Poker is found at casino sites across the world but it’s hard to classify it as a “casino” game. If you approach the game with a learning mindset, you can actually turn it into a profitable hobby. This is one of the few casino games in the world in which the house is not guaranteed to take your money no matter how long you play.
We’ll explore that thought more in a minute. First, let’s start with a list of the best online poker sites. The main things you should expect from an online poker room are safety, traffic and game variety. The following casino sites earn high marks in all three aspects:
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An Important Distinction
There tends to be some confusion when talking about poker in a casino setting. Traditional online poker games are played against other people, not against the house. Think of those big poker tournaments you see on TV or the poker room inside your local casino. This is the type of poker that this page focuses on.
There are other forms of poker that are played against the house and not against other people. Think of games like Pai Gow Poker and 3 Card Poker. These games are more rigid in structure and have a built-in house advantage that you cannot overcome. That’s how they make their money.
Real money poker sites earn a profit by setting aside a percentage of every pot and keeping it. This is called the rake. You hardly notice the rake because it is only paid by the person who wins the pot. If 3 people play in a hand and you end up winning a $100 pot, you might only get $96. The casino site just kept $4 of your winnings but you tend to overlook that because your balance just increased by nearly a hundred dollars.
Multi-player poker is a game of skill. The house has no stake in the outcome because it gets paid no matter who wins. You make money in traditional poker by playing better than your opponents. The other type of poker is a game of chance played against the house with unsurmountable odds. Again, what we’re focusing on here is the first type: multi player poker.
Finding the Best Online Poker Sites
Poker has been my game of choice for a long time and I’d like to shares some of what I learned on this page. One skill that I had to develop out of necessity was figuring out how to determine which poker sites really back it up when they claim to be the best.
It’s not always apparent which casino sites have the best poker games. They all look similar on the outside. My method has always been to compile a list of “must have” traits and then go down the list one item at a time to find poker sites that meet all these requirements.
Safety is the number one priority when looking for a casino site of any type, but it takes even greater importance with poker because so much more money is involved. If you build up your bankroll and move up to mid or high level games, it’s not inconceivable to have a bankroll with five or even six figures. That’s a lot of money to hold at any single casino.
Since it’s not feasible to visit an operation in person, the best way to determine its safety is to look at its track record. How long as the site been online? Has it suffered from any major scandals in the past? What do other people have to say? Put on your search hat and head over to Google and type in the name of the site you’re considering. You would be surprised at how much insider information is publicly available.
The best thing you can do to ensure the safety of your funds is to stick with established poker websites. Sites such as those listed above that have been in operation for years are much more likely to be financially stable and capable of hosting honest games. The online poker community is diligent about tracking hands and keeping detailed statistics that analyze every hand ever played. When anomalies become apparent, the poker community takes notice.
Traffic is used to describe how busy a poker site is. An online poker site needs to have lots of active players to keep the tables running and tournaments worthwhile. If traffic dips below some level, the games start to die off and it’s hard to find tables at the stakes you like.
The easiest way to get an idea of a site’s traffic is to sign up for a free account and log in during the evening rush hour. From there, you can browse the tables and make note of how many cash games have players actually seated and playing. Low stakes cash games are usually pretty busy no matter where you look. The middle and high stakes games will give you a clear picture of what kind of traffic levels you can expect going forward.
You can also take a look at the tournaments tab within the software to see how the tournament scene looks. Does the site have busy tournaments with hundreds of entrants? How do the low and high stakes tournaments look? Do the prize pools look enticing?
Game variety refers to both the game types and game formats. By “game types” I’m talking about actual poker variations such as Texas Holdem, Omaha, 7 Card Stud and so on. Texas Holdem is the most popular by a long shot but it’s nice to have other options as well.
When I talk about game formats, I’m referring to various structures for each game type. For example, Texas Holdem can be offered in the cash game or tournament format, with heads-up tables, shorthanded tables and full ring tables. Each of those can be hosted as fixed limit, pot limit and no limit games.
