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PokerStars USA: How to Safely Play on PokerStars While in America

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Many online poker fans appreciate the large traffic and excellent software at PokerStars, the worldwide market leader for internet card games. Americans are no exception – plenty of U.S.A. residents remember the experiences they had at PS before Black Friday in 2011 and are wondering how they can access bustling PokerStars USA lobbies again.

The short answer is that you cannot play on PokerStars from within the United States. There are very limited exceptions to this general rule, and we will go over every single one of them below.

The old PokerStars was truly a one-of-a-kind setup, and there is no site currently open to Americans that does everything quite as well. Nevertheless, there are a number of rooms that excel in various aspects. If you seek a new online poker site to play from the United States, check out the following reputable operators:



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PokerStars New Jersey

People in the Garden State are the only Americans who have the opportunity to log into PokerStars and take a seat in the virtual games for real money. The company launched its NJ site in March 2016 to much fanfare, and it gained quite a few signups from people longing for a return to the good old days of USA online poker.

Unfortunately, this enthusiasm was misplaced. Although the PokerStars NJ software platform is nearly identical to the much-lauded client in use throughout most of the rest of the world, player volume is lacking. You see, this poker solution doesn't interconnect with the worldwide PokerStars.com room. It instead limits people from New Jersey to playing only against others in the same state. There are only about 70 cash game players online at any given moment, on average, as compared to the 8,000 active at the PokerStars global site.

Lobby for PokerStars Cash Games ROTWThe Cash Game Lobby for the Global PokerStars Site

Cash Game Lobby at PokerStars NJThe Cash Game Lobby at 'Stars NJ Suffers From a Lack of Games Particularly at High Stakes

This is only to be expected as the population of New Jersey is just over nine million while there are hundreds of millions of people in the worldwide areas that PokerStars serves. Those who are just visiting New Jersey are also able to register and play, but even when we consider these transient players as part of the total, we can easily see that there's no chance of this single state hosting as many real money poker customers as the rest of the world combined.

This shows up not just in cash tables but also in tournaments. The headline NJ 'Stars tourney series in autumn 2017, called the New Jersey Championship of Online Poker (NJCOOP), featured $1.2 million in guarantees spread across 46 events. This is peanuts compared to the 162 tournaments and $60 million on offer at the World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) that took place earlier the same year.

Because it's licensed by the State of New Jersey, all of PokerStars' operations in this jurisdiction are overseen by the NJ Department of Gaming Enforcement. Staying in compliance with the mandates of this regulator hasn't always been easy for the poker site, as evidenced by the time it received a fine for inadequate geo-blocking functionality in its software:

 

Play Money

It is actually possible for American users to enjoy poker at PokerStars but only for practice chips. These play money games are offered to customers in 49 states (sorry Washington State).

Play Money Game on PokerStarsPokerStars Play Money Cash Game Table

Apart from a certain amount of chips that you can get for free, you have to pay to purchase more of them. It's impossible to cash these chips out even if you should win a billion of them. There used to be online markets for PokerStars play chips, but the site has effectively prohibited this practice by disallowing play money person-to-person transfers.

Purchasing Play Chips at PokerStarsThe Various Play Chip Options for Sale at PokerStars

You might as well devote any money you intended to commit to purchasing practice chips to legitimate offshore poker rooms instead. At least this way, you'll be able to make a withdrawal if you grind up a bankroll. Minimum deposits at these poker rooms are pretty reasonable, $25 or less in most cases.

What About Home Games?

The PokerStars Home Games section lets people compete against their friends, work colleagues, online forum companions, and other individuals who are part of the same Poker Club. Nevertheless, U.S.A. players are only permitted to play with fake chips even within the strictly controlled membership model of PokerStars Home Games.

Some enterprising souls have realized that they can set up play chip Home Games and use them to play for real money by assigning each chip a cash value and then making money transfers among themselves. This works in theory, but in order for everything to be aboveboard, you have to know and trust everyone else in your Poker Club. This is quite a different experience from signing on to the poker platform and sitting opposite all kinds of players from around the world. You'd also better hope that the site doesn't get wind of what you're doing, or else your club will be shut down.

What About Nevada, Delaware, and Pennsylvania?

Individuals living in one of the other three states for legal, regulated poker might assume that they can play on PokerStars, but this is incorrect. PokerStars only has a license to operate in New Jersey.

