Imagine you’re a customer at one of the largest poker sites online…
You log into your account to check your balance.
You see that you have $2,576. You smile, because you remember that $1,500 of that came from a nice score in the Double Deuce you played last Sunday.
You figure you’re running good. You’re playing good. So, why not try to score again the following Sunday? Your poker room always runs a heavy tournament schedule then. But, you don’t want to put up all the cash. Some of these tournaments are expensive.
So, you make the decision then – on Thursday, April 14th, 2011 – to play some satellites the next day (and Saturday, if needed) to see if you can win your way into the more expensive tourneys.
You go to bed early. You want to be fresh for the next day.
You wake up that Friday morning. You press the power button on your laptop. While your PC is booting up you grab a cup of coffee.
Then you click-click on the poker room’s shortcut on your desktop …and what you see next sends shivers up your spine.
You open the 2+2 and PartTimePoker forums, frantic to find out what the heck is going on.
Because you just came to find out that the US government – specifically, the Department of Justice – indicted the largest poker sites on the planet of multiple felony charges.
The bad news is you can’t play online poker. And you have no idea when or if that will change.
But, the good news is you were playing at one of the largest poker sites online. And their biggest competitor is shipping out bankrolls to all their American customers as fast as the requests are coming in.
You breathe a sigh of relief. You put your request in and expect to see it processed and shipped out quickly.
But …payments are taking a while.
No worries, you tell yourself. They have lots of cash out requests to deal with. Yours will come soon. And representatives are reassuring players on 2+2 and PTP that their payments will be shipped out ASAP.
This goes on for a couple months. You’re getting more worried by the day.
Then another bombshell drops.
On June 29th, 2011, the Alderney Gambling Control Commission suspended Full Tilt Poker’s license. Full Tilt is accused of running a pyramid scheme …and for not having the money to pay players back.
Your $2,576 balance – your entire poker bankroll – is sitting in your Full Tilt Poker account.
An Extreme Example to Prove the Importance of Online Gambling Safety
What happened on April 15th, 2011 – the day the poker community calls ‘Black Friday’ – is an extreme example of why online gambling safety is important.
- Why you need to research and join only the best sites.
- Why you need to know the shenanigans rogue operators pull so that you can spot them in advance …before they steal from you.
- Why you need to practice common sense and basic internet safety.
- Why it’s important to play at licensed and regulated sites over offshore sites if/when possible. And when it’s not, why it’s important to diversify your bankroll.
In short – it’s important to educate yourself.
Honestly, Full Tilt Poker is an extreme example. An exception to the rule, really. It wasn’t player’s fault – not entirely.
Players were blindsided by their own kind. By other poker players pretending to be businessmen.
And instead of being bitter, we need to focus on getting better. Getting better at spotting rogue gambling operators before they take our money.
The question is – how do we do that?
An Hour of Research Goes a Long Ways
Much of your safety – or lack thereof – comes down to the work you put in before you join an online gambling site.
We recommend you commit to doing an hour or two of research when coming up with your shortlist of online gambling sites you think you want to join.
Most casinos, poker sites, etc. have similar games, bonuses and banking options. Some are bigger or better than others, sure, but not so much that that’s where your focus should be. Not in the beginning.
Besides, scam sites render these things pointless. If they rip you off, what good did that fancy deposit bonus do you? Or that banking option with cheaper fees?
No, you should always focus on safety first.
But what do you research? What should you look for?
This is what we recommend looking for:
- Age – How long have they been in business? Older sites aren’t trustworthy because of their age alone. It’s also that there’s more history, more information – good or bad – available.
- Reputation – How do other players feel about them? Do they like them? Do they feel like the site has their best interest in mind?
- Banking – Are they paying players? How fast? Have they missed payments? Are checks bouncing?
- Games – Have their games been tested for fairness?
- Promotions – Are they offering fair bonuses …and only to people who want them? Are their rollover requirements reasonable?
- Privacy – Do they say how they’re going to use your information? Are they the only ones who’re going to use it, or will they sell it so others can market – aka harass – you?
- Licensing – Do they have a license? Who gave it to them? Can you trust them?
