Editor's Note: Bovada sold its poker assets to Ignition Poker in late 2016 and then stopped offering poker while continuing to provide sports-betting and casino action. However, in August 2017, Bovada re-added poker to its real money gaming mix, and Ignition still remains in the online poker market. Both are excellet options and either one will serve your needs well whether they be poker, sports betting, casino games, or any combination there of.
We here at ProfRB.com are pleased not just to report on news items when and as they occur but also to enlighten our readers, from time to time, with a broader perspective on poker industry trends. Today, we profile Bovada Poker and Ignition Poker - the US-facing portion of the Pai Wang Luo Poker Network (or PWL for short), the former Bodog Network. They've grown from a second-tier poker operator to become the runaway #1 option available for the vast majority of US online poker players.
First up, a brief summary of Bovada's and Ignition's payment processing because this is one of the strongest selling points of the network.
*Reported Bovada and Ignition payouts via check, bank wire, and Bitcoin over the previous 11 months (see our Monthly Cashout Report for full details and additional payout method timeframes)
Bovada has a long history of evading U.S.A. money restrictions, which has led to the company earning a reputation for the rapid processing of withdrawals. This was enhanced even further by the decision in early 2016 to support the digital currency Bitcoin (BTC), which enables speedy transactions without exorbitant fees. Bitcoin Cash (BCH), added to the menu in October 2017, has even lower costs and faster transaction confirmations, making it arguably even better than its parent Bitcoin. BCH is currently only available for deposits, but it's probably only a matter of time before cashouts can be requested via this crypto coin too.
Bodog has been in operation for nearly 20 years, first as a sportsbook and then adding poker in 2004. This focus on sports first means that network policy has always been to promote poker as an interesting sideline but to not devote too much effort to courting professional rakeback grinders. This caused it to fall squarely within the middle tier in terms of player traffic during most of the 2000s, but things started to pick up with the implementation of anonymous table IDs, which occurred around the same time that Bovada.lv was spun off of Bodog as its U.S.-serving brand in 2011.
When the Bodog Network decided to make table IDs anonymous by giving players random "Player #" monikers, the reaction among the online poker community was lukewarm at best. Some professional players and regular grinders felt it was a move against them, making it more difficult or impossible for them to use most types of tracking software to note the differences between fish and sharks. Others thought it was a way to eliminate the practice of "bum hunting," in which a player will seek to play against inferior opponents and avoid playing against those with similar skills. Bodog went a step further, elminating their traditional rakeback program and replacing it with a points-based rewards system to earn entries into tournaments - another move seen by some as appealing to casual players over those who spend countless hours contributing rake on a daily basis.
These anonymized tables put the PaiWangLuo operators in a rare class of poker rooms open to US players. While some have said that it takes time to get used to, it has led their cash games and multi-table tournament fields to become softer, laden with more casual players. This has created a growing amount of opportunities for more advanced players, while keeping casual types happy with the vast array of games and tournament options. In 2017, many internet poker sites are now infested by multi-tabling regs, making it tough to turn a profit and causing some newcomers to the game to believe they're hopelessly outclassed. Fortunately, this isn't the case at Bovada or Ignition, so these two rooms are doing their part to maintain a healthy U.S. online poker ecosystem.
The initial implementation of controversial decisions in 2011, like anonymous games and the termination of the rakeback program, was seen in some circles as confirming the status of Bodog/Bovada as a niche operation that would never be counted among the most popular U.S. poker sites. However, the opposite has in fact happened. As part-timers and casual poker fans started to flock to Bovada, the room increased its traffic beyond what anyone expected. Toward the end of 2012, the network surpassed the troubled Revolution Network to claim the crown as the poker site serving Americans with the largest average number of players online. It has retained this position to the present day with only short periods when usurpers have termporarily overtaken it only to soon drop back down to their inferior ranks.
In February 2017, Bodog sold its poker-related division to an investment group called PaiWangLuo, and the poker network is now operated by this entity. They have elected to keep with what's working, and so they haven't made any drastic changes to the games offered, the software, or the long-term strategies in place at the member poker rooms. There are an estimated average of 1,100 users playing simultaneously at the cash game tables, and this figure jumps to 2,200 during peak hours. The Winning Poker Network is the only serious competitor in terms of player liquidity, but PaiWangLuo is still #1 for now among all U.S.-facing sites while being in the top 10 globally.
This status as top dog in the United States online poker scene tends to reinforce itself because of the way poker games work. Unlike casino games, like slots and blackjack, or sports-betting, poker cannot be an individual endeavor. This is because nobody can play alone; a large group of participants is needed for the cards to keep moving on the virtual felt. Particularly in less-common variants of poker, a lack of enough people to keep a table filled can send would-be players looking elsewhere. Ignition and Bovada have the player pool to host a wide range of populated cash game stakes and tourney buyins. With the expansion of Ignition into Australia in September 2017, another group of real money pokerists can now help keep the games well-populated.
Although Ignition Casino, Bovada.lv, and Bodog haven't deployed a large series of wacky innovations into their poker offerings, they have slowly and steadily worked to improve their platform in a way that has left many competitors behind in the dust. In the latter half of 2013, they added Zone Poker to their styles of poker gaming. Zone is a fast-fold format that lets players muck the cards they don't like and then move right away to a new table with new hole cards. Zone really speeds up the pace of gameplay and reduces boredom among customers who love action. In May 2014, Zone became possible on phones and tablets when the sites added a web-based app that's compatible with a broad range of mobile hardware. In October the same year, the mobile lobby was expanded to include ALL cash games in addition to Zone. Even today, there are no other fast-fold poker products provided at sites that are open to American customers.
