Is Online Poker Rigged? Security and Transparency in Online Poker
The short answer is: No, online poker isn’t rigged.
Online poker has now been around for more than 20 years and has had its fair share of ups and downs. But during that time it also improved in a number of aspects. User experience, banking options, safety, licensing, and monitoring have all grown along with online poker’s expansive growth.
The reason online poker has been able to grow so ubiquitously is because it’s done so in a way that’s been able to guarantee the integrity of the game for everyone. So why is there so much talk about online poker being rigged?
If you look online there are dozens of accounts of people claiming that online poker is rigged. If you read these people’s stories, a lot of it has to do with the luck element of poker and how people perceive it.
Why Some People Think Online Poker is Rigged
There are plenty of reasons people give as to why they think online poker is rigged. All these cases are anecdotal, filled with mostly feelings about why people think a site is rigged. A lot of the reasons involve the person losing money and is a way of rationalizing losses that don’t include the fact that they might not be that good at poker.
Here are some of the reasons people tend to give when they claim online poker is rigged.
My Aces keep getting cracked
This is a popular one. Players often claim that online poker is rigged because their pocket aces (or other big hands) always lose. They claim this happens far more online than live. There are a few issues with this excuse.
First of all, even preflop pocket aces will lose to a random hand 15 percent of the time. While those are pretty good odds, that means you’ll be losing about 1 in 5 times. Online poker is also faster than live poker, meaning you see a lot more hands per hour.
This means you’ll be getting pocket aces more often. That means you’ll be winning and losing more often than during live games. Of course, losing with pocket aces always hurts and those memories can stick with you longer than wins.
I started losing as soon as I withdrew
Another popular claim is that sites can pull a “doom switch” on players that’ll make them start losing. Most time players claim this is related to them cashing out and taking money out of the site. They claim that the doom switch was activated to get them to start depositing more money into the site again.
Online poker is rigged for action
Both of the previous reasons have been debunked several times, so players started suggesting that poker sites were rigged to provide more action flops. The logic behind this states that the increased action makes players come back to play more and makes bigger pots that sites can then get more rake from.
Why Online Poker Isn’t Rigged
All the previous claims can be and have been independently debunked for years. First of all, aces get cracked. To find out if they’re being cracked at a statistically significant rate that would suggest a site was rigged would take a sample size of tens of thousands of hands. Most players who claim sites are rigged haven’t amassed a sample this size, but other players have.
There are several players that have sample sizes of hundreds of thousands or millions of hands that have found no statistically significant deviation that would suggest a site is rigged. The same thing applies to the following two reasons. If there was a change in luck after withdrawing, the denizens of players tracking their hand history would’ve noticed a statistically significant shift after they withdrew.
The same applies to there being more “action” to get players to play more. Out of the millions of hands tracked by independent players, no one has ever seen any evidence to back up this claim. Again, you see a lot more hands per hour in online poker because shuffling is automated and so are bets and every other action that slows down live games.
You can see about 30 hands an hour during a fast live game, while online games could easily see more than 75 hands an hour. More than doubling the number of hands you play can really make it feel like there’s a significantly higher amount of action, but while it might seem that way, it’s not statistically different from live poker.
Most of the perceptions of online poker being rigged are just that: perceptions. There aren’t any actual facts or analyses to back up their claims, because there aren’t any. When there have been actual scandals, players have actually caught on.
Online Poker Scandals
This was one of the biggest online poker scandals and it was discovered because online poker players noticed something suspicious about a player on Ultimate Bet. The player was making the right call every time and was just demolishing the competition. Players started tracking his hands and found that the player was winning at a rate that was statistically impossible.
This led people to discover that the account had a “God Mode” feature that allowed it to see other players’ hands. Russ Hamilton, the 1994 WSOP champion and Ultimate Bet advisor and investor, later admitted he had cheated players out of this money. Ultimate Bet was found to be liable and was later forced to pay back $22 million to players.
