Poker may not be the top game in the online gambling world in terms of raw popularity, but it may well be the most prestigious area of expertise for bettors. There are a few reasons for this: it gets television coverage unlike anything else in gaming, it has a high skill element, which even non-gamblers typically acknowledge, and it has many aspects of a sport, something that has made stars of its top players and drives public interest in major tournaments.
So while more people may play casino games or bet on sports, poker is still a very important part of the Internet gambling landscape. That shows not only in the industry at large, but also in the world of Bitcoin gaming, where many rooms have sprung up to service the cryptocurrency community. While these sites aren’t yet among the biggest places to play Texas Hold’em just yet, they offer a great alternative if you want to play in BTC.
Plenty of Options to Choose From
Bitcoin poker works the same way any game does, of course: the only difference is that you’ll be playing in BTC rather than dollars, pounds, or another currency. But not every Internet poker site offers play in cryptocurrencies.
If you’re simply looking for a play where you can deposit and withdraw your winnings in Bitcoin, then you’ll have a fairly wide range of options available to you. Some of the biggest sites out there (including PokerStars, the one true giant of the industry) do not yet accept BTC deposits, some smaller sites have bucked this trend, and we expect more and more operators to begin offering it as an option as it gains more mainstream legitimacy.
However, we’re more interested in sites that operate entirely on Bitcoin – meaning that not only will you do your banking with it, but you’ll also be playing strictly in the currency at the tables. This means that you not only get to use the currency of your choice, but you don’t have to worry about conversion rates while you play: your balance will always be expressed in BTC, regardless of what’s going on with the exchange rate compared to dollars or euros.
These sites vary in size, as well as their dedication to the game: some offer a whole suite of gaming options, while others are strictly poker rooms. A few of the better known options currently on the market include:
- SWCPoker: Formerly known as Seals With Clubs, this site is one of the oldest stalwarts in the world of Bitcoin gaming. Using its own proprietary software package (once known as Maven), the SWC site offers a wide variety of games, including Texas Hold’em, Omaha, Seven Card Stud, a variety of draw and mixed game formats, and even Chinese (including Open Face Chinese, or OFC). Only BTC is accepted and all games are played in the currency, with each “chip” at the table representing 0.001 BTC (or 1 mBTC).
- FortuneJack: One of the leading cryptocurrency casino sites, you can not only play and deposit here in BTC, but also in other alternative coins, like Litecoin, Dogecoin, and Peercoin. That flexibility and the presence of endless players is a huge plus for the site, especially if you want to extend beyond poker. The player pool isn’t enormous, and Texas Hold’em appears to be virtually the only game in town (though Omaha and Seven Card Stud are present) – but tournaments are usually quite active, even if the cash game offerings are sometimes limited. One plus to the software used here is the fact that it allows play in your browser, meaning you’ll never have to download anything to your computer to play.
- BetOnline: This is perhaps the best example of a site that is not primarily a Bitcoin poker room, but which accepts the currency as an option for players to use for banking. Primarily known as a sports betting operation, BetOnline also features an active poker room – one that is part of the Chico Network. Compared to most sites that deal in cryptocurrency, this gives BetOnline access to a larger player base, which means more active games even during off-peak hours. Beyond the classic games, BetOnline also offers some unusual options such as Chinese and Big2.
- Betcoin: If you’re loking for a site that retains its Bitcoin “purity” while still benefitting from a larger player pool, Betcoin might be the answer. The site only accepts two cryptocurrencies (Litecoin being the second) for banking purposes, but you’ll notice that the site uses the exact same software as the Winning Poker Network, one of the largest networks available to American players today. It’s not just the software that they have in common, however: the site also participates in WPN tournaments, allowing players to gain access to some very large prize pools that you wouldn’t find on most BTC only sites.
Finding the Games You Want
One of the key features we mentioned above was the relative size of the player pools at each site. In most types of online gambling, you don’t have to concern yourself with how many players are logging into the same site that you are: it doesn’t really change your experience if you’re the only one there or one of thousands enjoying your favorite slot machine, for instance.
But when it comes to poker, this is a critical aspect to choosing a site. The game simply doesn’t work unless you have opponents to play against: and the more of them there are, the better. A few other players may be all you need to get a solid game together, but not all of them will likely be on at the same time or want to play in the game and stakes you’re looking for.
That’s why player liquidity is so huge at any poker room. It becomes all the more important when you talk about games that are less popular. Texas Hold’em games are always easy to find, at least at low stakes; on the other hand, a niche game like Razz might be hard to find even during peak hours.
Of the sites we mentioned above, both Betcoin and BetOnline offer fairly large player pools. As we mentioned, the Winning Network (which includes Betcoin) has the highest average traffic of any US-facing network today (only Bodog, an independent room, surpasses it), while Chico – the network that BetOnline is a part of – averages nearly 500 cash game players at any given time, enough to maintain a fairly healthy ecosystem. Conversely, SWCPoker and Fortune Jack are much less populated, usually containing fewer than 100 cash game players. However, both of these sites see more traffic for tournament play – something that is generally true across the industry at most sites.
