Thinking about playing online poker in the US? Then there's a good chance you're confused. You've probably heard that online poker is illegal. You've probably also heard that online poker is perfectly legal. You've heard that it's OK in some states but not in others. You've heard that it's a crime to operate an online poker site but perfectly legal to play. And you've heard it's illegal to play sometimes, too.
Needless to say, you've heard a lot of things about online poker in the US. And there's a huge reason for that. The US online poker situation is complex, with state, federal, and international laws coming into play.
We've put together an online poker timeline to help you sort everything out. Remember, even though we're talking about US online poker history, tons of international factors come into play. So some of the highlights you'll see actually have nothing to do with the US - at least on the surface. But as you read through the timeline, you'll see that everything is connected.
OK, so maybe it's a tad optimistic to talk of a second poker boom. America has come a long way but there are still many challenges ahead. In order to rebuild the poker market in America, other states will need to see sufficient revenue generated by the newly regulated sites in order to be convinced to come along too. In 2014 states must strive to share player pools as 'compacts' in order to thrive; and who knows, if PokerStars enters the US market in 2014, maybe players pools can be shared not just across state lines but between national borders too, just like the old days. OK, we're going to go out on a limb and say that just might happen. Oh, and Chris Moneymaker will win a major poker tournament again.
Who would have thought that a humble card game could become a force to enrage governments and divide continents? In the years preceding 2013, the online poker industry in the US was in turmoil, experiencing prohibition and arrests, recrimination, protest and counter-protest. US poker players had been systematically cut off from their European friends by the Department of Justice, and millions of dollars in bankrolls were frozen. Businesses were destroyed; livelihoods lost.
But in late 2012 things began to change; while the game stagnated in Europe as the new 'dot.countries' opted to regulate the game within their borders, thus stymieing player pools, America began to soften its stance. Suddenly, online poker became more than mere fiscal speculation and economic theory postulated by state legislators. In 2012 Delaware and Nevada chose to legalize the game and planned to go live in 2013, and, with many states, notably New Jersey, deliberating on whether to join the party, it seemed that the year would herald a completely new era of legal and regulated online poker in the US.
The new poker landscape would be shaped in 2013, then, but it would look very different to the one we'd known in the past. Poker was coming home, to the country of its birth, but many questions remained. Would the concept of an online cardroom, restricted to the population of an individual state - and vying with several other competitors - be sustainable? Would the newly regulated states form compacts to share player pools across their borders? Would revenue be sufficient to convince other states to follow suit? Would Chris Moneymaker ever win another major poker tournament? These were the questions that preoccupied us, as we awoke hung-over and blinking into the sunlight on January 1st, 2013.
In the opening week of January, as we suspected, Chris Moneymaker failed to win a major poker tournament. However, everybody's favorite mysterious, hyper-aggressive Swede, Viktor “Isildur1” Blom, went on a tear at the new high-stakes poker tables on Full Tilt, winning $1.1 million. In the opening week! Blom was mostly playing 2-7 triple draw during the rampage, which highlighted a very “2013” trend that saw high stakes players moving away from their staple hold'em and PLO games towards mixed games.
When it comes to live tournaments, however, January is all about the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, a festival that plonks hundreds of the world's best poker players on a paradise island to compete against each other in some of the highest buy-in tournaments on the circuit. It sounds like our idea of hell!
Here, America's Vanessa Selbst became the highest-earning female poker player ever, when she took down the $25k PCA High Roller event for $1,424,420, bringing her lifetime tally to almost $8 million.
“It shows that plenty of women are succeeding at the same rate as men are,” she said. “There is plenty of room for women to get involved in this game, and to get really good at it and to beat all the guys.”
You only have to look at the dizzying achievements of Blom and Selbst to deduce that poker is a young person's game these days. Although try telling that to Mike “The Mouth” Matusow and Phil “The Poker Brat” Hellmuth, who finished first and second, respectively, at the NBC Heads-up Poker Championships, well and truly sticking it in the eye of the these young upstarts: “It means a lot to have Phil alongside me,” effused Mike. “All you hear from the young kids is 'Mike and Phil used to be good, but they can't keep up with us kids, with our generation.' But where are they standing today? I'm on top of the world right now.”
