Last week saw the Winning Poker Network add popular crypto currency Bitcoin to its list of deposit methods available to players on its poker skins, making it the largest network of poker sites to offer Bitcoin to players at this point in time. Currently, only deposits (and no cash outs) of up to $1,000 will be accepted, although that limit is almost certain to be increased in the near future if all goes well.
The Winning Poker Network is the second-largest online poker network to cater to American players, and is known for its popular skins America’s Cardroom, Black Chip Poker and True Poker, amongst others, while Bitcoin is known for being a quick, cheap and seamless way of transferring money anonymously online. A match made in heaven? Perhaps. Certainly, it shows that the online poker industry is becoming more accepting of Bitcoin, the most well-known of the crypto currencies – also variously referred to as digital currencies, e-currencies or virtual currencies – and one which has been demanding attention over the last few months as its value has skyrocketed and analysts debate feverishly over whether or not Bitcoin and its cousins are the future of currency and exchange.
Winning Poker Network is not the first poker operator to offer Bitcoin, but the key difference in their approach to its use, as opposed to, say, use by smaller competitors Infiniti Poker or Seals With Clubs (which ONLY offers Bitcoin use, their online banner declaring “No banking. Only Bitcoin”), is that Winning Poker is offering Bitcoin as a simple way of transferring funds to Winning Poker accounts without taking on exchange risk – any Bitcoins transferred will flow through a cashier and be exchanged to USD directly and immediately, and any funds withdrawn will be in USD. This difference is a vital one, considering the current volatility of the e-currency. Winning Poker’s exchange rate is also in line with Bitcoin exchanges, and these subtle differences in how exchanges are treated are threatening the smaller sites which built their player base on speculative (and sometimes risky-to-hold) Bitcoin.
Security and volatility are also at the forefront of many players’ minds, especially considering the recent announcement by Seals With Clubs that the site had its database compromised, which required password resets.
When Infiniti Poker launched support for Bitcoin last month, joining Seals With Clubs and Satoshi Poker (both exclusively Bitcoin) as US-catering poker rooms to offer the currency, CEO Michael Hajduk called their services “the new paradigm of online gaming.” The site has since been battling traffic and payout issues related to their BTC structure.
Gaming giant Zynga is also going to be offering Bitcoin payments on a trial basis for its in-app purchases, but not for poker as of yet. Zynga does not offer real money gaming in the US, but whether it will stay that way is uncertain. The demand for Bitcoin in online poker is at least in part fueled by Black Friday – the day when the Department of Justice forced the shut down three of the largest US poker sites – as the federal government is still undecided about how it wants to treat Bitcoin, and such indecision left room for alternative payment processing to skirt regulation.
The adoption of Bitcoin by poker sites is a good thing for poker players, especially for those in the US who have a more difficult time making deposits to US facing poker rooms. Seeing popular sites add it to their list of deposit methods is even more encouraging. New poker sites that plan to leverage Bitcoin may have a harder time attracting players as more sites are now available to choose from, giving players more choices in where they can pay in Bitcoin to play at.