Millions of online gambling fans living in the United States saw their favorite pastime prohibited on April 15, 2011 – a date that has been dubbed “Black Friday” ever since.
But the drama really began five years earlier, when Congress slipped a provision known as the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 into an unrelated port safety spending bill. Today, lawmakers readily admit that they never had time to review the terms of the UIGEA, but as it was attached to a necessary counterterrorism measure only five years after 9/11, they showed no hesitancy in passing the online gambling ban.
If you give the UIGEA a close read, however, you’ll find that it doesn’t say a word about players who participate in online gambling. Instead, the law precludes businesses from conducting any transactions related to wagers placed over the internet – whether they concern poker, casino games, or sports betting.
As such, when the UIGEA was first signed into law by President George W. Bush, many established iGaming operators heeded the warning and picked up stakes. PartyPoker, for example, ceased serving the lucrative U.S. marketplace altogether, restricting access to American players and retreating to European shores.
On the other hand, sites like PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and dozens of small online slot parlors, casinos, and sportsbooks chose to flout the newly signed federal law. These sites remained in the U.S. market and continued to serve American players, despite the UIGEA’s clear directives to the contrary.
For the next five years, these “rogue” sites gobbled up market share and garnered massive profits, thanks in large part to the online gambling boom of the 2000s.
The house of cards came crashing down on “Black Friday” though, when the Department of Justice (DOJ) unsealed an indictment against the owners and operators of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and the Cereus Poker Network (Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet Poker). That same day, players awoke to discover that their favorite iGaming platforms – along with their account balances – had been frozen, the domain names seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and replaced by a boilerplate message.
As you can tell, “Black Friday” wound up targeting online poker sites specifically, but the resulting chaos resulted in all iGaming activities being banned. According to the UIGEA’s language, and the DOJ’s official stance, a federal law known as the Wire Act of 1961 – which banned the placement of wagers via telephonic means – could be applied to ban internet-based gambling as well.
In the wake of “Black Friday” several established online gambling platforms fled the U.S. market entirely, unwilling to risk the legal entanglements facing the three indicted parties. This left a proverbial vacuum, as American demand for the iGaming industry continued unabated, even as the supply side dried up dramatically.
To fill that vacuum, hundreds of smaller offshore operators sprang up, purchasing generic gambling-related domain names and setting up shop to serve the U.S. market. Once again, these sites were flouting federal law, but given their reduced size and scope, the vast majority of offshore sites escaped the notice of authorities.
As an American online gambling fan, your only option after “Black Friday” involved bringing your bankroll to one of these sites. And while most of them were reputable operators, paying out winnings and conducting business in a professional manner, there will always be bad apples to spoil the bunch.
In any unregulated market, consumers are subjected to the mercy of sellers, and the iGaming industry can be especially cutthroat. Horror stories of huge jackpot scores that were never paid, hard earned account balances frozen for no reason, and even stolen account balances akin to the Full Tilt Poker fiasco came to define the American iGaming marketplace for many players.
Unfortunately, that state of uncertainty remains the status quo to this day, as the UIGEA and its prohibition on iGaming-related business remains intact. For the most part, major operators with pristine reputations shy away from serving American players, leaving less reliable sites to pick up the slack.
Progress is being made, however, following a pivotal decision by the DOJ in December of 2011.
When the DOJ released a brief memo on December 23, which stated that the Wire Act of 1961 should only be applied to sports betting, the reversal paved the way for legalized online gambling in the U.S. to return.
Simply put, the DOJ decided that the Wire Act of 1961 was written specifically to ban sports bets from being placed via the telephone – leaving poker and casino gaming untouched. In a flash, the legal climate surrounding iGaming in America had changed for the better, as individual states were now free to regulate online poker, casino, and slots without fear of violating federal law.
The rush to enact iGaming regulation began in earnest by 2013, and predictably, the land-based gambling meccas of Nevada and New Jersey led the charge. But it was actually the small state of Delaware, known for its horseracing track “racinos,” that passed the nation’s first iGaming legislation in June of 2012.
By 2013, the list of states where online gambling is both legal and fully regulated grew to three, as Nevada and New Jersey launched their own industries.
Currently, the Garden State has proven to be the most successful of the bunch, bringing PokerStars back to the U.S. for the first time since “Black Friday,” while developing several strong competitors in the Caesars-operated WSOP.com, Borgata’s family of platforms which includes PartyPoker, and the Golden Nugget’s collection of licensees like Betfair and PlaySugarHouse.
The template established by New Jersey has inspired lawmakers in other states to introduce similar iGaming legislation, with New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts among those that have come closest to full passage.
