Online poker has had an interesting history so far. This popular pastime is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands or recreational players, many of who aren’t even sure whether they are breaking any laws or not by playing. There have been scandals at online poker rooms, banking problems, mergers and takeovers, and entire businesses created that sell external software tools to help players do better. Even with all this, the poker rooms are full of players. Poker lovers are determined to play online as long as there is some method available to them for depositing and withdrawing funds.
The future of this industry remains rather cloudy however, despite the fact that it commands a tremendous source of revenue and is popular with the public. So much depends on legal developments within the countries that contain the largest market segments. Currently there is no federal law against online gambling in the United States. However Internet gambling is expressly outlawed in 8 individual states.
More importantly, however, is the fact that there is a law banning banks in the U.S. from making transactions to and from internet gambling institutions. This law was piggybacked on to the “Safe Port Act” on the last day before the Senate broke by the number one Google result for the search term “corrupt senator.” It was later discovered that this Senator received 25% of his campaign funds from Harrah’s Entertainment, the large offline gambling company. The senator was not re-elected but the law stands.
As a result of this law there was a major reshuffling of power in the online poker industry. The largest online poker room was Party Poker but they decided to pull out of the U.S. to avoid possible legal issues. Several other popular poker rooms and networks followed in suit. The well-known poker rooms who decided to stay have taken over all that business. This put Poker Stars squarely in the number one spot. Party Poker doesn’t even make the top five any more.
A major scandal broke at Absolute Poker, one of the top poker rooms as a result of their decision to still cater to the American market. It turns out that several of the software developers had built themselves in “back doors” which allowed them to see other player’s cards. These guys fleeced other players out of millions of dollars over a two-year period before they were caught. A legitimate concern over the fairness of games at all internet poker sites naturally resulted.
Private software developers are very creative in making products which help online poker players. Most of these are analytical programs which collect data and sort it into statistics on your opponents. Some of them have amazing features and display this data right on the poker table. Many of these programs are specifically banned at some of the major poker rooms.
Then there are the poker bots. These are banned at all online poker rooms. Not because the site operators have an issue with you using a software program that pays rake automatically for 12 hours per day, but because many recreational players are paranoid of poker bots and so it’s a good public relation policy. Interestingly, only Poker Stars has actually done anything about actually preventing them from being used in their games. While most of these programs are of poor quality, a few good ones are starting to emerge. And there is a great interest in them at the retail level.
So what is the future of online poker? Hard to tell, but I will venture a guess. Most likely there will be tougher anti-online gambling laws enacted in the states at some point resulting in a further consolidation of the industry. Perhaps two or three of the largest rooms will still operate there, providing creative banking alternatives as they do now. Expect fewer poker rooms, not more. However the ones that remain will own the industry. And somebody will finally get smart and operate a poker room that encourages the use of outside software, even building your own poker bot.