While it was a pretty devastating scandal it was one that proved that players would notice when there’s a statistical anomaly on a site.
Multi accounting and collusion
This is the most common form of cheating on online poker sites. Players will make multiple accounts so other players will have less of a read on them. Professional players have been caught doing this so other players would think they’re playing against amateurs. Players also do this to enter the same tournament multiple times to increase their chances of winning it.
Collusion on the other hand is when players are coordinating at the same table. This can be done with players in the same room or texting or using other ways to message each other during play. This is against the terms and agreements of all poker sites and players will be banned if they’re caught colluding or creating multiple accounts.
Bots are poker-playing robots. It’s software that people install on their computers that are based on algorithms that play mathematically optimal poker. There have been instances where several accounts have been banned for being bots and it’s something that sites are constantly on the lookout for.
There are some tell-tale signs that someone is using a bot and sites have developed elaborate security systems that are able to detect these anomalies.
How Poker Sites Catch Cheaters
The previous scandals we mentioned above are all things that sites are constantly on the lookout for. Over the years they’ve developed a myriad of tools to help them detect and ban people who abuse their policies.
Sites are able to track a number of different aspects of every player who logs onto their site. So if two players log in from the same IP address, they could be able to track a collusion case back to them. There are dedicated security teams at each site in charge of detecting bots and any other type of nefarious activity.
Sites also use random number generators to ensure that every hand is truly random. This software isn’t just independently verified by third-party licensing and regulating bodies, but by anyone who wants to. The open-source software can be analyzed by anyone.
How to Stay Safe Playing Online Poker
The biggest danger of playing online poker is someone accessing your account. It’s important to choose a strong password and keep it secure so no one else can access your account. This also goes for your computer or device you use to play online poker. If the site offers the option, always opt for two-factor authentication to make your account even more secure.
So as long as you keep your account secure and play on recommended sites like the ones we review, you’ll be safe playing online poker.
Poker Sites in the United States
Online poker sites and casinos have had their fair share of scandals. That’s why it’s always smart to make sure your money is going to a respectable and fair site. Luckily, a lot of these scandals helped bring on better regulation and online poker is as safe as it’s ever been.
Online poker operated in a gray zone when it became popular in the early 2000s. Things got hazier after the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) passed in 2006. Some sites like Party Poker pulled out of the United States while others like PokerStars and Full Tilt kept operating in the United States. Then came Black Friday. On April 15, 2011, the Department of Justice seized the PokerStars, Full Tilt and Absolute Poker websites. After that, sites were forced to pay out players but Full Tilt and Absolute Poker had squandered player funds and turned out to be insolvent.
It’s been almost a decade since then though. In that time poker legislation in the United States has started to catch up with other countries around the world. In 2012, a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled that poker was a game of skill, not chance, and that opened the doors for states to legalize online poker.
Sites popping up now have to abide by a strict set of rules and regulations and are regulated by third-parties. Legitimate gaming sites also have random number generator software that are consistently tested, inspected and certified.
Encryption technology has also advanced substantially in the past few years. Poker sites use this technology to ensure that all your banking and personal information is secured in a digital fortress.
Is online poker legal in the United States?
Online poker is currently regulated on a state-by-state basis in the United States. The 2012 federal court ruling opened the door for legal online poker and, not surprisingly, Nevada was the first state to walk through it.
In 2013, Ultimate Poker became the first site to deal a hand of legal online poker in Nevada. Delaware joined the poker party later that year and then New Jersey became the third –and most populous– state to offer online poker a month later. Since then, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have legalized online poker, but only Pennsylvania has started offering games so far.
PokerStars launched in Pennsylvania in late 2019 while online poker in West Virginia is expected to go live sometime in 2022.
What if I’m not in one of those states?
The good news is that there are plenty of sites looking to legalize online poker too. New York, California, Iowa and others are taking steps towards legalization. But if you’re in those states or any others across the United States, you can still fire up a game of poker.
