Poker players in the United States have not had it easy over the last few years. The legalities of gambling differs from state to state, and as poker is considered gambling by the US government then this means that it’s not always easy to find a legitimate poker game in the United States. Florida, Nevada and several other states make it easy for their citizens to do just that, as do Indian gaming laws, but the destination of choice for US poker players looking for a game or two has always been online.
Kahlil Philander, of the University of Las Vegas, recently conducted an interview with cardplayer.com in which he suggested that an online poker industry in the United States could process over $2.2 billion a year, making it one of the richest taxable industries in the country. Despite this, legal online poker is still very much a pipe-dream, with only a handful of states — New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada — allowing it.
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It was players from the United States that helped Party Poker become the market leader in the early years, after it opened its doors in 1997 and became one of the first of its kind. It was also the US players that helped Full Tilt Poker and Pokerstars become two of the biggest poker sites in modern times, but the law eventually caught up with all of these sites. Party Poker was the first to fall following a law that was written in 2006, and as a result they lost more than half of their members, many of which fled to their rivals. A few years later, in the Black Friday incident of 2011, those rivals also fell, and when Full Tilt and Pokerstars crashed, they took Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker with them.
Black Friday was aptly named as a lot of players lost a lot of money and sleep over the incident. From micro stake players to the professionals that sponsored the websites, everyone from the United States was affected and overnight they were forced out of the online community. Many of them chose to move to Canada or Europe, settling down in countries with more liberal gambling laws, and ones where Pokerstars still operated; some of them turned to live poker, keeping their mind off of their online losses by focusing on the big tours and events; others turned to the smaller poker sites, the ones that had been waiting for such a moment so that they could take some of the spotlight that had been shining elsewhere for so long. In every disaster there is someone who prospers, and in this case that someone was those alternative websites, some of which continue to flourish to this say.
Sites to Trust
Two of those were Lock Poker and Carbon Poker, both of which were formed before the Black Friday incident and both of which use the Merge gaming network. Carbon Poker is owned by the people who also own the envious domain name poker.com, and although it began as a very modest poker room with just a few players, things changed in April 2011.
After Black Friday many poker sites that had previously accepted US players decided to close their doors to the country. They saw the damage done to many of their rivals and they took heed, deciding that it simply wasn’t worth the risk. Carbon Poker didn’t see it as a warning though, but as an opportunity. All in all, with a very solid gaming network, good customer support and a pleasing layout, Carbon Poker was a solid website, but the only thing it lacked was members, and that changed after Black Friday.
Once the US players joined then the numbers increased and Carbon Poker become a much more attractive opposition for poker players from all over the world. As more people joined, the games became bigger, the tournaments filled quickly, and that served to lure even more people to the network.
Lock Poker stopped using the Merge network a year after Black Friday, and it went down a different path to Carbon Poker. It is a very popular poker room and always has had some level of popularity, even before Black Friday, but there are several dark clouds hanging over Lock Poker and our advice would be to stay away from this poker site. The poker community is fairly unanimous in its distaste for Lock Poker, and for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are long waits for withdrawals, with some players waiting several months and still not receiving their money. There are also issues with customer support, and over the years these have worsened, with suggestions that the poker website simply stopped caring.
One of the many strange thing to emerge from the Lock Poker affair is a new bonus offered by the company, one that promises to be one of the best bonuses ever seen in the online poker world, a 200% bonus that can be redeemed 6 times. For many this is further evidence that Lock Poker have turned into scammers, trying to squeeze as much money out of players before they go under. Many review and news sites have described it as “laughable” whilst some have gone as far to say it is “criminal”, our opinion is that it could easily be both and that players should stay well away.
Carbon Poker, on the other hand, has yet to let anyone down and we would definitely recommend them. Another website that we would recommend to US players, and one that is also recommended by the wider poker community, is BetOnline. They are the fastest growing poker site in the modern marketplace where US players are concerned, with more Americans joining BetOnline annually than any other poker site.
BetOnline operate out of Panama, and they don’t restrict themselves to poker. There is sports betting and more available on their website, and they also have a casino. Their poker tournaments are very diverse, from scores of free-rolls, right up to the high stakes games that are sure to attract the big money players used to the live circuit. There are also plenty of bonuses on offer for new players and the banking is quick and simple, unlike Lock Poker.
Sites to Avoid
As we have already mentioned, you should probably stay away from Lock Poker. Whilst their software seems to be okay and is certainly fair, there is no point joining a poker site that has such a terrible reputation for paying you your winnings. They give the impression of a company that is happy to take your money, but doesn’t care what happens to you after that, and that’s certainly not what you want when choosing a poker site.
Juicy Stakes, which operate under the .eu domain extension, but are also open to customers in the United States, should also be avoided. Like Lock Poker, they have had a lot of issues in the past when it comes to withdrawals, and this is a fundamental of poker that you need your chosen website to get right. Juicy Stakes also have a minimum withdrawal limit of $500, which is ridiculous when you take micro stake players into account, as they are unlikely to ever win such an amount. This is proof, if needed, that Juicy Stakes and sites like them operate on the belief that once a player deposits money into the system, then that money is theirs, and to make sure of that they will go out of their way to make it difficult, if not impossible, for the player to get that money back.
Poker Host should also be avoided, albeit for different reasons. Their withdrawals tend to be reliable, but when customers in the United States are concerned they only allow withdrawals to be made by check, which can make the process very slow and tedious, not to mention the fact that many banks charge to process checks. The main issue with Poker Host, however, is the size of the website. At any given time there are less than 1.000 players online, and when you take into account the many different stake sizes, and the fact that some players opt for sit and go’s, some opt for multi table tournaments and some opt for cash games, you have a website with just a handful of players in any given area.
The number of players should always be one of the top priorities for those looking to join a new website. Not only does an increased amount of players mean that the site in question is more likely to be legit (let’s be honest, people don’t hang around very long when a site is not legit) but it also means that the tournaments, the cash games and the sit and go’s are full. One of the few things worse than a website that takes a long time to process your winnings is one that has so few players that you never get a chance to earn those winnings in the first place. If possible, you should also download the poker software from any prospective site and play for free, just to get a feel for it and an idea of how many people are on there. Free-rolls and play money games that are full to the brim are a sign that the paid games will also be full, and if that’s the case then you can make your deposit and increase the stakes.
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