What Factors Get Online Poker Sites Blacklisted?

by Michael Stevens
on January 1, 2019
10

Minute Read

Online poker has seen more regulation in recent years. A number of countries now feature regulated markets and powerful licensing authorities.

People who play in these regulated environments have little to fear in terms of fair gaming and safe banking. Licensing authorities in regulated countries are backed by the law.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case less than a decade ago. New poker sites were springing up every year with questionable licensing and credentials.

It’s no surprise that these years featured a number of major scandals. Players collectively lost millions of dollars in non-refunded deposits and cheating scandals.

Today’s online poker world is a better place. But there are still some rogue sites/networks operating that don’t have players’ best interests in mind.

A number of watchdog sites look out for players by blacklisting these poker sites. But what exactly is a blacklist and how does a poker room land on one?

Find out as I discuss online poker blacklisting and how watchdogs decide which sites to include on their lists.

What Is a Blacklisted Online Poker Room?

Understanding internet poker blacklists begins with knowing more about industry watchdogs.

Every online poker affiliates reviews sites and gives their recommendation on whether or not the operation is trustworthy. These reviews are helpful if you’re unsure about whether to join and deposit at a certain online poker room.

But some affiliates have taken things further by becoming industry watchdogs. They monitor sites to ensure that players are being treated fairly.

The same affiliates normally have a blacklist, which includes “rogue” poker rooms that should be avoided for one or more reasons.

Of course, there’s no uniform blacklist since these differ from site to site. But you’ll find that many watchdogs agree on which poker rooms should be avoided.

How Do Internet Poker Rooms Become Blacklisted?

Online poker sites can land on a blacklist for various reasons. Oftentimes, an operation that abuses everybody’s trust in one area also has problems in other categories too.

The scariest issue is when a poker room completely fails to pay its players. These sites have a duty to honor withdrawals, which some rooms have unfortunately failed to do.

But lack of payment isn’t the only thing that can get a site blacklisted. Here are all the major reasons that can cause a poker room to become untrustworthy.

Slow Withdrawal Processing

Withdrawing funds from a poker site should be a simple process: you request a cashout, and the site approves your request so that you can get your money.

The type of banking option used also plays a role in how quickly your money arrives. Ewallets, cryptocurrencies, and credit cards are the fastest options, while checks and bank transfers can take longer.

Regardless, you shouldn’t have to wait months to receive your money. The only reason why you’d be waiting this long is if a site fails to process withdrawals in a timely manner.

An immediate red flag should be raised if an internet poker room takes forever to approve withdrawals. These delays are normally caused by one or two reasons:

  • The poker site is struggling financially and wants to retain money so they can stay solvent.
  • The operation wants you to become impatient and cancel your cashout so you’ll play more, helping them earn more rake.

Slow payment processing is usually caused by the first issue. This is also the worst-case scenario because it means that you’ll be waiting on your funds much longer.

Not Paying Out

Gaming sites that don’t pay all are even more alarming than operations that process cashouts slowly. Failing to be paid is the biggest fear among poker players.

Sadly, this has happened more than once in online poker history. It usually starts with sites delaying withdrawal processing, followed by these operations closing and failing to repay customers.

This is why you should check to see how quickly an internet poker room processes withdrawals before depositing. Slow cashout processing is typically the smoke before the fire.

Assuming you play with an operation that’s based in a lightly regulated market (e.g. Antigua or Curacao), then your legal recourse for recovering the money is almost nonexistent.

This is one reason why regulated online poker sites are preferable because they’re more subject to the law. Others are less likely to exit scam customers if they know that prison time could be awaiting them.

Spamming Customers

You have to supply your email address when registering for an online poker site. This email allows the poker room to keep you up to date on their latest offers.

Odds are that you welcome receiving occasional news on leaderboard races, reload bonuses, and other promotions.

But you don’t willingly give your email to a poker site so that they can spam you with offers every day.

Failing to Protect Problem Gamblers

Problem poker players have an addiction that they can’t control. And poker sites have a responsibility to watch out for these players and not take advantage of them.

At the very least, they should have safeguards in place to prevent problem gamblers from depositing and losing more money.

Regulated markets are very good at making sure internet poker rooms remain responsible. For example, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) fined 888poker a record-breaking £7.8 million for failing problem players.

According to the Guardian, 888 failed to account for over 7,000 players who voluntarily excluded themselves from internet gambling sites.

One customer even played 850,000 hands worth £1.3 million in a single year, using £55,000 that they embezzled from an employer.

888poker had a technical failure in their software that allowed addicted gamblers to deposit a combined £3.5 million.

While it’s great that the UKGC and other respected licensing authorities take care of problem players, there are other licensing authorities that aren’t so strict in this area. This allows nefarious poker rooms to take advantage by ignoring potential problem gamblers and continue accepting their deposits.

