Online Poker FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions & Answers
Both are infamous among American online poker players. UIGEA is short for Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. Passed in 2006, and brought into force in 2010, UIGEA resulted in a number of companies leaving the U.S. online poker market.
As for Black Friday, that refers to the events of April 14th, 2011, when the U.S. government seized the domain names of a handful of major online poker sites. In the aftermath of Black Friday, PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and the CEREUS Network stopped accepting players from the United States. Full Tilt Poker closed completely for a time following Black Friday before reopening as a subsidiary of PokerStars. The CEREUS Network closed permanently a few weeks after Black Friday.
For a more comprehensive answer to the question, give our Black Friday / UIGEA guide a read.
The Internet has brought the game of poker to an entirely new level. Poker is now a truly global game, with players from around the world competing against each other in the setting of an online poker room around the clock, participating in games you couldn't have even imagined a few years ago for stakes that are genuinely awe-inspiring.
If that sounds like an exciting setting to you, then you're far from alone. The mix of innovation, competition and money to be won attracts thousands of new players to the tables each and every day. Most will just blindly choose a room and start playing, but a few will take the time to inform themselves about the basics of online poker before jumping in. We're assuming you're one of those few since you've come across this page, which answers the questions most commonly asked about online poker by players who are new to the game - or at least new to playing it online.
Most Popular Poker Questions Players Ask
Answers to Our Poker FAQ
Can Online Poker Possibly Be Safe?
Yes. While online poker has had its share of black eyes over the last decade or so, it's tough to think of an industry that hasn't. Despite the existence of a few unscrupulous companies, the overall track record of the online poker industry is quite solid. For every problem room, players can choose from at least a dozen online poker sites with impeccable reputations. Many of these rooms are publicly-traded companies backed by major corporations - a far cry from the fly-by-night operations the skeptical might imagine when they conjure up a mental image of an online poker room.
We focus our guides on safe poker rooms that are properly licensed, fully regulated and that have a track record of delivering on promises to players. Sticking with that roster allows you to leave your worries about the safety and security of online poker at the door and lets you get on with what you're really there to do - play some cards.
Do I Have to Play For High Stakes Online?
No. In fact, one of the great innovations of online poker has been to make poker available at some of the smallest stakes possible - much smaller than the average kitchen table game. As online poker rooms aren't constrained by having to pay dealers or to fit within a physical space, they can offer games at limits so low (think pennies) that just about anyone can participate - something that can't be said of a live casino, where even the smallest stakes for poker games generally involve hundreds of dollars. If you prefer to play small stakes poker, you might be interested in our page which outlines poker sites accepting small deposits.
Do I Have to Use a Credit Card to Play Online Poker?
No. Many rooms do accept credit cards, but if you're not comfortable using your credit card at an online poker room there are a number of alternative options. The most popular among players are e-wallets (such as PayPal and Moneybookers) that allow players to deposit and withdraw at a room without having to expose any of their personal financial information. The only thing you'll ever have to provide is your account number for the e-wallet - your personal banking information will never be seen by the room.
Can I Deposit Just a Small Amount at an Online Poker Room?
Yes. Most poker rooms have minimum deposit amounts around the $5-$10 range, and some rooms will let you deposit as little as $1. The reason why deposits aren't available for even lower amounts is that the room usually pays a flat fee to a payment processor (the credit card company, for example) who handles the transaction, meaning they would lose money if they accepted micro-deposits.
Are Online Poker Deposit Bonuses Real Money?
Yes. People see deposit bonuses at online poker rooms and assume there must be some kind of catch - especially if those people have experience at online casinos, where bonuses are often accompanied by very restrictive terms. Online poker deposit bonuses are actually pretty straightforward affairs - you deposit, play a certain amount and then the money is yours to do whatever it is you see fit. Play more or cash it out - once the bonus is cleared, it's actual money that can be used just like the money you deposited. Some rooms also offer no deposit bonuses, often referred to as free bankrolls. This type of bonus allows you to receive the cash upfront to play with immediately. In most cases, you will be required to clear the bonus before you can withdraw it.
Will Poker Sites Let Me Cash Out When I Win?
