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Online Poker History, 1998 to 2023: 20+ Years of Gaming Fun

Online Poker History

History Book

Online poker is such a familiar part of today's internet landscape that it's easy to take it for granted. However, interactive poker is a relatively recent phenomenon in human affairs and represents a new wrinkle to the 150-plus year history of poker.

The changes that have occurred in the world of online poker since its inception have been massive, and it's fair to say that that the internet poker landscape is vastly different from the way it was previously. In this article, you will find info about the history of online poker, beginning with the first sites in the late '90s and continuing through the boom years of the industry, the terrible events of Black Friday, and on to the present day.

These sites have stood the test of online poker history:
  1. Ignition Casino - The most players and games along with a $1,500 bonus
  2. SB Poker - Weekly leaderboards, bad beat jackpot, and other valuable promos.
  3. Bovada - Like Ignition but with a sportsbook attached (smaller poker bonus though)
  4. Intertops - $1,000 bonus, 36% rakeback, many other lucrative offers
  5. ACR Poker - Big guaranteed tournaments and frequent series
  6. SWC Poker - Widest game selection, including HORSE, Open Face Chinese, Badugi, et cetera

Early Years

Though there were precursors, like play money IRC poker and email-based games, the first online poker site proper was Planet Poker[1], which launched for real money on Jan. 1, 1998. Initially running only $3/$6 Limit Hold'em tables, Planet Poker quickly grew its user base and added new games and features. However, like many first attempts at a new business model, it started to fall behind newer and better-managed competitors, eventually becoming just a part of online poker history.

Planet Poker Table $3/$6 Limit Hold'em Table at Planet Poker, the OG Online Poker Room

Paradise Poker appeared in 1999 with slicker graphics, superior network infrastructure, and more frequent upgrades and bug fixes. Paradise soon eclipsed Planet in average player count figures. Even Planet's signing of Mike “The Mad Genius” Caro[2] as a representative and Roy Cooke as cardroom manager was not enough to improve its flagging fortunes.

Yet, Paradise Poker's dominance of the market proved to be short-lived too. Other rivals emerged in the next few years, like Party Poker, UltimateBet, PokerSpot, and PokerStars. As each site attempted to secure market share for itself, new product offerings were developed, including big-bet games, massive multi-table tournaments, satellites to major live events, and sit-n-gos.

Party soon climbed to the top of the heap with its lucrative bonuses, fishy player pool, and aggressive marketing department that was able to put the brand's name in the public consciousness with a series of television commercials.

Moneymaker Boom

Photo of Chris Moneymaker Chris Moneymaker,
2003 WSOP Main Event Champ

In 2003, a then-unknown Tennessee accountant named Chris Moneymaker[3] prevailed at the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas, taking home a prize of $2.5 million in real money cash. He was the first WSOP victor in history to have won a Main Event bracelet after qualifying online: Chris had paid $86 to enter a PokerStars satellite, which he won to earn his $10,000 seat to the prestigious live event. Making his accomplishment even more amazing, this was the first live poker tournament that Chris had ever played in.

Moneymaker's story appealed to many ordinary people for a number of reasons. The action was broadcast by ESPN, allowing millions of viewers at home to follow the action. Moneymaker was an “Average Joe” rather than being a professional cardshark as most previous winners were. Moreover, the fact that he was able to win his seat in poker's annual Big Show for a mere $86 in an online qualifier –rather than having to fork over the full $10,000 sticker price – appealed to many who asked: If Moneymaker could do it, then why not me?

The result was a big boom in internet poker popularity, earning Moneymaker his place in online poker history. From about 4,200 peak players online at any given time in April 2003 (before the WSOP), internet poker traffic almost quintupled to more than 20,000 peak players a year later. One year after this, player volume doubled again.

Poker Network Model

During the timeframe 2002 – 2004 surrounding Chris Moneymaker's epic win, the online poker network model started to gain prominence. While the first real money poker sites were independently owned and managed affairs, the poker networks that eventually supplemented them are combinations of rooms that work together to generate higher traffic levels and more appealing cross-site promotions.

