Online poker is often the least-regarded of the three major types of online gambling due to its lower profitability for both gambling companies and state legislatures. Thus, it is often part of other gambling expansions, rather than gaining passage by itself. In the case of Massachusetts, there is little chance of online poker becoming part of the landscape until the Bay State gets sports betting handled. In fact, there’s probably no online poker without online casinos in Massachusetts, either, since online poker is usually an add-on to online casino bills.
In other words for the time being, there is no online poker on the horizon for Massachusetts. However, we will keep you informed about any developments on that front.
Is online poker legal in Massachusetts?
No. Online poker is not legal in Massachusetts at this time. Any sites that say otherwise are not telling you the full story.
Will Massachusetts legalize online poker soon?
It’s not terribly likely. Sports betting is a much more popular activity for states to legalize at the moment, and Massachusetts still has a ways to go before even that might happen. There are no bills to legalize online poker active in the Bay State at this time, and, for that matter, there’s not much of an effort behind it, either. The only thing that might turn some heads in Boston is if online poker takes off in nearby Connecticut. If it seems as though plenty of Massachusetts dollars are leaving for the Nutmeg State to play hold’em and Omaha, then discussions might begin.
Potential online poker sites in MA
Although it doesn’t appear as if Massachusetts will be legalizing online poker any time soon, we do have some reasonable guesses about which poker sites would be most likely to launch in the state IF it decided to allow peer-to-peer gambling to proceed. These sites either have existing interests in Massachusetts or have otherwise made online poker a focal point of their strategies. So, if online poker becomes available in the Bay State, here are the likely candidates among online poker companies to serve people who are looking for a game:
PokerStars is one of the largest poker sites in the world in terms of its traffic. At any given moment, thousands of people across the globe are betting, raising, and folding on the site. PokerStars is also notable for its unmatched offering of games and formats. The site itself even produces its own games and variants for limited times. PokerStars’ parent company, Flutter Entertainment, is also the parent company of FanDuel. Since FanDuel already has a presence as a DFS provider in Massachusetts (and, potentially, as a sportsbook), it’s likely that Stars will make an appearance if real money MA poker sites ever becomes legal.
BetMGM Poker/Borgata Poker
BetMGM and Borgata are companion poker sites for MGM Resorts International. Though they are not terribly prestigious in their own right, they still offer players the option to play many non-hold’em games, such as seven-card stud, Pot Limit Omaha, and Omaha Hi/Lo. Because of the presence of the MGM Springfield in Massachusetts, it’s a natural conclusion to expect that online poker would involve BetMGM and/or Borgata if it came to the state.
WSOP.com is a bit more uncertain than the other two as a prospect for online poker for real money in Massachusetts. The site is, obviously, the online home of the world’s most famous and prestigious tournament series. However, unless Massachusetts chooses to share its liquidity with other states, Bay Staters would find their WSOP.com experience limited to in-state play. Because WSOP parent Caesars does not have a Massachusetts property in its portfolio, a debut of WSOP.com in the state is a harder sell.
Will Massachusetts share player pools with other states?
One move that could draw WSOP.com’s interest, to say nothing of other poker sites, would be a Massachusetts membership in the Multi-State Internet Gaming Association, or MSIGA. This agreement between states allows legal online poker sites to share liquidity, which is a fancy way of saying that they can combine their separate player pools into one larger pool. Thus, poker sites that offer services in signatory states can host games with players from multiple locations in the US.
The combination of pools is a move to combat the lower traffic that sites receive when they confine themselves to people in a specific state. States that are part of the association have struggled to maintain profitable levels of action at times because individual market sizes can be limited. The crossover means a greater mixture of players and, as a result, more overall dollars at stake.
Currently, only three states have signed into the agreement. The MSIGA began as a partnership between Nevada and Delaware in 2015. New Jersey joined the duo in 2017. Poker room revenues and tax receipts remain inside each state of origin, but players in these three states can easily find themselves at the same table.
So far, only one site has been able to benefit from the MSIGA. WSOP.com is the only poker network with affiliates in all three states. However, the partnership has allowed players from New Jersey and Delaware to win the famous bracelets without ever leaving their homes.
