Knowing Your Odds Better Than Your Opponents Do to Create Winning Plays
Whether you are new to the online game, or an online poker veteran, making sure that your money is safe is important. This guide goes further than just listing blacklisted poker sites – it shows to how to spot potential problems before they start.
Fortunately, there are a lot of safe and reputable poker rooms available. Knowing the good sites from the scams will give you peace of mind online. Since it is difficult to detect rogue sites in advance (there are signs to look for), we have suggested some novel ways of making sure you can mitigate any effects should the worst happen.
Here is what you’ll find below:
The warnings below could lead you to believe that online poker is a dangerous place. This is not the case. Most sites are very reputable. In fact, the reputation of a site is very important to its continuing existence. Keep in mind when you read the information below that getting on the Blacklist is the exception, and not the rule.
What Makes a Scam Poker Site?
Online poker rooms can make it onto our blacklist for several reasons. These usually revolve around payment issues – including delays, stalling tactics and even non-payment. Here are the top 5 things that make me consider a poker site a no-go:
- Non-Payment: The single worst offence is to withhold player money. This usually starts with delays, and the worst offenders close down, scam or otherwise disappear with player bankrolls. If you hear of payment delays, that should be an immediate red-flag. We recommend you get your money out as quickly as possible.
- Bonus Issues: Some poker rooms have failed to honour bonuses and promotions for their players. Often this uses some technicality or clause from the small print. If someone genuinely abuses a bonus, then withholding it is understandable. When poker rooms fail to honour the spirit of their own promotions, they quickly move into blacklist candidate status.
- Cheating: This is rare, though there have been scandals involving ‘Super User’ accounts in the past. Here special accounts have access to their opponent’s hole-cards, beating the highest stakes at ‘impossible’ rates. If cheating is uncovered, you should leave a site right away. Note that there are always allegations of ‘rigged deals’. This has never been proven. In fact, there is overwhelming (mathematical) evidence that the deals of poker rooms are completely fair.
- Bad Management: Some site operators are serial offenders. They close one poker room, only to open one under a different name. If the people who ran Lock Poker or Ultimate Bet ever opened a new online card-room, they would find themselves on our blacklist immediately.
- Lack of License / Testing: This final criteria is less clear. An unlicensed site should generally be avoided, as players have no recourse in the event of a dispute. Having said that, a site which has a solid reputation over many years and no current license may be a safe place to play. The same applies to external testing of the deal (random number generator software).
Any single factor could sway your decision to play at an online poker room. We call these ‘red flags’. If you find more than one factor relevant to a room – then you would simply be foolish to play there as the odds of being scammed are relatively high.
Current Blacklisted Poker Rooms
The blacklisted poker sites below should be considered no-go areas. Some of them are already closed, though serve to illustrate some of the issues you might find going forward.
- Lock Poker: A great example of how payment delays are rumours quickly snowballed into theft of player bankrolls. Players started to complain that cash-outs were being cancelled in 2014. Despite repeated reassurances from the owners, things deteriorated. In 2015, the worst happened, and this poker room closed – no redress to players who lost bankrolls has ever been attempted.
- Ultimate Bet / Absolute Poker: These linked sites were the centre of a scandal involving ‘super-user’ accounts in 2007. A backdoor into the software allowed theft of hundreds of thousands from the highest stakes games. Things got worse after Black Friday in 2011. Both sites stopped honouring cash-outs, though continued to take deposits. These sites have subsequently closed.
- Odds Poker: This site is still operating, though has major issues paying out players. They have been accused of embezzling funds from players. The network which this site is part of includes other potentially rouge sites including Vegas24 and PokerOne – a network to avoid.
- Dollaro Poker: Another site which is currently in the midst of major complaints from players asking for cash-outs. They are still operating and accepting deposits – despite an increasing number of winning players being unable to get their money. Deposit here at your own risk.
- World Poker Exchange: Another dead site which is accused of non-payment. This site closed down with hundreds of thousands of player withdrawals unprocessed. A cautionary tale that emphasises that you should avoid any poker room which starts to delay payments.
