The first game of real money online poker was dealt on January 1, 1998. This historical event occurred at Planet Poker. It was a hand of 3/6 Fixed Limit Texas Hold’em. The ability to play No Limit Texas Hold’em, sit and gos, and tournaments was still years away.
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Much has changed since that first hand of online poker. The technology to shuffle hands and build secure sites has improved substantially. Today’s online poker sites are as secure as online banking systems. The same encryption is used to guarantee that the games are safe, funds secure and financial information kept secret.
Largest Online Poker Sites
Most online poker sites operating today are safe. All use special encryption for dealing cards and banking transactions. Some stand above the rest as being the best and safest poker sites in the world.
PokerStars is the largest poker site in the world. It is as safe and reputable as it gets. Black Friday is an example of just how financially strong PokerStars is. The company was forced out of the U.S. market abruptly. PokerStars had all funds for U.S. players and paid everyone within two weeks. That cannot be said about the other two sites involved in Black Friday; Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker. Full Tilt Poker players were bailed out by PokerStars at a cost of about $731 million. Absolute Poker players got stiffed for an estimated $45 million.
All players with PokerStars available should consider giving action there. It is home to the largest selection of cash game tables, sit and gos, and massive tournament prize pools.
PokerStars is available to players in most countries outside the U.S. It offers special sites to players in the regulated countries of Spain, France, and Italy.
Party Poker (Non-US)
Party Poker has nearly 20 years of online gaming experience. It was once the largest online poker site. It still holds a respectable top 5 spot in the world of online poker.
The site caters to a more recreational crowd, where PokerStars tends to attract expert players. Party Poker players can expect to get paid within a day or two when requesting a withdrawal. It accepts players from most countries outside the U.S., including some ring-fenced European markets.
Ignition Poker (US Accepted)
The best poker site for Americans is Ignition. Some may know it by its prior incarnations, Bodog and Bovada. It is the largest site that accepts U.S. players. It has the most cash games, sit and gos, and tournaments.
One unique aspect of Ignition is that it spreads anonymous tables. This prevents the sharks from beating up on the recreational players, something that is an issue at other poker sites where the usernames of loose players are remembered by experts. These players often get followed from table to table at other sites. New and recreational players should feel comfortable playing at Ignition.
One aspect that makes Ignition safe is its banking system. Ignition offers several U.S.-friendly deposit options and will pick up any fees incurred on large incoming transactions. Withdrawals are processed in as little as 24 hours. Players can receive winnings by Western Union, MoneyGram, checks, bank wires, and credit card refunds.
U.S. Regulated Online Poker
Players in three states have regulated sites. These tend to be smaller than the ones available to players located in other states. On the other hand, there is an extra layer of protection as the sites are governed by the same gaming commissions that oversee brick and mortar casinos.
Players at regulated sites have a few additional requirements to play. The minimum age is 21. Players must give a Social Security Number to open an account. Geolocation is used to ensure that a player is located in the state to play poker. This is done through wifi positioning or cell phone geolocation.
Players at regulated poker sites must be within state lines to play. Each site is limited to players only within that state. None are networked with sites in other states at this time. Delaware and Nevada plan to merge player pools in 2015.
Nevada Poker Sites
There are two regulated poker sites in Nevada. They are licensed by the Nevada Gaming Commission. WSOP.com has about 98% of the state’s online poker traffic. It is related to the World Series of Poker. Players can win seats to live WSOP events through this site. It peaks at around 300 players daily, according to PokerScout data.
Real Gaming is the other regulated Nevada poker site. It is operated by South Point, a locals casino located south of the Strip on Las Vegas Boulevard. Real Gaming only gets a table or two during peak hours. It gives players a free $20 to try out the site.
New Jersey Poker Sites
There are three poker networks in New Jersey. These are regulated by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. The largest is Borgata, which is powered by Party Poker. WSOP.com is the second largest. 888 is the other poker site that operates in New Jersey.
Delaware Poker Sites
There are three Delaware poker sites. These are powered by 888 and regulated by the Delaware Lottery. The sites are Delaware Park, Harrington, and Dover Downs. All three are also racinos that operate under the state’s video lottery.
Online Poker Games Available
The most popular online poker game is No Limit Texas Hold’em. This game allows players to bet the entire stack in front of them at any time. The game is spread in the form of cash games, sit and gos, and multi player tournaments at all online poker sites. It is the same game spread by the World Series of Poker Main Event.
All poker sites offer more games than just Texas Hold’em. Omaha and Omaha High/Low are available at any online poker room. Most spread Seven Card Stud and Seven Card Stud High/Low. Other games available include Five Card Draw, Five Card Stud, Razz, Badugi, Triple Draw, and mixed games that include a variety of these selections.
Online Poker Deposit and Withdrawal Methods
The best online poker deposit methods are ewallets. Neteller and Skrill are the most popular ones available. Americans cannot deposit by ewallet in most states. For those players, Visa, Mastercard, and Western Union are the most popular deposit options.
Ewallets are the best way to get paid by poker sites outside of the U.S. Americans can request a check for free that takes about a week to arrive. Western Union is an option that puts cash in hand in just a few days. There is typically a fee for this fast withdrawal option.
