Online poker remains one of the most popular gambling games you can play today. It has been a turbulent few years for online poker. Its fortunes have risen and fallen, and the reasons for that are both numerous and concerning. Despite the sudden drop in interest in online poker from the wider gambling community, there is still a lot of life left in the online poker world. Through careful research, practice and clever gameplay, you could still find yourself having a jolly old time playing your favourite online poker games.
The Boom Years of Online Poker
We will start this article by charting the rise and fall of online poker, as well as looking at some of those aspects which make online poker a very playable game, even today.
Let’s not try and make out that online poker is not enduring a difficult time, because it is. It wasn’t always that way, though, and you don’t actually have to travel that far back to find a time when poker options were plentiful, and poker was one of the most popular gambling games you could play online.
Despite the US prohibiting transactions for online gambling games such as online poker in the early 2000s, poker did relatively well for itself up until very recently. Many didn’t consider poker as part of the ban. It technically wasn’t. The ban was on finances related to online gambling, not the games themselves. Other reasons for not counting poker amongst the banned games came down to whether it was classed as a game of skill, or game of chance. Whilst the US certainly forbade games of chance being played for profit, many saw no harm in games of skill. As a result, many top sites such as PokerStars, Absolute Poker, and Full Tilt Poker become hugely successful. It wasn’t to last, though.
In 2011, the Black Friday scandal ripped the heart out of the US online poker industry, when three of the aforementioned poker sites were charged with money laundering, amongst other crimes. Although in the lawsuits and court cases which followed, PokerStars were deemed to have paid out to their US customers, the same cannot be said of the other two. Suddenly, online poker was no longer safe, it was no longer trustworthy.
With the loosening of the Federal Wire Act, many predicted that the poker industry would rise once more. Indeed, PokerStars and other poker sites began to reorganise how they were run, and the poker industry should have recovered fully. It didn’t. Whilst some states had the power to decide whether sites were legal (most of the legal ones were regulated by each state), other still shunned online gambling. It created a very difficult situation for poker sites who had up until then offered gaming to all US players.
Current state of Online Poker
Ever since the Black Friday court case, poker gambling has been in decline. In 2012 (prior to the case), poker traffic was up by 9.7%. In the following two years, traffic was down by 9.1%, and 14.7%, respectively. Last year saw a very difficult time for the poker industry. In 2015, the amount of online poker traffic dropped by a whopping 12.2%. Surely the ramifications of Black Friday are no longer being felt, and surely legal poker sites in some US states would see a rise in poker traffic? It hasn’t, but why?
Several poker sites have reorganised their operations to be far more transparent, and at the same time they are offering more “social-style” games for players. One only has to look at PokerStars Spin & Go’s to see that. Regular online poker games were left without players at their digital tables as many online players wanted to participate in the craze. In fact, Spin & Go’s share of the total poker income last year was a whopping 40%.
It isn’t just new games which are having an affect on traditional poker sites. Other games are also grabbing the attention of online players. The legalisation of state-regulated real money online casinos has played its part, and the rise of mobile gaming in offshore US casinos has also contributed to the overall drop in poker figures. Throw in the fact that it is now possible in some parts for US players to wager on sports and watch sports at the same time, and those late night poker sessions are bound to take a hit.
A drop in the amount of celebrity exposure for poker has also seen its influence wane. Celebrities naturally pulled much of their support when the big poker sites went down. Perhaps they decided “never again”, or they moved onto other forms of gambling. Either way, without big names to peddle it, the poker industry has suffered.
It is hard to see just how online poker is going to be able to pull it back. The definitive figures for 2016 aren’t in yet, but it doesn’t look good. So far, it looks as though online poker has managed to stop some of the rot in online traffic, but it just isn’t drawing the crowds quite like it used to.
Despite all the gloom, online poker is still riveting to play, though, and there are many poker sites out there accepting players. In fact, with the right skill and strategy, you could even do quite well for yourself. With all the pro players turning onto other games, might there be room for a budding amateur such as yourself, if all of the pieces fall into place?
