PokerStars is an international online poker giant that returned to the USA in 2015 and is now expanding its licensed operations across the country.
Longtime poker players may already be familiar with the name as PokerStars once acted as the largest poker site in the USA during and immediately after the online poker boom of the early 2000s.
Suffice it to say, PokerStars has a long and interesting history in the United States. We will go into more detail on that shortly, but today PokerStars is licensed to offer online poker and casino games in several states:
- New Jersey
Amid a changing legal environment and increasing pressure from US regulators, PokerStars left the US market entirely. Although PokerStars faced accusations of various crimes for its insistence on serving the US market post-UIGEA, many players steadfastly supported the company to the bitter end because it always paid winners and ran a fair game.
In 2012, PokerStars reached a settlement with the DOJ that included forfeiting a total of $731 million in return for never admitting any wrongdoing and being permitted to reapply for an online poker license when state or federal laws permitted.
PokerStars made its triumphant return to the United States in 2015 after receiving approval from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (NJDGE) to operate real money poker games online in partnership with Resorts Casino Atlantic City. The site officially launched in early 2016.
Today, PokerStars NJ battles with WSOP and 888 for supremacy in the New Jersey poker market. PokerStars International is still the world’s largest poker site, but its operations in New Jersey are capped by the state’s population.
Poker sites licensed in New Jersey are permitted to share player pools with other states where online poker is legal but may not intermingle players across international borders. This puts PokerStars at a disadvantage to 888 and WSOP, which are both also active in Nevada and Delaware and may share players between all three states.
However, PokerStars is closing the gap in that regard as it looks to launch in additional states.
PokerStars came to Pennsylvania in 2019 to once again expand its legal US footprint.
This potentially opens the door to interstate player sharing, which would boost traffic across the board between PA, NJ and any other states PokerStars enters in the future.
PokerStars USA Bonuses
PokerStars offers two welcome bonuses to all new customers. One is a standard match rate bonus that you can claim for up to $600 in bonus cash. The other is a smaller welcome package that will give you $30 in free plays when you make a deposit of $20 or more.
PokerStars VIP Program
The PokerStars VIP program is based on steps, which are completed by playing in real money ring games and tournaments to earn VPPs. Earning VPPs complete the steps, and once you complete enough steps, you move up one level in the VIP program to unlock better rewards.
To review, VPPs (VIP Points) are earned at a rate of about 5.5 VPPs per dollar paid in cash game rake or tournament fees.
The steps program is overly complicated with multiple steps required to be completed before moving up to the next level in the VIP program. Fortunately, it is easy to follow in practice thanks to the PokerStars software client tracking your play and displaying a progress bar showing how much further you have to go to advance up to the next VIP level.
For example, all players start at VIP level Bronze and must move up through 20 individual steps before advancing to VIP level Chrome. This sounds like a lot of work, but each step at Bronze only requires you to earn 5 VPPs. Once you have earned a total of 100 VPPs, you are moved up to VIP level Chrome.
As you work your way up through your current VIP level, the PokerStars client will display a progress bar explaining how many more steps you need to complete this month to move up. For example, the progress bar may show as half-full and display a notification that you have 10 more steps to complete before moving up to Chrome.
Every time you complete a step, you’ll also be rewarded with StarCoins. StarCoins are your key to the VIP store, which you can visit to exchange StarCoins for products, clothing, cash rebates and tournament entry tickets.
Of these rewards, cash rebates are the most rewarding in our opinion. PokerStars maintains a robust cash rebate system that essentially works out to 9% rakeback at the Bronze level to as high as 28% at the Supernova level.
|VIP Level||VPPs Needed||Rakeback Equivalent|
WSOP Poker runs a similar VIP program that also offers rakeback rewards. The WSOP rakeback program actually maxes out at a higher rakeback percentage (32%), but is much more difficult to achieve because their equivalent of VIP points are accumulated at a slower rate: 2 points per $1 paid in rake at WSOP versus 5.5 points per $1 paid in rake at PokerStars.
One of the keys to PokerStars establishing worldwide dominance in the online poker market was and continues to be its poker software. Even years ago, PokerStars was the place to play poker if you needed a clean, crisp interface with games that move quickly, an ability to easily run multiple tables and advanced tournament features such as chopping the last few payouts at the end of a big tournament.
Those features and more continue to make PokerStars the US-legal site with the best software. We always aim to provide unbiased reviews, but this really is the best software on the market.
The PokerStars download is compatible with all desktops and mobile devices. If you’re on a PC or Mac, you can download the PokerStars client from the official website. If you’re on a mobile device, just open your device’s app store to download PokerStars for iOS or Android.
Once you’ve downloaded the PokerStars software and run it, you’ll be taken to the main lobby where you can browse cash games, tournaments and special events. The cash games lobby is organized in a straightforward manner with a simple listing of tables sorted by stakes.
Info provided in the cash games lobby includes table names, stakes, game type, number of players at each table and critical statistics such as the average pot size, average number of players to see the flop and number of hands played per hour.