Online Poker Deposit Bonuses
All online poker sites offer an initial deposit bonus to new players. It is usually described as a 100% up to a certain dollar amount. This means that the site matches your deposit with bonus money.
Online poker bonuses differ from casino and sports betting ones. A poker bonus goes into a separate account. It is not awarded immediately. Players must earn points to clear a poker bonus. It is usually equivalent to 10-30% rakeback, depending on the site. It often clears in increments of $5 or $10. Most poker sites give a set amount of time to clear a bonus. This is typically somewhere between 30 and 120 days. Some sites will void any remaining bonus if a withdrawal request is made before meeting the terms and conditions. Always make sure to read the bonus rules to see what the qualifications are before playing.
Online Poker Reload Bonuses
Some sites offer bonuses to existing players that have already made a deposit. This is called a reload bonus. These often come during slow periods like the winter holidays or to celebrate a special event such as a major online poker tournament.
Some sites simply offer a reload bonus every month. The terms are usually the same for reload bonuses as they are for the first deposit one.
Is Online Poker Safe?
There was a day that the answer to this question was no. That day is long gone. Online poker sites offer encryption for all cards and banking transactions that are the same ones used by large financial institutions. The sites do not get hacked. Virtually every site in operation is reputable and has stood the test of time. Many have been in business for 10 years or more, which is a lifetime on the Internet.
There are a few shady sites out there that do not operate legitimately. That does not apply to any of the poker rooms promoted on this site. We stand by all of our selections and play at these sites ourselves.
Closed Online Poker Sites
Things do not always go as planned when an online poker site launches. Many of the early sites failed. This occurred due to a variety of factors. Some were not competent enough to run an internet business. Others got involved with processors that ran off with the money. A handful were busted by government agencies and put out of business. There were some that were simply scams from the beginning and disappeared when the ponzi scheme collapsed.
Absolute Poker may be the most infamous poker site failure of all time. It was home to an insider cheating scandal that stole millions of dollars from players. One of the site’s founders was able to use software that was meant for testing purposes that allowed him to see all of the hole cards at the table. He created superuser accounts and cheated in high limit cash games and tournaments. For some reason, players still trusted the site after the cheating was discovered.
Absolute Poker was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice in April 2011. The site used player deposits to pay some of the cheating victims after the scandal was uncovered. The site disappeared, stiffing players for about $45 million.
UltimateBet was another site that had insiders use cheating software to see the hole cards of opponents. These insiders stole at least $20 million from unsuspecting players. It was later sold to Absolute Poker. It went out of business when Absolute Poker was indicted in April 2011.
Eurolinx was a Microgaming skin that turned out to be a complete scam. It offered deposit and reload bonuses that were too good to be true. These bonuses sometimes returned more than 100% rakeback to players. It either paid out all of its cash or simply squandered it. After cashout complaints piled up, its Microgaming licensee status was revoked. It closed up shop and all player funds went with it. It acquired BetOnBet before the slow payouts materialized. These players were also stiffed.
Eurolinx was licensed by the Malta Lotteries and Gaming Authority. The regulatory body did nothing to help get players paid.
Everleaf Gaming was another site licensed in Malta. It was a small U.S.-facing network with skins like Poker4Ever, Minted Poker, and Cellsino Poker. It received a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice demanding that it stop accepting U.S. players in October 2011. For whatever reason, it did not disclose this status until February 2012, when it stopped accepting action from U.S. players without any notice. It never paid U.S. players and stopped processing cashouts for its customers in other countries. The site failed in 2013, taking all player deposits with it.
PokerSpot was the first major online poker site to fail. It was owned by professional poker player Dutch Boyd. It operated early in the online poker world, launching in 2000. By 2001, its site was inundated with chargebacks from credit card deposits. Some were due to sore losers, while others were simply fraudulent transactions. This destroyed the site’s ability to process deposits. The credit card processor froze its accounts. It failed in 2001 when it was unable to pay player withdrawal requests.
Pokertropolis was a unique site. It was full of bots. Not the cheating kind that you think of when bots are mentioned. These were ones used in place of prop players. The site had around 1,000 players at all hours of the day. It did not suffer the peaks and valleys that most sites endure throughout the day. None of the players on the site ever chatted, another flag that something was wrong. Pokertropolis closed in 2007. It did not stiff players because none of them were real.
Tusk Investments licensed more than two dozen Microgaming online poker skins. The skins ignored Microgaming rakeback rules. Microgaming took notice and, under immense pressure from other licensees on the network, revoked Tusk’s license. It turned out that the excessive rakeback payments cut too far into the skins’ margins. It could not pay players when there was a run on the bank. It closed in 2008. Players receive about a nickel on the dollar more than five years later through a liquidation process.
World Poker Exchange
World Poker Exchange tried a business model that has never worked. It offered rake free poker tables. It did this in the hope that players would wager on sporting events or play casino games. This turned out to be a flawed business plan. Most of the poker players simply took advantage of the 100% rakeback and never gave action through sports betting or casino games. The site started paying lower rakeback amounts, which caused a majority of the players to leave. Its entire business eventually failed in 2012, including its sports betting and casino. It owes millions of dollars to players to this day.