- Jurisdiction – Who is overseeing this gambling operator? What commission? And do they take their job seriously? Some do and some don’t. Read our page on gambling jurisdictions to learn more.
A good way to think of this is as if you’re interviewing someone for a job – or better yet – someone to watch over your kids. What would you look for? Who would you trust?
It’s okay to be skeptical during the research process. You should be. This isn’t a time to look for the good stuff. This is the time to find every little bad thing you can.
Where to Find This Information
You know what to look for, but where the heck do you go to find it? Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Reviews – Read site reviews (like the ones we have on our site). They cover all the information you’re looking for on the site’s history, games, reputation, support, and so on. But because review sites are biased (they get paid to refer new customers), you might need to do some additional digging to uncover details about a site’s past, licensing, scams, complaints, etc.
Forums – This is a great way to find out what’s going on because it removes most of the bias you’d otherwise get from website owners. Most of the people posting in forums have no skin in the game – they’re not influenced by money or any other incentive. Their opinions are honest – though you may want to ignore the random ‘this casino is rigged’ posts.
Two forums you can start with include Casino Meister and Latest Casino Bonuses. You can also Google whatever it is you’re looking for – casino, sports, poker, bingo, etc. – plus forum and you’ll get plenty of results.
For example, casino forum, sports betting forum, poker forum, etc.
Terms/Conditions – Read the casino’s terms and conditions. You might need to read a few to get an idea of what’s normal, what’s not and what’s highway robbery. You can also get an idea from reading site reviews.
What you want to look for are how bonuses are handled; when they process payments; what might stop you from getting your payment; how they handle problems – and so on.
We also recommend getting a screen shot of the terms and conditions of whatever casino you ultimately decide to join in case they try to screw you over later. More on this in a minute.
Blacklists – Another way to stay safe gambling online is to first check casino blacklists. These are lists of casinos the website owner has determined to be shady. They might have screwed players over by changing their terms, theft, focusing bonuses on them, etc.
This is the easiest step you can take. In fact, it should be your first step in your research phase as a listing (from a legit blacklist) should automatically eliminate any candidate on your list.
Jurisdiction / Licenses / Software Testing – Read our jurisdiction pages to learn more about the area the operator’s doing business in, and the gambling commission who oversees them. The more relaxed they are – the less rules, structure, consequences, etc. – the less protection you’ll have if/when something goes wrong.
Does a Pro or Celebrity Endorse the Site? This can be helpful in avoiding the absolute worst sites because most pros or celebrities care about their name. They wouldn’t want to stick it on anything (too) shady. But that’s not always the case AND the pro/celebrity isn’t always aware when something is wrong. We saw many examples of this on Black Friday.
Those are the best places to research online gambling sites.
But one challenge you’ll have when using these resources is knowing who to trust. You have to ask yourself – how much do you know about each site, forum or pro? How do you know you can trust their recommendations?
The truth is, most people are biased. Their recommendations are (often) financially driven or influenced. So, it can be hard to know just how good their top sites or worst offenders are.
The solution is to check multiple sources. Do multiple sites or forums say the same thing? Do multiple pros or celebrities say the same thing? A good phrase here is, when there’s smoke, there’s fire. If multiple people say something, you can (probably) assume there’s some truth to it.
How to Spot Scam Artists a Mile Away
Another challenge you face is that you can have the absolute best online casino or poker site in the world – everyone recommends it; your peers, friends, spouse, mom, dog, etc.
They have the best games. The best reputation. The best everything.
Then they screw their customers over. And everyone feels blindsided by it.
Sort of like the situation with Full Tilt.
Honestly, these types of situations are nearly impossible to avoid. I mean, there’s only so much you can do or see.
The biggest difference between Full Tilt and a true scam site is – and you might not agree with this – but some of the leaders of Full Tilt simply stopped paying attention. Then mistakes were made.
But a scam site? They don’t operate for years only to suddenly rip you off. They usually show their cards much, MUCH sooner.
There are things rogue operators do which can serve as a warning bell to you. When you spot or hear about one of the following issues, get the heck out of their ASAP. Cash out immediately …if you still can.
Slow Pays – Are players complaining about how long it’s taking to get paid (especially when it didn’t used to be a problem)?