The opportunity for greater sharing of player pools appears to be growing, too. Since New Jersey’s entrance into the group, four other states have legalized online poker and have either allowed sites to launch or will do so soon. The four states in question are Pennsylvania, Michigan, West Virginia, and Connecticut. Michigan, in particular, has expressed interest in multi-state play and is actively meeting with MSIGA states to discuss the arrangement. Michigan’s and Pennsylvania’s larger populations would likely expand the online poker market in the US by several multiples.
All of that is to say that if Massachusetts did decide to move toward legal online poker, it would behoove the state to seek membership in the association. Although plenty of people call Massachusetts home, online poker is certainly a commodity subject to network externality, where its value grows as more people use it.
Assessing the legality of online poker sites in Massachusetts
Now, a web search for “Massachusetts online poker,” “MA online poker” or something similar might seem to tell a vastly different story from the information on this page. There are plenty of poker sites that offer their services to Massachusetts residents right now, and they look legitimate and professional. So, understandably, you might be wondering what’s happening.
The truth of the matter is that we’re talking about different things. There are different types of online poker sites that might be available in Massachusetts, either now or potentially in the future. So, let’s clear up the confusion.
The first type of poker site is the legal and regulated site. No legal poker sites are available in Massachusetts at this time. Obviously, with this kind of site, there must be a legal and regulatory framework to permit and govern it. The companies we mentioned above — PokerStars, BetMGM Poker/Borgata Poker, and WSOP.com — are in this category.
Unfortunately, the road to legitimacy is a long one, and there is nothing particularly promising on the horizon in the Bay State. As we mentioned, online poker is well behind sports betting in Massachusetts as a priority. Until people in the state can bet on the Celtics, the Sox, and the Pats, there isn’t going to be any chance for them to play cards on their phones. Even then, there’s no guarantee that an online casino bill or online poker bill will follow.
The second type of site is the one that you can find right now. These sites are based outside of the United States, which is why we call them offshore sites. These are the ones that you can find if you search for online poker in Massachusetts right now. They do not fall under any US or Massachusetts regulations.
While these sites are not legal, they are also not strictly and explicitly illegal according to Massachusetts statute. Instead, they exist in a sort of gray zone in the law. That distinction, however, comes with a host of problems, and the legal question is likely the least of them. These sites may not be honest, they may not be ethical, and they may leave US customers with few options for redress if anything goes wrong.
The third type of site that you might encounter is a different thing entirely. Social and sweepstakes sites offer great online poker action in Massachusetts and, for that matter, most other states. Best of all, they are legal. They achieve this outcome because, despite the fact that sweepstakes sites offer players the ability to redeem prizes for actual cash, it’s possible to play poker for free.
Most sweepstakes gaming sites tend to focus on slots and table games. However, there are a few that offer poker. The best site for this kind of play is Global Poker, which uses a dual-currency system to operate and provide potential cash prizes.
Online poker vs. live poker
Despite the fact that they are ostensibly the same game, there are several differences between online and live poker. It is important to understand those variations, no matter your interest in the game itself. Although there may be other smaller changes, here are the most relevant bits of separation between the virtual and retail versions:
- Pace — Online games move at a much faster pace than live games. Most live players see roughly 25 to 30 hands per hour, while online players might see more than 100, depending on table dynamics. Additionally, every action you make online is subject to a running clock, and having your hand folded due to time pressure is always a possibility.
- Level of play — Online players tend to be much more skilled than their live counterparts for three reasons. For one thing, the sheer number of hands they can play gives them more experience. They also have easier access to statistical software and other tools that can hone their games. Finally, it’s much easier for casual players to drift into a live poker game from the casino than it is for online players to do the same.
- Cost — Live poker requires more money to play than online poker. There are few live poker games that you can play for less than $100, and most of them require a far greater investment. On the other hand, real money online poker is available for, in some cases, mere pennies. You can play an entire game for not much more than the cost of a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts.
- Multitabling — Online poker affords you the opportunity to play more than one table at the same time. Some poker professionals are able to play dozens of games at once, although it’s not something beginners should try. Live poker players, on the other hand, would need to have a background in either acrobatics or teleportation to play more than one table in a real-life game.
- Social — Although online games usually come with chat functions, there’s no denying that the live experience is much more rewarding for social engagement. Sitting at a table with eight or nine others for several hours yields opportunities to make friends or, at least, be friendly. Live rooms also come with their own auditory effects, with the sound of clacking chips and slot machine wins a constant din in most venues.