And talking of old-timers… Amarillo Slim died.
While the last decade of his life was mired in controversy, upon which we simply cannot comment, Amarillo “Slim” Preston was one of the true colorful characters of the game. A natural raconteur and self-promoter, after winning the 1972 WSOP Main Event Slim launched himself onto the chat show circuit and did huge amounts for the promotion of poker in the mainstream. His autobiography “Amarillo Slim in a World of Fat People” remains one of the greatest books about gambling ever written.
As the country singer John Lutz Ritter used to sing: “Hell, the Devil don't bet with Amarillo Slim.”
Let's hope he never gets the chance to try…
Meanwhile, Slim's home state of Texas - the birthplace of Texas Hold'em itself - announced it was considering legalizing online poker. At the time of writing, over a year later, alas, it is still debating, and debating…
Right off the bat, on February 1st 2013, Pennsylvania announced it would also look at legalizing internet gaming and [spoiler alert], from our handy vantage point of writing a year later, this one looks to be on the cards. Elsewhere, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie offered a conditional veto on the NJ gambling bill. But don't panic: it meant he broadly liked it; he just wanted to tinker with it so the NJ coffers got more rake. It looked like the bill would be revised and regulation would be imminent.
There was bad news for those American players who were still playing on the few online poker sites that were illegally accepting American bets, when Rep Paul Harris' bill to decriminalize the act playing of online poker in Washington State came to naught. Harris had sought to reclassify it as a “civil infraction”, punishable by a $50, rather than the existing $5,000 and up to five years in prison. That is some rake!
Talking of hefty fines, erstwhile poker champion turned fugitive Chris “Jesus” Ferguson settled with the Department of Justice in February, agreeing to pay $2,350,000 for his part in the Full Tilt fiasco, plus relinquishing any funds contained in the “the Ferguson account”. It could have been heftier, though: previous reports had suggested the DOJ were originally targeting for $42 million.
Meanwhile, there were murmurings of online poker regulation in the potentially huge market of California, following legislation proposed by State Senator Jose Luis Correa.
Daniel “Jungleman” Cates celebrated the coming of spring by laying into fellow US high-stakes pro Tom Dwan: “@TomDwan, would you like to continue our challenge instead of playing everybody else at every game on @FullTiltPoker?” he tweeted, scathingly. Jungleman was frustrated at the lack of action in their heads-up battle which appeared to have trailed off, with Dwan trailing significantly. Dwan, it seemed, was content to play anyone but his former adversary, and we're not sure we blame him.
Meanwhile, with spring, new hope! The post-Black Friday remission process moved a step closer, with the news that a claims administrator, the Garden City Group, had been appointed to oversee the process of reuniting American players with their Full Tilt funds that had been frozen by the DOJ. Many players had given up hope of ever seeing their money again, and some had sold their accounts to others for a fraction of the real value.
Elsewhere, North Carolina to be precise, former world champion Greg Raymer was arrested in a prostitution sting. Ouch!
First, we'll skip right to the end of the month, because that was when the MOST EARTH-SHATTERING MOMENT IN THE HISTORY OF ONLINE POKER IN THE US took place. At 9am on April 30th, 2013 Ultimate Poker dealt the first ever fully-legal, regulated and taxable hand of online poker, closely followed by the second and the third. In fact, they're still dealing those hands.
Ultimate Gaming began the month by announcing the signing of its first sponsored pro – the supremely marketable Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari. Esfandiari is a familiar face to American TV poker fans and his reputation is spotless - the hope was that recreational players would feel like they were reconnecting with an old friend, thereby building trust in this new brand in a new market. Ultimate Gaming stole a march on its competitors, Caesars' WSOP.com, meanwhile, by launching early with a simple, scaled down product, thereby circumventing a lot of Nevada regulatory red-tape. We'd have to wait until September for the more sophisticated WSOP.com platform, developed with 888.com.