The now-defunct Ongame, Prima (later renamed MPN), and Cryptologic networks were early pioneers of this way of doing business. Most poker sites active today are also part of an online poker network although there are notable exceptions, like PokerStars and SwCPoker. Each site that's part of a network is called a “skin.”

Networks allow new companies entering the internet poker scene to basically hop aboard at the flip of a switch rather than having to design and create a new platform from scratch. This includes existing online gambling venues that wish to add card games to their menus. Networks also permit smaller organizations to add stability to their operations because negative events that might kill off a tiny firm can usually be absorbed by the entire network with only a minor impact.

However, there are drawbacks to internet poker networks too. Perhaps the most serious occur when there are disputes and recriminations among the network members who often have differing goals and ideas. This has, on occasion, led to such dismal events as skins on the same network segregating their players from each other and sites being kicked off networks for breaking the rules.

Online Poker's “Wild West” Phase

Though PokerStars did see its share of the market expand due to its association with Chris Moneymaker, the growth in the industry was fairly diffuse and spread out among multiple companies. In fact, PokerStars came nowhere close to dethroning the largest site at that time, PartyPoker. Not only did existing sites see their fortunes boosted, but many other organizations decided to jump into the fray, lured by the prospect of big profits.

Some of these rooms were based upon questionable foundations and have since been relegated to the dustbin of online poker history. They included:

  • PokerShare: A site allowing players to earn shares in the company
  • Pokertropolis: Employed house bots to keep tables full before ultimately folding
  • CelebPoker: Boasted a roster of TV, film, and sports celebrities whom users could play against for real money
  • WPEX: Provided 100% rakeback, which proved to be unsustainable
  • Golden Palace: Casino and poker brand known for wacky marketing stunts, like paying people to get tattoos reading “”
  • Stars on Poker: Short-lived poker room started by rapper Ja Rule

UIGEA Disrupts USA Online Poker

In October 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was signed into law by President George W. Bush. This law made it illegal for U.S. banks and other financial institutions to process payments relating to “unlawful Internet gambling.” Though the UIGEA did not define precisely what constituted illegal gambling, the Department of Justice held that real money online poker was included.

Political Shenanigans

What raised the ire of many in the poker world was the sneaky, underhanded way in which the UIGEA was passed. It was attached to the SAFE Port Act, a bill intended to combat terrorism, just a couple of days before the final votes in the House and Senate. Allegedly, nobody (except presumably the authors) had seen the final language of the UIGEA before it was voted on.

Senators Bill Frist[4] (R – Tenn) and Jon Kyl[5] (R – Ariz) were two of the leading supporters of the UIGEA. Frist in particular was known to have been cozy with the land-based casino industry, which was nearly universally opposed to online gambling at that time, viewing it as an unwanted form of competition. Kyl meanwhile was well-known as a foe of real money gambling in general. These two used questionable and dishonest tactics to push through their nanny-state agenda.

Bill Frist Senator Bill Frist, the Main Villain of the UIGEA Debacle

Fallout of the UIGEA

Following the passage of this legislation, many operators chose to exclude Americans from their online poker sites. PartyPoker, the largest such platform at the time, was one of the organizations that opted to abandon the United States, but it had plenty of company, like Pacific Poker (now 888), Paradise Poker, and the Cryptologic Network. However, others, including PokerStars, Full Tilt, and the Merge Gaming Network, decided to continue serving Americans.

For the most part, those sites that left the U.S.A. were publicly traded corporations whereas the ones that opted to remain were privately held concerns. Companies that must answer to shareholders open themselves up to lawsuits if they engage in any behavior that could be perceived as being against the law. Firms in private hands don't have to worry as much about this.

This led to a split in the real money online poker economy between those rooms that accept U.S. players and those that don't. This bifurcation has persisted until the present day.

Continued Growth

Despite the disruptions caused by the UIGEA, the internet poker environment rebounded fairly rapidly. Most of the players who were booted off their favorite sites found new homes at other rooms that elected to continue doing business in the United States. These users were partly responsible for PokerStars overtaking PartyPoker as the world's biggest internet poker site in October 2006.

