Online Poker in Virginia
No casino game is more social than poker. It’s one of the few gambling endeavors that requires other people.
Unfortunately, Virginia is not home to legal online poker sites (yet). As is the case with most gambling activities, state law remains in opposition to peer-to-peer online poker games inside state lines. There aren’t even live poker venues in Virginia, but that will change as newly legalized casinos are built.
However, there are some reasons for hope. For one thing, there is at least one sweepstakes poker site that can offer real money poker action online. We will walk you through how it works to play.
Virginia is also undergoing a rare expansion in gambling right now, with both online sports betting and live casinos expected to debut sometime soon. Should those two launches go well, lawmakers traditionally hostile to gambling might be more agreeable to online poker coming to Virginia.
Best online poker sites Virginia
How sweepstakes poker sites work
While licensed, VA online poker hasn’t yet arrived, Virginians have the option of playing on sweepstakes sites for both play money and even prizes with cash value. If you’re new to playing poker online, sweepstakes poker might be an unfamiliar concept.
A sweepstakes contest is a prize giveaway that operates under two essential rules. The first rule is that it must give away its advertised prize. So, even though those mailers from Ed McMahon always seemed dicey, they were legitimate offers. And somebody had to win for the company to stay in business.
Sweepstakes must also be completely free to enter. So, any time the fine print on a giveaway mentions “no purchase necessary to win,” it is a begrudging announcement of the giveaway’s true nature. The companies would happily charge money if they could, but doing so would make them a lottery.
At first glance, these rules don’t seem conducive to online poker. However, at least one site, Global Poker, has figured out a way to make it work.
Global Poker offers players a chance to win actual money through poker play. The site can do so through a dual currency system that makes it impossible to purchase redeemable prize vouchers.
Instead, players can only purchase Gold Coins, which have no cash value. The cash prizes, in the form of Sweeps Coins, are available for free in one of three ways:
- Awarded alongside a Gold Coin purchase
- Given away for logging into the site each day
- Credited for a handwritten request to the site
It is possible to amass hundreds of dollars worth of Sweeps Coins through both these award methods and your play onsite.
Is online poker legal in Virginia?
With the exception of sweepstakes poker, no. Online poker sites, either affiliated with a casino and licensed in another state or licensed overseas, are not permitted to offer poker games online for money inside the state of Virginia at this time.
Virginians who want to play real money poker online need to travel to one of the currently licensed states in order to play at a traditional online poker site.
Why can I still find online poker sites in Virginia?
You may be scratching your head at the comment above. A simple Google search shows that there are plenty of online poker sites accepting Virginia players.
Unfortunately, these sites are run by offshore operators. They exist outside the jurisdiction of Virginia and US law and are said to be in the “gray market” because they are neither specifically legalized nor made illegal.
However, playing on one of these sites from Virginia comes with a host of red flags. There is no way to tell whether you are dealing with a reputable poker site. Even if the company has an anecdotal track record of good faith, there’s no way to confirm their business practices are ethical by any objective means.
Offshore poker sites are not subject to the judicial system of the Commonwealth of Virginia or the United States. So, if you were to have an issue in your dealings with one of them, you will find yourself short on options to pursue them legally. At best, you might have to take your complaint up with an independent regulatory agency. These bodies, unlike a state agency, might have no real authority and you’d have no way to know.
Finally, the uncertain nature of the law surrounding playing on these sites means that there’s room for interpretation. An state or federal prosecutor could decide to push the envelope about playing on these sites, and you could suddenly find yourself on the wrong side of an indictment. It’s unlikely, but it’s also not worth the risk. After all, it has happened before.
At this point, online poker is a waiting game in Virginia. It’s frustrating, to be sure, but don’t let your frustration goad you into making a poor choice with an offshore site.
When will Virginia legalize and regulate online poker?
Before 2018, the notion that Virginia would legalize any form of sports betting would have seemed far-fetched, but the first legal online sportsbooks and sportsbooks apps are set to launch very soon.
That said, there’s a long road ahead for poker players in Virginia who want to play poker for real money online or through a poker app. Though the winds seem to be blowing in the right direction, the reality is that it’ll take a few years for the state’s most recent gambling expansion to be realized fully.
Real money poker vs. play money poker
Many Virginia players already play poker online for free with Zynga Poker, ClubWPT, or at PokerStars.net. However, there’s a far cry between those experiences and playing poker for real money. Here’s what a real money poker site in Virginia would offer:
1. More hands, more skill
The first thing that you’ll notice about real money online poker sites is the speed of the game. Any single hand of online poker moves at 2-3x the speed of a live poker game.
With that speed comes an increase to all occurrences. You see more hands online. Critically, you’ll suffer more bad beats and coolers.
You’ll also find that the players in real money games online are much more adept than live players at the same price level. If you are new to playing online poker, it’s recommended that you spend some time playing at the lowest blind level, even if you’re a winning player at higher limits live.