We’ve also taken the time to review some of the best online poker sites that offer games to players across the United States. Check out our top picks below:
Best Online Poker Sites 2021
Why Ignition Poker?
You might’ve noticed that Ignition Poker tops our list of best sites for U.S. players. If you’re curious about how it earned that spot, we’re here to help. Ignition poker launched in the spring of 2016 and just a few months later, the site bought Bovada Poker’s player pool, making it the second-largest online gaming site that accepted U.S. players. One of the key elements of any poker site is the size of its player pool. This affects everything from the types of games offered, the stakes, wait times and tournament prize pools.
Ignition Poker is also a sleek-looking site with an intuitive interface that doesn’t get in the way. It easily allows you do what you’re there to do: play poker. The site is also linked to an online casino, so you get lots of recreational players in cash games and tournaments. The platform is also Bovada’s proprietary software, so it’s a true tried and tested technology fueling the fire behind Ignition Poker.
There are plenty of other neat features that also sets Ignition Poker apart from the competition.
Ignition Poker highlights
- Quick Seat: Choose a poker game like Texas Hold’em, Omaha, or Omaha Hi/Lo along with the stakes and Quick Seat automatically seats you at a table.
- Anonymous Tables: There are no Heads-Up Displays (HUDs) allowed, so other players can track your hand history. You have to get reads on your opponents the old-fashioned way.
- Zone Poker: A fast-fold feature where you’re assigned to a new table once you fold a hand. This speeds up your hands per hour significantly and could improve your profitability.
- In-Software Casino Games: If you prefer to sit through hands, you can play In-Software Casino Games like blackjack, roulette, video poker, or 3D slots.
- Mobile Poker: Play poker anytime, anywhere with the mobile poker apps for Android and iOS. Jackpot Sit-and-Go games cater to mobile poker players with winnings of up to 1000x while you’re on the go.
- Softer Opponents: Ignition Poker has a huge community of recreational players. If you study up on your game, then softer opponents means more pots and money for you.
What to look for in a poker site
If you come across another site that isn’t on our list, we’ve come up with a few things you should look for when you want to see if a poker site is legitimate and safe. Check to see if the site checks off all the things below. That’s a good indicator the site is good to play at. If a site doesn’t offer one or more of these things, you should pump on the brakes and find a site that does.
- Player Traffic: Player traffic isn’t just a good for game selection, it’s a good indicator that a site has been around long enough and been secure enough to gather a large player pool.
- Good Software: Top software means a site has dedicated time and resources to provide top-notch software. Less reputable sites don’t tend to invest as much in this. Quality software also means fewer glitches or issues that could end up costing you money.
- Experience: Do some research and see how long the poker site, or its parent company has been in business. If the site has been around for a while and has licenses or is regulated in a jurisdiction, it’s a good sign it’s reputable.
- Banking Options: It often comes down to sensible payment options, including credit cards, web wallets, and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
- Security and openness: These things may seem incompatible, but good sites offer both. A quality gaming site locks the doors when it needs too, and lets people in where transparency is needed. Ideally, a site will offer encryption that protects your personal and banking information. At the same time, you want a site that lets independent third-parties audit its software to make sure the games are fair.
Can I Play for Free?
Yes! Most of the sites we’ve mentioned offer play money options, that means you can start playing for free. This is a great way for you to try out sites, in addition to getting a feel for the software or just brush up on your poker skills before you take a dive into real money poker.
Lots of these sites also offer freerolls that can ignite your real money poker adventure for free. However, if you want to learn a bit more while you’re not on the table, there’s been plenty of free poker content sprouting up too. You can watch hours of streamed poker games on Twitch and YouTube. Some players are really helpful in explaining and breaking down their play for new players. Online forums like TwoPlusTwo also offer a giant well of information that’ll help any poker player kickstart their career. In addition, you can also post your hands and other players will comment with hints, tips and sometimes a few needles.
To keep up on the latest advice and trends in poker, then keep reading USPokerSites. We’re constantly assessing the landscape and giving readers the best, up-to-date information available.