Online gaming companies that remained in the U.S. market simply shrugged off the provisions of the UIGEA. Even though it had become law, certain regulations pertaining to financial transactions had to be drafted and approved before enforcement could occur. In any case, there was considerable doubt as to whether or not there was the political will to prosecute offshore poker sites and if online poker was even considered illegal gambling under the UIGEA.

The industry continued to grow. Between late 2006 and the beginning of 2011, player liquidity figures just about doubled. New rooms continued to open and do a brisk trade, and some other sites faltered and became mostly forgotten footnotes in online poker history.

Cheating Scandals Rock Poker World

It was during this period that the two largest cheating scandals in the history of online poker were uncovered. They both involved cheaters using what are known as “superuser” accounts, which allowed them to observe the hole cards of others while playing.

Absolute Poker

Absolute Poker was suspected of hosting cheaters starting in September 2007, and these allegations were given a boost when a player who requested his hand history for a tournament received a file showing not only his own hole cards but also those of all opponents at the table[6]! It's not clear whether this “master” hand history file was sent by accident or by the deliberate decision of a customer support agent who felt like exposing what was going on.

It became clear from this file that a user with the screenname “POTRIPPER” was able to see other players' cards. This was evident from the many suspicious plays that he made – folding great hands when his opponent had a monster, bluffing when the other players had air, seldom folding preflop – which would only have been possible if “POTRIPPER” was benefitting from illicit knowledge of what his foes held.

After facing much public pressure, Absolute finally admitted that one of their consultants had been surreptitiously using a special account that allowed them to play while seeing opponents' cards. The poker site claimed that this cheating occurred over a period of only 40 days, but many believe that it had been going on for a much longer period of time, perhaps years, and that several screennames were culpable rather than just one. Absolute Poker founder Scott Tom was tied to some of the cheating accounts, but it's unclear if he was directly involved or whether testing accounts that he had set up in the past were taken over by others without his knowledge.

Ultimate Bet

Just a few months after the Absolute Poker scandal, a similar situation was detected at UltimateBet in January 2008. It involved screennames who had abnormally high winrates. It turns out that they were operating in cahoots with a superuser account named “Auditmonster2,” which was able to see all players' cards. “Auditmonster2” would observe tables and forward the relevant information to his or her co-conspirators who were seated at these same tables.

Unlike with the Absolute Poker scandal, we have a pretty good idea of who was behind the crooked activity at UltimateBet. An audio tape was later released in which Russ Hamilton confessed to being the ringleader and revealed that he had personally profited to the tune of $16 - $18 million[7]. Russ had won the World Series of Poker Main Event in 1994 and then became closely connected with the founders of UltimateBet.

Russ Hamilton UltimateBet Cheater Russ Hamilton

Amazingly, shortly after the UB cheating was uncovered, both Absolute Poker and UltimateBet combined to form a network called Cereus. Rather than being shunned by poker players in the wake of these revelations of unethical activity, the network became one of the top destinations for U.S.A. online poker players.

Black Friday

The future appeared rosy for online poker heading into 2011, but there was disaster to come just a few months into the year. On April 15, those who attempted to visit the websites of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, and UltimateBet were surprised to see a notice from the FBI saying that these domains had been seized. At the time, these were the three largest offshore poker sites still serving U.S.-based players (with AP/UB counting as one entity for player volume purposes).

DoJ Warning On April 15, 2011, Poker Players Were Greeted With this Disheartening Message

This was part of the enforcement action that has since been dubbed “Black Friday”[8]: perhaps the worst event in the entire history of online poker. Besides confiscating the relevant domain names, the government initiated criminal prosecutions against 11 online poker company executives along with a civil lawsuit against the firms. The charges were filed by Preet Bharara, then the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Janice Fedarcyk, Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Black Friday proceedings relied upon the Wire Act[9] as a piece of legislation that (in the eyes of the DoJ) made it against the law to offer online poker to Americans. This triggered the relevant clauses of the UIGEA, which had hitherto not really been deployed to go after offshore poker rooms.

Curiously, none of the indictments related directly to the provision of online poker. Instead, they highlighted certain irregularities in the way bank transactions for online gaming were miscoded in order to get around the restrictions imposed by the government and financial institutions. Perhaps prosecutors knew that their arguments for the illegality of internet poker were shaky at best and therefore decided to tackle things from the payment processor end.