- Tells — Reading tells in live games is an integral part of a successful poker player’s strategy. Most old-school players have read through Mike Caro’s famous book on tells at least once, and live players of every stripe look at their opposition for clues. Online tells do exist, but they are much more subtle and tend to depend on bet size more than observed emotions.
- Bad beats — Because there are so many more hands online, there are necessarily more bad beats that players will endure. A quick search of internet discussion forums will result in numerous threads about the astoundingly bad luck a player suffered on a particular hand. And the player will usually accompany the story with allegations of misconduct on the part of the poker site. It’s an understandable emotion, but the mathematics of the situation provides a simpler answer. On the other hand, bad beats in live games tend to be more costly because of the slower pace — it takes much longer to recover.
- Game variety — Along with the ability to multitable, online poker also allows players to play in more than one game format and, for that matter, game at the same time. It is entirely possible to play a hold’em tournament and an Omaha cash game simultaneously. Players also have a better chance of finding active versions of more esoteric games online. It’s quite difficult to find games of limit hold ’em, seven-card stud, or Omaha Hi/Lo live anymore, except in the largest poker rooms.
- Time commitment — A live poker game requires a significant time commitment. To jump into and out of games is both poor strategy and poor etiquette, and you won’t be guaranteed another seat soon after quitting. However, online players can log on, play 10 hands and log out within five minutes or less. So, if you’re in a hurry, online poker is the choice for you.
Poker games available online
As mentioned above, online poker affords much more game variety than a traditional poker room. Space and manpower concerns in retail poker rooms limit their ability to offer many different types of games at the same time. Most of the time, the only game running is No Limit Texas Hold’em. Occasionally, there might be some Pot Limit Omaha going in some of the larger rooms, but finding anything besides NLHE is not an easy task. However, in online poker, players might encounter any of the following games:
No Limit Texas Hold’em
No Limit Texas Hold’em is the top card game in the world. It is the game of choice for almost every high-prestige tournament around the globe. Notably, the World Series of Poker Main Event, which crowns its winner as the unofficial world champion each year, is an NLHE tournament.
Part of this game’s appeal is its relative simplicity and ease of play. Each player receives two cards, then has access to five community cards in order to make the best five-card hand. The variation in the two down cards is such that some hands are far more likely to win than others. However, on any given hand, even the trashiest of pocket cards can be worth their weight in gold, and even the rankest of beginners can beat the top professionals.
Without question, online poker players will find no-limit hold’em games running, no matter which site they choose. The only reason a poker provider would not have NLHE is if the entire site has shut down.
Pot Limit Omaha
The other game that players commonly encounter, both live and online, is Pot Limit Omaha. Omaha is similar to Texas Hold’em in that each hand requires players to use a combination of five community cards spread across the table. There are also four rounds of betting during each hand of Omaha.
In PLO, each player receives four cards, instead of two. The players must, once again, make the best five-card hand from the community cards and their own. Players must use EXACTLY two of their cards on each hand — no more, no less. However, the two cards that a player uses can change from street to street, and the value of one’s hand can vary wildly from the beginning of the hand to the end.
Because of the game’s structure, winning hands are usually much larger than in hold’em. Additionally, more players have legitimate reasons to stay in the hand in Omaha. The pots in Omaha are, therefore, usually larger than a typical hold’em game. The pot-limit wagering is, in fact, an attempt to keep everyone from losing their money five hands after the game begins.
As mentioned, there are other games that might pop up on online poker sites. Larger sites, like PokerStars, are much more likely to feature a wider variety of games. While there aren’t any true online poker sites in Massachusetts, you might also find some of these other games on sweepstakes sites like Global Poker.
- Limit Hold’em
- Omaha Eight or Better/Hi/Lo
- Five Card Omaha/Big O/Big Mitt
- Seven Card Stud
- Seven Card Stud Eight or Better/Hi/Lo
- Short deck
- Crazy Pineapple
Live poker rooms in Massachusetts
Massachusetts is home to two live poker rooms, located at the state’s two resort casinos: Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield. Both properties have had to work through pandemic-related closures of their rooms over the past few years — not outbreaks, but concerns about transmissibility and the close proximity of poker players to one another at the table.
