Since the turn of the century, online poker has taken a game that used to be played in the saloons of the old west and then the card rooms of Las Vegas into the next generation. In the past ten years, the game has increased in popularity across the world. Some nations have chosen to legalize and regulate the activity while others have legislated against it.
In markets where online poker is unregulated or a legal grey area, the popular of Bitcoin has skyrocketed. While Bitcoin online poker is still a fraction of the internet poker pie, it is rapidly growing.
Even in regulated markets, the evolution of Bitcoin has seen some gambling operators adopting the crypto-currency as a deposit and withdrawal option. Over the next few years we expect this trend to continue; Bitcoin may even overtake more popular payment options such as Skrill and Neteller as both operators and players can make transactions free of charge. Before I delve further into the increasing popularity of bitcoin poker, let me first recommend my favourite bitcoin poker sites.
Excellent Choice in Unregulated Markets
Most of the globe has liberalized their gambling markets, but some of the world’s largest nations have gone the other direction when it comes to online gambling. Russia and the United States do not allow online poker sites on a national level, though/t the US does have a few states that have legalized the activity statewide.
Both countries have limited players’ options from a deposit and withdrawal perspective, including seizing the bank accounts of online poker sites servicing US citizens. Most notoriously, the US Department of Justice indicted the owners of Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars and Cereus Poker Network in April 15, 2011. The day was dubbed “Black Friday” in the poker community, and several hundred million dollars in player funds were frozen.
Poker players from both countries still have a variety of online poker options, but there is no guarantee that another “Black Friday” will not happen. Playing poker with Bitcoins is a surefire way to make sure that it doesn’t. Bitcoin is not connected to a banking system or regulated by any world government, so it is out of the sphere of government influence.
Another reason for fiat-based online poker players to consider Bitcoin is because of the cost of deposits and withdrawals in unregulated markets. Players living in countries with regulated online gambling markets pay zero fees on their deposits and withdrawals; in unregulated markets, they are forced to pay large fees for their cashouts.
The majority of US-facing sites offer one free withdrawal per month. However, anyone who is making serious money online will be shelling out at least a thousand dollars in withdrawal fees per year. This is an unnecessary expense and is altogether avoidable by depositing and withdrawing via Bitcoin.
Pros and Cons of Bitcoin Poker
Asides from your Bitcoins being out of the reach of law enforcement, Bitcoin poker has its own set of unique advantages. Firstly, since the Bitcoin poker sites do not have to pay to store funds, process payments or hire a large customer service staff – their costs are much lower. This translates into better deals for players.
In fact, many of the top Bitcoin poker rooms online offer the lowest rake out of any online poker room in history; better than PokerStars, Full Tilt and other industry giants. In addition, they offer VIP Programs and other perks to boot.
Like other Bitcoin based gambling companies, Bitcoin poker sites will not ask players for any personal information. At most, they will ask for an email address that can be used for password reset, but in most cases this is even optional. This allows players to create as many different accounts as they choose.
This is a neat feature, especially because it allows players to change their screen name when other players get used to their style of play. Though, there is more potential for cheating with such a large number of accounts being created. However, this is not usually the case as the sites have their own customer services teams that watch for collusion. Still, it is something to consider. Bitcoin poker is essentially the “Wild West” of the online poker market in its current form.
One considerable drawback with Bitcoin poker sites is the smaller player pool, and the lack of big tournament guarantees compared with established traditional online poker rooms. However, SealsWithClubs have good cash game liquidity while Betcoin has now partnered with the Winning Poker Network to enable players to take part in much larger tournaments. One thing is certain – the market for Bitcoin poker is still growing – and as player numbers increase so will the guaranteed tournaments.
Playing Bitcoin Poker
Obviously, the clear difference between a Bitcoin poker room and a traditional one is that the games will operate solely in Bitcoin currency. This can be confusing to some players who have trouble valuing bitcoins.
Poker chips are set at a fixed amount, so that dominations do not get confusing. For example, one chip may be worth 1/1000 of a Bitcoin, with that number being a fixed denomination that does not change regardless of Bitcoin’s increase or decrease in price.
The rules of the game don’t change just because it is being played with bitcoins. Texas Hold’em, Omaha, and other games are played exactly the same. No Limit Hold’em is the most popular game available with Pot Limit Omaha second. Other games are available for play but do not have much action. Sit N’ Go tournaments, multi-table tournaments and other game types are also offered by most sites.
The current state of the various Bitcoin poker sites is an interesting one. Traffic is decent in the evenings for Americans, but there isn’t too much going on during the day. The competition is principally a mix of highly skilled grinders and recreational players. Many of the skilled players are seasoned professionals who saw ads on poker forums. The recreational players are Bitcoin enthusiasts who happen to enjoy some online poker. As with any poker site, exercising good game selection is a must.
Mainstream Adoption and Future
Many traditionally fiat-based online poker rooms have begun to offer deposits and withdrawals in Bitcoin. As we explained in our Bitcoin casino article, the bitcoins are then converted into the chosen currency of the poker room. When you want to cash out, the funds are converted back into Bitcoin and sent to the player.
Numerous gambling sites have already adopted Bitcoin and this number will undoubtedly continue to rise. The conversion to US Dollars, Pound Sterling or Euros is an excellent way for gamblers to feel comfortable wagering with it at the tables. As consumer confidence grows in Bitcoin, so will online poker markets that support the currency.