Caesars, meanwhile, were busy organizing the first ever WSOP Asia Pacific Championship, an event won by Daniel Negreanu, who bagged his fifth WSOP bracelet in the process. He followed that up in the summer with a sixth. 2013 was a year in which Negreanu was truly back to his best and topped many “Player of the Year” lists.
The poker community had been in shock earlier in the month following the news that police in New York had carried out a series of raids that had resulted in the arrests of some of its own. Police busted a high-stakes poker game which they claimed had links to the Russian Mafia. Former WPT champion Vadim Trincher was arrested, accused of having links to a shady crime boss, while Justin 'BoostedJ' Smith, Peter Feldman, Abe Mosseri, and Bill Elder were among other well-known players caught up in the action.
And talking of nefarious persons, former Full Tilt boss Ray Bitar escaped prison after coming to an agreement with federal prosecutors. Bitar would have to pay around $40 million in assets but would avoid incarceration due to a heart condition that, if left unchecked, could kill him in a year.
May was a bad month for PokerStars, as the online poker giant failed in its bid to buy the ailing Atlantic City Club in New Jersey. PokerStars had initially sought to take over the casino for the heavily-discounted price of $15 million, which would give it a platform to enter New Jersey's online casino market. However, the Atlantic Club pulled out, leaving PokerStars out in the cold. PokerStars' parent company, the Rational Group, then launched litigation to uphold the sale but abandoned the case in August, following months of litigation. The Atlantic eventually closed its doors for good in early 2014.
Meanwhile, new life was breathed into the UltimateBet scandal when an audio recording surfaced, purportedly featuring the voice of former world champion and suspected cheat Russ Hamilton apparently admitting his guilt. The taped conversation was allegedly a “damage limitation” meeting between Hamilton, UB developer Greg Pierson and senior manager Daniel Friedberg. The voice alleged to be Hamilton's was heard to say: "I did take this money and I'm not trying to make it right, so we've got to get that out of the way real quick."
Shady stuff! The tape prompted former UB sponsored player Phil Hellmuth to issue a statement to the community, stating: “I made a horrible read regarding my relationship with the founders of the now defunct online poker site Ultimate Bet.”
Elsewhere, American player Steve O'Dwyer won the EPT Grand Final before promptly changing his nationality to Irish, in part as a protest against America's stance on online poker. The WPT Championship, meanwhile, was won by Chino Rheem, whose nationality remains intact.
The 44th Annual WSOP kicked off at the Rio in Las Vegas. Sixty-two bracelet events would run throughout the month, culminating in the $10k Main Event, beginning on July 6th. Despite the uncertain poker landscape in America, initial side event fields were bigger than ever. Event #6, aka, “the Millionaire Maker”, had 6,343 entries, the largest non-Main Event field in WSOP history. The Seniors Event, meanwhile, garnered an amazing 4,407 entries. Notable bracelet winners in June included Cliff Josephy (twice), Mike Matusow, Tom Schneider, Davidi Kitai, Erick Lindgren, Jeff Madsen and Barny Boatman.
PokerStars CEO Mark Scheinberg, meanwhile, reached an agreement with the US District Court to hand over $50 million in order to be absolved from any future claims relating to the 'Black Friday' indictments of 2011.
And a new feature-length documentary, BET RAISE FOLD, told the story of poker from the Moneymaker boom to the post-Black-Friday meltdown. Filmmaker and high-stakes poker player Jay Rosenkratz called it a coming of age story about “the boom that manufactured a dream and the forces that took it away”.
And then Phil Ivey launched something called “Ivey Poker”, but no one was quite sure what it was. We're still not.
As the mercury hit 100° F in Vegas, the WSOP Main Event got into to full swing. While the side events had attracted record turnouts, the Main Event field, at 6,352, was mysteriously the lowest since post-UIGEA 2007. However, the $59,708,800 prize pool and $8,359,531 for the winner was none too shabby. The November Nine concept was reintroduced this year, and so, after nine grueling days of tournament poker, we reached the final nine – five Americans, a Frenchman, a Dutchman, an Israeli and a Canadian. Among the Americans were notables JC Tran and David “Raptor” Benefield.