Real money options
If you are interested in playing online poker, you have just as many poker variants open to you as there always has been. All of your favourite poker games can still be played online – in both tournaments and individual table games.
Texas Hold’em is still the big daddy in the online poker world, and can be played at virtually all major poker sites. Texas Hold ‘em is still the default choice of the World Series of Poker, and spikes in online poker gameplay do occur when this famous world poker tournament reaches its climax. This is a poker game which deals with two pocket cards (hole cards), and gradually unveils 5 community cards as the game progresses, known as the flop (the first three cards), the turn (the fourth card), and the river (fifth card).
Omaha is another popular game, and can also be found all across the internet. Omaha also features four rounds of betting (like Texas Hold ‘em) but players are dealt four hole cards, and can make their best hand out of any of the cards they hold, plus the community cards.
7-Card Stud, and 5-Card Draw may not be as popular as Texas Hold ‘em, but they are equally easy to find in the online poker world. These involve making the best 5-card hand possible using 7 cards, and 5 cards respectively. In 5-Card Draw, players can exchange up to 3 of the cards.
Hi/Lo poker games are also popular. This is another Stud poker game, and one which comes in many different varieties (possibly more so than any other poker game). The rules for each Hi/Lo game you will come across vary, so players need to pay close attention to how their chosen Hi/Lo game is played.
A few years ago, poker promotions were getting silly. There were rake deals, welcome bonuses, and all manner of VIP promos. With so many promotions for you to claim, many players wouldn’t have been able to properly count just how much they were obligated to wager via wagering requirements before they could withdraw. This may naturally have contributed to anger and confusion (since players unable to fulfil their wagering requirements would not be paid by the poker sites), which in turn may have contributed to the decline of online poker.
Nowadays, poker promotions are far more measured. There are still welcome bonuses, and rake deals, and these can still be worth quite a lot of money, albeit with clearly marked wagering requirements, and less VIP deals for players to snap up. PokerStars is perhaps the biggest name to slowly reel in their once expansive VIP club for something more manageable and friendly for players. If you still want big poker promos, there are plenty of them out there for you. We’d recommend digging about to find the best deal you can.
In the past year we have instead seen the rise of other type of gambling sites, especially online casinos that are offering slots for real money or table games such as blackjack or roulette.
Online poker may not feature a wealth of payment methods like casinos, but that isn’t necessarily down to the game itself. In fact, as a general rule, European poker sites offer far more banking options than US poker sites, due to the restrictions in the US – namely UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act 2006, if you want to look it up). Whilst some payment methods have scarpered from the US gambling scene because of the aforementioned Federal Wire Act, it is hardly the case that you cannot find a decent number of banking options.
Online poker sites’ most popular deposit methods include credit cards for players based across the globe, whilst European players can opt to deposit using Skrill, Neteller, PayPal and other popular e-wallets. For US-based players, wire transfers are the most common way to deposit.
Withdrawals are equally as tricky for US players, with only a handful of poker sites offering a wide-range options to cash-out with. Cheques and wire transfers again seem to be the ideal way to go. You may experience withdrawal fees and transaction times which range from 1 day up to 5 days. Most deposit options are free at the major online poker sites.
Common strategies and bankroll strategies
Common strategies and bankroll strategies played a huge part in making online poker popular. Believe it or not, this is true. A lot of players began to read up on strategies, and try them out at home. Most gambling sites even advised them to do so. The shock was that so many poker players did this and became rather good, that the online poker scene flourished.
There are many poker strategies out there, and we can’t possibly discuss them all here. However, most of them do appear at leading poker sites, and they can give you in-depth instructions on how they work, and how to best implement and incorporate them into your game.
Bankroll strategy is a little different to common strategy. Whilst a common strategy aims to tell you how to best set up your hand, and how to avoid defeat, a bankroll strategy is more a strategy based on conserving your bankroll by using a specific system to organise your bets. Bankroll strategies are more about tips and handy hints than true strategy. Even so, both are equally important if you are to have a successful time playing poker online.
