Poker popularity continues to climb at casinos and online game rooms. The widespread exposure enjoyed by high-stakes live tournaments has catapulted poker into the mainstream culture of reality TV. And the technology that now facilitates online play has more people playing poker than ever.
The rags to riches stories of online players who go on to win World Series of Poker events and other big-purse tournaments, lure countless players to the virtual tables. But recent events have cast a shadow on the legitimacy of online poker sites.
High Profile Poker Fraud Cases
In early 2011, indictments were handed down to a handful of online poker operators, who were each accused of fraud, money-laundering, and running illegal gambling operations.
The U.S. Department of Justice froze bank accounts, and shut down three of the biggest online gaming sites operating in the U.S. But the shady conduct was not alleged to have occurred directly against online players. Instead, the individuals involved were accused of sidestepping U.S. laws to facilitate illegal bank transfers and other underhanded practices.
The resulting seizures left lots of online players in the lurch, and ended up costing them money. As if the scandal was not enough to tarnish the industry’s reputation, a follow-up scam exposed mismanagement of funds at one of the biggest online poker companies. Hundreds of millions of player dollars were misdirected for personal gain, and the amount of cash on hand at the company was significantly less than the amounts deposited by players.
Front page news called the online poker operation ‘little more than a ponzi scheme’. Even for dedicated online poker enthusiasts, the disparaging news cast doubt on the industry’s legitimacy. Today, charges associated with the high profile cases are being settled in court, and the industry is bouncing back from the scandals.
Know the Law
In the United States, casino gambling is legal in many states, but gambling on the sly is not. Back alley dice games are a definite no-no, but riverboat slot-machines pass the smell test. The online picture is less clear, with worldwide regulations that change frequently.
As a player, it is your responsibility to know the gambling laws that apply to you. Some countries do not restrict online gaming; but others do, so your approach to the game must include a thorough knowledge of national and local prohibitions.
Deposits must be made in legal ways too, so make sure you are using legitimate deposit methods to fund your online poker accounts. In the U.S., for example, banks are not allowed to transfer funds to Internet gambling sites.
Basic identity protection practices apply to online gaming transactions – just as they do in any other virtual interaction. Personal information like user names, passwords, bank account details and credit card numbers should be guarded and divulged only to trusted sources. Social security numbers should not be conveyed through online channels.
Phishing emails are used by scammers to draw this information out, so never respond directly to links provided in emails. Managing your online gaming accounts should be done at the sites themselves, not through indiscriminate links that cannot be verified.
Up to date virus protection should be installed on all computers connected to the Internet. Vulnerable computers are easier targets for scammers, and regular anti-virus updates are the best way to keep pace with hacker innovations.
Online Poker Security
Apply common sense to your poker site vetting process. If something seems out of order in an online poker room, look for your favorite card games elsewhere. Use these basic strategies to avoid online poker scams:
Play at reputable sites. Look for poker providers with long track records of successful gaming operations. If your search uncovers little or no information about a particular site, it indicates a short-lived enterprise, which should be avoided.
Use forums and poker site reviews to gather feedback from other players. The online poker community is your greatest resource for candid information; poll other players about their experiences with poker providers. The proof is in the pudding, so if poker chat rooms are squawking about a certain site, learn from others’ mistakes to avoid your own costly lessons.
Don’t try to beat the odds with software that promises to help you win. There is no magic pill that uncovers oppenants’ strategies, or tracks other players’ hands. Don’t sign up for programs or buy scam software that can’t deliver on impossible promises.
Never initiate player-to-player money transfers. Use your poker client to do business. Scams have been exposed that build goodwill through successful player-to-player interactions – only to rob players later.
Avoid side bets. It’s never a good idea to place side bets with strangers. You might pay if you lose, but others likely won’t.