As of today, the list of locales where online gambling has been legalized, in one form or another, is limited to New Jersey, Nevada, and Delaware. But in the coming years, that number should increase by at least double, so the tide is slowly turning against blanket bans on the iGaming industry.
Even so, the positive trends have been threatened recently, with a lavish lobbying effort funded by Las Vegas Sands casino mogul and billionaire conservative donor Sheldon Adelson leading to the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) initiative. This bill – which would reverse the DOJ’s reversal and apply the Wire Act of 1961 to all forms of online gambling – has been soundly defeated in each of the last three years, but like a specter it looms over the entire iGaming debate.
The administration of President Donald Trump, who formerly owned casinos and has expressed support for the iGaming industry over the years, initially appeared to be receptive when it comes to online gambling regulation. But as is Trump’s wont, he muddied the waters by appointing strict anti-gambling figure Jeff Sessions to the role of Attorney General.
As the head of the DOJ, Sessions has the power to shift back to the old Wire Act interpretation, and when asked about his stance on the subject during Senate confirmation hearings, he expressed “shock” at the 2011 reversal.
With that said, a Trump administration embroiled in scandal – with Sessions’ name being bantered about as part of ongoing investigations – has bigger fish to fry than banning the iGaming industry.
As a player, 2017 isn’t the worst year to enjoy online gambling, as the offshore operators with unscrupulous intentions have largely been weeded out. It only takes a few breaches of trust with the player base to brand a site as “blacklisted,” so when you search for online poker rooms, casinos, slot parlors, or sportsbooks in this day and age, the wonders of search engine optimization should bring you to reputable venues only.
Even so, it’s always important to exercise due diligence, which is where the following list comes in handy. Below you’ll find five of the best U.S.-facing iGaming platforms; those that have served players faithfully for a number of years, while carefully cultivating reputations for excellence and superior service.
Whether you’re looking to go all-in with a big poker bluff, double down with a well-timed blackjack bet, spin the progressive slots in search of jackpots, back the best team in a pivotal game, or simply let it ride on a chance-based game like keno or bingo – these five iGaming platforms have you covered:
1. America’s Card Room (ACR)
Focus: Poker (with Sportsbook and Casino)
History and Overview
As part of the Winning Poker Network, the America’s Poker Room (ACR) platform has developed into a bona fide competitor for the major online poker rooms.
The site was a minor figure during the poker boom, serving a small player base between 2001 and 2007. ACR took a brief hiatus after the UIGEA was passed, but threw its hat back into the ring by acquiring the defunct Doyle’s Room platform in 2011.
Flush with a new player base, and emboldened by the DOJ’s reversal of the Wire Act interpretation, ACR set to work building the best possible U.S.-facing poker room. That work was slow and steady, but between then and now, a series of regular software updates and dedicated promotion grew ACR into the second-largest site for American poker players.
That strategy is evident in the site’s name alone, but ACR is also available to international players – which makes for a lively player base that never lacks for action. Tables are always popping up in the cash game area, while the tournament schedule’s guarantees eclipsed with consistency.
Benefits of America’s Card Room (ACR)
Among the close-knit community of professional and semi-pro poker players still grinding out a living stateside, ACR has become the platform of choice. Just head to Twitter and search for “selling ACR” to find a laundry list of recognizable names looking to unload their ACR bankrolls, and you’ll see just how popular the site has become with serious players.
To do so, the site maintains the standard process of screennames and player tracking, unlike its chief competitor Ignition Poker (see entry #4 on this list). That means you’ll be able to clash with familiar foes, develop rivalries against skilled players, and even pick on the occasional fish when they swim by.
If you’re a fan of Ignition Poker’s anonymous gameplay style, which abandons screennames for random numbers, ACR’s personalized experience may not be for you. But most serious players appreciate the accountability that screennames add to the equation, as evidenced by the abundance of well-known pros who now frequent the site.
And while ACR also spreads a full complement of casino games, slots, and even a comprehensive sportsbook – poker remains its pride and joy. The site hosts a daily schedule defined by dozens of tournaments, running the gamut from $1 microstakes affairs to $55 events offering $30,000 guaranteed prize pools.
The weekly highlight for tournament players is the Sunday Special, a $215 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em (NLHE) tournament boasting a $150,000 guaranteed prize pool.
When you add in ACR’s commitment to spreading full-scale series, such as the Online Super Series (OSS) and High Five, tournament players never lack for available options.