Yes. This is another question that customers who have been burned by rogue online casinos and sportsbooks often ask. Remember, unlike a casino game such as blackjack where you compete against the house, poker is played between individuals. The house has no stake in the outcome of a hand. The room just takes their fee (the rake) regardless of who wins and who loses. At the end of the hand, it's all the same to the poker room - they're not like the casino who sees you cashing out "their money" that you won from the house.
Are the Games at Online Poker Rooms Rigged?
No. Cheating is a part of life - an unfortunate one, but an unavoidable one - and to pretend that cheating doesn't take place at online poker rooms would be disingenuous. Cheating takes place at live poker rooms, at home games, and online as well. However, there's a difference between a room where cheating sometimes occurs and a room that makes cheating possible. While you'll naturally find some of the first at online poker sites (just as you would at some live poker rooms), you won't find any major room that facilitates cheating, rigs the deck or does anything at all to influence the outcome of games. Online poker is a multi-billion dollar industry with the eyes of players, shareholders, regulators and governments trained squarely on its back. The idea that a major room would risk ruin by messing with the deck is simply illogical.
Again, we don't discount the notion that a rogue online poker room could engage in such behavior. That's why our guides are comprised exclusively of rooms with established reputations and transparency regarding their security processes, methods for dealing and so on.
Is Online Poker Legal?
The answer to this question can differ dramatically from one country to the next, and even from one region to the next within individual countries. But one thing we do know is that there are absolutely no cases whatsoever that we are aware of where an online poker player was arrested and successfully charged simply for playing real-money poker online.
Who regulates online poker sites?
The answer depends on the poker site. There are a number of jurisdictions around the globe that regulate gambling, both live and online. Well-regarded jurisdictions for online poker include Malta, the United Kingdom, Gibraltar and Alderney. Competing regulatory bodies for online poker sites are located in Canada, Curacao, Antigua and Costa Rica.
To determine where a given poker room is regulated, scroll to the bottom of their home page and look for an icon indicating what regulatory body issues the site's operating license. We also provide lists and licensing information for poker rooms in Canada, United States, Australia and the UK.
What is rake?
The rake is how online poker sites stay in business. Think of the rake like a small tax. The tax only applies when you buy into a tournament or win a pot in a cash game. A small amount is collected by the room, the rest goes to the players, and the room can afford to keep the lights on.
Any reputable room makes their rake schedule very clear to players. This is important, because rake is not universal - not all rooms charge the same rake for the same games. And comparing rake charges at rooms can easily save you a hefty chunk of your bankroll, which is one of the reasons rake plays such a big role in our poker room ratings.
Is the software safe?
The software of major online poker rooms is rigorously tested and regularly audited. Of course, security ultimately relies on the player; if you're not careful with your password or your computer then there's no amount of security on the poker room's end that can protect you from security threats. But as far as the software itself goes, you can feel confident that the online poker sites we review are offering software that allows you to play real-money poker in a secure environment.
What are the stats I see in the lobby?
Different rooms show slightly different stats, but there are a few core stats that you'll see in the lobby of nearly every poker room.
- Players in hand: Sometimes called VPIP or "players to flop," this stat generally indicates how many players are contesting an average hand at the table. The higher the number, the looser play at that table is likely to be.
- Average pot size: A rolling average of pot sizes at the table, usually over a period of the last hour or so. Bigger average pot sizes can indicate looser play, but they also could indicate more aggressive play or simply a table where the deck is forcing an abnormal amount of big-pot confrontations.
- Waiting list: This number shows how many people are in line for an open seat at the table. Once you join the waiting list, the number should update to not only show you the number of players in line, but also your position among them.
Assuming you do your homework and maintain proper security hygiene on your end, you should have no compunction about keeping funds at an online poker site. The top sites all have a policy of "segregating" player funds, meaning your balance is separate from the operating accounts of the poker room. That ensures even worst-case scenarios - such as a room closing their doors and shutting down - do not result in a loss of player funds.
What are VIP programs?
Online poker VIP programs are the typical method poker sites use to reward players. In a nutshell, these programs seek to incentivize players by refunding them some portion of the rake players pay. Some VIP programs are quite simple - players get a set percentage of their rake returned. VIP programs can also be quite complex; the PokerStars VIP program, for example, requires more than a few minutes with a calculator to fully comprehend.
Much like rake, VIP programs are very different from one poker site to the next. And choosing the right one can mean the difference between showing a profit at online poker or watching your bankroll chart dip into the red.