Real money Pai Gow poker first appeared in 1985, and it’s slowly grown in popularity ever since. While it doesn’t appear poised to enter the upper echelon of casino games anytime soon, it maintains a decent following both online and at land-based casinos.
The invention of the game is attributed to Sam Torosian, the owner of the Bell Card Club in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, both his attorney and a noted poker author told him the game couldn’t be patented, which likely cost poor Sam a fortune in licensing fees.
By the end of the 1980s, the game had spread to the Las Vegas Strip. Less than two decades later, it was firmly entrenched as a standard option in the table games section of most Internet casinos.
No matter what your level of experience, you should come away from this with a newfound appreciation for the game and a desire to do some gambling. The rules are explained, as well as other important elements such a finding a reliable casino, avoiding the wrath of the law, and making deposits without a lot of hassle.
Is Playing Real Money Pai Gow Poker Legal?
The answer to this question isn’t a simple one, as it all depends on the nation where you reside. Even then, the laws may be different in various states or territories.
For an example of how confusing the laws can be, just take a look at the United States. While there’s no federal law that actually prohibits individuals from participating in online gaming, the dreaded Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act does make it difficult to make deposits and withdrawals to offshore sites.
The state laws are even more complicated, as they range from disinterested to draconian. The state of Washington is a perfect example of the latter, as they actually hold individuals responsible for Internet gaming instead of just passing the blame to the offending website.
If you have any doubts about the legality of such an endeavor, the Internet is the best place to find your answers. A lot of countries and individual states have governmental websites set up to detail specific laws, and any reputable casino should maintain a list of banned countries on their terms and conditions page.
Just remember: ignorance of the law isn’t a valid defense. If you’re thinking about playing Pai Gow poker for real money, it’s your responsibility to make sure you’re in compliance with any federal, state, or local statutes.
How to Play Pai Gow Poker
Pai Gow poker is hardly a household name, and many online gamblers pass right by it on the way to more popular games such as blackjack or roulette. If you’re uncertain how the game works, this section should clear up any questions you might have.
After the player makes their initial wager, they’ll receive seven cards. The game is played with a 52-card deck, as well as a joker card.
The objective of the game is to create a two-card hand and a five-card hand, both of which are superior to that held by the dealer. If the player manages to accomplish this, then they receive a payout at even money (minus a 5% commission at most casinos). Winning one hand but losing the other results in a push. Losing both hands results in the player forfeiting their money for that hand.
As you can see, the basic rules of the game are pretty simple. There are, however, a few more details to keep in mind:
- Standard poker ranking rules apply, although there are a couple of exceptions. The Ace-2-3-4-5 straight is the second-highest straight in the game. A pair of aces is the best two-card hand.
- The 5-card hand must rank higher than the 2-card hand.
- A joker is only wild when it completes a flush or straight. Otherwise, it counts as an ace.
- Any tie results in a win by the dealer.
- In some online versions of the game, the player has the option of splitting the first two cards dealt into a pair of hands.
Pai Gow Poker House Edge
The house edge describes the mathematical advantage that a specific casino game holds over the player in the long run. For example, let’s say a player chooses a game with a 2% house edge. According to this number, the individual should expect to win back $98 for every $100 risked over the long term. This gives the casino a $2 advantage, which is where they make their profit. Of course, short term variation can be much different, which is why the house edge is usually calculated over thousands of hands or spins.
The overall house edge for Pai Gow poker is 1.46%. In case you’re wondering, that percentage is superior to each of the following games: single zero roulette (2.70%), Three Card Poker (3.37%), Pai Gow (1.50%), and Red Dog (2.80%).
Who Designs Pai Gow Poker?
Since the inventor of the game, Sam Torosian, famously failed to patent his creation, it’s available for any online or land-based gambling establishment to use. This has led Pai Gow poker to be included in most casino software packages, usually as a way to pad out the number of table games. Almost all of the leading designers have got in on the act, with everyone from Betsoft to Rival producing their own version of the game.
Choosing a Reliable Casino
Like any other business, some online casinos are more trustworthy than others. Since these operations are usually based in a foreign nation, customers who fall prey to shady activities are often left with no recourse. Therefore, it’s important to do some research before opening an account to ensure that your casino of choice is going to deal with you in a fair and honest manner.
There are several ways to go about conducting such research, and the following are the ones that have worked best for me:
- Read Online Reviews – Type the name of any virtual casino into a search engine, and you’re bound to get back numerous results for reviews and complaints. Some of these are more accurate than others, however, and it can sometimes be a chore trying to distinguish between the two. If you want to remove all doubt, you can seek your information directly from a casino watchdog site, as these operations specialize in offering unbiased details on hundreds of online gambling establishments.
- Is the Site Publically Traded? – Check to see if the casino is traded on one of the many stock exchanges around the globe. These sites can still receive customer complaints, but shareholders usually have little patience for any sort of behavior that’s going to cause a major scandal and drive down prices.
- Licensed Jurisdiction – Any reputable casino is going to be licensed and operated from a certain jurisdiction, and these certifications are normally displayed at the bottom of their homepage. Basically, the casino pays an annual fee to the jurisdiction for a license, and the host country verifies that all their business is conducted fairly. Some locales are more thorough than others, though, so it’s always a good idea to stay away from companies based in certain locations (such as Costa Rica, for example).
