You know, I’m sick of following my dreams, man. I’m just going to ask where they’re going and hook up with ’em later.Mitch Hedberg, Mitch all Together Complete
Work began on Kickasspoker.com in October of 2003. My business partner and I wanted to be the place to keep up with the latest in the booming world of online poker and had settled on this domain to launch our first ever website.
A few months earlier, after seeing a rather hilarious Party Poker commercial on TV, I joined the time worlds largest online poker site PartyPoker.
I started what little did I know to be a life changing adventure that I’m still on today. By the beginning of 2004 we had launched this website and had another one in the works.
By mid 2004 we started a live poker league, created a digital poker dealing course and began work on a poker league points manager. I had aspirations to quit my real job and work in the poker industry full time.
By the end of that year I had given my job notice I was leaving in January. I made the leap and focused on building our brand and network.
I was invited to attend and promote a WPT Boot Camp, where I was playing poker with Mike Sexton and a number of other well known poker pro’s at the time.
That’s me there on the right next to Mike Sexton wearing our first logo for Kickasspoker.com that we had made t-shirts with.
Everything was moving so fast that we could hardly keep up. It was an awesome time. It was the very beginning of the golden age of online poker.
The Early Days of Online Poker
From the early days of 2004 through the end of the decade we saw a huge increase of poker players.
There were Party Poker commercials on TV and the World Series of Poker was sponsored by online poker sites like PokerStars, PartyPoker and Full Tilt Poker.
The world of poker was just starting to boom!
Players were flocking in to try their luck at being the next Chris Moneymaker.
Online poker sites were starting up to catch this wave.
It was at that same time we were unsuccessfully trying to build Kick Ass Poker as a ‘poker news, views and reviews’ website.
As luck would have it, one of our early affiliate managers (thanks Lanie!) visited our live poker league and after getting to know us better gave us some tips that we followed to finally start really making headway building our traffic.
We studied and implemented the advice and traffic to the website started to grow. We built huge reviews of all the poker sites that were battling out for marketshare. We tried our best to guide players to the legit online poker rooms and avoid scams from the beginning.
Traffic to our site started to grow and we were on the right track.
Until we got caught up in the biggest of scam of scams…
The big daddy of ponsi schemes that taught us many life lessons… I’ll get to who it was and what exactly happened below.
The Scams, Scandals and Skins
From 2004 through the next seven years online poker was hugely popular. New players were flocking to the internet to play poker and there was a ton of money flying around. When there is that much money at stake, scammers and con-artists are sure to be around. And they were.
Scams ranged from the crude and simple to the complex and elaborate.
Anyone who was around the early days of poker knows players who’ve played online with their friends at the same table and have used skype or a simple phone call to share hole cards and soft play one another. Simple scams like this were common as well as having much more of the table covered with players working as a team.
Then there were much more complex scams. Some even involving the poker sites themselves cheating by having “super-user” accounts that could see everyone’s hole cards face up while playing against them. The most famous of these being the AbsolutePoker super user scandal with POTRIPPER being the most infamous.
We hired a poker investigative journalist back in the day named Haley who wrote news and opinion in the Kickass Poker blog. She is a no-holds barred investigative journalist and you can find her on twitter or just go to our home page and scroll down to see what she’s up to today. Haley is back covering the underbelly of the online gambling world for Kickass Poker with our re-launch! Haley is awesome and was a great source of our early links and original content. At the time of this publication, she is still grinding away fighting the good fight for poker journalism. Haley is actually back writing a couple deep dive pieces per month for the Kickass Poker blog and we are excited to have her back!
There were scams with “fly-by-night” poker sites coming online, offering stupid deposit bonuses and when deposits were big enough they would just close up shop and disappear with the money. (These scams today still happen in the world of online casinos, not so much in the poker space anymore).
There were sophisticated hacking scams, where hackers would infect unsuspecting players personal computers and get access to their login and passwords.
There were fake websites set up just to take deposits for a few months and disappear with player money. And there were more than I can count underfunded and unqualified poker skins coming online.
The online poker networks thought they could (and they probably did) make money by selling ‘skins’ of their poker software to companies ill-prepared to operate an actual online poker room.
A skin is essentially just a new color combination and a logo slapped up on the table and ta-da, you’ve got your own ready built “White Label” poker site. You share the player traffic with all of the other ‘skins’ on the network.
One of our early business associates launched a competing live poker league to ours and decided to add on his own poker skin. I believe he invested somewhere in the lowish five figure range for a skin for his own poker site one one of the more popular poker networks.
And while his online poker site wasn’t an extreme outright scam… it was not a long term successful venture. My thoughts were that it was woefully underfunded and managed by people who knew nothing of running an online poker room other than it looked like a cash cow. To say the least, over the course of less than a year the online poker room crashed and burned, losing any investor money and putting our former business associate out of the poker game for good.
