Many prospective poker players have concerns about the safety of the online game. Poker history is littered with examples of seemingly legitimate poker sites which went bad. This post covers the history of 3 rouge online poker rooms, and one which is showing some early warning signs. At the end you will find some easy steps to protect yourself from any future scandals.
Ultimate Bet / Absolute Poker And Their Cheating Scandals
Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker were two of the bigger poker sites during the poker boom years. They were owned and run by the same organization based out of Costa Rica and later shared a platform in the form of the Cereus Poker Network.
In 2007, evidence was brought forward that certain players in high stakes cash games had visibility of their opponent’s cards. Their statistics and calls would not have been possible without this information. In addition there were so called ‘superusers’ in tournaments, made famous when ‘Potripper’ won a big buy-in event with extremely unlikely plays.
Denials followed, until a spreadsheet of player data was accidently shared by a customer support rep, exposing the massive scale of the problem. Eventually the problems were traced back to the owners of these rogue poker sites – though no charges were ever filed.
These sites no longer exist. Black Friday caught them out in 2011, and both were closed down. Players with balances are unlikely to see a penny of their money.
Full Tilt Poker Mixing Deposits And Working Capital
Full Tilt Poker were huge following the UIGEA of 2006, growing to be the 2nd largest poker site behind PokerStars. They were represented by some of the biggest names in the poker industry, and offered some of the biggest and best promotions too.
Under the surface, things were not quite as they seemed.
This site was committing the ‘cardinal sin’ of the poker business, by mixing player deposits with the cash they needed to run their business. They were also having trouble with payment processing, which lead to them accepting eCheck US deposits and then not being able to cash them from player’s banks.
When you reply on incoming deposits to keep business cash flow moving, it only takes a run of withdrawals to create major problems.
This is exactly what happened after Black Friday stopped US players from playing at this site.
It turned out that the finances were complex, with many owners receiving large payments. Charges were eventually bought against Ray Bitar (their CEO) and several other owners including former WSOP champ Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson.
This story has a better ending than many. PokerStars bought the company and paid back the balances of non-US players. US players are now able to reclaim their balances through a government-run scheme.
MicroGaming Network Scandals – EuroLinx, BetOnBet And Others
MicroGaming are a network of many small poker sites. They built up a large player base during the mid-2000’s by offering generous rakeback deals. At one point there were 100’s of member sites (known as ‘skins’) and just about anyone could set one up using their white label service.
While MicroGaming are still going strong, many of their member sites have simply closed down – and taken player balances and affiliate / sponsored pro payments with them. The biggest scandal was in 2009 with EuroLinx disappearing with $5.3 million in player funds. There have since been several other similar closures including Tusk Gaming and the strangely named ‘Mr Urban Poker’.
This highlights the lack of effective policing and regulation by either the network or the authorities responsible for licensing these small operators. It also shows that putting your money into smaller ‘no-name’ sites has risks attached.
Potential Problems With Lock Poker?
Lock Poker is the poker site which players love to hate at the moment. They have a ton of bad publicity about slow cash-out times and bad communication with their players.
Many people point to this as evidence that Lock Poker is rogue, or about to become so. When you look through the sites that have gone rogue over the years, there is actually very little evidence that slow payout speeds occurred before they disappeared. In every case, the cash-outs were pretty much ‘business as usual’ right up until the moment when they completely stopped.
Unfortunately player confidence is important to a poker site’s success, and Lock need to improve to have a chance of regaining this.
Rogue Poker Sites – How To Keep Yourself Safe
Scandals happened at the biggest and best poker sites. While plenty of people are ‘experts’ with 20-20 hindsight, very few were calling out Full Tilt before Black Friday, or UB before the superuser scandal.
There are two realistic ways you can lower the chances of a rogue site affecting you.
First, you can choose sites which have financial oversight from a real regulatory body such as the London Stock Exchange. BwinParty, 888 and PlayTech (who run the software used by iPoker) are all listed there, and need to file accounts and reports which show they are financially viable.
Second, you can make sure that you only keep a small portion of your poker bankroll at any one poker site. There is no need to have a large balance held by one of these rooms, especially when eWallet or Credit Card payments mean you can deposit instantly should you need to top up.
Increased player vigilance, and a large number of tracking services mean that it is more difficult for poker sites to go rogue as we go into 2014. However, it is always worth keeping your personal risks to a minimum – and the best way to do that is to keep the bulk of your money off of the poker sites.