The question of the federal legislation of online poker was briefly in the news again, thanks to Republican Congressman Joe Barton's Internet Poker Freedom Act. The bill asserted that poker is a game of skill and that it should be legalized on a federal level, with individual states having actively to opt-out should they wish to do so. The bill is still being debated and remains, at the time of writing, a long shot.
Also in July, Sheldon Adelson, Chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, was pressurizing the Spanish government to relax indoor smoking laws and curb internet gambling in order to pave the way for his massive “Euro Vegas” concept – to build a “casino city”, including 12 skyscraper hotels and six casinos, just outside Madrid. If realized the complex would have reshaped the gaming landscape in Europe. It seems the Spanish got a bit sick of Adelson's importuning, however, and refused to budge. By December the Euro Vegas plans had been scrapped.
Things weren't working out for Zynga either. The Facebook giant had made its first steps towards offering real-money poker in the UK, with Zynga Poker Plus, and was expected to make a move into the American real-money market, too. However, following a management reshuffle, Zynga announced it was shelving its plans and “going back to basics” to concentrate on its play-money services.
Ultimate Poker dealt its 10 millionth hand in August. Wow, that was quick! The site also upgraded its software later in the month, perhaps with an eye to the imminent launch of WSOP.com and its supposedly more sophisticated 888.com-powered platform. The upgrade included changes to the site's virtual tables, the lobby, tournaments and a VIP awards program. “This is just the beginning,” the company vowed.
The WSOP announced it had raised over $1.3 million for good causes, thanks to the 111,111 ONE DROP High Roller and the $1,111 Little One for ONE DROP. ONE DROP is a charity that seeks to provide safe drinking water for people across the globe. Additional funds had been raised through the “Give 1%” scheme, which encouraged winners to donate 1 percent of their prize.
And finally, Vegas pro Nick DiVella decided to bet his friends that he could spend six days sitting in an empty bathtub for $22,500. What can we say? It was a quiet month…
We weren't exaggerating when we said the launch of WSOP.com was imminent. Amid much fanfare, and after a few false starts, WSOP.com went live in Nevada, becoming the second real-money gaming site in the US. The new online poker site celebrated its arrival with a special $100,000 freeroll, although they had hoped to be up and running during the WSOP. Still, better late than never…
“This is really the beginning of a domino effect,” said Mitch Garber, CEO of operators Caesars Interactive Entertainment.
“The same way that the state of Nevada started land-based casino gaming and you've seen the proliferation of casino gaming across the United States. We believe that the digital age will repeat that very same pattern. Nevada will have a very healthy business on its own.”
Elsewhere, Douglas “WGC Rider” Polk and Ben “Sauce 123” Sulsky, two of the best high-stakes heads-up NLH players on the planet, decided to find out who really had the edge, locking horns in a series of $100/$200 heads-up matches over 15,000 hands. The challenge lasted until October when Polk emerged on top.
Meanwhile, US Senator John McCain was engaged in a poker challenge of his own, on his phone, although he was supposed to be having an important debate on the Syria crisis at the time. What on earth was he thinking! Calling all the way to the river with middle pair, on that board? Pffft!
October started off in a completely bonkers fashion, with motor mouth poker player Tony G announcing his (completely serious) intention to stand in the 2014 European Parliamentary elections in Lithuania. We're clearly all doomed.
Elsewhere, Michael “The Grinder” Mizrachi renounced his endorsement of the beleaguered Lock Poker due to the bad publicity the site was getting. Lock was one of the few poker sites that continued to take American bets after Black Friday and irate players had been posting on the forums about huge delays in cashing out all year. Many are still waiting for their money.
On a brighter note, The Prince of Poker, Scotty Nguyen, was elected to the Poker Hall of Fame and the WSOP announced that the Big One for One Drop, the world's richest poker tournament, with its $1 million buy-in, would return in December.
On 8th November, after a week-long beta trial with selected players, Delaware became the first US state to launch full-scale online gaming. For the first time ever, Delaware's population was free to enjoy legal online blackjack, roulette, slots, and of course poker. Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway all began running a platform provided by 888.com, sharing their liquidity together, with the poker software having a similar look and feel to WSOP.com in Nevada, which was also developed with 888.com.