Faulty Software & Rigged Games

Online poker sites should offer fair software with a working random number generator (RGN). The RNG ensures that games have the same odds that would be featured with a standard 52-card deck.

Furthermore, internet poker software must offer a level playing field. In other words, no player should be able to see anybody else’s hole cards.

Sadly, some poker sites have failed to provide fair games, leading to players being cheated. Towards the end of this post, I’m going to discuss cheating incidents that cost players well over $20 million.

Failing to Monitor Poker Bots & Collusion

Online poker cheating can come in different forms, including collusion and bots. Collusion is when two or more players work together on the same table to give themselves an advantage.

A poker bot is a program that plays hands for the user. These programs offer an unfair advantage because the user isn’t actually making the decisions.

Bots only become a bigger problem when they’re well-programmed and can beat various stakes.

Both collusion and bots are bad for the game because they lead to players being cheated. This is why sites should look for these problems and punish the involved parties.

Thankfully, many poker rooms are actively looking for bots and collusion so that they don’t get a bad reputation. But a smaller percentage of sites avoid doing so, because they don’t want to spend extra money on staff members dedicated to these problems.

Horror Stories from Blacklisted Poker Sites

The internet poker world has suffered some serious black marks over the years. These negative events include everything from non-payouts to employees cheating customers.

Luckily, all of the sites discussed in this section have either closed or are under different ownership. But it’s still worth looking at some of the biggest online poker horror stories so that you know what to watch out for.

Absolute Poker and UB Poker Cheat Players & Don’t Repay Them

UB Poker and Absolute Poker — both under the Cereus Network — are the two most-disgraced sites in the game’s history. These sites not only featured awful cheating scandals, but also failed to repay players before closing.

UB was first onto the scene, launching in 2001 and becoming an online poker pioneer. They got off to a hot start thanks in large part to a combination of the poker boom and notable sponsored players like Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke.

The Cereus Network experienced enough success to where they decided to launch Absolute Poker in 2008. Much like UB, Absolute also did very well in the American market.

The good times came to a screeching halt in 2011, though, when the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York indicted UB founder Scott Tom and Absolute co-founder Brent Buckley.

After these legal events (dubbed Black Friday), the Cereus Network was forced to exit America. They struggled mightily in the aftermath and closed while owing players a combined $50 million.

All of this was preceded by the biggest cheating scandals in internet poker history. Both Absolute and UB had insiders use a “superuser” account, which allows one to see all of their opponents’ hole cards.

The Absolute Poker superuser incident was first discovered in September 2007. Certain customers became suspicious after a handle named “POTRIPPER” demonstrated a playing pattern similar to somebody who knew their opponents’ cards.

Absolute failed to take any action on the player complaints. But their licenser, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission (KGC), investigated the matter and discovered that cheating did indeed occur.

This prompted Absolute to finally admit that a “trusted consultant” indeed employed a superuser account to cheat customers.

They subsequently repaid $1.6 million to affected players. The site was also fined $500,000 by the KGC for failing to both investigate and monitor the situation.

The UB cheating scandal was uncovered in 2008. High stakes players began noticing irregularities with a certain account and went public with cheating allegations.

The KGC once again investigated and discovered that 1994 WSOP champion Russ Hamilton — a consultant for the site — used a superuser account from 2004 to 2008.

Hamilton made an estimated $22.1 million by cheating UB high stakes players. The KGC fined UB Poker $1.5 million for the scandal, while Hamilton escaped without any legal or financial consequences.

Full Tilt Poker Can’t Repay $350 Million After Black Friday

Absolute and UB Poker weren’t the only sites that were hit hard by Black Friday. Full Tilt Poker’s board members were also indicted and forced to exit the US market.

Full Tilt continued operating after leaving America. But given that most of their customers lived in the US, the once mighty poker site was forced to close by 2012.

This might not have been so bad if Full Tilt had ring-fenced player deposits from the operational budget. But they failed to do so and couldn’t repay an estimated $350 million in customer deposits.

It was later discovered that the site was grossly negligent with customers’ money. Meanwhile, board members Ray Bitar, Howard Lederer, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, and Rafe Furst paid themselves lofty salaries.

The site also loaned customer funds to poker pros who were friends of board members and/or sponsored players.

Surprisingly, none of the board was forced to do jail time. But they did have to surrender most of their wealth, with Ferguson and Bitar handing over as much as $40 million of their money and assets.

The good news for former Full Tilt customers is that PokerStars — the world’s largest poker site — also got into trouble during Black Friday. Unlike the other sites discussed here, PokerStars had more than enough money to stay operational.

They used some of this cash to make a $735 million settlement with the US Department of Justice. Part of the settlement included PokerStars taking over Full Tilt and fronting the money to refund FT’s customers.