No Pays – Have casinos stopped paying players?
Changing Terms – This is outright rogue behavior. Some casinos will change their terms on the fly to support whatever dispute they may be involved in with a customer. They do this to support their site or to justify a decision they made.
Forced Bonuses – Casinos don’t like it when people cash out. How else will they make money if players aren’t spending money on their site? But scam casinos HATE and FEAR IT. For one thing, they might not have the money to pay them. So, what they do is try to get the player hooked on another bonus because then the player won’t be able to cash out until they fulfill the bonus terms. But sometimes the casino forces the bonus on the player (without them asking) to get them locked in.
Locking Accounts – If you or someone else gets into an argument with the casino and they lock your account, you know something is up.
Those are a few things to look or listen for. And if you ever get the runaround, feel as if the casino is trying to avoid you or is flat-out trying to scam you, it’s best to err on the side of caution and cash out as soon as you can.
Note: We’ve written more about gambling safety and spotting rogue casinos here.
How to Spot Cheaters
It’s not just bad operators you need to be on the lookout for. If you’re a poker player you also need to be on the lookout for cheaters.
Some things you need to lookout for include:
- Collusion – When two or more players scheme against you. They’ll play soft against each other, but hard against you – and then split the profits.
- Chip Dumping – One player gives or ‘dumps’ his chips to another player to give that player an edge, or to keep him alive longer in a tournament.
- Bots – Players using bots to play you, either for efficiency (automation) or to cheat.
- Multi-Accounting – A single player with multiple accounts. They do this so they can have multiple seats in a cash game or tournament.
If you’re suspicious about a game or player, you should report it to the poker site. They’ll investigate the game and take any necessary action.
And if they don’t? Or, if they try to sweep the problem under the rug?
Then there’s another tell they can’t be trusted …and that it’s time for you to request a cash out ASAP.
Because this behavior wouldn’t fly in a live poker room. So, don’t let it fly online.
Common Sense: Your Last (First?) Line of Defense
Okay, so we talked about how to spot shady gambling sites before you sign up, as well as how to spot them in case they don’t show their true colors until after you’ve joined.
Next up – let’s talk about common sense.
Honestly, I’m not sure if this should be your last line of defense or your first line of defense. Maybe a better idea is to have your common sense running in the background at all times.
But, what do I know? And maybe that’s asking too much of some of our readers. In which case there’s nothing I’ve written here that can help them anyways.
The point is that common sense is a must if you want to gamble safely online. More specifically, you should practice common sense when it comes to:
Using public computers. I’d avoid this altogether. But if you don’t have any other option, then you must make sure no one can or will see any sensitive information. Like credit card numbers, social security numbers, login details, etc. Another suggestion is to do all your private stuff at home. Just use public computers for playing.
Your passwords. It’s a good idea to change your login information every few months. Make it complex, too. The longer, the better, and be sure to use numbers and symbols. And be smart – don’t save your login information to your browser or computer and ESPECIALLY not to a public computer.
Diversifying bankrolls. If you play at an offshore site, you should diversify your bankroll. Because you never know when something bad will happen, whether it’s the site’s fault or the government’s. If you don’t want to diversify your bankroll, then I recommend keeping less of your gambling funds online. That way, if something does happen, you minimize how much you lose.
Offshore sites. There is a risk to playing at ANY offshore poker site, casino or sportsbook. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Some are more trustworthy than others, but at the end of the day, you have little protection if they decide to just take your money and run. Your best bet is to play at 100% legal, authorized and regulated gambling sites, if possible.
Simple stuff. But common sense usually is.
(Unfortunately, not everyone has some.)
But just by using your common sense – even if you do nothing else – you’ll be far safer than most when you gamble online.
Conclusion: You’re Only as Safe as You Want to Be
Seriously. Especially after reading this page.
To summarize, we showed you how to:
- Research gambling sites using reviews, forums and blacklists.
- Spot rogue operators and cheaters before they rip you off.
- How common sense will keep you safe online.
This isn’t a 100% foolproof guide. But if you follow the advice here, we can all but guarantee you and your money will be safe when you’re gambling online.
What more can you ask for?