New Jersey was close behind, following suit on November 26th - and becoming, significantly, by far the most populous state to join the party. The big news was that PokerStars was completely ignored in the first ballot to decide which operators would receive licenses, held early in the month. Companies such as 888, Caesars and Trump (in partnership with Ultimate Poker) made the grade, but it seems that the biggest online poker site in the world will have to wait to get its piece of the US market.
Oh, and with all that insanely consequential regulatory stuff going on, we almost forgot: 23-year-old Ryan Riess from Michigan was crowned World Series of Poker Champion, on the very day Delaware went live, defeating Jay Farber heads-up.
“I think I am just the best player in the world,” he said afterwards, prompting an immediate Twitter storm.
Well, after a whirlwind 11 months like that, we're kind of glad that everything shuts down for Christmas. Or does it? We wanted to find out, so we scoured the world to see if any casino actually spread a poker tournament on Christmas Day. And we found one!
he people at the Casino Cosmopol in Gothenburg (where Batman lives?) held a poker tournament on 25th December 2013! It was a 3,000 Swedish Kroner event with a, perhaps optimistic, 90 seats available. That's the spirit, boys. Keep up the good work!
Other than that, there were rumors that Matt Damon and Ed Norton might reunite for Rounders 2, in 2014. Now that we'd like to see! Second poker boom, anyone?
July 31 - The US Department of Justice announces that two of the three indicted online poker sites have settled with the government. They include Full Tilt Poker and Full Tilt Poker. In the settlement, PokerStars purchases Full Tilt Poker and pays the government $547 million. The settlement also means that PokerStars will reimburse non-US online poker players $184 million.
Aug 21 - A federal judge based in New York rules that poker does not violate federal law because poker is not a game of chance. The ruling leads to the dismissal of an indictment against a man accused of operating an illegal underground poker room.
Nov 6 - Full Tilt Poker re-launches around the world, except for in the United States. The site is owned and operated by one-time rival PokerStars. Non-US online poker players who had their money frozen on April 15 have the opportunity to continue to play at the new Full Tilt or withdraw their funds.
Nov 15 - MGM receives its license to operate a poker site from the state of Nevada. MGM announces they intend to use bwin.party as the online poker platform provider when they receive a license to provide gaming services in the state.
Dec 17 - The window for success for a federal Internet poker bill to pass during the lame duck session closes. That means that federal regulation won't happen in 2012, and likely won't happen in 2013. Instead, state-by-state regulation will continue, ultimately meaning that there won't be much of a need for federal oversight.
Dec 21 - Caesars Entertainment receives a license from the state of Nevada to operate an online poker site and casino within the state.
December - New Jersey is expected to finally approve a bill that legalizes Internet poker within state borders. Governor Chris Christie would have a chance to veto the bill, but with a badly bruised economy coupled with a desire to beat Nevada to the punch as the state leaders in online gaming, many believe the Governor will sign the bill.
April 15 - The US Department of Justice indicts three online poker operators for violating the Unlawful Internet Enforcement Gambling Act. The government alleges that the online poker operators disguised online gambling transactions as Internet purchases, and that they essentially controlled a bricks-and-mortar bank within the US.
post April 16 - Several smaller online poker sites continue to operate, having not been charged with violating federal law. Several small sites form together to create larger poker networks. The smaller sites continue to improve their software in an effort to increase market share.
Serious US online poker players consider leaving the United States to continue to play online poker. Several notable poker pros move to Canada, the UK, and Costa Rica in order to continue to play the game they love. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tries over and over again to introduce legislation that would ultimately make playing online poker legal on the federal level.
April 21 - The island nation of Antigua and Barbuda publically states that the United States violated international trade law by shutting down poker sites that weren't run out of the United States.
Dec 22 - The Nevada gaming Commission approves regulations that allow online poker within state borders.
Jonathan Duhamel becomes the first Canadian to win the WSOP Main Event. He took home a massive $8,944,138 for his efforts.
