Will the Blockchain Gaming Trend Resurrect Online Poker in the U.S.?


Blockchain gaming was a brand new concept not so long ago. Now, however, it’s booming. In covering Ultra (UOS) this past March, we noted that multiple blockchain-based gaming ecosystems were gaining steam. And the perception is still that they’re only just getting started.

For the most part, these new blockchain gaming environments revolve around new arcades. Part of the appeal is to developers who like the autonomy that comes with blockchain distribution. So we have seen and will continue to see entirely new game designs making the rounds on blockchain. In time though, this emerging medium will also prove to be helpful supporting existing games and genres. Among these, online poker could stand to benefit the most.

For those who don’t follow online poker closely, it has been largely banned across the U.S. for almost exactly a decade now. Early in 2011, federal authorities crippled the three biggest operators in the online poker space in the U.S. and effectively killed the American branch of the industry. As Denverpost.com recounted at the time, the sites were charged with fraud, and federal authorities sought billions in damages. From that point forward, online poker in the U.S. became a fringe activity, conducted only through less-than-legal means and — eventually — in a few select areas with different laws.

With that said, the mechanisms for online poker are still in place in the U.S. Countless free-to-access and play-money poker websites and apps have kept millions of Americans engaged with the game. Additionally, several real poker sites (which is to say platforms that deal with real cash games) are operating in the U.S. — both in states that allow cash gaming and by offering cashless games in other areas. And as Poker.org explains in a step-by-step breakdown, signing up on these platforms is a simple process. In other words, it’s still quite easy or Americans to set themselves up on professional online poker platforms.

The only thing blocking U.S. online poker, then, from being what it was, is a way around real-money restrictions. And it’s not out of the question that blockchain transactions and cryptocurrency could solve that problem.

Simply put, online poker platforms that embraced blockchain services and crypto transactions would be enabling players to deposit real wealth through alternative means. There are some indications (though the matter is unsettled) that this alone would allow gaming platforms to operate freely without technically violating online gaming restrictions that still exist in most states.

What isn’t completely clear is whether it’s more likely for this setup to appear on existing poker platforms, or for entirely new gaming services to emerge via the blockchain. The simplest way forward would be for those poker sites still operating in the U.S. to adopt cryptocurrency and welcome players who in many cases are already familiar with the sites.

However, real-money crypto poker in a full blockchain ecosystem also feels like a natural evolution. Just recently, a PocketGamer piece discussed “play-to-earn” as a potential next step in blockchain gaming, and poker would be a ready-made option for this type of experience. It could in fact help to pioneer an era of blockchain gaming in which players earn rewards with real-world value.

Whether it goes one way or the other — or perhaps most likely, both — it is very likely that blockchain gaming and online poker will soon cross paths. We’ll have to wait and see if this ends up resulting in the return of U.S. online poker as we once knew it.

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