Full Tilt, Absolute Poker, and UltimateBet soon ceased operations altogether while PokerStars, on the other hand, continued to do business throughout most of the world apart from the United States of America.

Show Me the Money…Eventually

While PokerStars paid out all of its American customers in full pretty quickly after Black Friday, the same cannot be said of Full Tilt, Absolute Poker, and UltimateBet. Indeed, they not only stiffed their U.S. customers but also closed up shop entirely with many international users seeing their balances disappear as well.

PokerStars turned out to be the savior of many affected individuals who had written off their Full Tilt, Absolute, and UltimateBet balances for good. As part of settling the civil case against it, PokerStars entered into an agreement with the Department of Justice wherein it paid a penalty of $731 million and acquired Full Tilt Poker. Some of this money was earmarked for reimbursing Full Tilt customers whose balances were gone.

Beginning April 2014 and continuing through October 2016, Full Tilt players were reimbursed out of these funds. Over $118 million was returned to 44,320 players in the United States[10].

Unexpectedly, in April 2017, the Department of Justice announced that there was still cash left over from the Full Tilt remissions. Therefore, they opened the process up to petitions from former Absolute and UltimateBet users. In total, more than $38 million was distributed to over 12,000 individuals.

What Happened to the Black Friday Defendants?

Several of the defendants in the Black Friday prosecutions were within the United States at the time, and so they were arrested. Some of them fled to other countries, but the U.S. federal government had no intention of letting them fade quietly into online poker history.

Over the next few years, several of them were detained abroad and sent to the United States through the international cooperation of law enforcement agencies. Others voluntarily returned to the country to face the music. The last of them to surrender was Isai Scheinberg, founder of PokerStars, who was extradited to the United States from Switzerland in January 2020.

Isai Scheinberg PokerStars' Isai Scheinberg, the Last of the Black Friday Defendants to Surrender to Authorities

The full list of Black Friday defendants is as follows:

  • Isai Scheinberg, founder of PokerStars
  • Paul Tate, PokerStars exec
  • Ray Bitar, founder of Full Tilt Poker
  • Nelson Burtnick, Full Tilt exec
  • Scott Tom, part owner of Absolute Poker
  • Brent Beckley, Absolute exec
  • Ryan Lang, payment processor
  • Ira Rubin, payment processor
  • Bradley Franzen, payment processor
  • Chad Elie, payment processor
  • John Campos, part owner of Sunfirst Bank

They all reached plea agreements whereby they pleaded guilty to certain crimes in exchange for having other charges dropped and/or receiving reduced sentences. This means that none of the cases went to trial, and so there was no judicial decision as to whether or not offering online poker to Americans was illegal. The government wisely opted to settle the matter without subjecting itself to the possibility that a court would find its legal reasoning inadequate.

Justice Department Changes Mind

Ironically, the Department of Justice released a memorandum in September 2011[11] that totally reversed its stance. The new opinion was that the Wire Act only related to sports betting and therefore did not criminalize online poker. Had this guideline been adhered to just six months earlier, Black Friday could never have taken place, and the entire history of online poker would look very different indeed.

The reason for such uncertainty regarding the Wire Act is because it is poorly written and punctuated. It contains language referring to “bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest,” but it's not clear if this phrase is relevant throughout the whole Wire Act or only the part of the Act immediately surrounding it.

The fact that no other prominent prosecutions of U.S.-facing online poker sites have occurred since 2011 reinforces the view that the Black Friday indictments were really on pretty unsteady legal ground.

Post-Black Friday Blues

The distressing events of Black Friday certainly put a crimp on internet poker as a whole. Within a year, U.S. poker traffic declined by around 80% while international sites suffered a loss of about one-third of their player liquidity.

Even worse than just the reduced player counts at U.S.A. offshore poker rooms was the consideration that many of the players who disappeared were recreational users rather than pros. Therefore, the rooms that remained for Americans became infested with sharks as the casual players, who are the lifeblood of any site, largely abandoned the online game. Many of these novices were under the impression that internet poker as a whole was effectively banned in the States.

