servers, you’ll be able to easily bypass geo-restrictions blocking access to PokerStars and other sites.
They support a wide variety of platforms, including Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS, allowing you to play any platform the poker site supports. If you play online poker in your browser, make sure to install ExpressVPN’s browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.
For the security conscious, ExpressVPN offers 256-bit military grade encryption, as well as IPv6 leak protection and a kill switch.
ExpressVPN offers three plans:
- Monthly – $12.95 billed monthly
- 6 Months – $9.99 monthly billed at $59.95 every 6 months
- Annual – 6.67 a month billed at $99.95.
ExpressVPN has a special offer on their annual plan. Sign up and you will get three months FREE. That’s 15 months at just $99.95. They accept a wide variety of payment processors including PayPal. You can also pay anonymously through Bitcoin.
There’s a 30-day money-back guarantee on all plans.
Too bad we don’t have the same guarantee on our poker bankrolls.
If you’re new to VPN or not very tech savvy, NordVPN is a great choice. You can download, install, and begin using this product in just a few clicks.
They have a large network of over 2,600 servers globally, allowing you to easily bypass restrictions placed by online poker sites.
NordVPN offers you outstanding DNS leak protection and an automatic kill switch so you don’t accidentally reveal your location to poker sites if the VPN drops. You also have the option of using their Double VPN feature which encrypts your data twice, further securing your connection while playing online poker.
This service also allows you to use up to six devices at once. If you’re on the Sunday Grind, you can play at PokerStars on your desktop, PartyPoker on your laptop, and 888Poker on your tablet at the same time while enjoying the same level of protection.
NordVPN has a few pricing options to choose from:
- Monthly – $11.95
- Annually – $5.75 monthly billed $69 annually
- 2 Year Plan – $3.29 monthly billed at $79 every 24 months.
If you plan on using VPN long-term, the two-year plan is the easy choice. Best of all, all plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
SaferVPN offers fantastic speeds with premium servers that ensure you get the fastest connection every time. They offer outstanding security with both 256-bit AES encryption, kill switch, and DNS leak protection. This ensures that you stay anonymous while playing online poker. Better still, SaferVPN offers automatic Wi-Fi security for those that may choose to play online poker while using public Wi-Fi or traveling.
The SaferVPN app will also monitor your computer for any problems with your connection or internet setup. If a problem is detected, it will fix that problem automatically. That way you can continue playing without worrying about sudden connection problems while you’re playing at the final table.
SaferVPN is a great choice for anyone on a budget. Their annual and two-year plans offer the best value with savings up to 65%.
- Monthly – $9.99
- Annual – $4.99 monthly billed at $59.78
- 2-Year – $3.49 monthly billed at $83.86
Signing up is easy and SaferVPN accepts a wide variety of payments including PayPal and Bitcoin. You can even pay for service using gift cards from stores like Subway and Dollar General. All plans come with a 30-day money back guarantee.
Special Note for Players in Restricted Countries
It is very important that you take maximum precautions when using a VPN to play at PokerStars and other sites. If your VPN connection were to fail or leak to reveal your true location, your account could be suspended and your winnings lost. Should this happen, you have no legal recourse.
Activate Your Kill Switch and IPv6 Protection
It is important to use a provider that offers a kill switch and leak protection. If these features aren’t activated automatically upon launching your VPN app, make sure you enable them prior to connecting to online poker sites. It takes less than a second for a server to determine your location should your VPN leak or fail, so make sure you stay protected from disaster.
Depositing Money at Online Poker Sites
One of the toughest things about playing poker from restricted sites is getting money onto your online poker account. This is due to many sites requiring account verification before accepting most payment methods. As such, you’re going to have very limited options to fund your account.
One possible way of funding your account is through cryptocurrency. If your preferred site accepts Bitcoin, then you may be able to deposit funds for use at online poker sites. The catch here is that you may be required to provide verification information before cashing out.
Another option for getting your account funded is by using a player-to-player transfer. This means that another player on your preferred site sends you some money through your preferred online poker site. If your site allows this without verification, another player can send money and you can start playing immediately.
Your last option for funding your account is simply play your way to a bankroll. All online poker sites offer freeroll tournaments that award small cash prizes to the winners. It may only be a few cents or a few dollars, but you don’t have to risk any money and you can play on your winnings without having to have your account verified.
Withdrawing Money from Online Poker Sites
You’ve managed to get money onto an online site while in a restricted country and won some money. Good job! Now comes the trick of getting it off. You aren’t going to be able to cash out using most payment processors because you have to be verified. In almost all cases, you’ll have two options.
The first is by using cryptocurrency. This is provided that your site doesn’t require verification for cryptocurrency withdrawals. If so, then this will not work. If allowed, just make a request to have your money sent via Bitcoin to your Bitcoin wallet address.
The other method is by sending money to another player via a player-to-player transfer. If you were able to get money using a player transfer, odds are you can send money. Our best suggestion is to set up an arrangement with a trusted friend where you can send them the funds and they pay you via another method, such as PayPal.
Consider Playing at a Crypto Poker Site
Another fantastic option that has been growing in popularity over the last year is cryptocurrency online poker sites. Sites such as Coin Poker and SwC Poker will allow you to deposit and play using cryptocurrency. These sites do not require any types of verification and allow you to deposit and cash out using cryptocurrency.
While this is an easier option for playing online poker, it does come with risks. First, cryptocurrency is highly volatile. If you deposit $100 with Bitcoin and the price of Bitcoin drops 50%, then you only have $50 in value if you cash out that same deposit. Of course, if it shoots up, your deposit and any winnings will be worth more.
With the nature of being anonymous and without regulation or verification, you always risk that a cryptocurrency poker site could shut down and your money is gone. That’s why it is important to play at cryptocurrency sites that have a good track record.
Get a VPN to Play Real Money Poker Online
In a perfect world, online poker players would be free to play without restrictions from anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, the government gets in the way and makes it difficult for players to enjoy the game that they love.
Luckily, VPN will give you the opportunity to take back your freedom and continue to play online poker on sites that you love, giving you the chance to improve your game while trying to earn the financial freedom we all deserve.