A variety of sort features at the top of the cash games lobby can be used to narrow down the games list according to specific parameters. Available filters include: filtering by game type (NL Holdem, Pot Limit Omaha, etc), stakes and max number of players.
For example, you can use the filters to specifically view heads-up Texas Holdem tables at buyins between $15 and $50. PokerStars USA still suffers from limited traffic with only a few states having legalized online poker so far, but these filters will become increasingly useful as daily average traffic grows.
The tournaments tab inside the main poker lobby offers similar features that allow you to observe games, filter by game type and so on. One tab is specifically dedicated to sit-n-go tournaments, another is reserved for multi-table tournaments and a third is for special events such as the annual Online Poker Championship series.
PokerStars allows cash game and tournament players to sit at up to six tables at a time. There was a time when PokerStars allowed virtually unlimited multi-tabling, but they have since changed that policy in order to cut down on the number of grinders who would sit at tables all day poaching newbies. This change was derided by some but welcomed by others as it made PokerStars friendlier to recreational players.
Once you’re actually seated at a table, you have a variety of other options that can be used to further customize the experience. Tables may be resized endlessly such that you can have one big table occupy your entire monitor or six smaller tables all sized such that all remain within sight at all times.
Additional table settings allow you to change the color theme, use four-color decks, customize which sound effects are active and much more.
PokerStars US Cash Games
PokerStars US continues its tradition of catering to a wide range of players with software that supports more game types than other poker sites on the market. Limited traffic in the still-growing US market remains a challenge, but PokerStars has many game types built into the software that are ready any time two or more players are willing to take a seat.
Texas Holdem and Omaha are the dominant cash games on PokerStars and account for the vast majority of ring game traffic. No-limit Holdem games run at stakes ranging from $0.01/$0.02 ($2 buyin) to as high as $25/$50 ($5,000 buyin). Traffic mostly congregates at the low-to-medium stakes tables, but you will find at least a few players seated at the higher stakes tables if you’re up for the challenge.
Pot-limit Omaha runs at the same stakes as well, ranging from $0.01/$0.02 all the way up to $25/$50. The PokerStars Omaha cash games still have trouble attracting traffic at most levels. However, you will often find a few tables running at stakes as high as $1/$2 pot-limit plus one or two players seated at the $5/$10, $10/$20 and $25/$50 tables waiting for action.
When it comes to fixed-limit Holdem and every other game type, action is almost nonexistent. This is the case for all US-legal poker sites right now with only a few states having legalized online poker to date. If and when online poker legislation is introduced in other states, we should see significant improvement across the board.
The full list of cash game types available at PokerStars includes:
|7 Card Stud Hi/Lo
|2-7 Single Draw
|5 Card Draw
|5 Card Omaha
|7 Card Stud
|2-7 Triple Draw
|5 Card Omaha Hi/Lo
|Holdem / Omaha Mix
Note that most of the games still have trouble attracting traffic, but the PokerStars software does have these games available any time two or more players are willing to take a seat.
PokerStars USA Tournaments
PokerStars has been known as the for many years now – even before it acquired its first US gaming license. In fact, PokerStars was instrumental in kicking off the online poker boom of the early 2000s when a then-unknown accountant by the name of Chris Moneymaker won a seat to the 2003 World Series of Poker after playing a small buy-in satellite tournament online at PokerStars.
Chris Moneymaker went on to win the World Series and signed an endorsement deal with PokerStars that made him into a poker celebrity for a few years after. The Chris Moneymaker story resonated with casual players around the world because, before his big win, Moneymaker was just another average guy who worked a regular job and played a little poker in his off time.
These days, PokerStars is still going strong on the tournament side of things. The limited number of states with legal online poker has prevented PokerStars from reaching its full potential, but it remains a solid option for tournament players nonetheless and things are slowly moving in the right direction.
PokerStars US Traffic
Daily player traffic at PokerStars remains a weakness, especially for those of you used to the golden days of online poker before the federal government stepped in and pushed most of the major operators out of the market.
However, this is about par for the course in regulated poker states. All poker sites currently operated in the United States are limited in how many players they can reach. Relatively speaking, PokerStars is comparable to WSOP and 888. All three poker sites play a constant game of musical chairs when it comes to claiming the top spot in daily traffic on any given day.
Moving forward, PokerStars will need to expand in the US to remain competitive. PokerStars has a strong footing in the US market, but other poker sites have expanded to additional states such as Delaware and Nevada while PokerStars remains firmly committed to the NJ and PA markets.
As more states legalize online gaming, PokerStars will need to expand its horizons and establish operations in those states. If PokerStars gets too comfortable operating exclusively in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, it will eventually find itself out-hustled by other companies that have shown no hesitation in attacking other markets.
PokerStars Casino Review
PokerStars Online Casino can be downloaded as a standalone app or accessed from within the poker client or through the FOX Bet sports betting app, all from a single account. Players can also play PokerStars casino games through the website with no download necessary.