Pokerstars WCOOP makes history with its main event paying out the winner a whopping $2,278,097 after 2,443 entrants each pay $5,200 to take part. This is one of the largest online tournament payouts ever, rivalling what Chris Moneymaker received for winning the WSOP Main Event back in 2003.
September - The Washington State Supreme Court upholds a law that makes playing online poker a felony. The judgement stated that, "The statute prohibits internet gambling evenhandedly, regardless of whether the company running the website is located in or outside the state of Washington. The effects imposed on in-state and out-of-state entities engaging or that would engage in internet gambling are the same… The dormant Commerce Clause only prevents a state from discriminating based on whether the business is in-state or out-of-state."
Nov 10 - The New Jersey State Senate passes bill S490. The bill legalizes certain forms of online gambling. The bill permits companies that operate within the state to take bets from New Jersey online poker players.
The United States Department of Justice seizes nearly $35 million that collectively belong to over 27,000 online poker accounts. The seizure of the funds is called unprecedented as the US government has never gone after individual players for playing a game that's loved by so many Americans.
The Poker Hall of Fame changes its requirements to allow nominees from the public in an effort to build more interest and prestige for the award. Online poker rooms immediately begin lobbying for their professionals to be accepted. That year sees Party Poker's Mike Sexton inducted to the Hall of Fame (although Sexton is well qualified having live tournament winnings in excess of $3 million, and having reached 21 final tables during the WSOP. In addition, he has been a commentator on the World Poker Tour since it began).
The International Federation of Poker was created in 2009, having been founded in Lausanne, Switzerland. It promotes poker as a mind sport and is the official governing body of the game.
History was also made in 2009 when Patrik Antonius won an $878,959 pot from the infamous Isildur1 while playing at Full Tilt Poker. It was the largest pot ever won during an online game and showcased the massive stakes that big online players will gamble at.
Jamie Gold wins the Main Event of the World Series of Poker, claiming the $12 million first place prize. It's the largest prize in Main Event history thanks to the largest Main Event field ever seen. A total of 8,773 players participated in the Main Event, many of whom won their seat through US online poker sites
September - The US House of Representatives and US Senate pass the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. The act makes transactions from banks to online gambling companies illegal. The bill does not relate to playing online poker, nor does it relate to running an online poker site. It simple relates to processing financial transactions related to online gambling. The act fails to mention what constitutes an "illegal" online gambling business.
October - US President George W. Bush signs the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act into law.
October - Major online poker sites serving US players announce that they're no longer welcoming US players to the poker tables. This includes Party Poker, Bwin, and SportingBet. Other online poker sites continue to service US players, including Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars.
They argue that poker is a game of skill and the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act doesn't apply. Another online poker site that serves US players, UltimateBet, sells to smaller online poker site AbsolutePoker. The merged site remains in the US market.
The Poker Players Alliance forms in the United States to speak out for online poker players across the country.
Antigua and Barbuda goes to the World Trade Organization and complains that they're losing $3.4 billion a year to the US, who is prosecuting the operators of online gambling websites. The WTO calculates that the figure is closer to $21 million and rules in favor of the Antigua.
An estimated 55 million Americans now play online poker, with around 25% of those playing for real money. PartyGaming lists on the London Stock Exchange - its value is an astonishing GBP 4.6 billion. The company instantly catapults itself into the FTSE 100.
The WSOP moves to the huge RIO All-suites Casino. Thousands of players flock to the new venue and the prize money increases accordingly. The Main event is won by Joe Hachem who takes home $7,500,000 - 50% more than the 2004 winner. NBC also create and film the National Heads Up Poker Championship. It was filmed at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas and Phil Hellmuth took the title.
PartyPoker is now making $1 million a day in profits. The huge Internet poker boom has been fuelled in part by Chris Moneymaker's 2003 win at the WSOP. Chris entered the tournament by winning a $40 online satellite, and walked away with a $2.5 million prize. The world goes crazy for poker and the opportunity to "strike it big".
Major search engines, including Google and Yahoo, remove online poker and gambling advertisements from their websites. Regular search results would include online gambling, but advertising would no longer be accepted.