Both properties are easing their way back into operations. MGM Springfield reopened its poker room in October 2021 with 13 nine-seated tables and somewhat limited hours of operation. So far, the reopened room has seen tremendous interest from its community and has fielded long waitlists for seats in the game. The room is open from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. daily.
Encore Boston Harbor previously operated a 74-table room but has pared down its operation dramatically due to COVID-19. In fact, the room has both moved its physical location within the casino and remains closed until February 2022. In its new incarnation, players will have only 12 tables available for play, so expect similar waitlisting as at MGM Springfield or worse, given Encore’s proximity to Boston. Encore plans to be open only Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., but this limited schedule is only a temporary plan as poker returns to the casino.
In either case, it is unlikely that games other than no-limit hold ’em will be available most of the time. High-volume times at MGM Springfield might yield a variant or two of Omaha, but NLHE’s overwhelming popularity is likely such that each room is going to maximize its appeal and stick to the two-card game.
Famous Massachusetts poker players
Though Massachusetts doesn’t have the cachet of states like Texas and California in terms of a poker tradition, there is no denying the connections of a veritable murderer’s row of poker players to the state. More than two dozen players with significant connections to Massachusetts have over $1 million in live tournament earnings alone. Some of them are among the best-known players in the world, so here is just a sample of that poker talent:
Dan Colman has more than $28 million in live tournament winnings and is a native of Holden, Massachusetts. His biggest claim to fame is his 2014 victory in The Big One for One Drop, a $1 million buy-in WSOP event, for which he earned over $15.3 million, which was the second-largest single tournament payout in history. He was only 24 years old at the time but had already established himself as a dominant poker player. In 2013, he was the first player ever to win $1 million through hyperturbo tournaments on PokerStars.
Though Dan Colman is the winningest Massachusetts poker player, another Dan is probably the most famous. Dan Harrington, a native of Cambridge, is the 1995 world champion and has nearly $7 million in live tournament earnings to his credit. He has won two WSOP bracelets and one World Poker Tour championship and has authored a series of poker strategy books that are routinely cited among poker players as some of the best. Action Dan’s greatest accomplishment, however, is likely his back-to-back WSOP Main Event final table appearances in 2003 and 2004 — a feat that only one other player has accomplished in the post-poker boom era. He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2010.
Nick Petrangelo is the other Massachusetts poker player with more than $20 million in live tournament winnings to his name. The two-time bracelet winner was born in Feeding Hills in 1987 and is equally feared both online and live. He has secured tournament payouts exceeding $1 million three times, including in October 2021. Based upon his tournament earnings alone, he is one of the top 20 poker players ever to sit down at a table.
Though Anthony Zinno was born in Rhode Island, his ties to Massachusetts run deep. Before becoming a professional poker player, he attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Suffolk Law School. He was even admitted to the Massachusetts State Bar before deciding that his talents lay elsewhere. So far, the decision has worked out — he has four WSOP bracelets, three WPT championships and almost $11 million in live tournament winnings to his name. Two of those WSOP wins came in 2021, so expect a peak Zinno to add more hardware and winnings to his name in the near future.
Massachusetts poker FAQ
Are home games legal in Massachusetts?
Yes. Massachusetts gambling law does not permit the playing of poker in public places (aside from the two casinos), but there is no prohibition against private games. Curiously, the only banned activity is gambling while trespassing in a private area, which seems like it would be equally difficult to achieve logistically.
What is the minimum age to play poker in MA?
Both of the casinos in the state require patrons to be over the age of 21. For what it’s worth, there does not seem to be a prescribed minimum for private games, but even if there is, it seems unlikely that interrupting a penny ante game around the kitchen table would be high on the list of law enforcement priorities.
Can I play at PokerStars in Massachusetts?
No. PokerStars, though active or soon to be active in nearby states, is a legal and regulated entity and is not available in its real money format in Massachusetts. However, if you would like to experience the PokerStars software itself, the site offers a play-money side that you can use as much as you like. You just won’t be able to cross over to the “business” end of the site from the Bay State.
What poker sites are legal in MA?
Aside from the social/sweepstakes sites, none. You can play for cash prizes through sites like Global Poker in Massachusetts, but true online poker sites remain illegal under state law at this time.