A Shady Business


When I’m playing live poker, which is most of the time these days, I am often asked about online poker. Do I still play online? Where is the best place to play online? Is it safe? I don’t play online much these days, because I don’t trust any of the sites that are currently open to US players. Not one of them has shown that player accounts are segregated, that they are insured, or even that they can pay what is currently owed. This is not to say that they are all crooked or underfunded, just that none of them has proven that they are safe and solid.

Let’s look at the options

Bodog

Bodog is probably the safest and most well funded because their sports book is their primary business and it makes a lot of money. But the Department of Justice has been chasing them for years, and they have switched domain names so many times that I don’t even know where to find them any more. It could just be a matter of time before they run into serious legal trouble, which we all know can cause serious financial trouble.

I’m also concerned about the lack of accountability or security in the poker games at Bodog these days. With no player names visible and no player tracking possible, the site is really just begging for bots and collusion. And if there were a problem like Absolute and Ultimate Bet had with insider cheating, there would be no way for players to ever catch it. Being able to see who their opponents were an track win rates and hand histories is the only way a cheat has ever been caught online. The same is true with bots, it is nearly impossible to catch them on Bodog. Cheats are always looking for opportunity, so if an opportunity presents itself I have a hard time believing that the cheats aren’t taking advantage of it in big numbers.

I do know people who are making a little money, and cashing it out successfully at Bodog. The cash outs are fast and easy right now, but the other questionable things going on at Bodog prevent me from playing there. I also don’t know of a single case where someone received money that the security team had taken from someone else when they were cheated. This happened to me a number of times on Full Tilt and PokerStars, and I have to wonder if they are interested in catching cheats at all if I have never heard of a single case of cheating being uncovered by Bodog security.

Winning / Yatahay / Americas Cardroom / True Poker

The Winning Network is the only place I play online right now. The software is acceptable, the cashouts from America’s Cardroom are fast, and the games are fine. There is nothing spectacular about it, the games that are big enough to make real money are not soft enough, and they run the risk of being shut down by the Department of Justice too, so I don’t keep a lot of money on the site. The one deposit I made on the site awhile back when I got started was logged in my credit card statement as if I was buying clothing from China, which tells me that their domains could be seized at any time. Remember, this why Full Tilt and PokerStars were locked out of their domains by the DoJ, and a number of smaller sites have suffered the same fate.

Merge

The Merge Network has lost a number of skins recently and they seem to be forcing sins off their network so that their own site, Carbon, can have all the traffic. This is bad business, and indicative or some shady happenings behind the scenes. I had occasion to contact people at Merge about a serious issue some months ago and they were no help at all. When I started doing some digging, I found some disturbing things going on behind the scenes. It appears that people from FutureBet, which scammed players and skin owners out of millions of dollars, are the same people running the Merge Network. They deny this, but they also refuse to discuss it. There is zero accountability and zero transparency with this company, and everything I found looked suspicious.

I wouldn’t trust these guys to hold on to a free oil change coupon for me, and I sure don’t trust them with my money. Given that cashouts are taking months, even if you were guaranteed to get your payout and not lose your money, the extended wait would prevent me from playing there.

Revolution / Cake / Lock

The Cake network is now owned by Lock. Or not. Maybe it’s the Revolution Network using the Cake software and Lock owns part of it. No one really knows. Which is scary. Lock has been accused of questionable business practices in the past, and recently their reputation has fallen apart completely. Cash outs are taking many months, no updates are available, and support is nonexistent. Lock dollars are selling for $0.25 on the dollar on online forums, and many of their pros have left the network. Some pros left after they weren’t paid and some left after they were worried about their name being associated with a site that was not paying players. Either way, the whole thing is shady.

Player pools are also segregated on the network, making he games much less attractive for strong player trying to make money online. This was probably done by the network to avoid having players on Lock intentionally lose their money to players on other skins who could then cash out the money for them. Player to player transfers were also stopped, which usually signals the beginning of the end for an online poker site.