Full Tilt Poker begins is meteoric rise and fall (along with a phoenix-like resurrection from the ashes) and opens its doors in 2004. Backed by some of the biggest names in poker and with a large advertising budget, it rapidly grows to become a huge force in online poker.
The USA is now responsible for around 50% of online gambling $8.5 billion revenue.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rules that the Wire Act doesn't prohibit Internet gambling related to games of chance. The Department of Justice disagrees with the ruling, publically announcing that the Wire Act applies to all forms of gambling. And so the first rumblings of problems with Internet gambling in the US begin to be heard.
US Poker TV shows begin using card cameras and showing player hole cards for the first time. This creates a considerable jump in poker's accessibility and popularity. PartyPoker taps into this power through advertisements and immediately becomes the largest poker site.
PokerStars launch the first World Championship of Online Poker. It has over $730,000 in prizes and 565 players signed up to the first event. The tournament will continue to grow and in 2012 had over $55 million in prizes, with 1,825 players in the main event alone.
Two Internet poker giants start up in 2001. PartyPoker and PokerStars begin muscling in on the online poker scene, although Paradise Poker still leads the way. PokerStars launches its beta site on September 11. It's a play-money online site. A real-money poker site launches two months later on December 12.
However, PartyPoker develops a new business model and begins offering tournaments that culminate in live events. The first of these is the PartyPoker Million cruise, where the action ends on a cruise ship. The success of this has many sites develop tournaments of their own.
Ultimate Bet, has also become a player on the Internet scene. They are the first to display average pot size for games in the lobby.
The first Internet poker room scandal strikes as well in 2001. Poker Spot, a popular site, has its two payment processors fail, leaving it with debts of $480,000. Poker spot lies to its players about cash withdrawals, claiming that "the check is in the mail" when pressed for funds. The players at this site never get their money back.
Paradise Poker, which competes directly against Planet Poker, launches. At the same time Paradise Poker launches, Planet Poker suffers a technical fault that results in several days of downtime. By the time Planet Poker is back online, Paradise Poker has become a serious contender and grows exponentially. Paradise Poker also offers Seven Card Stud and Omaha games, in addition to the normal Texas Hold'em.
Paradise Poker's reign would last until 2003. In 2004 the company was sold for $340 million.
Late Night Poker, which pioneered "under the table" cameras, first airs in 1999. While this was a UK show, it paved the way for poker becoming a spectator sport and its technique was mimicked and improved upon by many subsequent shows.
Progressive slot games burst on to the Internet scene this year, with Microgaming launching the first one. Cash Splash, as the slot machine was known, features an ever growing jackpot. And the more the machine is played, the bigger the jackpot grows.
The US Senate makes its first attempt to control Internet gambling with the launch of the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act. However, it does not pass.
Online poker bursts onto the scene with the launch of Planet Poker. This was founded by Randy Blumer and dealt the first ever virtual poker hand on January 1, 1998. The first game played on the site was a $3/$6 hand of Texas Hold'em. It took until February 1998 before traffic to the site became steady, and back then almost all the players were using a dial-up modem to access the game. Technical issues plagued the site and downtime could last days, yet it always maintained a core base of loyal players.
By the end of 1998, online gambling is an industry worth around $834 million.
This year saw some hiccups at the World Series of Poker. The number of players had swollen and poker seemed to fill every available space at the Horseshoe venue. The final table was played on a huge stage built on Fremont Street. Stu Ungar, the legendary player, took the title. It was the last one who would ever win as he died without taking part in another WSOP.
Internet gambling explodes and jumps from about 15 websites the year before, to around 200 sites. These compete for the growing interest that poker and gambling is garnering. However, it won't be until 2003 that Internet gambling goes through the roof.
The online gambling world begins to flex its muscles. The world's first online sportsbook opens up in 1996 and is run by Intertops, having obtained a license from Antigua. Cryptologic, another big gambling software developer, follows close on Microgaming's heels and obtains a license for one of its subsidiaries - Wagerlogic.
The Kahnawake Gaming Commission is established on the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake. The Kahnawake Mohawk Nation is located just outside of Montreal, Canada. The Gaming Commission starts handing out licenses to the major online gambling sites.