It took several years before everybody was repaid. But the good news is that ex-Full Tilt players weren’t left high and dry in the end.

All unclaimed balances went towards refunding former Absolute and UB Poker customers. This was a relief to these players, who previously thought that their money was long gone.

Lock Poker Blows Player Deposits on Lavish Expenditures

Lock Poker was in the enviable position of not being large enough to attract the US DoJ’s attention, yet big enough to take advantage of the US market after Black Friday.

Unfortunately, Lock was severely mismanaged and did a poor job of handling their customers’money. They also had issues with the various poker networks they resided on.

Lock Poker started out on the Cake Poker Network, only to switch to Merge Gaming. Not long afterward, Merge kicked Lock off their network for violating their policy on rakeback promotions.

The site went back to Cake Poker and created the impression that they purchased the network. However, this turned out to be just one of many lies from Lock Poker.

The poker room had an issue with Cake Poker (later renamed Revolution Gaming) and started their own proprietary network.

It’s at this point when Lock Poker began taking excessive amounts of time to process withdrawals. Players complained of waiting for months to receive their money.

Eventually, customers lost confidence in the site and began selling their bankrolls for pennies on the dollar.

All the while, Lock Poker continued recklessly recruiting new players to keep their Ponzi scheme going. By 2015, everything collapsed and the site disappeared while owing former customers $15 million.

Afterward, Lock Poker rep Shane Bridges did an interview regarding what happened with the company. He discussed how CEO Jen Larson overspent on lavish expenses like $500 bottles of wine for every meal and 5-star hotel stays.

Bridges also detailed how the site spent too much money on marketing, including campaigns that offered little value for the expenses.

Cake Poker Doesn’t Pay Customers & Confiscates $60k from Player

Launched in 2004, the Cake Poker Network was originally able to capitalize on the poker boom. But like everybody else involved in the US market, Cake Poker struggled following Black Friday.

They also had trouble keeping their top sites on the network. Besides Lock Poker, other key sites that left them included Sportsbook.com, PlayersOnly, and DoylesRoom.

These defections left Cake Poker in trouble even before Black Friday hit. Players began complaining about slow cashouts in 2010.

This is the same year when the network took heat for confiscating $60,000 from Mark Taylor. A high stakes grinder, Taylor won $60k against a player named “MaxSteak.”

He proceeded to brag about his big win on TwoPlusTwo, noting that MaxSteak made terrible plays that contributed to his winnings.

Cake took note and confiscated his winnings under the banner that MaxSteak wasn’t using a “rational strategy.” They suggested that MaxSteak purposely lost the money to Taylor as some form of money laundering.

Taylor responded by providing hand histories an evidence that he indeed won the money legitimately. Cake Poker then used the excuse that the opponents’fake chips converted into real money due to a software error.

Long story short, Cake kept the money despite being unable to prove that Taylor and MaxSteak were laundering money.

It makes sense that they’d want to take these funds when considering their financial struggles. They somehow managed to stay open until 2016, when they finally went bankrupt and were unable to repay customers.

Should You Play at a Blacklisted Online Poker Room?

Being blacklisted doesn’t mean that an online poker site is automatically doomed to fail. However, you should definitely proceed with caution.

The reason why a poker room ends up on blacklists should be a big determinant on whether you’re willing to take a chance on them. You should definitely avoid any site that’s processing withdrawals slowly since they could be insolvent.

An operation can sometimes get off blacklists by dealing with the problems facing them. For example, a site that struggles to deal with bots can improve their efforts and become more reliable.

Of course, the online poker industry has enough good sites to where you don’t have to risk playing at a blacklisted room.

Instead, you can read reviews on a number of other sites and choose one that’s reliable and has a good history.

Conclusion

Black Friday and a decline in overall online poker traffic have helped weed out many bad sites. But this isn’t to say that you should blindly deposit at any poker room.

History has shown that nefarious internet poker sites can fail to repay customers, spam them, and even try to cover up cheating scandals.

Luckily, there are plenty of watchdogs looking out for the industry. These affiliates compile blacklists of questionable poker sites to help keep players from getting burned.

Of course, you need to do research and find these blacklisted sites in the first place. Usually, a quick Google search will reveal whether or not a site is in good graces with the poker community.

Most blacklisted poker rooms don’t work their way off these lists. This is especially the case with operations that are processing payouts slowly because they usually fold at some point and don’t repay customers.

But poker sites that struggle with bots or collusion can regain trust once they deal with their issues. You should wait until they handle the issues, though, before dealing with these poker rooms.

The best scenario involves being able to play at regulated poker sites because these are governed by strong licensing bodies. But if you can’t play at regulated poker rooms, at least exercise diligence by looking for reputable sites.

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Comments

  1. sndeshk says:

    Nice Blog post. I evaluated all the above points before playing real money poker on Spartan Poker.

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