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Articles - Roy Cooke
Frequently Asked Questions Part 1 (internet Poker vs.
by Roy Cooke
People talk about the poker boom, but in my opinion what we really have is an Internet poker boom, and to a lesser extent a tournament poker boom fueled by television coverage, both of which have benefited brick-and-mortar (B&M) poker establishments. While I still love live poker, the vast majority of my play these days is on the Internet, for many reasons. I think this is true of most players. Indeed, there are millions of players who have never even walked into a live cardroom. On a recent Saturday night, there were more poker tables in action on the biggest site (PartyPoker.com) than there are in Nevada and California combined!
I have been part of the Internet poker industry almost since its beginnings, and I am often asked questions about it. Here are some facts and frequently asked questions:
What are the biggest sites?
PartyPoker, PokerStars, ParadisePoker, UltimateBet, Prima, PokerRoom, and PacificPoker. This list has changed over the years, and will likely change again in the future. You can get close to real-time information on which sites have the most traffic at www.pokerpulse.com.
Does size matter?
My wife says no. Seriously, every poker site has its own character, which is partially determined by the number of players, games, tournaments, and so on. On purely a game selection basis, bigger is better. But because of that, the toughest players are attracted to big sites. Many small sites have very friendly, sociable games that are attractive to recreational players, especially at limits of $10-$20 and lower. Site size significantly affects the nature of your Internet game, but bigger or smaller isn’t necessarily better or worse; it’s just different.
Where should I play?
My classic answer: It depends! I personally have a preference for sites affiliated with sportsbooks, like Paradise and Bodog. I think big sportsbooks tend to drive some soft money toward the games I play, mostly $15-$30 to $40-$80. I play PartyPoker some because of the game selection, and PokerStars because I think its software is the best and because its management and quality of support impress me. Cryptologic, a new software developer with nine "skins," is reaching game selection critical mass, has a good interface, and also seems to me to be well-run. Some people care only about game selection, and for them, big sites like Party, PokerStars, Paradise, Pacific, and so on are probably the best. For the best edge in low-limit games, smaller sites are probably a better choice. Some sites are known for their big no-limit games, like Ladbrokes and 365. For purely recreational play, many players like the smaller sites, where everybody gets to know everybody and the sociable chat is a big part of the poker experience. Some sites have more tournament offerings than others, and the features/functionality of tournament software vary greatly depending upon the site. For tournament software, PokerStars is my favorite. That said, on some smaller sites, your edge against the field in tournaments will be better. Some sites have friendlier interfaces than others. Some sites like FullTilt have fun and interesting promotions. To figure out which site is best for you, shop around!
Is my money safe?
There have been very, very few problems with online poker sites paying up, and what problems there have been arose mostly from sites that went out of business. Most credible sites deposit their funds in a major banking institution and have their deposits audited by an international accounting firm of good repute, such as Price Waterhouse. The sites that do take these precautions usually say so on their own frequently asked questions page.
How should I put my money in?
Because of legal concerns (see below), PayPal and most American credit card companies will not allow transactions with online gambling sites. (In my opinion, poker is differentiated from gambling, but that is another story altogether.) Most sites offer you the opportunity to establish direct electronic funds transfer to and from your own bank account. This takes a few days to set up, but it’s a big convenience if you are going to be playing on only one or two sites. Almost all sites have some kind of wire transfer capability, and many allow mail-in deposits. Most players use "e-wallets" or "virtual wallets" like NetTeller or Firepay, which work much like debit cards, and can be used with almost all online poker sites. The bad news is that there is no federal protection of deposits with e-wallets, like there is with credit cards and bank accounts. The good news is that after hundreds of millions of transactions, there have been almost no problems with the companies servicing the online poker industry. I use NetTeller. My buddy John uses Firepay. We’ve had no problems of any kind with either.
Am I protected by governmental regulation?
Theoretically, you are protected by the jurisdiction of the location of the company that offers the online poker game. These locations tend to be small countries like Malta, the Netherlands Antilles, Costa Rica, and the Isle of Man. The largest location of poker sites is on the Kahnawake Tribal Reservation in Ontario, Canada, which is regulated by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. In all of these cases, the authorities regulating the industry would almost certainly favor the businesses that generate their revenue over customers from another jurisdiction. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it does mean that players really can’t look to governmental authorities for redress of grievances. That said, PartyPoker has recently gone public in the UK, and now has some responsibility to governmental regulation there. Other sites will be going public, too. Also, several states, including North Dakota, Georgia, and Illinois, have been debating legislation to allow online poker to operate in their states. The potential for governmental protection of online players is bright, in my opinion.
Is the shuffle and deal honest?
Most random number generators have some kind of entropic randomizing element that literally assures randomness to a degree rarely found in a manual shuffle!
What are "skins" and how do they work?
Many online poker software developers develop the software and sell "skins" to separate companies that market the product. All skins from the same developer use the same random number generators and usually the same servers. The primary differences are interfaces and marketing. For example, PartyPoker and Empire use the same game server but have different interfaces. Cryptologic has sold nine skins to people who run their own operations, but when you log on to any one of them, you are also sitting at the table with players from the other eight. This enables multiple poker marketing machines to utilize the same "room," thereby creating a mutually beneficial relationship in which the critical mass to have a large room is generated. This provides customers better game selection, with a wider choice of both games and limits. Most new software developers are utilizing this concept, finding that they are stronger as a group than multiple individual sites. Most skins are set up so that they also share "backroom" operations, like customer support and cashier transactions. You can see which sites are affiliated with each other at www.pokerpulse.com.
Is online poker legal in the United States?
Some very reputable sites, mostly British ones like Ladbrokes, don’t allow U.S. citizens to play their sites, because the answer to this question is unclear. The U.S. Department of Justice says no, pursuant principally to a 1961 law designed to stop bookies, called the Wire Act. The World Trade Organization says that U.S. attempts to restrict Internet gaming are illegal. No federal law prohibits it, and as far as I know, no state statute prohibits it. The short answer is, nobody’s been arrested yet for playing or being involved in Internet poker, and only time will tell. Meanwhile, the IRS requires U.S. citizens to pay taxes on their winnings regardless of whether they bring the money into the country — and if they don’t, that is definitely illegal.
More frequently asked questions and facts will appear in my next column: shills and prop players, affiliates, bonuses, rakebacks, collusion, bots, multitabling, datamining, and how to protect yourself in online games. Go to 002 - Frequently Asked Questions About Internet Poker Pt.2
Roy Cooke played winning professional poker for more than 16 years. He is a successful real estate broker/salesperson in Las Vegas. His books are available at www.conjelco.com. His longtime collaborator, John Bond, is a free-lance writer in South Florida.
[Special thanks to Cardplayer.com for sharing this article]