There were many organizations that tried to pick up the slack after the departure of the three largest sites. They included the Merge Gaming Network, which immediately grasped the crown for highest-traffic in the U.S. market, Bodog and its new skin, and the Cake Poker Network. However, they had much lower brand recognition that their now-departed predecessors, and so the total U.S.A. player counts were much less than before.

Meanwhile, PokerStars remained the largest worldwide poker provider as it had a geographically diverse player base, which allowed it to weather the storm largely unscathed (apart, that is, from having to pay close to a billion dollars to the Department of Justice).

Extended Slump

From 2011 to 2020, the general trend in terms of internet poker ring game traffic has been downward although with plenty of seasonal peaks and troughs. Part of this is no doubt explained by the rise of fast-fold poker, lottery-style sit-n-goes, and other innovative formats that, to a certain extent, drew players away from the traditional cash game tables. However, even taking this into account, it's clear that the post-Black Friday history of online poker has been one of steadily declining player participation.

Payment Processing Woes

Probably the most lasting consequence of Black Friday has been difficultly processing real money deposits and withdrawals for U.S.A. online poker. While initial fears of crackdown after crackdown targeting offshore poker brands have fortunately proven to be unfounded, payments is where the DoJ and FBI have made themselves a perennial foe of the entire internet gaming industry.

E-Wallets, like Neteller and Skrill, which used to allow Americans to move their money around online nearly instantly and with low fees have been deterred from operating in the United States due to the harsh legal climate surrounding gambling transactions. PayPal is a somewhat common payment processor for online poker sites in the United Kingdom and several other countries, but it does not permit its users to transact within the unregulated U.S. gaming economy.

ACH transfers are excluded for many of the same reasons. Another factor is that most banks are very conservative by nature and eschew “immoral” activities, like the sex industry and gambling even when those businesses are made explicitly legal. Thus, many of them are anti-poker anyway even regardless of the laws that purportedly (but not really) make it illegal. Many credit cards similarly attempt to block internet poker transactions (and often succeed).

Players who wish to get paid by check must wait many weeks or months before they see their money. Money transfer services, like Western Union and Moneygram, are much faster, but they have low maximum transaction amounts and high fees. We've even heard of people being banned from these services if they have received too much cash coming from allegedly questionable sources, like online cardrooms.

Funding accounts and cashing money out have therefore tended to be weak points at online poker sites that serve Americans. This is especially problematic when it comes to new or part-time players who are loathe to put in the time required to investigate and learn about the best transaction processors.

Bitcoin to the Rescue

Bitcoin[12] (BTC), the biggest and oldest crypto-currency, resolves many of the issues that plague legacy payment methods. It's fast, relatively free from burdensome regulations and legal restrictions, and comes with low fees. It can be used for transactions of almost any size and can be employed virtually anywhere in the world. These attributes make it ideal as an online poker payment channel.

Site managers have not been slow to recognize the potential of Bitcoin to revolutionize online poker history. A few months after Black Friday, the first poker site that accepted bitcoins opened its doors: SealsWithClubs (since redubbed SwCPoker after being shut down and re-opened). This room conducted all its cashier functions and gameplay in the crypto-currency, bypassing the traditional financial infrastructure completely.

Bryan Micon Though He May Appear to Be Just an Unshaven Doofus, Bryan Micon Was a Farsighted Pioneer in BTC Poker

While SealsWithClubs remained a small, niche organization, other internet poker sites soon began to offer Bitcoin as a deposit and withdrawal method while still retaining other funding options for their players. The Winning Poker Network became one of the first mainstream BTC-compatible poker providers in 2014, but it was soon followed by others.

Today, just about every real money offshore poker room that accepts Americans supports Bitcoin. Internationally, crypto-currency deposits and withdrawals aren't yet omnipresent because laws regarding internet poker transactions tend to be more liberal in most jurisdictions, reducing much of the need for BTC in the first place. However, countries that have passed legislation against online gaming, like Australia, are seeing an uptick both in Bitcoin usage among residents and acceptance among sites.