In October of this year, InterCasino launches what they claim to be the first online real money casino. The claim is disputed by Microgaming who state that The Gaming Club, which they opened in 1995, is the first.
The world Series of Poker is won by Russ Hamilton and he scoops a $1 million prize. He went on to become a consultant for Ultimate Bet, and in 2008 the Kahnawake Gaming Commission found him responsible for cheating players out of over $6 million. In 2009, that amount was revised to over $22 million in fraudulent winnings. The scandal was widely considered to be the biggest in the history of online poker.
Back in 1994 online poker began its meteoric rise to fame. The island nation of Antigua and Barbuda passed the Free Trade & Processing act. The act permitted licenses to be granted to companies who wanted to start up an online gambling site. Microgaming, the leading online casino software developer, formed the same year.
Interestingly, Derek Webb invented Three Card Poker in 1994, a game which can also be found at many online casinos today.
This is an interesting year in poker. New Jersey held a referendum for a constitutional amendment that made casino gaming legal. The referendum passed and the Resorts Casino became the first to open its doors in 1978. That made New Jersey the second place in America that you could play poker legally.
Doyle Brunson, poker legend extraordinaire, wins the World Series of Poker with his hand of 10-2. He won $220,000 and the first bracelet awarded for a main event winner (which at that time was valued at just $500). After Doyle won the 1977 WSOP with the same hand, the 10-2 becomes known as the "Doyle Brunson" in his honor.
While poker books, such as David Sklansky's classic The Theory of Poker, became popular, another lesser known event occurred in 1976 that would go on to have a profound impact on the game: Phil Ivey was born on February 1 in Riverside California.
In 1970 history was truly made in the poker world. The very first World Series of Poker (WSOP) was held at Binion's Casino in Las Vegas (which did not even have a poker room - and back then there were only 70 poker tables in the whole state of Nevada).
There were just 30 entrants, who crammed themselves into a space about the size of a hotel room. The winner of the tournament was decided by vote - and Johnny Moss took the inaugural title of what would become the biggest event in poker.
The following year, the tournament was played as a freezeout event, with Johnny Moss keeping his crown. That year the entry fee was set at $5,000 - no small sum in 1970. By 1973 the event was being televised and today it attracts tens of thousands of players from around the globe and has a prize pool of millions of dollars.
Poker has developed considerably over the last 100 years. The full 52 card deck is now utilized, the flush hand is in play, and the American Civil War created stud poker and the straight. Community cards - such as those used in Texas Hold'em today - are a relatively new concept, having come into existence since 1925.
The American game has also spread to the British Court, and by 1920 has taken strong root on that island. Poker has also spread throughout American society and is no longer considered a game of "men", with surveys of the time showing it to be the third most popular card game among women (after rummy and bridge).
Nevada now jumps onto the poker scene, reversing a 1910 decision that outlawed stud poker gambling in casinos. The state soon becomes a popular destination for gamblers looking to make (or break) their fortunes.
Poker is first mentioned in America by Joe Cowell, a touring English actor. It is said that the game was originally played with a deck of just 20 cards (which is strange as full decks of playing cards have been around much longer than that, and the 52 card deck dates back to the fourteenth century).Each player is dealt five cards and betting takes place on who has the best hand.
The name is thought to be derived from the French word "poque", which in turn is descended from the German word "pochen" that means "to bluff". However, the 20 card deck makes this early form of poker identical to the ancient Persian game of "nas", although many think the similarity is purely coincidental.
Like many things in the gambling world, the true origins of poker seem shrouded in mystery.
No matter how the game got its first toehold on the American continent (poker-style games were being played in Europe from the sixteenth century), the game rapidly spreads throughout the country on Mississippi riverboats, on board which gambling was common.
Apart from delving into the history of online poker in the US, we have also looked at every US state to bring you what is happening right now. Our team has examined laws and rulings to bring you a detailed state-by-state guide to playing Internet poker. Check out some of our popular state guides here: California, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Utah, Washington. Don't forget to check back for the latest in US gaming legislation updates.
Also see our Poker History Timeline which gives the history of worldwide poker from Caveman to present.