The first online casinos appeared in the mid-1990s, and it didn't take long for online poker to follow. The first poker site that allowed real money wagering was Planet Poker, which opened for business on New Years Day of 1998. Online poker exploded within a few short years, spurred on by online players like Chris Moneymaker—who made the successful transition from virtual tables to the World Series of Poker.
Today, online poker is bigger than ever. Players in the United States experienced a minor glitch in 2011 when the Department of Justice seized the servers of some of the most popular sites, and the federal government declared all online gambling illegal. But some states have since legalized real money poker play online, and countries like the United Kingdom continue to play host to many poker rooms. Today, there are many choices and opportunities online for the savvy poker player.
The Player's Guide to Online Poker
This guide will help you get started with online poker, even if you have no prior experience. Veterans of live casinos and table games may also be interested in learning how online poker differs from live poker and the unique advantages of online play. We'll also cover how to keep your money and personal information safe while using online poker sites, as well as the legal status of online poker in the United States.
How Do You Play Online Poker?
You can play online poker with a desktop or laptop computer, a tablet, or even your phone.
You'll find the widest range of options available for desktop and laptop computers, and these games will have the most features and extras as well. The best way to play at a casino or poker room is to download their software right to your computer. It is possible to play through a web browser without having to download anything if you prefer that option. The selection of poker rooms and casinos is much larger for PCs, but most of the “big names” in the industry also support Apple computers. These sites include PokerStars, Party Poker and 888Poker.
The next best alternative is to play on a tablet. Many of the major poker sites make apps for Android, iOS and the mobile version of Windows. If you have a Windows tablet that is powerful enough, it may also be able to run the site's desktop/laptop software. If you want to download a poker room or casino app, check to see if they have an optimized version of the app for your particular tablet. For example, a site might offer different apps for the iPhone and iPad, each of which makes use of screen space differently.
Finally, you can play on your smartphone. While mobile phone poker apps have made strides in recent years, this is still the most limiting way to play because of screen size and hardware capability. However, many of the major sites make phone apps that are quite fun to play. Serious professional players may not find them satisfying as they don't have all the features or compatibility with poker hand tracking software.
How Does Online Poker Differ From Live Poker?
Playing poker online is different in many ways. Perhaps the biggest difference is the range of options for funding your accounts. You can add chips to your stack with a credit card or an e-wallet system like Skrill or PayPal—options that are unavailable on a casino floor.
Another big difference is the range of table stakes. Poker is a relatively low-profit center for live casinos, and they now keep only a limited amount of tables on the gaming floor. You can also get stuck playing at the stakes other players want, which are often higher than new or casual players can handle.
Since there's almost no additional overhead for an online casino to add a new poker table, it can afford to run different types of games simultaneously, from high roller tables to micro-stakes. You'll also see that stakes online are significantly lower than any traditional casino in the world.
A player must adopt different strategies when playing poker online. The most notable change is the absence of other players. So the ability to read a person's body language and mannerisms do not exist online. You can play a game where everyone is required to have a webcam and microphone, however, but those games are harder to find.
It is still possible to read the betting patterns of other players to some degree, but there's a stronger emphasis on mathematical analysis in online play. Those who know the most likely play for each set of circumstances and tend to have winning careers online.
While poker is big on TV, actual game participants don't like a crowd hanging over their shoulders, and there usually isn't room for one anyway. Most online poker sites allow you to observe other games in progress, which can help you study better players in action and also scout potential opponents.
The Advantages of Online Poker
Playing poker online has many advantages. In addition to the increased range of options for funding your account, one of the biggest benefits is ease of access. Finding a poker table with the stakes you want and an open seat can be a serious challenge at traditional casinos. You may find there aren't enough players at your skill level or the stakes are too high for your interest.
