The Do's and Don'ts of Online Poker

Is Online Poker Secure?

Not every online poker service is secure. All online poker games today are hosted from outside the United States due to legalities. This means that you can't count on American law to regulate online poker. In addition, there is no worldwide regulatory body to ensure the honesty of online poker; you're very much on your own.

Remember, more valuable than your money is your personal information. Losing a couple of hundred dollars to a fraudulent site is nothing, compared  to having your identity stolen. Keep your risks in perspective.

Recognized legitimate sites are going to have good security.

What are the advantages of online poker?

Despite the risks, here are the advantages to playing online poker.

  • Because it's available anywhere, anyone can play online poker. And because of regulations, even legal casinos may be reluctant to offer poker games on their premises, making it even harder to find legitimate poker games.
  • It's a safe, low-pressure way to learn how to play poker. You can play for very low stakes, and even participate in free and beginner games.
  • It's easier for players to commit fraud, but it's also easier for the poker sponsor to detect fraudulent behavior (like colluding on hands while sitting at the same table).
  • Online poker tournaments can get you into real-life tournaments, as they did with Chris Moneymaker and Fossilman Raymer.
  • You can play more than one table at once, up to four at some sites. If you're good, this might enable you to make a modest living playing online.
  • You can often find a good online poker school at your favorite site, and you can play for free while you're learning the basics.
  • You can easily track your hand history, and often that of others. This helps for tax purposes and also helps you pinpoint your personal weaknesses for correction.
  • The "rake," or percentage taken by the host, is much lower online, something like 5% for online poker compared to 20% for casinos. This improves your odds of making money when you play.

What are the disadvantages of online poker?

  1. You can't read other players' "tells," or the little quirks of body language and personal patterns that can help determine whether they're bluffing or not.
  2. Play is a lot faster, which may skew your reaction time.
  3. Online poker play is subject to the quirks of your computer and the game's host server. If you go down or the server goes down, you may lose money; and you'll probably lose connection more often than you'd like. Read policies and procedures of the site regarding down time thoroughly so you'll know what to do when it happens.
  4. You have to be certain that your poker room is legitimate.

Is it really legal?

That's questionable. Most American gambling legislation is focused on keeping organized crime out of gaming. Although on the books, poker is not legal in most states, this may change in the near future. But today American judges simply throw charges of illegal gambling brought against players out. In South Dakota, lawmakers in 2005 tried to make online gaming legal in their state.

How can I find a legitimate online poker site?

  1. Check for publicly-traded online poker games. Yes, they're successful enough today that some, like Paradise Poker, are traded publicly at the London Stock Exchange and other places.
  2. Check with certification bodies like the Kahnawake Gaming Commission (from the Mohawk Nation in Canada). Some sites are also audited by prestigious auditing firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers. Your best protection is to see that your online poker room is regulated by a gaming commission and, especially, an independent auditor you trust. And don't take their word for it; before putting a large sum of money up, check with the auditing company. People have been known to lie online.
  3. Beware of generous bonus payments. Many poker sites starting out will offer very high bonuses as a sign-on incentive to new players. Unfortunately, many of these sites will fold quickly, taking any money you've put up to play with them. And since most of these companies are hosted overseas, it would cost much more to try to recoup the money you lose than the value of what you lost.

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