If you aren't quite certain how to use Bitcoin for online poker, then you can learn more about it by consulting this BTC poker guide and walkthrough. We have also prepared similar instructional pages covering two other popular crypto coins, Ethereum and Bitcoin Cash.

Regulated Online Poker in the U.S.A.

Because all federal statutes that target online wagering focus exclusively on those activities that are deemed illegal, they have no impact on fully legal enterprises. Thus, states are at their liberty to legalize online gaming within their borders, and then those companies are not subject to interference from the federal authorities. It's kind of like how if you operate a casino in your basement, the FBI can come a-knockin' on your door, but if you obtain the proper licenses in a state where casinos are allowed, then federal law enforcement has no interest in shutting you down (unless, of course, you're breaking the law in other ways).

Therefore, three states took the lead by debuting state-licensed interactive poker rooms in 2013: Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey. In order to play at legalized sites in one of these states, a player must be physically located inside state borders but does not have to be a resident of that state. This rule is enforced with geolocation technology[13].

Hopes of a wave of states following suit and initiating a second poker boom were dashed though. As of 2021, eight years after the first licensed U.S.A. internet cardrooms appeared, only four more states have opted to regulate this form of wagering: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Michigan, and Connecticut. Of those four, we've seen poker sites go live in two of them with PokerStars' debut in Pennsylvania and the related PokerStars Michigan room closely followed by several competitors. No state-supervised online poker sites have yet arrived in West Virginia or Connecticut.

All the active, licensed online poker networks and sites in the country used to not have as much traffic put together as the single largest U.S.-friendly offshore poker network (PaiWangLuo Network). This was true through much of 2020 although the appearance of new sites in recently regulated states has contributed to significant growth. It's too early to say that regulated U.S. sites have yet made a significant mark in the history of online poker, but the general trendlines appear good right now.

Compacts the Way Forward?

The three initial online gaming states – Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware – have chosen to combine their online poker liquidity by signing an interstate compact. This allows sites that have operations in more than one state to combine their player pools across state lines.

In March 2015, Nevada and Delaware pooled their poker traffic within the framework of the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement[14]. New Jersey signed the compact in October 2017, and its players were thrown into the pool in April 2018. Michigan was accepted into the agreement in April 2022, but it has yet to join its internet poker traffic together with its peers.

Interstate Gaming Compact Three States Have Pooled Their Internet Poker Volume by Signing a Compact

The three-state arrangement led to a modest but real increase in player counts. Many people feel that once Michigan formally enters, this effect will grow. Pennsylvania also rates to give a big boost to any states that it partners with for poker traffic because it's more populous than any of the states that now participate in the compact.

Wire Act Clarity Achieved

Although the Department of Justice opined in 2011 that the Wire Act only dealt with sports betting and not any other types of wagering, this position on the interpretation of the Wire Act was reversed in early 2019. Now, the DoJ holds that all types of betting that crosses state borders are against the law. This would make interstate agreements to amalgamate online poker traffic illegal.

New Hampshire challenged this new DoJ guidance in the courts on the grounds that it would negatively impact its online lottery sales. Federal Judge Paul Barbadoro delivered a verdict in favor of New Hampshire and against the government in June 2019. However, the DoJ appealed, hoping to get the judgment in favor of New Hampshire reversed.

Until there was a final resolution of this legal predicament, most gaming jurisdictions were understandably wary of subscribing to any player pool sharing accords, preferring to wait for the legal situation to clarify itself first. Fortunately, though, the First Circuit Court of Appeals denied the DoJ's claims in January 2021, confirming that Judge Barbadoro's initial ruling was correct. A separate case involving gaming technology provider IGT was similarly decided against the DoJ in 2022. Industry observers feel that it's not likely that the government will continue to pursue broadening its interpretation of the Wire Act and will instead revert back to something like its 2011 opinion.

COVID-19 Uptick

The coronavirus pandemic, which afflicted most of the world in 2020, was a bane for public health, most forms of entertainment and recreation, and the entire global economy. Yet, it turned out to be quite a blessing for the real money internet poker ecosystem.

