US Friendly Poker Sites Are Mostly Based in the Caribbean – This Article Explains Why
Online poker has undergone a lot of changes in its short history.
The first games kicked off at the end of the 1990’s – and were quickly followed by a big boom in the first half of the 2000’s. There were two crackdowns by the government, which caused the big legitimate poker sites to leave, and a new breed of smaller sites to open up from offshore locations.
These days, there are some excellent brands and big games running online for US players from offshore locations. Below I have described the current setup, main brands, and then given an overview of the history which got us to where we are now.
Offshore Poker Sites – The Current Setup
At the moment there are tens of thousands of Americans enjoying online poker games for real money every week. There is no federal law preventing individuals from playing (see below for more detail). Financial transactions between US banks and gambling sites are covered by a law called the UIGEA (Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006). This means that gambling site operators cannot operate from the US, and is the reason why the big international brands do not allow US players.
What many sites have done is to relocate to countries where gambling is legal, set up their poker sites – and allow players from any countries they wish to join their sites.
The reason these sites are based in the Caribbean or Central America is purely for technical reasons. It makes sense to have the gaming servers as close to your players as possible, to keep the games running smoothly. Since there are many jurisdictions allowing gambling close by, it makes little sense to locate a site in Asia or Europe.
Banks have to stop any transaction they deem to be an ‘illegal’ gambling deposit from the US.
The real money poker sites operating from offshore get around this by using the international purchasing capability of your credit cards. International purchases get around the blocks by using payment processors which do not code the transaction as gambling – getting through the majority of the time. There is a constant ‘cat and mouse’ battle between payment processors and banks. The poker sites are winning the war, and are able to handle your deposits very easily these days.
There are alternatives including prepaid Visa cards (which need to be able to work internationally) and person-to-person transfers with the likes of Western Union or MoneyGram. Withdrawals are by paper check (which the banks will accept!).
Offshore Poker Sites – The Biggest and Best Brands
There are a lot of sites offshore, some are stand-alone and others pool together their players in networks to offer more games and bigger tournaments. I always recommend to HTG readers to stick with the biggest and most reputable sites. The 3 listed below have been looking after US players for a long time, and have proved they are legitimate.
#1 – Bovada.lv
Bovada is the part of the global Bodog group which offers poker games to US players. This is the single biggest site (by a long way). They are proud to offer a ‘recreational player model’, which discourages the tools used by multi-tabling online pros and anonymizes the games. Bovada have a reputation as the best site for handling payments out there, and offer a long list of player promotions too – check the latest list at www.bovada.lv
#2 – Carbon Poker
Note: Carbon have all but closed! As the biggest site on the Merge Network, Carbon has amazing software. This is the only real money software I know of which allows players to trigger cartoons and animated smileys at the tables. You’ll find a big choice of cash games and tournaments here, including the regular tournament events known as ‘COPs’. In addition the biggest welcome bonus of any mainstream site, you’ll get a free poker software tool which includes a calculator and a ‘HUD’ too. Check out www.carbonpoker.ag for more on this great offer.
Many of the bigger sportsbooks also run poker sites (and casinos) as part of their overall offering. These are often smaller scale than the poker sites mentioned above, though the games are very soft. Honorable mentions can go to Bet Online and to 5Dimes in this area.
History and Legal Background
The 2006 UIGEA legislation really spoiled the party. At that time poker was booming. For the first time it had gone mainstream, with regular people from all walks of life giving the games a try. The games were crazy, with most tables filled with first timers and novices enjoying the action.
This bill was passed by the back-door, attached to a bill which covered security at sea ports. It banned financial transactions between gambling sites and US banks. The effect was immediate, Party Poker, 888 Poker and many other reputable brands has no choice but to leave.
These sites were replaced by privately owned poker rooms, which enjoyed their own boom over the next 4 years. PokerStars was the main beneficiary of this, with Full Tilt and the now defunct Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker also attracting a lot of players.
Poker changed during this period, with more multi-tabling ‘Pro Grinders’ making a living from the games compared to the majority of amateurs which has dominated previously.
2011 – Black Friday
Enforcement of the UIGEA took a long time to be enacted. When it did finally come (in April of 2011), the effects were devastating for the incumbent poker sites. Their domains were seized and their owners indicted on serious charges like fraud and money laundering. The sites had no choice but to pull out, and 3 of them closed soon after (Full Tilt is now back, UB and Absolute Poker are not).
This crackdown allowed the smaller and more agile sites to relocate to the Caribbean (or Central America) and offer their games to the US. There are state laws which prevent some states from playing, though most people can access the games. Meanwhile, the new regulated sites in New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware have started offering games within their borders. This could be the start of a new poker boom!
Check out the awesome Bovada.lv – with more than 10 years of experience, there is no safer offshore poker site!