Cash game specialists aren’t left out in the cold though, as ACR runs hundreds of tables ranging from $0.05/$0.10 blinds up to $40/$80 and beyond. The action isn’t limited to NLHE either, as Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO), Seven Card Stud, and other variants are always on tap.
Another aspect of ACR that regular players appreciate is the site’s reliability, as deposits – and more importantly, withdrawals – are always facilitated promptly and without hassle. The customer service department is competent and qualified too, so when any issues do happen to crop up – and they do in any commercial transaction – you’ll be in good hands.
Focus: Sportsbook and Casino
Founded: 1994 (Rebranded in 2011)
License: Kahnawake Gaming Commission
History and Overview
For sports betting enthusiasts in America, most of whom lack convenient access to Las Vegas’ legal bookmakers, the Bovada brand has offered the next best thing for more than two decades.
Originally founded as Bodog in 1994, the online betting platform pioneered by founder Calvin Ayre was one of the first to accept internet wagers – paving the way for an iGaming industry explosion a few years down the road.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Bodog stood alongside 5Dimes and Bookmaker.eu as the major destinations for online sports wagering action.
For a while during the poker boom, Bodog built itself into a thriving online poker room, complete with sponsorship of 2006 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event winner Jamie Gold. With the addition of a full-fledged casino component, Bodog became a comprehensive destination for all forms of online gambling – one visited by millions of players every year.
The hostile legal climate which followed online poker’s “Black Friday” in April of 2011 led Bodog to rebrand itself as Bovada later that year.
Between 2011 and 2016, the Bovada platform became known as a one-stop shop for online wagers of all variety, including sports, poker, and casino. The site even gained national prominence among the American media, which widely cited Bovada’s lines and odds when previewing high-profile sporting events.
In 2016, the poker side of Bovada was sold off to Ignition, which is essentially a subsidiary of the wider Bovada brand. The sale included all of Bovada’s digital assets, and player accounts were simply shifted over to Ignition.
Today, the Ignition Poker room (see entry # 4 on this list) has taken up the Bovada mantle, running the exact same software and games menu while serving largely the same player base.
As for Bovada, the site remains focused on providing a world-class sports betting experience to American customers. The lines and odds offered now provide the industry standard, with dozens of smaller online sportsbooks essentially mimicking the Bovada bookmakers’ read across the board.
And having joined the Betting Partners Network of iGaming platforms, Bovada is widely known as the sister site for follow-ups like Slots.lv (see entry #5 on this list) and others. By partnering with established sites like Ignition and Slots.lv, Bovada is constantly able to remain on the cutting edge of technological development, software design, and security procedures.
Finally, while sports betting is Bovada’s bread and butter, the site maintains a full-scale online casino platform to give players something to do while sweating the latest scores. The casino runs games designed by software developers Real Time Gaming (RTG) and Rival Gaming, along with its own proprietary products.
Overall, if you’re an American gambler who enjoys putting a little action down on the big game, or placing a few bets at the blackjack or baccarat tables, Bovada should be a surefire bookmark in your favorite web browser.
Benefits of Bovada
Companies don’t survive for over 20 years in the rough and tumble iGaming business without committing themselves to proper customer service.
American players are largely forced to contend with unregulated operators, and horror stories continue to emerge from the unsupervised market to this day. But those don’t emanate from Bovada players, because the site strives to provide top notch customer service at all times.
As for the game menu, Bovada’s bookmakers spread action on the four major North American sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL), along with dozens of minor sports like soccer, mixed-martial arts, tennis, golf, and many more. When international leagues and non-sports events like political elections and awards shows are added in, Bovada’s betting lineup is unrivaled within the industry.
One reason for that reputation is derived from depth, as Bovada offers much more than basic moneyline and spread wagers. Each game on the board comes equipped with dozens of associated prop bets, spanning the spectrum from quarter and halftime scores to individual player performances.
Simply put, if you can bet on a game, match, or contest, chances are high that Bovada has already posted accurate lines and interesting props.
Over on the casino side of the site, Bovada runs a combination of RTG and Rival Gaming software to cover the bulk of its slots and table game menu. A selection of over 200 virtual slots should keep the reels spinning for a long while, and an expansive table game menu features no less than eight blackjack variants, along with all the rest like baccarat, craps, and roulette.
Bovada also uses one of the most generous Welcome Bonus offers to bring new players on board, so be sure to visit the Promotions page here to check out the latest deposit and reload match terms, along with free bets and other goodies.
Focus: Sportsbook (with Poker and Casino)
License: Panama Gaming Control Board
History and Overview
Way back in 2004, a “connected guy” in Rochester, New York who went by the name of Joe Junior had been operating as a bookie for 13 years.