Sign-Up Bonuses Explained
Online gambling is a cutthroat business, with operations continually looking for ways to spirit away customers from the competition. Sites often live or die by the content of their homepage, and the words “sign-up bonus” should be familiar to anyone who’s ever engaged in Internet gaming.
For those who are new to the world of virtual gambling, here’s a brief description of how it usually works. A casino offers a matching sign-up bonus with a monetary cap. When the customer signs up and makes their first deposit, the casino then matches the amount of their deposit up to the amount of the cap.
Here’s an example. A casino is offering a 100% matching bonus up to $500 for new players. If the customer signs up and makes a deposit of $500, they’ll receive an additional $500 from the casino. While this sudden influx of free money sounds great, the fine print of the offer is actually loaded down with extra stipulations.
In order to keep the bonus money, the player is usually required to meet a wagering requirement within a certain period of time (usually anywhere from one to six months). This amount is a multiple of the bonus, although sometimes the bonus and initial deposit may be added together.
Let’s say, for example, that the player receives $500 in bonus money and has six months to meet a 30X wager requirement. This means a total of $15,000 must be risked before the player has an opportunity to request a withdrawal (or, in some cases, permanently keep the money in their account).
If the player fails to meet the target sum in the allotted time, they may find the entire bonus amount removed from their account. And, if the casino is especially devilish, they may also remove any winnings that have been generated with that amount. As you might expect, customers who don’t bother to read the fine print can often become enraged when such details become apparent to them.
In their terms and conditions, some sites state that bonus money is intended only for recreational players. Anyone who, in the opinion of the casino, appears to be a professional can find their bonus money revoked along with any subsequent winnings. I take a dim view of this practice, as it gives some establishments a license to screw over any player who has the gall to be too successful.
Finally, there’s the matter of some games counting less than others when it comes to fulfilling the wagering requirements. This is almost always based on the house edge, with pure games of chance counting more than those requiring a bit of strategy. Games like craps and roulette are often excluded entirely from such deals, while table games such as Pai Gow poker usually count 60%. That’s means a $300 wager only counts $180, so anyone looking to unlock a bonus is going to have a lot of work ahead of them.
Pay Attention to the Fine Print
I would hope that the previous section adequately drove this message home. However, for those who are a bit dense, allow me to say it one more time: always read the fine print. Casinos love to get technical if there’s a possibility that it’ll save them money, so make sure to know exactly what’s expected of you before putting any cash on the line.
Watch Out for Thieves
Much like the real world, the Internet has its share of thieves. These shadowy individuals love to hack accounts and steal vital information, and you don’t even have the option of catching them in the act and beating them with a baseball bat.
The top casinos have a number of security safeguards in place, but the smart customer also takes steps on their end to ensure a hassle-free experience. Passwords should always include a combination of letters and numbers, and never use the same password for multiple accounts. It’s also a good idea to alter this information from time to time, even though most view this as a major hassle. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Another key to ensuring security is to buy and maintain solid anti-virus software. Take the time to do some research on the available brands, as some of the leading names in the industry are actually pretty ineffective.
For those who share their computer with others, always make sure to log out of your casino account when you’re finished for the day. Even if you trust your friends and family implicitly, doing otherwise is just inviting potential trouble.
While there’s no sure-fire way to keep online thieves at bay (other than staying off the Internet entirely), there are a number of reasonable steps that can be taken to assist with online security. By taking your fate into your own hands, you should be able to gamble all you want without worrying too much about hackers.
Learning about Withdrawals
Before you select a new casino and start depositing money, take a few minutes and read up on how their withdrawal policies work. This information might seem useless when you’re starting out, but customers are bound to need these details eventually.
Here are the areas to pay particular attention to:
- Available Withdrawal Methods – While casinos often provide a dozen or more methods for depositing money, the withdrawal options are usually much smaller. In some cases, the customer may be required to use the same transaction method for both deposits and withdrawals, which is good to know about ahead of time.
- Fees – When you make a withdrawal, are there any associated fees? Casinos usually don’t charge one, but the company performing the transaction often does.
- Payment Time – Once you’ve requested a withdrawal, how long does it take before you receive the money? This can be a major point of contention, especially since some casinos engage in what’s become known as “slow pay.” This is the practice of drawing payments out as long as possible, usually in the hope that the player will give up and either cancel their request or gamble it away before the transaction is made.
Don’t Neglect Taxes
Unless you live in Australia or a few other select nations, you’re going to be expected to pay income tax on any casino winnings. A lot of players just ignore this stipulation, but it might come back to haunt them down the line.
If you fail to report $100 or less, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. If you win more than $1,000, though, your odds of slipping by are far less. Things might seem okay at first, but anyone who gets audited will have to account for the extra money that’s been deposited into their bank account. Failure to do so could lead to fines, garnishment of salary, and even possible jail time (in extreme cases).
In order to avoid a potential headache, just write down the date and amount won or lost after every session. At the end of the year, you’ll have a handy record that can be used when it’s time to figure up your taxes. If you fail to do so, don’t say that I didn’t warn you.
Real money Pai Gow poker may not be a household name, but it does present online gamblers with a fun alternative to more famous casino titles. The rules are some of the simplest around, and each hand is resolved in short order. As long as you’re careful about selecting a reputable casino and paying attention to Internet security, you should be able to enjoy this entertaining game without worrying about additional problems.