New skins like our old business associates came online with little regard or insight into running an online poker room.
Virtually all of them folded or scammed their way out of business.
We avoided advertising these skins and dozens of other less than reputable appearing poker rooms. Even though they offered lot’s of money to do so.
Our goal from the beginning was to recommend and work with poker sites that we would feel comfortable recommending to our friends and family if they want to play poker online.
I wouldn’t play at most of these skins so we never worked with them.
However, I loved Full Tilt Poker… It was my favorite online poker site to play at and to refer friends to.
Full Tilt’s Ponsi Scheme Crumbles
Like I mentioned earlier, we got caught up in the biggest money scam in the online poker world at the time.
We worked closely with Full Tilt Poker.
You know the team… Chris Ferguson, Howard Lederer, Phil Ivey along with over a dozen more.
We had to be one of their very first affiliates. We reached out to them to join their marketing team before they even had an affiliate program listed on their website.
They had linked to us from their websites list of recommended poker sites, along with other great sites like PokerStrategy.com and 2+2.
It was a pretty cool time for us here at Kickass Poker. Before it all went south, hard.
We had tens of thousands of poker players tracked to us at FTP, with a lot of rake and a lot of poker play. This went on every month like clockwork.
We trusted Full Tilt. They were owned and represented by poker players like Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, Phil Ivey and eventually dozens of additional pro’s.
These people were regarded as professionals, trustworthy and reputable.
We were naive.
Warning Signs Something Was Up – Searches for “Full Tilt Corporate” Heat Up
Sometime in March of 2011 one of my side project websites started getting a huge influx of traffic. It was a little site I had purchased that was focused specifically on Full Tilt Poker itself. That was not anything special in and of itself, but what it did have was a fairly comprehensive section focused on the corporate and business side of the Full Tilt Poker company.
Those pages ranked well in google for phrases like “full tilt poker company” Full tilt’s corporate office” “who owns full tilt poker” and ton’s of related phrases.
Traffic to this site started booming virtually overnight. People were searching for the company side of Full Tilt. Altho my spidey senses were tingling, my focus was way elsewhere (my wife was still in the hospital going on 6 months).
I knew something was up, but I had no idea what was about to happen.
The traffic boom to our little mini-site was my early warning signal for what was to come on April 15th, less than a month away.
Warning Signs Missed – But It Was Too Late Anyway – Black Friday Was Looming
My personal life, at that time was in such a state that my focus was 100% not on my business, at all to be honest. My wife had been extremely ill in the hospital and still in a tricky stage of recovery.
While I saw the spike in traffic I didn’t take the time to think through what was going on… not that it really would have mattered by this point other than to warn people to try and withdraw their funds now if possible just to be safe.
A couple of weeks later on April 15th, 2011 we had the now infamous “Black Friday” of online poker.
Full Tilt and two other major online poker sites, PokerStars and Absolute Poker were issued an indictment by the U.S. Dept of Justice, had their domain names seized and looked to prosecute the owners and executives of these businesses.
The Phone Call that Changed It All
My wife and I were leaving the hospital heading home and stopping by the grocery store. When I got one of the few phone calls I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
I remember being in the produce section of the Publix picking out apples when my phone rang from a poker playing friend of mine, Barry.
I answer the phone because Barry doesn’t call me just out of the blue usually.
“Hey what’s up man?” I ask my friend.
He gives me the news and the severity of the situation starts to sink in. It’s real, it’s over and the golden age of online poker has officially ended.
All the money, work and time we’ve spent building a player base at the largest and most respected poker sites is gone in the blink of an eye.
And I’ll be honest right here in this moment of time… even though I knew I just lost a ton of money.
And I knew that my situation went from being on top of the affiliate industry to crumbling down to the bottom…. at that moment, I didn’t care.
I truly did not give a shit.
My wife and I were coming home from the hospital. She survived an illness she was not expected to survive. I told her her she caught a one outer on the river. (She is healthy now thank you!). We were going home to our three kids, our youngest being nine months old at the time and she had been in the hospital since he was three months old.
I did not care about what just happened to my professional life at that point in time. I did not care that my hard work over the past eight years were wiped away in the blink of an eye.
We had been in the hospital for the past six months, but we were going home. We weren’t “out of the woods” but hey we were going home for good that day.
We were healthy and if we had to start over, so be it.
I did not even tell my wife (until many years later) the severity of the situation back then, and how much of a hit our business suffered.
It did not matter. Without health who gives a shit.
While the news that all of our hard work from the past eight years just went up in flames, I didn’t let it bother me. We got back to work.
Rebuilding from the Ashes
Over the weeks and months that followed, the world of online poker was in chaos.
I did care about all the players, friends and family I had recommended Full Tilt and PokerStars to over the years. What about these guys? I hoped they had not gotten burned too bad.
