The reputation of the online poker industry has had its share of black eyes. Considering the tournament cheating scandals, charges of fraud and money laundering, and the “super-user” controversies of years past, concerns about the honesty of Web-based poker games make sense.
Do dishonest poker sites exist? Absolutely – the first names that pop into my head are Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker. These sister poker sites were embroiled in scandal and legal troubles over the fraudulent practices of what the operators identified as “high-level consultants.” This is a glaring example of dishonesty – but don’t think that the list of dishonest operators is limited to this kind of over-the-top behavior.
With a number of dishonest poker services still in business, how is a player to know if they’re signing up with a legitimate site? If I had to sum up my approach to testing a site’s honesty in a single word, it’d be one I used in the very first sentence of this article – “reputation.”
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I’ve played poker at a number of different sites and on a variety of networks for more than a decade, and in that time I’ve seen both good and bad poker sites. I’ve seen some good services fail, and more than a few dishonest providers succeed. In my experience, the best way to pick out honesty in online poker operations is to check a website’s overall reputation.
How I Test a Site’s Reputation
Some poker sites have a good reputation for providing above-board service. What makes these providers different from disreputable poker sites? Identifying a site with a good reputation isn’t hard. Once you’ve seen how I do it (and seen examples of both good and bad poker sites), you should be able to tell if a site you’re interested in acts with honesty or not after just a few minutes of research.
My first step when researching any gambling site is to search the message boards and forums that I trust for any information from actual players. This kind of data is often more useful than the stuff you find with a generic Web search for a site or network’s name. Some rogue sites will make themselves known immediately – if a site appears on Brian Bailey’s blacklist at Casinomeister.com, I feel pretty safe assuming that site is dishonest. User reviews of individual poker rooms and networks at PokerScout.com can be pretty illuminating, too.
If I don’t find any major red flags from reading user reviews and blacklist pages, I’ll move on to investigating a site’s past. When I’m researching an online poker site, this step is even more important because of the poker industry’s troubled recent past. Of course, depending on how old a bad review or piece of negative coverage is, things may have turned around. It may not be fair to judge a poker site based on something that happened even just a few years ago. Full Tilt Poker is a great example of how a site can be turned around – now owned by the same group that owns PokerStars, Full Tilt was once caught up in a nasty scandal of its own. Since Amaya took over Full Tilt in the summer of 2014, the site’s reputation has improved. The lesson here – be careful of judging too quickly without all the information and context you need. Don’t skimp on your reading.
Once I’m satisfied by all this research into a site’s reputation and past, I’ll start looking into the specifics of their services. Do they offer games I like? What kind of mobile applications do they offer? How’s customer service? Notice that I don’t get to this point until I’ve looked into their reputation in detail, and from sources I know I can trust.
A Dishonest Poker Site Example
I find that I learn a lot by making comparisons, so I’ll start with an example of a dishonest poker service.
A great example of a service that was obviously dishonest in its operations was the Everleaf Gaming network. Everleaf finally had their gaming license revoked in August of 2013, but only after mountains of evidence about their poor business practices had already piled up. For example, after receiving a cease and desist order from the US Department of Justice in 2011, the site continued operating, even though the US government seized thousands of dollars from player accounts in the process. That’s not a good sign at all.
Another example – Everleaf pulled out of the US market in 2012 (after months of non-payment to their US customers) and then set ridiculous requirements for former US customers who wanted to withdraw the remaining funds in their account. Essentially, US players would have to leave the United States and use a non-US friendly payment processing method in order to recover their funds. That’s also not a good sign.
The evidence against Everleaf poker was daunting . Though the site is shut down for good at the time I write this, there were a few years there where potential customers could have easily found out about some very dishonest practices and saved themselves the trouble of dealing with this rogue operator.
Honest Poker Site Examples
The three poker sites I cover briefly below are by no means the only legitimate poker sites in operation. They’re just good examples of honest operations that I would have no problem recommending to other poker players.
Launched in 2001, PokerStars is now the largest and most active online poker service in the world. Part of the reason for their dominance is the recent acquisition of Full Tilt Poker, a former rival. PokerStars has the longevity that I require to consider a site’s reputation as “honest,” and the sheer size of their player base is another generally good indicator. If a site isn’t operating above-board, players aren’t likely to keep wasting money there.
I want to point out something here to further illustrate a point I already made. PokerStars ran into some legal trouble with the US DoJ after online poker’s infamous Black Friday shut-down. The news of the site’s imminent demise made for major headlines during what was admittedly a pretty slow news week. But in the years since, PokerStars has settled the civil dispute (and admitted no wrong-doing in the process), and the company is no longer in dutch with the US government. This is why it’s important to understand the full context of any wonky stuff you read about in a site’s history.
I suppose I’m cheating a little by including a poker network here rather than an individual site. But I think including a network makes sense – lots of poker players are active on the network’s sites, so excluding it just because it’s not technically a poker site seems like a miscalculation.
According to the stats at PokerScout.com (on the day I checked), the seven-day average number of active players at poker sites on the iPoker network is around 2,000. That puts the iPoker network in third place in terms of the average number of players active, behind PokerStars and 888poker.
The thing that stands out about iPoker’s reputation is the fact that this is a network made up of six different skins, all of which are legitimate providers of online poker. Names like PaddyPower give iPoker some positive reputation points because they have a long history of solid business practices.
At one time, PartyPoker was the biggest poker site in the world. Then 2006 happened, and the UIGEA forced PartyPoker (and most other above-board poker sites) out of the market unexpectedly. PartyPoker never really recovered from that blow, and is the seventh most-popular poker site as of today according to PokerScout.com stats.
PartyPoker launched in 2001 – around the same time as PokerStars – and quickly grew to one of the busiest gaming services in the world. Right away, I like PartyPoker’s record in terms of longevity. They’ve been in the business since the very earliest days of Web-based poker games. They made it through the dark days of 2006 without any real legal trouble.
I also like the reputation afforded PartyPoker by virtue of their being a publicly-traded company. That requires a level of transparency and responsibility that tends to indicate honest practice. Not all poker sites that aren’t publicly-traded are dishonest, but those that are listed on public exchanges are pretty much automatically considered to have an honest reputation.
Take a look at the three examples above and notice what the sites have in common. Those commonalities are the things you should look for when trying to find a new (and honest) poker site to open an account with. Hopefully you have some new tools to help you make a judgment about a site’s honest reputation before you deposit. Poker players can save themselves a lot of financial trouble and headaches later by ensuring that they only do business with legitimate sites in the future.