Conversely, there may be too many players at the tables, forcing you to get on a waiting list that can be backed up for hours. If you're still building your skill set, you may find the only opening is at a table full of sharks who are out of your league. None of this is a problem online. The range of options available is staggering, and you can always find just the right table with the stakes and competition you desire. You also won't find yourself stuck at a busy table, afraid to leave for fear of going to the back of the line—because there is no line!
There is also the issue of table stakes. As we touched on earlier, traditional casinos don't put much emphasis on poker tables because they are not profitable. Out of the few tables they do have, they push high-stakes play as much as possible, as that's one of the only ways they can make significant money from poker. If you're not a high roller or are new to the game, that's not a place for you.
The relatively minuscule cost of operating poker games online means there are many different tables available. Stakes can be quite reasonable as well—some as small as one to two cents per hand. You'll also see plenty of freeroll tournaments that cost nothing to enter or play but offer legitimate cash prizes to the top finishers.
Since online casinos have smaller operating costs than live casinos, they can also be much more generous regarding the rake. You'll find rakes at online games are similar to their land-based counterparts, but online players can come out ahead with rakeback offers. Online players can expect to get anywhere from 25% to 50% of their rake back per month as a loyalty promotion. Combine rakeback with the savings realized by not traveling to and staying at a casino—and you're looking at a much smaller dent in your bankroll for an equal amount of play.
Advanced players can play multiple tables simultaneously to increase their income. Some poker rooms may allow this, but more frequently players sign up for multiple sites and play a table at each in different tabs or on separate devices. This strategy represents a creative way to increase earnings over time without having to play for higher stakes or compete against more advanced players.
In addition to the rakeback, there are other online-only bonuses available. Many casinos and poker sites will match your initial deposit with some amount of bonus credit, or will give you a bonus every time you reach a certain threshold of raked hands.
Finally, it's much easier to track and record your hands while playing online. This idea might not be as important to the casual player, but if you're planning to become a full-time professional, tracking and analyzing your previous hands is crucial to correcting the deficiencies in your game.
Is It Safe to Play Poker Online?
Appropriately licensed and regulated poker sites offer protections that keep your money safe. Look for one based in a country that has a strong history of oversight of its online casinos. Today, the United Kingdom and its various territories (collectively included in the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport's whitelist) are the gold standards. Equally reliable are the states in the U.S. that allow real money wagering at online poker.
There are various ways to cheat at online poker, but the best sites implement countermeasures. They continually monitor their internet traffic and connections to catch players who are attempting to collude, who are using software or apps that help them cheat or are controlling multiple accounts at the same table.
Where Can I Legally Play Online Poker In The United States?
Poker occupies a gray area in American law. The Federal government regards all wagering of real money online as gambling—and therefore it is illegal. State law is a little more murky, however, as some states regard poker as a game of skill rather than chance, and therefore something that the law cannot inhibit.
Three states have taken clear stances in legalizing online poker for real money: Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware. In the past, the casino industry in Nevada has been resistant to allowing online gambling as it threatened its bottom line, but it now supports efforts to allow poker and sports wagering online. New Jersey and Delaware both allow wagering on casino games other than poker. The provider must operate within in the state, and that is why many of the Atlantic City, NJ casinos now offer online options.
Gambling law for online poker is identical to visiting a poker room in Las Vegas. You don't have to be a resident of the state—you simply have to be physically within its boundaries to be allowed to play online legally. Some of the more technically inclined may be thinking, “Ah, what if I log into a proxy server based in that state from somewhere else?” Well, that might work, depending on the casino's technical sophistication. There are security measures other than checking IP addresses, however. A popular one is the casino's right to “ping” your cell phone periodically using cell towers to verify it is physically within the state. Your bank might also notice this traffic and shut down your transactions because the federal government issues fines for this kind of activity.
Online Play: Poker's Present and Future
Online poker play offers plenty of flexibility along with strategic advantages, while costing less money in terms of fees paid to the house and incidental expenses. Choose a well-regulated and reputable casino and ensure that you comply with local laws, and you can enjoy these advantages with just as much confidence as you'd have at a Las Vegas casino.