I wanted everyone to be made whole and not have their money lost. I wanted my money too. We were at the mercy of the U.S. Department of Justice and the team they put together to refund the players.
And for us here at Kickass Poker the golden age had clearly ended.
The Golden Age of Poker Ends
By late 2011 it turned out that Full Tilt was more or less a giant ponzi scheme.
They had ran into difficulties accepting deposits from USA players because of their credit card processing and banking.
They could not actually get the money that players were depositing. But that didn’t stop them from crediting player accounts with real money and letting them play real money poker with it.
That’s right…. Full Tilt kept taking “phantom deposits” and giving players real money balances even though the deposits never actually hit Full Tilt’s bank accounts. Fuckin idiots.
Players had all this money in their accounts but it wasn’t real money. They played poker and won, lost and paid rake with this fake money. How the hell does this work? It’s like fractional reserve banking on the FTP poker site.
If players tried to withdraw it at once FTP was totally screwed. It was an absolute clusterfuck to put it bluntly.
To top it off, according to industry insider Steve Badger, the FTP owners took dividends out every single month, even with their phantom deposits being used to pay rake from the phantom deposits. Cluster f-u-c-k.
When the US DOJ indictment against Fulltilt took effect, we eventually learned the truth about the finances and that the money was virtually all gone.
Their main rival at the time, PokerStars ended up buying Full Tilt, paying the players back, paying a huge fine to the DOJ. They actually kept players funds in separate accounts and chose to not accept ‘phanton deposits’ from anyone.
Unfortunately in 2014 PokerStars sold out to Amaya Gaming and are no longer the quality poker site they once were.
From 2012 until today the offshore poker sites evolved, the quality companies rose to the top and the overall number of poker sites has shrunk down to a very small handful of quality choices for US players.
To say the least, things are way different now in the world of online poker.
Online Poker Today – The Rise of Bitcoin
While the juicy-ness of the games of online poker are a thing of the past, the trade off is that the wild west days of online poker are for the most part over.
Scams still exist and players need to excersize caution when playing poker online.
But the good news is that here are well established legit poker sites you can play real money poker right now in 2020. Even in the USA, the land of the free.
There are two major poker networks / companies that I can honestly recommend to my friends and family. These two networks have a total of four poker sites to play on.
That’s really it that I’m comfortable recommending.
There is one other poker network, the Winning Poker network with sites like Americas Cardroom on it that we also think are legit, but the software itself is in horrible shape and they were infested with poker bots.
Banking Challenges – Show Me The Money
The challenge that these US friendly poker sites face today is that of money processing. Moving money from your wallet to their banks and moving money from their banks to your wallet when you cash out.
The US Government has made it difficult for credit card companies to process deposits at online casinos. The casinos have fought back by using processing companies that, for a fee, mix in the deposits into their normal businesses.
Withdrawals can be even more costly for the casino. Usually they will have to cut you a check that involves using a check processing company, an out of country bank, an overnight delivery charge from FedEx or someone and then the fee for when you cash the check. Plus the risk of funds being seized by governments make this money movement a challenge.
And unless you are in a regulated state, making deposits and withdrawals is not as easy as using a credit card or paypal.
And to be honest it looks like the regulated states online poker is a pretty weak offering with not great games and less than stellar choices.
While the occasional credit card will work for deposits (somewhere around 60% successful at the time I published this in late 2019), the online gambling sites are embracing crypto.
Bitcoin is bridging the gap for today’s online poker players.
Crypto, Bitcoin, Future of Online Gambling
Thanks to governments around the globe, adults doing what they want with their own money (gambling online) is not allowed. But they dis-allow it by making the banks and credit card companies not work with these companies.
It’s not illegal for most Americans to gamble online. It’s illegal for the banks to transact with the online casinos.
Buying, using and owning crypto is confusing, intimidating and for most people seems overwhelming.
It seems like something the computer guru’s and techies are doing but for someone who just wants to put a few bucks in a sit-n-go to have something to do this evening it is a bit daunting.
We here at Kickass Poker have been following bitcoin and crypto since 2012. We want to help bridge the gap for new users of bitcoin to get started safely following best practices.
Our content is designed to show you how to do things related to crypto and gambling. With how-to guides, explainer style videos, informational and education articles and links to best practices and the occasional top list of choices for you to look over.
While we won’t be posting daily content, news or views anymore, you can find evergreen style how-to guides focused on bitcoin and online gambling.
The best way to reach us is by entering a support ticket. If you are another webmaster looking to exchange links or buy a link then please do not bother. If I find your content on my own and think it is link worthy I’ll be glad to link to it without prompting. I almost assuredly will not link to you if you ask me to so please understand if we do not respond. The spammers are relentless.
If you are a poker site and want to be listed here then understand that if I want to work with you, I’ll reach out to you. Thanks for understanding if a message is not replied to. For everyone else, please feel free to drop us a line and we will get back to you as soon as possible!