Real money poker sites gained a huge fan base in the early 2000’s. In 2003, amateur poker player Chris Moneymaker outlasted more than 800 players to win the WSOP main event and would trigger what most poker enthusiasts remember as the original “Poker Boom.” Since then, the industry has seen hundreds and hundreds of sites come and go, with only a few major players still remaining from the original poker renaissance still thriving in a post-UIGEA and Black Friday world.
It is important to weed out the pretenders and the contenders, as anyone who decides to play online poker games for real money will want to make sure the check factors like reputation, security, overall background and cashout time frames of the cardroom before depositing your hard-earned money onto them. If you can’t be sure the site will pay you when it comes time to make a withdrawal, then what’s the point of considering playing there in the first place?
Fortunately, though, there are a number of safe and secure online poker rooms that accept players from around the world. This article will hopefully help your quest in finding the best online poker experience.
Factors Behind Choosing a Reputable Online Poker Site
Safe poker sites will have obtained a gaming license from a reputed gaming jurisdiction like Malta, Gibraltar or the United Kingdom. There are also other governing bodies out of Curacao or Isle of Man. These licensing bodies are very strict about who they certify as providing online poker games, as a way to safeguard player funds.
One of the first things you need to consider when picking a poker site is the traffic the chosen site gets. This can be established by heading on over to PokerScout.com, which tracks online poker traffic for all the major networks/sites.
The online poker room must have a large player base in order to be able to support action across all the games offered. Regardless, you can expect most of the traffic to be focused around the No Limit Hold’em tables, since it’s a poker game that is familiar to everyone, especially the short-handed NLH games, as they attract the action junkies.
Poker Game Selection
One of the great advantages of playing real money online poker is the access to the wide range of games across a wide variety of stakes to suit the needs of all poker players. When it comes to game selection, you want to ensure the poker site offers the games you like to play the most, and that there is decent action during the times you are likely to want to play.
In the poker room’s lobby, the games window will allow you to filter the different cash games, sit-n-go’s and tournaments you can register in. Ring games stakes usually start from just $0.01/$0.02, which is perfect for players with limited bankrolls, and go all the way up to $25/$50 and higher at some poker sites. In the cash games section, you’ll get to sort between heads-up, 6-max and full-ring games. Of course, cash games are incredibly popular as players can quit the game at anytime.
Tournaments, including both multi-table tournaments and SNGs are increasingly popular as well. With so many entrants in tournaments, players get to compete for really attractive prize pools, some of which are guaranteed, regardless of the number of players who buy-in. Sites like PokerStars thrive on their massive weekly tournaments, with first place exceeding 6 figures for most of their larger buy-in tourneys.
Unlike MTT’s, SNGs (ie Sit and Go’s) don’t start at a scheduled time, which appeals to tournament players who are looking for a quick online poker fix. Furthermore, Jackpot SNGs have been introduced at all the leading online poker sites over the past few years, and largely to great effect. They appeal to plenty of SNG players as they offer the chance to turn a small investment into a large prize in just minutes. At the beginning of the SNG, a random jackpot prize is allocated to the winner of these 3-handed hyper-turbo tourneys.
Mobile poker has become a thriving market, with everyone owning a smartphone these days. All the top rated online poker sites will offer a mobile version of their poker room (which may or may not require you to download an app to your phone/tablet.)
Mobile poker sites offer players a way to play their favorite cash games, SNGs and tournaments on mobile devices whilst on the go. Plenty of mobile poker rooms boast decent game selection and gameplay, and take full advantage of the larger screens of modern smartphones/tablet devices.
Unfortunately, multi-tabling is not usually supported in mobile poker apps, but this is not such a big issue because it’s possible to play more hands playing speed poker games on your mobile instead.
Banking Options and the Deposit/Withdrawal Process
Depositing into an online poker site is straightforward. There should be a number of convenient banking methods for both deposits and withdrawals, which online poker players can chose from. You will usually be able to cash out your winnings back to the method used to make a deposit, and in cases where that is not possible, cashing out with a check is usually an option and will take a week or two to arrive.
Just keep in mind that before your first withdrawal, you will need to verify your identity with the online poker room, just so they can be sure you are who you said you were when registering your account. This security measure is in place to protect the poker room and players.
Online poker bonuses can be extremely useful. The biggest one usually comes in the form of a welcome bonus, which is offered to new players when they make their first deposit into the online poker room. This is essentially free money given to players by the poker room once they rake enough to get the bonus released.
Determining the value of an online poker bonus isn’t as obvious as you might assume. New players shouldn’t just take the size of the bonus into account. The clearance rate of any poker bonus is what you really want to be looking at. A smaller bonus with an easier clearance rate is going to work out much better for you than a bigger bonus with a less than favorable clearance rate.
In addition to bonuses, most online poker sites have good VIP programs to reward players for their loyalty. Usually there will be different tiers set up, and as you move up, you can expect to receive better rewards, such as getting your own personal VIP manager. Just keep in mind that you will need to get in the necessary volume to remain at that certain level in the VIP program.
Generally speaking, VIP points are the currency of the loyalty scheme, and you earn points playing in any raked ring game and/or tournament on the site. For every $1 you pay in rake, you will accumulate a certain number of points.
At the top tiers, you can expect to get bigger cash rewards and bonuses, which in essence translates to getting a better rakeback deal, just through the VIP program instead of getting direct rakeback. Some poker sites still offer direct rakeback, which is paid directly to your account on a weekly/monthly basis, although it’s not nearly as common to see as VIP programs.
When all is said and done, your choice of online poker room should not be taken lightly. Online poker sites can offer very attractive sign up bonuses and games, but you need to make sure the site is safe and holds a good track record in the industry. Check out our blacklisted poker sites section on FlushDraw to give you an idea of how you can AVOID these types of shady poker rooms and what to look out for in a room if you suspect it might be going rogue.