Finding safe poker sites isn’t an exercise in blind trust. No leaps of faith are necessary to find a secure place to play online poker. Instead of relying on luck to find a safe place to play online poker, you can look at hard data to determine which sites are truly deserving of the “safe” qualifier.
Indicators of Safe Poker Sites
Now that you’ve seen a couple of recommendations, I’m going to explain why I recommend these sites in particular. I came to these conclusions by running through a step-by-step list of qualities that indicate safety and security.
Licensing and Accreditation
The number one thing to look for in terms of safety is accreditation from a respected licensing authority. There are other things to consider, but any site that has a license from a legitimate gaming commission is always going to be significantly safer than a site that doesn’t hold such a distinction.
You don’t have to take a site’s word for that it is accredited. Most reputable licensing authorities publish a list of licensees on the authority’s website. A look at this list will confirm that any particular site does indeed hold a license under that agency.
It’s also important to note the licensing agency itself. In some countries, anyone with enough money can get a “legitimate” license. Licenses issued by those authorities don’t tell the whole story. Other agencies, such as the UK Gambling Commission, are highly regarded because they are notoriously stingy about giving out licenses.
A license from a subpar authority isn’t necessarily a black mark depending on where you reside. For example, poker players from the United States simply don’t have access to mainstream poker sites that operate in the UK and much of Europe. Sites that serve the US market cannot obtain licenses from regulated markets, but there are some legitimate US-friendly poker sites. It’s always best to play at regulated sites, but that isn’t an option for everyone.
If you live in an unregulated market such as the United States, you’ll have to consider other indicators of safety. That’s no problem though – there are plenty of other factors that we can look at to determine which sites are safe and which are best avoided.
Time in Business
Site that have been in business for a long time are more likely to be safe places to play. In general, sites that fail to operate with integrity tend to go out of business. Word spreads quickly on the internet and people generally figure it out pretty quickly if a site has problems paying winners or operating safe games.
The longer a site has been in business, the better it is for the players. For an extreme example, we can look to BetVictor in the UK. That company has a history that dates back all the way to 1946. BetVictor began as a brick-and-mortar operation decades ago and continues to serve poker players to this day. Almost every safe poker site has a history that dates back at least a decade or two.
Segregated Player Accounts
Most legitimate licensing authorities require all player deposits to be held in a secure account separate from that poker site’s normal operating account. The purpose of segregation is to ensure the poker site always has enough money on hand to honor all deposits, even if every player asked for a withdrawal on the same day.
Some poker sites in the past got themselves into trouble by using player funds to pay operating expenses. The sites gambled that everything would run smooth and that enough new deposits would come in to offset withdrawals. Full Tilt Poker went down this route in 2011 and it almost caused the site to collapse completely in a scandal that the US government dubbed “a global Ponzi scheme.”
Something we learned from the bankruptcy and sudden closure of 3D poker site PKR is that there are different levels of protection for players’ funds, at least under the terms of the UK’s licensing commission.
The lowest level of protection is called basic and it simply requires operators to keep player funds separated from operating funds. However, all player funds are still considered assets of the business and come into play if that site should go bankrupt. In the case of a poker site going into administration, the administrator appointed to the case decides how all assets are distributed to creditors. Customers in that case are considered unsecured creditors and are likely to see little-to-no return of their funds.
The next level up is called medium and it too requires operating funds and player funds be segregated. Additionally, the poker site has arrangements in place (such as insurance) that the money kept in segregated accounts is returned to players in the event the company goes bust.
The highest level of protection is called high and like the other levels of security, it requires segregation of operating and player funds. Under this arrangement, the money “is held in an account which is legally and in practice separate from the rest of the company” and is managed by an independent person or external auditor.
You can read more about protection of player funds and the three levels of segregation at the UKGC website here. Just note that this discussion of levels of protection applies specifically to poker sites licensed in the United Kingdom. Other licensing locations have different policies regarding players’ funds.
The best part of playing poker is getting paid. After all, that’s why we put in so many hours of hard work, deal with frustration and constantly improve our games. We’re trying to win real money here. There’s no point in troubling yourself if it’s hard to get paid when it’s time to cash out.
Withdrawal times only become apparent after a site has been in business long enough to build a reputation. The best way to verify payout times is to talk to other players. In doing research for this page, I looked at my own experiences and visited poker discussion forums to see reports from other players about withdrawal times. Eventually, you can get a fairly accurate gauge of the average withdrawal time at popular poker sites.
Poker sites in regulated markets tend to have the fastest payout times thanks to favorable gaming legislation. These sites can use the normal banking system and pay players quickly through services such as Skrill, Neteller and direct bank transfers. Sites that serve the US and other unregulated markets have to jump through significant legal hurdles in order to get players paid. Thus, it tends to take a bit longer to issue withdrawals. In any case, I like to stick with sites that have an average payout time of a week or less.
In any business that deals with significant amounts of money, cheaters and other ill-doers are bound to show up and look for weaknesses in security. The safest poker sites are well prepared to detect, deter and prevent cheating.
Player identification serves as the first step in ensuring your safety. The first time you ask for a withdrawal from a poker site, you may be asked to scan and e-mail a copy of your driver’s license and proof of address. This may be an annoyance, but it helps avoid nasty issues like identity theft.
Additionally, secure poker sites have automated systems that look for signs of collusion. If suspicious playing patterns are detected (such as one player consistently folding superior hands to another player), the software flags the involved players and brings it to the attention of human security personnel. The security team will then take a look and determine if further action is necessary.
Security is the single most important thing to look for in any potential poker site. If a site is incapable of providing a safe experience for everyone, there’s no reason to play there. There are enough poker sites out there that there’s no good reason to play anywhere that cannot guarantee a safe and fair game.