But more than a decade of prying and prodding by the local police prompted Joe Junior, the son of Gambino Family associate Joseph Fafone, to flee for greener pastures. Or sands, in this case, as Joe Junior relocated to Costa Rica and launched BestLineSports.com.
Soon enough, as the success of online sportsbooks became a proven concept, entrepreneur Eddie Robbins III swooped in and took the site legit. Under the rebranded BetOnline name, the platform was built into a full-fledged sportsbook, one accepting action comparable to the major Las Vegas bet shops at the time.
A series of eccentric promotions was highlighted by mountain climber Tim Rippel attempting to place a wager from the peak of Mount Everest in 2009. With mainstream media outlets covering the event in earnest, millions of bettors worldwide learned about the BetOnline concept.
As awareness of BetOnline grew, the site’s operators were forced to abandon the .com domain name for BetOnline.ag, which uses the domain for Antigua and Barbuda. Even so, BetOnline remains one of the most popular online sports betting outlets today, accepting thousands of wagers on all variety of sports – and even other events like political elections and award shows – from American customers.
The site has also grown to encompass all forms of iGaming, including casino table games, slots, poker, and more using the Betsoft line of software. That gives players a full range of options for their gambling dollar, but the sportsbook has always been the centerpiece.
With constantly updated odds, in-play betting, and a slew of prop bets, futures, and other “specials,” the BetOnline experience is second only to visiting a sportsbook on The Strip.
And it just might be better too, as you’ll never have to wait in line, smell stale cigarette smoke, or wonder if the ticket agent recorded your wager accurately.
Benefits of BetOnline
The many virtues of BetOnline’s sportsbook component were detailed above, so this section will be devoted to a supplementary aspect of the site: Live Dealer casino gaming.
By partnering with Vision iGaming, the BetOnline site is now home to some of the best Live Dealer options in the U.S.-facing marketplace.
For those of you who aren’t aware, Live Dealer games take internet gambling to the next level, replacing the pixels and graphics of old with genuine casino equipment. Using the power of modern live streaming technology, highly trained dealers stand behind actual blackjack, baccarat, and roulette tables – among other table games – while high-definition cameras record all the action in real time.
From the player’s perspective, the video game screens that most iGaming products rely on are removed in favor of crisp, clean footage showing your favorite Live Dealers – who are usually attractive and engaging to boot.
Players tend to appreciate Live Dealer games because the uncertainty of random number generators (RNGs) is replaced by physical cards, wheels, and other tangible results.
Even better, Live Dealer games allow you to liven up the gameplay experience by communicating directly with the dealer, or fellow players. Casino gambling is a communal experience after all, so congratulations when you win, and commiseration when the tide turns, are always appreciated.
You can be sure that BetOnline’s sportsbook is on point, but the inclusion of a Live Dealer platform powered by Vision iGaming was a prescient touch. This form of online gambling is the wave of the future, but for American players suffering through an unregulated market, gaining access to cutting edge Live Dealer products is quite difficult.
Thanks to BetOnline though, you’ll be able to enjoy the unique thrills of Live Dealer casino gaming while waiting for your scores to go final.
For a sportsbook-centric site like BetOnline, retaining a sense of diversity is a key step toward cultivating a wider player base. The Live Dealer offerings do just that, setting the side note casino side of things apart from the crowd.
4. Ignition Poker
License: Kahnawake Gaming Commission
History and Overview
One of the latest additions to the U.S.-facing iGaming landscape, Ignition Casino burst on the scene in August of 2016.
With the surprise announcement that Ignition had acquired Bovada’s poker platform, the fledgling site immediately became the third-largest online poker network on the planet. Bovada’s player base saw their accounts transferred to Ignition shortly thereafter, but rather than a complete overhaul, the transition was more akin to a rebranding than anything else.
That’s because Ignition is owned by Lynton Limited and operated as part of the Betting Partners Network, just like Bovada. Essentially, the ownership group overseeing Bovada elected to focus on the site’s sportsbook and casino components, so it created Ignition and purchased its own assets to create a “new” poker platform.
But as players will note, the software and interface of Ignition Poker are exact replicas of Bovada, with only a color swap suggesting that anything has even changed. The extensive menu of poker tournaments and cash games remains intact as well, as does the old Bovada method of masking player identities.
All in all, Ignition Poker is simply Bovada Poker under a new name – which is great for American card sharps. After all, Bovada built itself into one of the leading U.S.-facing poker platforms over the last two decades, so Ignition players are still in good hands.