Chico/Tiger

The Chico Network, which includes Tiger Gaming, is either a scam, or is being run terribly and cashouts are incredibly slow. Do not play there.

VPN to Stars

It is certainly possible to get on to PokerStars and Full Tilt from the United States. I know people who are doing it every day. There are a few problems with using a remote server or VPN to get on to Stars, but you’ll have to make your own decision about whether it’s worthwhile for you. Let’s look at the potential problems.

1. It costs money. Any VPN that is any good will charge you at least $500 a month. It’s like paying extra rake, and you will have to play a lot, and win a lot, to make it worth playing when you lose your first $500 to $1,000 every month.

2. It’s risky. Some of the service providers who offer remotes or VPNs are very reputable, but what if something goes wrong in their life or they become suddenly very ill? Are you going to go to Romania or Yugoslavia or Panama to try to get your money back from them? And even if they appear solid now, things may change fast if you suddenly win a huge tournament.

3. You aren’t you. You can’t play satellites, get endorsement deals, or add your winnings to your lifetime earnings on online tracking sites. You have no proof that you have done anything.

4. It’s risky in more ways than one. If you win $90,000 from a remote controlled computer in the Czech Republic, do you think stars might want to check it out? If they do,they might bust the people who are providing the remote or VPN and take your money. If that happens, you have no recourse, you are just screwed.

Sooo…..

So, what should you do? My recommendation for most players is to play in real brick and mortar card rooms and hope that real online poker comes back to the United States before the brick and mortar card rooms start to disappear. The poker boom that online poker created is starting to slow down. A few more years without online poker and we will probably see live card rooms start to close. The micro-limit and play money games that got so many players started online were the perfect feeder for live card rooms, but new blood is rare these days, and without online poker I don’t expect to see many more new players.

Online poker also paid advertising dollars for televised poker, and without it we don’t have much new poker on TV, which was another source of new players. with no online poker, no poker on TV, and most of the fish from the original poker boom getting tired of losing, the tables in live card rooms are definitely getting tougher. I don’t have a solution for that problem, other than a little piece of advice that I ignored ten years ago.

“Don’t quit your day job.”

 

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  1. #1 by rwestrom on August 14, 2013 - 5:02 pm

    Good summary. For as sad as the online poker scene is in the US it will always compare very favorably to live poker in terms of earning potential relative to bankroll requirements although currently it is not a good option if you need consistent money within a shorter timeframe.

    A few sites that may be worth mentioning:

    Intertops has a solid 30 year reputation and is an option on the Revolution network. Although the only games they currently share with the otherson the network are MTTs. They guarantee funds in the event of a network collapse but i think they are currently invite only, not sure how hard it is to get an account.

    Seals with Clubs (bitcoin site) is hardly worth mentioning based on the games available but given that you can cashout and convert to USD every day if you wanted to it’s a decent option. The ~$100 tourney every Sunday is about the only game of a decent size. I’ve heard rumors of occasional very soft HU play in the cash games, beware of collusion especially in the Omaha ring games. Play the freerolls on an Android device while playing live poker for a no-risk introduction to bitcoins.

    • #2 by Fox on August 14, 2013 - 5:10 pm

      You make some good points Robby. I can get Intertops invites with rakeback if you know anyone who needs one. I have stayed away from Seals With Clubs because I was wary of some of the people involved, but I’ll definitely check out the freerolls and see how I like it.

  2. #3 by robowolfman on August 14, 2013 - 4:00 pm

    I have started playing on Americas cardroom recently and love the site. I have been playing on merge for awhile and have wondered about that site. I have noticed that the site has a truck load of bad beats on it. I have noticed on that software that the hand that is behind on the flop is the winner alot more times than it should be. Just an observation. What do you think?

    • #4 by Fox on August 14, 2013 - 4:34 pm

      I don’t see any reason to suspect the random number generator on Merge, though their security is basically nonexistent. Putting beats on people is not a good way for a poker site to make extra money. That strategy might make them a few hundred thousand at most. We know from Full Tilt that a poker site can make a lot more money by simply spending player deposits.

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