You see, with restaurants, casinos, workplaces, bars, shopping centers, and other gathering places closed for months at a time, people found themselves sitting in their houses with nothing to do. Many of them nevertheless had an income coming in whether through working from home or unemployment benefits, and so discretionary spending was possible. Online poker turned out to be a popular way to alleviate boredom especially given that sports betting was mostly unavailable with the cancellation of almost all athletic contests.

Internet poker player counts roughly doubled from the beginning of the year to April. Since that time, most of these gains have disappeared…but not all. Forecasters have predicted a permanent increase of 10% to 25% for online poker traffic as a consequence of COVID-19.

Online Poker Today

At present, online poker is still going strong if at a lower level of activity than during its pre-April 2011 heights. Within the United States, licensed online poker has been growing but at a pretty slow rate. Thus, offshore poker sites remain the best options for anyone interested in playing cards over the internet.

The shark-infested environment that prevailed in online poker history during the post-Black Friday epoch has abated to a large extent. As more people became comfortable depositing real money for online poker, perhaps using the speedy Bitcoin crypto-currency, the level of play has weakened, and you can now find plenty of beatable games at most sites.

Ignition and Bovada are, at present, the two largest online poker sites for American players, and they are on the same network, so their tables and games are the same. Ignition might be better because its poker bonus is as large as $1,500 while Bovada's tops out at $500, but Bovada may prove superior for those who like to bet on sports because it has a sportsbook, which is missing from Ignition. Click here to read a comprehensive review of Ignition Poker, or head over to our poker, sports, and casino review.

If neither of these two options appeals to you, we have written a thorough guide to online poker in the United States of America, which covers all of the major internet poker destinations available. If you live elsewhere, then you may wish to instead peruse a list of the best Aussie internet poker rooms or a page devoted to Canada-friendly offshore poker sites.

Online Poker History Timeline

Online poker history is so convoluted and confusing. I wish someone could explain it to me easily and concisely!?- The online poker environment in the USA has had its ups and downs throughout the years. From the excitement of the first few sites offering real money play to the vacuum created by the underhanded passing of UIGEA and the disheartening events of Black Friday, all fans have ridden a roller-coaster of gut-wrenching emotion.

The love for this game is strong though, and the fans and the companies who court them always seem to bounce back. There have been options to play available since Planet Poker launched in 1998, and twenty years later, despite whatever has happened, plenty of players still play and sites still offer games. No matter what choke holds are put in place, a way will be found to circumvent them. Even now, a burgeoning era of decentralized computing may be ushering in a wondrous new set of games and opportunities in this sector.

Below is a timeline we created to help you keep track of all the major historical events that have taken place to change and alter the online landscape from 1998 through 2020.

online poker time line of significant legal and industry events

Frequently Asked Questions

There's a ton of info to digest if you're boning up on your online poker history. Below, we have compiled for your enlightenment a list of questions on this subject and their answers.

Internet poker has been with us since 1998, more than 20 years now.

The first online poker room in existence was Planet Poker, which opened in 1998 but is no longer active.

Black Friday was a crackdown against online poker by the U.S. federal government in April 2011. Criminal charges were brought against poker site managers and payment processors. Also, a civil suit was filed against the three largest offshore poker sites serving Americans.

PokerStars, Full Tilt, Absolute Poker, and UltimateBet were forced to abandon the U.S. market as a result of Black Friday. The growth of the entire industry was arrested and reversed as a result of Black Friday.

Many failed internet poker rooms are purchased by competitors, like PKR was when it closed in May 2017. Others make an orderly exit from the business, like PokerHost did in July 2018. In both of these cases, all players were paid their balances in full.

Less often, mismanaged rooms disappear, taking user funds with them. This is what happened with the ill-fated Jao Poker and its bizarre business model. It's always wise to read up on a poker provider before depositing any money there. This is why Professional Rakeback has created detailed reviews of the major gaming sites available.

No. Despite the thousands of posts made about this subject on various forums, there have not ever been any high-profile incidents of rigged deals at internet poker sites.

There have, on occasion, been superusing scandals, such as those at Absolute Poker and UltimateBet. At other times, credible accounts of online poker bots have surfaced, including at Pokertropolis, the Winning Poker Network, and But unfair random number generators leading to a rigged distribution of cards are almost always a figment of the imagination.