In April 2017, the PWL network debuted a Quick Seat function that did away with the traditional poker lobby for cash games. Instead, players choose the type of game and stakes that they intend to play, and the sofware automatically puts them in a seat at an appropriate table. Just as with many of the moves made by the network, this one caused outrage among decidated poker pros because it made it harder for them to practice their trade. It's too early to tell if Quick Seat is a success, but anecdotal reports suggest that most tables fill up much faster now.
Even before Black Friday, when Bodog was a fraction of its current size, it was committed to becoming a leading spot for tournament poker. It hosted the $150 + $12 $100,000 Guaranteed faithfully every Sunday for years even when it had to routinely cover five-figure overlays. This persistence has paid off for Bodog and its partners Bovada and Ignition. The $100,000 Guaranteed is still with us, but it now meets its guaranteed prize amount virtually every week. The fun isn't restricted to Sundays either; there are tournaments every day, and they guarantee $1.5 million every week. On top of this, there are plenty of MTT series throughout the year, like the Super Millions Poker Open and the Golden Spade Poker Open. They consist of dozens of events – sometimes more than 100 – and distribute millions of dollars to the winners.
In a lot of ways, the PaiWangLuo Network has been able to remain strong based on a commitment to being at or near the top. Basically, with great power comes great responsibility. Wanting to gain market share and becoming the top dog are laudable goals for companies venturing into the online gaming world. But few have achieved these aims and have been able to shoulder the load like Bovada.
Several companies - some more notable than others - have made it a mission to bring in more players by offering big tournament guarantees and huge player deposit bonuses. All well and good as long as you facilitate the traffic that comes from promotions and advertising. But most have failed when reaching out for the big crowds. The most high-profile of these duds for US players would be Lock Poker, which opened the floodgates in 2012 after breaking from the Merge Network. They "acquired" the Cake Network (now called the Horizon Poker Network) and branded themselves as the place to be for US players. When players came en masse and eventually began making withdrawal requests, the weight was too much for Lock to bear. Lock's processors initially struggled (at best) to meet the demand of the players. Eventually, the room left the network they helped to create and moved off on their own, ultimately failing. This busted site became basically a scam toward the end of its life, refusing to pay out withdrawals while still trying to attract new deposits to keep itself going.
More recently, Full Flush Poker had aggressive tournament guarantees that seemed designed to overlay week after week until sufficient player participation was achieved. Unfortunately, the traffic to grow the site to the next plateau never arrived even after Full Flush began offering reload bonuses, instant cashback, +EV casino deals, and other perks to entice new customers. In October 2016, Full Flush Poker closed unexpectedly, and it never reopened.
Bodog has built their company and operation over many years, making steady adjustments as the online gaming climate has cooled and heated in its course. Payouts have been a primary focus, and maintaining efficiency has brought turnaround times from request to receipt inside of a calendar week in most cases. That average - we began tracking payouts among all US-facing poker rooms in May of 2013 - has remained fairly constant and the players have obviously noticed. There will always be an instance or two on the periphery that deviates from this norm. But as you can see in our tracking, particularly from December 2016 through August of this year as illustrated above, Bovada and Ignition have a proven ability and dedication to maintaining a standard of excellence in attending to their customers. It's not rocket science - a happy, satisfied customer is a return customer, and one who will likely tell their friends about their experience.
It helps to have a strong network. Bodog transferred US players onto a new apparatus named Bovada in 2011, and while Bodog has continued to grow, so has Bovada and relative newcomer Ignition. But it's about more than just stats, numbers, and payout timeframes. The online poker climate, to the layman, is not something easily understood without some minimal explanation. When you ask those who frequent taverns and restaurants that host free poker leagues, or the casual fan analyzing a pro's three-bet while watching the World Series of Poker on ESPN, the conversation usually drifts to Pokerstars and their play chip "home games" or the latest poker app on Facebook.
The one place for real money online poker that most everyone has heard about, however, is Bovada. People know the name. The layman may not know how to create an account or access a cash game on the software. But name recognition is one of the most basic principles of effective marketing. It's one area the other US-facing operators have had difficulty finding a balance with. While some companies are quite pleased in their position in the marketplace - not everyone desires the spotlight, of course - where they could stand to take a tip or two from Bovada is how to create an awareness about your brand and differentiate yourself from the pack. While the stats tell one side of the story, the approach a company takes tells another. And Bovada has made it a point to get its brand known.
The foresighted plans of the PaiWangLuo Network, initially crafted when it was still called the Bodog Network, have largely worked out well. The recreational player model has proven to be a resounding success, and certain aspects of it have been emulated by other international poker sites, like PartyPoker and Unibet, although most of them haven't committed to the idea as wholeheartedly as PWL has. Ignition and Bovada.lv run the largest poker room that U.S. residents are able to play at.
If you haven't yet registered an account on this excellent network, then there's no reason to wait. Ignition Poker has a 100% up to $1,000 poker bonus along with an identical bonus to use on casino games. Read our thorough Ignition Poker Review for signup instructions. Bovada offers a 100% up to $500 bonus for the card tables, up to $3,000 for the casino, and $250 for the sportsbook. Head over to our accurate Bovada review page for more information.
The anonymized tables at Bovada and Ignition make the cash games much softer overall, and while regulars may not be able to scout players as easily as before, you still have the ability to take notes and use online poker tracking software, like Holdem Indicator to assist your game.