The best and biggest sites
The fact of the matter is this. After Black Friday, many of the leading poker sites either went out of business, were closed down, or forced to alter their operations to be more friendly and transparent. In their absence and down-time, a lot of other poker sites have sprung up to take their place – most of these do not accept US-based players, though.
At this moment in time, the most popular online poker sites tend to be 888 Poker, William Hill Poker. Also big this year is Party Poker, Ladbrokes Poker, PKR, and Betfair Poker.
Of course, having cleaned up their act, the old giants are also making headway in becoming leading poker sites once more too, in particular PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker. It is hard to say if they will ever win back their credibility completely, and dominate as they once did. At least they are trying.
US-friendly poker sites
The fall of the big sites allowed many smaller offshore US poker sites to take their place. Today, the top US poker sites seem to be Full Flush Poker, BetOnline Poker, Intertops Poker, and Cake Poker. Some of these poker sites are technically legal in the US, too, but even that (it seems) hasn’t been enough to reinvigorate the online poker industry. This is going to take time.
US poker sites are very similar to the big European poker domains. The exceptions are that the payment methods tend to be more restricted, even if the bonuses and promotions tend to be grander. US-friendly poker sites also tend to carry games (and rules) which are more appealing to the US poker market. Both US-friendly poker sites and those which do not support US players tend to have ties to major poker tournaments.
Software and Tools
Software and tools also play quite a huge role in attracting players to the online poker world. Players have been able to use the built-in poker software and tools to learn how to play more poker games, learn tips and tricks and strategies, and become more complete poker players. Many players have done this, and we would recommend this, too, if you wish to be a top poker player. The software and poker tools are designed to create more poker fans, too.
The aids to learning have certainly developed an interest in poker, but with many players having the same knowledge, perhaps there is little to be gained from using them after all. If you are thinking of playing online poker games, it certainly can’t hurt to give them a whirl. You may be able to gain great victories over budding poker amateurs who have failed to take advantage of the tools at their disposal, but even these tools can’t guarantee wins against the big online poker pros.
The online poker scene used to be filled with the brightest and best poker professionals in the world. Many played online, and often made killings. We’re talking about the Dan Negreanus, Erik Seidels, Phil Iveys, and Scott Seivers of the poker world. Their faces promoted the websites, games, and tournaments. When online poker started going south, many of the more famous celebrities started abandoning online poker (whether to be disassociated with Black Friday, or simply because the competition was no longer there).
If online poker is going to make a comeback, it is highly likely that these poker sites are going to need endorsements from leading poker pros. Celebrities will always generate interest. Some of the biggest professional poker players do crop up from time to time at online poker tournaments, although like online poker in general, these seem to be struggling and in decline at the moment, too.
The one area which is relatively untapped in the online poker world isn’t actually located in the online poker world at all. Further reading can take you into a world of leading poker strategy books, such as David Sklansky’s Theory of Poker, Doyle Brunson’s Super System: A Course in Poker Power, Gus Hansen’s Every Hand Revealed and more. They offer far more personal advice and tips from the most famous poker players, and offer valuable information which you simply cannot find in a typical online poker site, school, or strategy website. Be warned, though; poker books can be quite complex so make sure that you find one which is at your level.
If online poker ever makes a major comeback, you are going to want to have read these riveting reads, and understand how to implement the tips and advice they offer.
We’ve looked at what are the most likely causes for the dip in the online poker world. It simply isn’t as big as the boom years of the late 2000s. There is every chance that online poker will once again soar high. Gambling games often have rises and falls (look at bingo in the United Kingdom, for instance), and there is still plenty of entertainment and excitement to be had playing online poker.
Poker sites have learned a lot since the dark days of 2011 – 2012, and they have come back fighting. They are safer, more transparent, legal (in many cases), and abide by strict rules of fair play. They are also fun, exciting, and great places to wile away those evenings. There is still a wealth of enjoyable games out there for you to play, and with a little luck, before too long, online poker will be just as popular as it ever was.