States With Legalized Online PokerNew Jersey, Delaware, Nevada, and Pennsylvania Have Passed Online Poker Legislation

Delaware's supervised internet poker market uses the software mandated by the state lottery, which reached an arrangement with 888, shutting PokerStars out of the market completely. Nevada has “bad actor” clauses in its enabling legislation for online poker, which has kept PS out of the market until 2018 when the company is expected to apply for a license. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania's online gaming market hasn't yet come to fruition because the bill that created it only passed into law in October 2017.

New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware now have a liquidity-sharing compact whereby sites are allowed to combine their player traffic across all three states. Only 888 (branded in some cases as WSOP) has really been the beneficiary of this arrangement because it's the only operator licensed to do business in more than one of these states. Suffice it to say that this multi-jurisdictional agreement doesn't have any impact on 'Stars, which runs stateside poker only in New Jersey.

What About VPNs?

Some laud the advantages of deploying VPN (virtual private network) technology to circumvent the PokerStars ban on new account registrations from the United States. This refers to a system that disguises your computer's location and makes it appear to be in a region that PokerStars accepts customers from.

Anyone who advocates this course of action is either woefully ignorant of how internet poker actually works or is attempting to give you bad advice. There are any number of reasons why running a VPN to surreptitiously log on to 'Stars is just asking for trouble.

First of all, you'll encounter issues when attempting to request a payout because you will very likely be subject to account verification procedures. This means you would have to set up a fake address in another country, which might be more trouble than it's worth.

Furthermore, PokerStars security has developed procedures to deal with anyone who might be playing from a prohibited jurisdiction. As part of the detection process, the poker client scans through the list of your running programs. You could get in trouble and have your account banned and balance seized if you're running VPN software. The same is true of other mechanisms for playing from a disallowed country, such as the use of Team Viewer or other remote desktop applications.

PokerStars is allowed to gather as much information as it can from your machine to decide if you're in violation of the rules. This is explicitly laid out in the PokerStars End User License Agreement:

4.3 in compliance with our regulatory requirements and in order for you to access and use our software and/or our services through any of our websites you will need to provide us with certain personal details about yourself (including details regarding your methods of payment) as well as consenting us (or third parties acting on our behalf) to have access to or make use of your location data and/or such other data or information that may be derived from your device/computer, to enable the Service/software to be made available to you. You hereby consent to us (or third parties acting on our behalf) to access and use such data for the purposes outlined above. You are not permitted to use our software and/or services if you do not wish to be bound by this provision. Rational Group will process your personal details in compliance with the data protection laws and regulations of the Isle of Man, all in accordance with and as set out in our Privacy Policy.

PokerStars has confiscated the balances of customers found to be circumventing the terms and conditions by accessing the site from prohibited countries. This is even true for users from allowed countries who use a VPN while traveling through banned parts of the globe. Take a look at this first-hand report from the Twoplustwo forums:

Twoplustwoer Caught Using VPN to Log Into PokerStars

While we do have a small amount of sympathy for this poster, this feeling is overwhelmed by our incredulity that anyone would think such a course of action would be without risk. Ultimately, we largely concur with the first response made to this post:

Respondent Feels OP is Dumb

Even big-name individuals aren't immune from the ever-vigilant personnel at the PokerStars security team. 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event runner-up Gordon Vayo ran afoul of the poker room after they contended that he was using a VPN from the United States when he scored $700K in a Spring Championship of Online Poker event. Gordon claims that he has submitted proof that he was in Canada at the time, and the dispute ended up in court.

PokerStars Decline

Lest you be hanging your head in dismay at the difficulty of joining PokerStars games as a U.S. player, let us assure you that you're not missing much — or least not as much as you would have a decade ago. Simply put, this virtual poker room has gone downhill in the intervening time.

Much of this decline is a result of the acquisition of PokerStars by Amaya, Inc. (now called The Stars Group) in June 2014. This publicly traded organization has a different philosophy than the old owners of the company did. Amaya has put shareholders and short-term financial results at the forefront and relegated player concerns to the sidelines.

Logo of Amaya, Inc.

Not only has Amaya raised the rake and tournament fees, but it has also done away with the old VIP club, replacing it with an abomination called “Chests.”

Several “Chests” That We Prefer to PokerStars' ChestsNot This Type of Chests Unfortunately

The Chests program has cut rewards by more than half for dedicated grinders, and it's so confusing and variable that users don't really know what to expect in terms of freebies for a given number of hands played at particular stakes.

Treasure ChestThis Chest is More What PokerStars Has in Mind
Note: That isn't gold - it's rice cakes. Ignore the yellow color; they're good for you. We swear!