It’s one thing to win a bunch of money in a big online poker tournament, but that doesn’t mean a thing until you’ve got the cash in hand. The best poker casino sites are capable of processing withdrawals within a reasonable amount of time. You’ll have to be flexible in your definition of “reasonable” depending on where you live.
Anyone living outside the US can expect much faster withdrawals. UK gaming sites, for example, can process withdrawals within a day or two. You can have them credit your Neteller account, send the money straight to your bank via electronic transfer or choose any other number of withdrawal methods that are all fast and secure.
Online Poker Bonuses
It is an age old tradition among poker players to go around and collect deposit bonuses from various poker sites. Casino sites compete vigorously for your business and every single one has a bonus offer of some sort. The agreement is that if you sign up and make a deposit, the poker site will match your first deposit with extra cash.
Deposit bonuses are most often set at a match rate of 100%. This means that for every dollar you deposit, you’ll get a dollar in bonus money up to some maximum amount. I would venture to guess right now that the average poker bonus is a 100% bonus worth up to $500. Some bonuses are worth more than while others are worse less, but that’s a pretty good starting point.
The bonus money that you get as a new player starts out in a pending bonus account. It remains locked away until you participate in enough real money hands to release the funds. Most bonuses are released in increments of $5.00. The more you play, the faster the money is released. Any bonus money that you release is yours to do with as you wish. You’re free to cash it out, use it to build a bankroll or lose it at the tables.
The exact terms and conditions vary from site to site, but usually you’ll be asked to play games and earn frequent player points (or some equivalent). Every time you earn X frequent player points, a chunk of your bonus money is released. This continues until you’ve released all the money.
If you’re the skeptical type, it’s natural to wonder if this is one of those too-good-to-be-true deals. Well, I’m happy to report its not. Poker bonuses make financial sense for both the operators and the players. As the player, you get extra cash just for playing poker like you intended to. Some of the cost of the bonus is offset by having you participate in games and generate rake for the poker site.
Real Money Deposits
Before you can play with other people or claim one of those fancy deposit bonuses, you’re going to have to make a real money deposit. This process should be fairly easy as long as you play at a halfway competent poker site. As you can imagine, poker sites devote significant resources to making sure potential customers can deposit.
The deposit methods that are available to you will vary depending on your country of residence. People in the UK, Europe and other parts of the world generally have a wider range of deposit methods to choose from. The options for non-US poker sites also include credit and debit cards in addition to electronic funds transfers, e-wallets such as Neteller or Skrill, prepaid gift cards, prepaid cash vouchers and more.
Don’t be surprised if your poker site limits your first few deposits to something along the lines of $500 or so. Credit fraud is a big concern for casino poker sites due to people either losing their money and initiating a chargeback or using stolen cards to make deposits.
Your deposit limits should increase after a while. Once you process a couple of successful withdrawals without any funny business, the casino will become more comfortable with letting you deposit more money. It also helps to verify your identity by sending their customer support team a copy of your ID and a recent utility bill as proof of residence. Once the site knows you’re really who you say you are and aren’t the type of player to initiate chargebacks when you lose, they’ll probably increase your limits if you ask nicely.
Mobile Poker Software
Poker is a difficult game to fit on a 4 inch touchscreen. Mobile poker sites are still pretty rare, but progress is being made in that direction. The mobile gambling sites that I’ve tried so far allowed me to open exactly one table and show a condensed view of the poker table. The screen does get a little crowded but it works well enough.
It’s hard to imagine sitting down and playing a serious session against great players on the phone. It works well for casual games, but it’s not something I’d want to try during the final table of a major tournament. Even so, mobile poker is cool and it does work if you’re fine with playing just one table at a time.
Wes Burns co-founded OnlineCasinoSites.com with a mission to help gamblers understand and navigate the regulated online casino market in all countries around the world. Wes is a respected gambling journalist, working in the industry since 2008.