USA Online Poker History – The Past, Present and Future


Playing online poker in the USA has been a roller coaster to say the least. Most of us know the current state of USA online poker, but it wasn’t always like this. Being an old man in this industry, I have seen every angle, every direction and every possible outcome up to this point.

I’m old enough to have been around during the start of online poker. I probably shouldn’t be bragging about that, but I feel blessed to have been a part of something that was pretty big in its day.

Unfortunately, many poker players today don’t know what it was like to have the freedom to play wherever, and whenever they wanted. It truly was the golden ages of US online poker. We had all the options in the world and during a time, the money came so easy that most of us took it for granted.

For those who aren’t as old, or as wise as myself and wonder what it was like in the olden days. I thought I would enlighten you with the history of USA online poker.

It’s past…

The present….

And what the future landscape of online poker in the United States will look like.

The Past

I can remember reading my first poker book – “Play Poker Like the Pros” by Phil Hellmuth. Yes, I actually read this piece of garbage, but had I not; I probably wouldn’t be playing online poker.

The best part of this book was the very last page. It had a brief advertisement for Ultimate Bet. When I realized that I could now play poker anytime I wanted on my computer, I was immediately intrigued and hooked.

In the late 90’s, you had fewer options, but the games were as good as they would ever be. My first site was Ultimate Bet. This would be my first account, but the first site I played at was the old Paradise Poker.

It was a great time for online poker, I can’t stress that enough. You could use Paypal to fund your account and even make withdrawals. You got your money within hours most of the time. Unlike today – where it can take up to several months.

While there were fewer sites to play at, there were far less hassles and more freedoms. You could play at every site that was online with ease and was truly the best time to be an American poker player.


In steps what I believe to be the worse free world leader to date – George Bush. His steps to stop terrorism also infringed on our freedoms to play poker. I’m not comparing terrorism to poker, but the way he went about this was shady to say the least.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was the first step in our loss of freedoms to play online poker. At this point, it was still legal to play online poker, but it became very difficult to move money around.

Paypal and other online wallets stopped processing American payments to online casinos and poker rooms, and making a deposit or withdrawal became rather difficult.

This would also be the first time that sites started to pull out of the American poker market. Party Poker would be the first major online poker room to leave and many would follow.

Americans still had plenty of choices, but it was a sign of things to come.

This would also be an important part of poker history as it would lead to the revitalization of a small room called Full Tilt.

Full Tilt and Poker Stars would become the 2 largest rooms online and they still allowed American players. Before the UIGEA, Full Tilt was a struggling startup that ranked in the bottom half of poker rooms. After, well we all know how that story went down.

Black Friday

The infamous “Black Friday” events that rocked the poker world, not just Americans finally took place. We all knew it was coming; it was just a matter of time. I don’t think many of us knew it would happen so abruptly and as severe as it was, but it was expected nonetheless.

This time would forever change the USA online poker landscape. We no longer had the major rooms to play on and some of us had no choices at all. We were left with the small networks like Merge and Americas Cardroom. The traffic was small and the operations questionable at best.

For most of us, playing online poker was still an option, but nowhere near what it was just one day earlier.

The Present

While we can still play online poker, it’s much, much tougher and more of a hassle. Unless you live in one of the 3 states – (Nevada, New Jersey or Delaware) you still need to play online poker on some of the smaller sites that still allow American players.

We are much closer to a regulated market and things look good. Especially thanks to groups like the PPA (Poker Players Alliance) and poker forums that help to spread the word about fighting for American poker players rights.

The one good thing that has come out of all this is the regulation aspect. No longer do those who can play on licensed sites have to worry and put into question “is online poker rigged”. With the addition of government regulation, there will be no more shady outfits posing as poker rooms.

The Future

However, we are still a long way from having a unified online poker space for Americans. While more and more states are starting to approach the idea of online poker, most are still at least a (few) year(s) away from actually having their own rooms.

To make matters more difficult is the state by state segregation of players. Most states are too small to support enough players and they are finally realizing this. There needs to be one giant pool of American players, not a tiny state trying to support 10 poker rooms.

We are looking good on this end as well. Nevada and other states are already in discussions about pooling their players together, but again, this is likely still years away.

I wish everyone could have experienced the past, but unfortunately, we live in a much different world that will hopefully change. Not just for poker players, but for mankind. While the future looks good, the present kind of stinks for lack of a better term.

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