Other unfavorable alterations to the way the firm does business include the addition of currency conversion fees, the retroactive restriction of affiliate commissions to the first two years of rake generated by a referred player, and a failure to adequately explain its corporate decisions to the player base.

How Can I Play Online Poker?

In conclusion, we must counsel you that it's impractical and too risky for you to try to play at PokerStars from the United States. Even those in New Jersey who can enjoy the 'Stars real money games are ring-fenced to a small pool of games that will likely leave them disappointed.

This doesn't mean that you can't play internet poker though. There are a number of trustworthy offshore online poker sites that cater to the American market. They have profitable welcome bonuses, robust traffic levels, and speedy payouts. You can learn more about these solid operators by reading our U.S.A. online poker guide.

PokerStars USA FAQ Banner Divider

If you still have questions about PokerStars USA legalities and information, then look below for possible answers.

Is online poker legal in the United States?

There are no federal laws prohibiting internet poker in the U.S.A. The Wire Act has been ruled to relate only to sports betting, not to lotteries or online poker. The UIGEA, therefore, doesn't come into play either as it's only triggered when another federal or state anti-gambling law applies. In any case, these pieces of legislation target the owners and managers of the gaming sites, not individual players. So there's nothing preventing you from opening up a few tables of online cards and playing as much as you want.

Is PokerStars legal in the United States?

There's nothing preventing PokerStars from legally serving the United States. Nor is there anything making it a crime for individuals to open up accounts and play for real money. Nevertheless, it's impossible to partake in these services as an American (in most states) for reasons we go into below.

Why did PokerStars leave the U.S. market?

PokerStars abandoned the U.S.A. real money poker market as a consequence of a settlement it reached with the Department of Justice in 2011. This agreement followed the Black Friday crackdown on internet poker by U.S. government authorities. The basis for these law enforcement actions was the Wire Act even though the DoJ opined soon thereafter that this Act didn't concern online poker at all. Be that as it may, as part of the resolution of the case against it, PokerStars pledged to remove itself from the American internet gaming market except in those jurisdictions where it's specifically licensed to operate.

What states are able to play at PokerStars?

Currently, PokerStars holds a license to offer its real money games only in the State of New Jersey. Play chip tables are available in every state apart from Washington.

Why doesn't PokerStars operate in any states besides New Jersey?

PokerStars has pledged to avoid dealing out internet poker hands for real cash in any state except those that it holds a gaming license for. As of July 2018, this list consists solely of New Jersey. Delaware and Nevada have regulated internet poker ecosystems too, but PokerStars is not licensed to transact in either of these jurisdictions. Pennsylvania is the newest entrant to the legalized, state-regulated online poker scene, but no entities have yet successfully gone through the license application process, and this includes PokerStars.

Do I have to be in New Jersey to open an account at PokerStars NJ?

No, PokerStars NJ lets you register your new account from anywhere in the world. You can also make deposits and withdrawals without being present in New Jersey. However, gameplay is only available if you're located inside state borders, and the site uses sophisticated geo-location tech to confirm your location at all times.

How does traffic at poker sites available in the USA compare to PokerStars?

None of the rooms for American poker have traffic levels that reach the mark set by the global PokerStars brand. However, many of them are a fair bit larger than the segregated NJ PokerStars site. In most cases, you'll have no trouble finding a game if you're interested in micro- or small-stakes tournaments and cash games. Only if you play for high stakes or are a serious multi-tabler might you have issues finding enough action to keep you happy. Even in this case, you'll probably do all right if you're willing to mix stakes and table sizes.

What types of games do sites other than PokerStars have?

All of the destinations for online poker in the United States have ring games, sit n' gos, and multi-table tournaments although certain formats are more popular at different sites than at others. There are several places in the U.S. market that spread lottery SNGs, reminiscent of PokerStars Spin & Gos, too. Fast-fold Zoom/RUSH clones are a bit less prevalent, but there are a couple of choices if this is your game type of choice.

How can I made a deposit or withdrawal for real money online poker in the United States?

This is one of the trickier aspects of playing online poker in the United States. Credit cards will work for deposit depending on how strict your card issuer is in blocking gambling-related transactions. When it's time for a cashout, you can usually retrieve your funds via check. However, crypto-currencies like Bitcoin tend to be superior for both deposit and withdrawals because they're almost never declined and the fees associated with their use are miniscule. To find out more about the most commonly supported digital coin, head over to our Bitcoin gambling guide. There are other options available at some sites, like Ethereum and Bitcoin Cash.