How important this is to you will depend largely on exactly what it is you want to play. Each game has a different level of popularity, and thus can be more or less sensitive to player liquidity issues. Here’s a quick look at what you might want to consider based on your favorite games:
Texas Hold’em: If there’s one game that can survive a small player pool, the “Cadillac of Poker” is it. This is particularly true for tournament pools and small stakes cash games, which are spread even during off peak hours at all but the very smallest rooms. If you want to play at high stakes, however, you’ll probably need a good player base to support those games – or you’ll have to know when the regulars show up to get a table together.
Omaha: This action game has become increasingly popular, especially in Pot Limit formats. That has been enough to ensure that it is usually spread at even small rooms during peak hours. However, high limit games are harder to come by, and off-peak games may not be available at all during slower parts of the day at small rooms.
Other Games: In terms of popularity, everything else can be lumped in below the above two games. A case could be made that Seven Card Stud is a little more common than anything else in this category, but that’s increasingly untrue as other variants have gained in popularity in recent years. Regardless, all of these games pretty much need a healthy and large player pool in order to see any consistent action. Some smaller rooms won’t even bother with these games, as there simply isn’t enough interest to support them. Where they do exist, cash game coverage may be spotty, and tournaments are usually sparsely attended except during some special events or festivals.
If the idea of playing Bitcoin poker sounds intriguing to you, it’s not too difficult to get started – but you will have to take a few steps to make sure you’re ready to jump into this arena. First of all, you’re going to need to get some BTC that you can use to deposit at one of these sites.
If you’re not familiar with cryptocurrencies, the easiest way to get started is by opening an online wallet through one of the many websites that host them, such as Coindesk. When you open your wallet, you’ll be given two addresses that you’ll be able to use: one, a public address, is meant to be given out so that people can send you money, while the other, a private address, should be kept secure, as that is the one you will use to spend BTC from your wallet.
Now that you have a wallet, you’ll need to get some Bitcoin; the easiest way to do this is by purchasing them from an Internet exchange, where you can spend dollars, euros, pounds, or whatever currency you like. Now, you’ll have coins in your wallet that you can spend anywhere the cryptocurrency is accepted, including the rooms we’ve talked about on this page.
The final step is picking a site and registering an account. Once you’ve completed the quick and easy registration process, you’ll be able to visit the cashier and make your deposit. The site will provide you with a wallet address where you can send your deposit. These transactions are typically instantaneous, and once your deposit hits your account, you’ll be ready to join the tables and start playing poker!
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin is a digital currency/payment system that was first released to the public in 2009. The currency is created through the process of “mining,” a term used for the effort users put in to process the transactions made by other users. There is no central authority or issuing bank for the currency, and its use is virtually anonymous, which has made it popular in many grey areas of the economy – though it has also picked up plenty of mainstream usage as well.
Are These Sites Available in the United States?
The great divide in the online poker community is a split between sites that have decided to service the United States market, and those that concentrate their efforts in other parts of the world. The US government has taken some steps to discourage operators from accepting Americans; the most infamous of these was the issuing of indictments against several large sites and payment processors in 2011 in an incident known as “Black Friday.” While the USA is widely considered a grey market, most publically-owned firms stay out of the market in order to keep their regulatory profile as clean as possible.
However, that’s hardly a problem for Bitcoin sites, as the currency can be exchanged without the approval of regulators or the help of any intermediaries. This means that most BTC poker sites (including the ones we mentioned above) are friendly to the US market.
How Do I Know These Games Are Fair?
All reputable online gambling sites – including those that we recommend to our readers – take steps to prove that they offer truly random and fair gaming to their players. In addition, these sites have policies that do not allow the use of bots, which helps to ensure that you’ll be playing against other humans at the tables.
Exactly how the fairness of a site is guaranteed varies. Most operators are regularly audited by independent labs, but some of the Bitcoin poker rooms take things a step further by offering “provably fair” games. In these cases, you’ll be able to get a hashed version of the seed used to shuffle the deck in each game, which you can use after the hand ends to verify how the deck was shuffled and that the cards were dealt as determined by a combination of the random number generator and other inputs.
Are There Any Banking Fees?
Bitcoin does not require any fees for transactions, and most sites will not charge you anything when you process either a deposit or a withdrawal. However, it is possible for those sending payments to offer an additional fee (a sort of tip) to “miners” in order to speed up the verification time for that transaction. There are no guarantees that this will make their transaction a priority, but in general, offering a tip does tend to lower the processing time.
Is Online Poker Legal?
The exact legal status of online gambling varies between jurisdictions. In some locations, regulatory frameworks exist in which sites can be granted licenses and be explicitly approved in those countries or states; in other areas, there are complete and total bans on the game. Still others – so called “grey markets” – sit between these two extremes, with no clear laws on the books regarding Internet gambling.
Regardless of the exact regulatory situation in your region, however, it is unlikely that there are any laws that make it illegal for individuals to access or play on poker sites. Most laws – such as those in place for most of the United States – are targeted at operators and financial institutions rather than players, who are rarely criminalized just for playing the game. However, there are exceptions to this rule; it is worthwhile to check on your local laws to ensure that the games you play are legal in your jurisdiction.