The site also includes the same casino game lineup, using RTG and Rival Gaming software as found on Bovada, but this list will confine its coverage of Ignition to the primary poker product.
Benefits of Ignition Poker
This was mentioned already, but as the world’s third-largest online poker network, Ignition Poker provides depth to match the big boys like PokerStars and 888 Poker.
And in terms of U.S.-facing sites, Ignition Poker instantly became the top dog with its acquisition of Bovada’s player base. In fact, only the Winning Poker Network and its America’s Card Room (ACR) platform (see entry #1 on this list) can come close to matching Ignition Poker’s reach.
The next selling point for Ignition Poker may be a matter of opinion, but for most recreational players, the site’s decision to ditch screennames and other identifiers for “anonymous” play is quite appealing. Sure, you won’t be able to take on known pros or develop rivalries with difficult opponents, but with anonymous nature of Ignition Poker gameplay, the sharks can’t use heads-up displays (HUDs) or hand history archives to track your play.
The phenomenon known as “bum-hunting” – or using HUD data to identify new or weak players to target – preys predominantly on players who hit online poker sites for fun. Pros who can amass running databases on inexperienced players take that fun out of the proceedings, a fact Ignition Poker and the Betting Partners Network family has recognized from the beginning.
With that said, highly skilled players who have grown accustomed to the use of HUDs may find the lack of screennames to be a disadvantage.
Interestingly, the Ignition Poker business model is predicated on serving only the U.S. market, which turns the site into an American-only zone. Most iGaming sites that operate in the U.S. do so as a supplement to their main marketplaces, so Ignition Poker’s focus on Americans sets it apart from rivals.
Finally, to help facilitate the transfer of players from Bovada to Ignition Poker, the site has embarked upon an ambitious bonus plan to reward anyone who registers for a new account. All iGaming sites offer bonuses at this point, but Ignition Poker’s pair of 100 percent matches on first deposits, up to $1,000 each for casino and poker play, are among the industry’s most generous “Welcome” packages.
Focus: Slots and Casino
License: Kahnawake Gaming Commission
History and Overview
Owned by Lynton Limited and operated by the Betting Partners Network, the Slots.lv platform was launched in 2013 to provide slot players with a one-stop shop for their favorite games.
To that end, the site employed several leading software developers – including Real Time Gaming (RTG), Rival Gaming, Betsoft, and Bodog Custom – to assemble a slot lover’s dream lineup of titles.
Today, you’ll find more than 200 individual slot games on the menu, spanning the spectrum from traditional three-reel and five-reel designs to modernized video slots, and even themed games based on licensed pop culture products.
Players also appreciate the chance to chase life-changing progressive jackpots, which can be won through games like Jolly Rogers Jackpot. With just a few coins, and a little luck, the perfect reel combination can trigger five-figure jackpots and up – which is what every slot enthusiast dreams about.
The site also includes the same online casino platform found on sister sites Bovada (see entry #2 on this list) and Ignition Poker (see entry #4 on this list), but slots clearly take center stage.
Slots.lv is positioned as a Canadian-focused platform, but like most Betting Partners Network brands, it’s also a U.S.-facing site. Aside from three states (Maryland, New Jersey, and New York), American players are not restricted whatsoever.
Benefits of Slots.lv
The appeal of a site like Slots.lv is plain to see: slot players are prized above all else.
Just like land-based casinos which lavish their slot fans with free-plays, comps, and other goodies, Slots.lv knows how to treat its regulars. The “MySlots” reward program will be instantly familiar to anyone who has frequented the slot parlors on the Las Vegas Strip, offering a whole host of benefits as you climb the points progression ladder.
If you put in sufficient spins, an easy feat with so many titles on tap, Slots.lv will reward MySlots members with eight distinct tiers of improved features. You can increase your withdrawal limits, gain access to exclusive bonus offers, and receive randomly drawn cash prizes – all by earning points through regular play.
As for the site’s nuts and bolts, players can rest assured that Slots.lv is safe and secure thanks to the sites affiliation with Betting Partners Network. Platforms like Bovada haven’t survived for so long by ripping off customers, or even treating them shabbily, so its sister site Slots.lv can be expected to provide the same sustained excellence.
And it has for the last four years, attracting thousands of slot players over that span to become the U.S. market’s hotbed for virtual slot games.
Finding the best and safest online casinos and poker rooms that offer games to the U.S. market is more challenging than it was 10 years ago. If the nation would legalize the market it would be able to provide a legal structure to ensure fair play and protect the players.
Until that happens, you can visit one of the 5 best and safest U.S. facing iGaming platforms on this page.
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