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I'm sure many of you remember the story of various poker websites being seized by the FBI back in 2011 (such as Full Tilt, Pokerstars etc.) and how the assets of many American players were frozen (even I knew guys with 5/10k in their accounts which they unable to be take out).

In fact, I don't know if any of these players ever did get their hands back on all their money they've earnt.

So, the question is, how "safe" (maybe "stable" is a better word) is online poker in regard to western laws and players rights?

Do you think we will see many occurrences like the one mentioned again in the future? Is there any way you can safeguard your earnings sufficiently on these kinds of websites?

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Just a note since the accepted answer didn't delve into this but Full Tilt Poker has been, and is in, the process of paying back bankrolls. They've recently started sending out $$$ to all US players, provided they've went through the proper applications and such. –  Brent Morrow Apr 5 '14 at 0:07

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

If you think about the Full Tilt case, then the non-US players already play real money games on Full Tilt Poker and are able to deposit or cash out at their own will. In the US it's more problematic, though. But I am not from the US and I cannot give you more info.

As far as I can see, you're concerned about the safety of your bankroll on online poker rooms. Fair enough, if you ask me. My answer is basically the same as GazWinter's: it's pretty safe. Full Tilt is now a part of PokerStars, the leading brand in online poker. They have a solid reputation, lots of traffic and there is no real reason for them to go busto in the near future.

About the smaller sites, there is a higher chance of them disappearing or, more likely, being bought by other bigger sites and/or networks. Dracula Poker, a Romanian online poker room, was bought by Titan Poker and now the both player pools are merged and play very well and in safety. bwin and Party Poker merged and now bwin is named and so on. NoiQ Poker merged with 24h Poker and everything goes great.

But there are also sites that, even if they run their business legit, they folded. RPM poker and Poker Nordica are two of the examples that come into my mind. As far as I know, the players that played there got their bankrolls back in full, so nobody was dissatisfied.

So, are your money safe? My answer is they are as safe as they are in banks. Sure, a bank might be rock solid now, but it might go bankrupt in 5 years time or who knows what dirty tricks is the CEO up to and everybody will suffer. Money aren't 100% safe nowhere, but I'd say that on Stars they are 99.9999% safe (*), which is fine for me.

(*) - The number is an approximation and I cannot say anything about the safety of the lower tier rooms.

I hope it helped you! Good luck!

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I would say its pretty safe now.

I would suggest only playing on the bigger sites though as they are less likely to close down than the smaller independant sites.

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The primary driver for the problems we saw in 2011 was under-handed activities that the sites were taking. These included back-room deals with banks, and shell companies to enable credit card processing in spite of many credit card companies specifically refusing to do gambling transactions.

These and similar activities are what you need to be wary of today. I agree with others that big sites like Poker Stars are very safe. With smaller sites, you should watch for things like reports of deposits being billed as jewelry purchases or department store items. For instance, various sites on the Merge network did this in 2012. Things may have changed since then, so Merge may be safe now, but if not, they or any other sites under-taking such practices are potential problem areas.

In the case of Merge, I specifically received a call from my credit card company seeking to confirm a department store purchase. That was a red flag which told me not to leave any meaningful amount of money on the site.

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I can't imagine any definition of the word "safe" that would apply to online Poker. There's certainly the legislative risk, although that has gone down much in recent times. There's also the out-of-business risk, which can be minimize by only playing the largest sites. But there's really no way around the cheating risk.

If you play online poker, you ARE being cheated. No ifs, ands, or buts. People are playing in your game who are colluding by out-of-band communication. It's happening, and sites try their best to stop it, but they simply can't. The good news is that most of the cheaters are also idiots, so good players might beat them anyway.

Full disclosure: I've played poker for over 30 years and have been a computer programmer and Internet geek for just as long, but I have never, even once, played a single hand of online poker for real money, and I never will. So take my opinion with that in mind.

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