This increased skill level from an average online player occurs for two reasons. For one thing, there are online utilities like heads-up displays (HUDs), game trackers, and statistics databases that can give players a leg up they could never have in a live game.
The other reason that online players tend to be better is quite intuitive. These players simply see so many hands and gain so much experience faster than any live poker player can. Most online players have seen tens of thousands of hands play out, and they have the wisdom to know the optimal way to behave in far more situations.
2. More games, more open seats
You can also find a myriad of poker game types, stakes, and formats online. In some cases, the variations available far surpass anything that a live poker room could host, purely due to the logistics.
Furthermore, you can always find an open seat online. Even if several full tables are running, you can sit at your own table and someone else is bound to sit down and challenge you soon.
Online poker tables usually have seats for two, six, or nine players. Games come in several formats, including cash games, poker tournaments, and sit & go’s.
Depending on the poker site, you’ll have your pick of games to play. The most common game to find is no-limit Texas hold’em. No matter how small a site’s traffic may be, the one game that you can count on finding is no-limit hold’em.
If you’d prefer to play something different, however, it depends on what site you’re using. Common secondary games that you can find online include pot-limit Omaha, Omaha high-low (Eight or Better), Stud, and Crazy Pineapple. Some sites, like PokerStars, even release their own game variants from time to time.
3. More cashout methods, more bonuses
One major difference between live poker and online is that online poker is never anonymous. Even if a site anonymizes your name at the table, you must still register for an account and submit several pieces of personal data to the site before you can play and cash out your winnings.
You will also need to deposit money into your poker site account before you can join a real money table. Several methods will be available to you. Typical deposit methods on online poker sites include:
- Credit or debit cards
- Electronic checks (ACH)
- Electronic wallets (PayPal, Skrill, NETELLER)
- Online banking/wire transfers
- Prepaid cards
- Cash at a land-based partner’s cage
Because you use your financial information to deposit, it’s also critical to keep your account information secure. A hacked password or login data in the wrong hands can be extremely problematic on an online poker account.
Finally, one big difference between online and live poker is the prevalence of bonuses online. Many online poker sites will offer you free money and tournament tickets if you opt into the bonus and/or complete various tasks. Each bonus’ terms and conditions vary, of course, but it’s rare to find as much generosity in a live setting.
4. More sense
If you’ve found success on play money sites before, that’s terrific. However, there is a fundamental difference between real money sites and play money ones that you need to understand before you decide to make the switch.
Players on play money sites do not act reasonably. Even if there’s no possible way that their hand could be the best, many will call the river. As a result, the amount you can win for your big hands on play money sites is often magnified.
Real money players are far stingier about their holdings and committing their funds. If a real money player continues to bet or call in a hand, there’s a greater chance that he or she has a good hand. This difference probably seems painfully obvious, but the two games are like night and day to one another.
Are home poker games legal in Virginia?
Yes. Virginia law specifically defines games of chance played in a private residence as an exception to the law against gambling. If our understanding of the law is correct, you could probably play more games than just poker at your house.
The only restrictions are that a) the house has to be used mostly as a house, and b) the game host cannot be an “operator,” as defined by the law. In other words, it has to be a true friendly game, and not a professional game masquerading as a home game. The best way to ensure it is a friendly game is to have a game where there is no rake and all the money goes back to the players.
Virginia poker laws
Gambling is broadly restricted in the Commonwealth. The Code of Virginia defines illegal gambling as “the making, placing, or receipt of any bet or wager in the Commonwealth of money or other consideration or thing of value.”
The law goes on to specify that the prohibition extends to both intrastate and interstate transactions. There isn’t much wiggle room in terms of what gamblers in Virginia can do without running afoul of the statutes.
A Virginia legislator made an earnest attempt to reclassify poker as a game of skill in 2017. State Sen. Louise Lucas’ S 1400 also concluded that, since poker was a game of skill, it could be regulated under the current law in Virginia.
Unfortunately, though the bill passed through the Virginia Senate, it could not gain the necessary support in the House. Since then, no additional effort to put poker into Virginia has occurred.
However, with the chance of legal casinos coming to as many as five Virginia towns, live poker might not be off the table for long. Even though Virginia is a hostile place for card games, there is hope on the horizon.
Virginia live poker rooms
There are no card rooms in Virginia at this time. However, with the passage of SB 36, five towns in Virginia could potentially become homes for casinos soon. If that happens, then any one of them could become a poker room location. The towns are:
The nearest poker rooms to the state are in West Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina. They are:
- West Virginia – The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs; Mardi Gras Casino, Charleston
- Maryland – MGM National Harbor, Baltimore
- North Carolina – Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, Cherokee, NC
Live poker coming to Virginia first?
Poker, online or live, has long been left out in the cold in the Commonwealth of Virginia. While online poker is still years away, live poker could arrive in the next few years. With up to five new casinos approved and the impending launch of sports betting in the state, things are at least looking up for online poker in VA.