Signs to Watch for to Ensure Your Poker Site Remains Safe
Even formerly reputable poker rooms have gone bad. The best example is Full Tilt Poker, which seemed to be a great site – until they abruptly closed, taking everyone’s bankroll with them. Redress was made via the Federal authorities. This room is once again reputable, having been bought by PokerStars and the player pool merged with that giant site.
There are some tell-tale signs to look out for, these include:
- Payment Delays: if multiple players complain that withdrawals are taking a long time, then this can be a red flag. Note that requests for ID documents are standard for reputable poker rooms (though many players complain). Limits on weekly or monthly withdrawals, high minimums for low stakes players and restrictions in the methods you can use should all prompt you to investigate further. There are plenty of fast-paying online poker rooms out there.
- Lack of Response: if you are mailing a site about security concerns or other customer service related issues, you should expect a reasonably quick reply. This is even more a red-flag when combined with payment issues.
- Impossible Bonuses: look out for sites which offer excellent sign-up bonuses, which turn out to be all but impossible to clear at the lower buy-ins. This is a sign that a site is not dedicated to looking after their players.
- No RNG Test Certification: Reputable sites will link to their audit results, if you can’t find these, then make sure your site has a very solid reputation before depositing.
- Lack of Deposit Options: US sites are restricted by the banking system. What I am highlighting here is those sites which only have 1 or 2 obscure voucher systems in place. If a site can’t get credit card processing organised, they are unlikely to have other cash management skills!
Keep an eye on this page for updates of any new blacklisted poker sites. Popular poker forums are also worth checking out. Remember that there will always be disgruntled players – many bad players blame everything but their own play for their losses – it is when you see consistent patterns that match anything covered on this page that you need to be wary.
Attributes of Reputable Poker Sites
This page contains many important warnings, though it does paint a gloomy picture. The good news is that most poker sites are very safe. Good sites realize that their reputation is key to profits. They know that losing this reputation causes players to leave – giving the initiative to their rivals.
If a site has a great reputation among players, and has been going for five years or more, that is a combination worth taking note of. This is plenty of time for any lingering issues to become apparent.
Here is my list of attributes of sites which are unlikely to hit the blacklist any time soon:
- Licensing: Look for sites which have operating licenses in reputable jurisdictions. Internationally, these include Gibraltar, the Isle of Man, Alderney or Malta. For US sites look for Curacao, Antigua or Panama – or the Kahnawake commission. Better still are sites with licenses from strict jurisdictions like the UK, France or Denmark.
- Length of Operation: If a site is less than three to five years old, we like to see other signs that they are a solid operation. This can be the ownership (the site could be a new brand under the umbrella of an existing network). The oldest poker sites have great track records, and often the biggest number of players and game variations.
- Deposit Options: We always like to see PayPal as an option at international sites. This shows that they are reputable enough to cope with any charge-backs. A good selection of deposit methods is harder for US sites. At a minimum, Visa and MasterCard should be on the list, in addition to money transfers and Bitcoin.
- RNG Testing: Reputable sites are happy to show that their deal is fair by having this regularly tested by outside auditing companies. Look for names like eCogra, iGaming Labs and Technical Systems Testing.
- Responsible Gambling: The best sites don’t just make a token effort when it comes to responsible gambling policies – they mean it. This should include links to help organizations for problem gamblers, the ability to self-exclude and the ability to set deposit limits.
Extra Things You Can Do to Stay Safe
Even when you have found a site which is reputable, there are extra measures you can take to reduce your risks.
The main one is to avoid keeping too much of your poker bankroll on one site. This is easy to do, simply set a limit, and stick to it! If you are using an eWallet like Skrill or Neteller, simply transfer any excess there. This will be available should you need it for an instant deposit – and out of the reach of the poker room should the worst happen. US players can use a Bitcoin wallet in the same way – though that is subject to some volatility!
If you are concerned about cheating or collusion, then why not try anonymous games? Sites like Bovada and Ignition are open to US players. They have dispensed with screen names to thwart tracking tools – levelling the playing field for recreational players.
Finally, you can spread your risk around several sites. That way if one does go bad, you will not lose your entire poker bankroll in one go.
Remember, most poker sites are very reputable – you can enjoy the games with complete peace of mind.