The standalone PokerStars casino website and app offers the greatest game variety with dozens of slots, a smaller selection of table games and a handful of live dealer games. Overall, game variety at PokerStars Casino comes up a little short compared to other options on the market but is reasonable for a brand better known for online poker.
PokerStars Casino Bonus
PokerStars customers who have not yet tried the casino can claim multiple first deposit bonuses worth up to $1,500 in total plus two slots bonuses worth up to $1,000 for a total combined new customer bonus worth as much as $2,500.
This bonus offer is spread across each customer’s first three deposits.
PokerStars’ slots collection consists entirely of games by NetEnt and NextGen that combine for a decent number of options, but far short of many competing gambling sites. Variety in terms of slot themes is excellent, with games of all types on offer.
One big miss right now is a total lack of any progressive jackpot games. Players looking for progressive jackpot slots will have to look elsewhere.
Table Games and Video Poker
The table games and video poker selection at PokerStars is smaller than average but growing. A handful of multiplayer table games are offered as well.
The current lineup of table games includes:
- Blackjack (8 variations)
- European roulette
- Heads-Up Holdem
The video poker options include:
- Deuces Wild
- Double Bonus Poker
- Double Double Bonus Poker
- Jacks or Better
- Triple Bonus Poker
- Joker Poker
- Tens or Better
- Aces and Faces
- All American Poker
- Aces and Eights
Live Dealer Games
PokerStars has started the process of adding live dealer games with plans to launch more over time. The current lineup includes:
- Live dealer baccarat
- Live dealer blackjack
- Live dealer roulette
PokerStars Banking Methods
PokerStars accepts credit cards, debit cards, electronic bank transfers and cash via the following deposit methods:
- Visa: If you have a Visa credit card or debit card, you can fund your PokerStars account by inputting your card info and choosing an amount to deposit. If you’ve ever purchased anything from Amazon, you won’t have any trouble using your Visa to play at PokerStars.
- Mastercard: Same deal as Visa deposits. Any Mastercard-branded card may be used to fund your account.
- Instant eCheck: Submit your bank account number, routing number and an amount to deposit. PokerStars will credit your player account immediately.
- Skrill: Skrill is an e-wallet that resembles PayPal in function. If you have trouble depositing with a credit card, you can try Skrill as an alternative. Your Skrill account can be funded with credit, debit or online bank transfer.
- Instant Online Banking: If you visit the cashier, choose this method and have an account with one of the major banks listed on the cashier’s page, you can use your bank account’s existing online banking login to authorize a deposit to PokerStars. This method offers the advantage of never sharing your banking info with PokerStars.
- PayNearMe: Choose this option if you would like to fund your PokerStars account with physical cash. PayNearMe works by having you choose an amount to deposit and then giving you pay slip which you can then take to your nearest 7-Eleven to pay with cash.
- Resorts Cage: Stop by Resorts Atlantic City any time and visit the cashier’s cage to fund your PokerStars account with cash. Bring your cash, a photo ID, your PokerStars account info and be ready to recite the last four digits of your social security number.
- PokerStars Play+ Card: The PokerStars Play+ Card is a prepaid debit card linked to your PokerStars account. You can sign up for a Play+ Card online and then fund the account immediately via credit, debit or ACH. You’ll also receive a physical card in the mail that you can use to withdraw your winnings via ATM and to make purchases anywhere Discover is accepted.
Will PokerStars Open In More US States?
There is no question PokerStars would like to expand into additional states as legislation permits. As a highly-experienced and well-funded poker operator with a great reputation among players, PokerStars has everything it needs to expand its US operations significantly.
The biggest hurdle to PokerStars’ US ambitions is the slow speed at which online poker legislation has rolled out across the US over the years. The legalization of online poker in New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware in 2013 sparked hope that much of the US would follow suit in ensuing years.
Instead, the spread of online poker came to a grinding halt for the next four years without a single additional state passing anything to legalize online poker. Pennsylvania brought the drought to an end in 2017 and West Virginia followed suit in 2019 to make it five states with legal online poker.
Additional states are considering or have considered legalizing online poker in recent years, which will clear the path for further expansion. PokerStars will almost certainly get involved everywhere it can as the US market slowly but surely grows.
A second hurdle for PokerStars is the type of legislation enacted in each state. Back when NJ, NV and DE went on a spate of passing online poker laws, two of the three enacted legislation preventing PokerStars from entering the market. Nevada’s law included a bad-actor provision targeting sites such as PokerStars while Delaware’s law resulted in 888 acquiring a monopoly over online poker.
Things seem to be turning around with more favorable laws enacted in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, though. Additionally, The Stars Group has signed partnership agreements with two major land-based casino operators that will provide pathways into many additional states if and when online poker is legalized.
The Stars Group has a partnership in place with Penn National resorts that could grant PokerStars access to Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, New Mexico, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan and Ohio depending on the type of legislation enacted in each state.
The Stars Group has a similar agreement in place with Eldorado Resorts to offer online betting and gaming in states where Eldorado operates casinos. That agreement covers Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio and West Virginia.