Online poker, legality, and Bitcoin: Jesse walks you through the (very) basics and gets you ready to #ShuffleUpAndDeal
If you’re reading this, you’ve heard that word said by some young assholes at your office, some young assholes at a bar, or some young assholes on Twitter; you have no idea what they’re talking about and, frankly, you don’t really care, because they don’t know anything: They’re young. And they’re assholes.
However, the United States has gone absolutely bananas over the last two weeks, every major sporting league has postponed their season indefinitely, and now you’re stuck – likely at home — without anything to watch or bet on. You thought you’d be fine — you still had bourbon, after all — but now your significant other won’t let you drink anymore because you’re “scaring” him or her. You need something else.
You need online poker.
Unfortunately, the US Department of Justice made online poker a tough thing for Americans to access when they shut down the three largest US-available sites in April of 2011, citing violations of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and charging a handful of the sites’ founders with things like money laundering and wire fraud (just Google “poker Black Friday”, “UIGEA”, or “US v Scheinberg” if you want more details).
It is important to understand, however, that nothing in the United States Code makes it illegal for a US citizen to play poker, online, for real money. The legal basis for the Black Friday shutdown was that the founders & executives of the major sites had violated the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (which made it illegal to accept payments in connection with any sort of online gambling). This is an extreme simplification, of course, but what it means is that the poker sites are the ones breaking the law, and they’re doing so when they accept a payment from a US bank or other financial institution.
I’m not going to bore you with crap about cryptocurrency, how it works, why you keep hearing about it, whether you should be buying it, what the blockchain is, etc.: If you were interested in all of that, you’d probably already know about it and wouldn’t be reading this article. What I’m going to do is tell you exactly what you need to know in order to get back to playing poker online, for real money, with effectively zero risk to your assets or your good legal standing in the US (assuming that’s something you currently have).
Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and Nevada
If you live in one of these four states, fuck you. Playing online poker is explicitly legal in your state, and you don’t have to worry about any of this information unless you want to learn to deposit or withdraw using Bitcoin. You can visit WSOP, 888, PartyPoker, or Pokerstars (depending on in which of the states you live) and use your Visa, Discover, Amex, PayPal, or whatever the hell else you want to load up your account and play. Screw you.
The Rest of Us
Any in-depth discussion of Bitcoin can easily devolve into a pedantic, disorienting jumble of words that will get you no closer to depositing money and playing online poker. With that in mind, I am going to present this tutorial in two sections: The first section (“Bitcoin Basics”) will provide a little bit of detail about Bitcoin, how it works, and why it’s the perfect way for us to get back to playing online poker. The second section (“Step By Step”) will ignore all of that and just hand you the step-by-step instructions you need to load your account from the USA.
If you’re still a little wary of using Bitcoin for financial or privacy reasons, I recommend reading the “Bitcoin Basics” section, as it will hopefully alleviate your worries enough to give it a shot. If you’re already on board with Bitcoin and just want to get your poker account(s) loaded, skip to “Step By Step” and I’ll see you on the tables!
Bitcoin gives you a way to send/receive money to/from anywhere in the world without the money ever interacting with a bank, government, or other regulatory entity. Send it, receive it, hold it, buy it, sell it: “Big Brother” doesn’t get to know.
You purchase Bitcoins from websites known as “exchanges”. There are tons of exchanges out there, but for this tutorial we’re going to use Coinbase. Coinbase allows us to open an account (free) and buy some Bitcoin (using a bank account or debit card), which it will then store in our account for however long we want.
If we want to use some, or all, of that Bitcoin (for example, to send it to an online poker site), that poker site will give us an “address” where they’d like us to send it (the “address” will be a long-ass string of random letters and numbers). We’ll tell Coinbase that address, and the amount of Bitcoin we want sent, and Coinbase will do exactly that.
The beautiful part is that Coinbase won’t send the Bitcoin to the poker site directly from our account (with our name, address, bank account info, etc.), it will create its own random “address” and send the Bitcoin from there: Removing any link between our account and the transaction, effectively anonymizing it.
This system works both ways, so, in the future, if someone wants to send us some Bitcoin (for example, an online poker site from whom we’ve requested a withdrawal), Coinbase will issue us a random “address”, we’ll give that address to the poker site, and they’ll immediately transfer the Bitcoin to that address. When that address receives it, Coinbase will put it into our account. We can then sell that Bitcoin back to Coinbase for US dollars, and have those dollars deposited into our bank account. All our bank – and therefore, Big Brother – knows is that we sent some dollars to Coinbase and then we later received some dollars from Coinbase. Anything that happened in between is nearly impossible to trace.
Step By Step
- Go to Coinbase and create an account.
- You’ll receive an e-mail asking you to verify your e-mail address. Do it.
- It will want your cell phone number so it can set up 2-step verification. It will then text you a verification code that you’ll enter on the next screen.
- You’ll need to verify your identity. I hate the questions on the right, but as far as I know you can answer them in any way you want; none will disqualify you from using the account.
- You’ll now likely get a page with 3-4 questions and you’ll only have about 4 minutes to answer them. They should be very simple and will have to do with your identity. Coinbase just wants to make sure you are who you claim to be. Submit those and you’ll be verified!
- You’ll now be walked through adding a bank account or debit card so you can make purchases on Coinbase. Follow the steps and get your account(s) linked.
- Once your bank account and/or debit card is set up, you’ll need to buy some Bitcoin. Click “Trade” toward the top right of the screen.
- In the popup, select “Buy” at the top, enter the dollar amount you want to purchase, and make sure it says you’re buying “Bitcoin” and paying with whichever method you prefer (I’m using a PNC Bank checking account). Click “Preview Buy”.
- Double check that the info in the “Order Preview” box is correct. Click “Buy Now”.
- You’ll get this screen, and a confirmation e-mail will probably be sent immediately.
- Now it’s time to send our Bitcoin to the site of our choosing. Visit or open the poker client of the site to whom you’d like to deposit, and navigate to the cashier. Every site will manage their deposits differently, but the following steps should give you an idea of what you’ll need to do.
- Select “Deposit”, and choose “Bitcoin” (or “BTC”) for the deposit method.
- A screen looking something like this will come up, and somewhere on it the site will give you a long string of letters and numbers and say “Send your Bitcoin to this address”. Highlight and copy that string, then jump back to your Coinbase account in a different browser tab.
- Click “Portfolio” at the top, and then select Bitcoin under “Your Assets”. The screen will look something like this:
- Click “Send”, and you’ll get a popup like this. Paste the address you got from the poker site into the “Recipient” box, and enter the dollar amount you’re sending into the “Amount” box. Click “Continue”.
- This will be the next screen. Verify that everything looks right, and enter the 2-step verification code that was just texted to you. Click “Confirm”.
Boom, your Bitcoin is on its way! You may need to go back to the poker site’s tab and click “Done”, or tell them how much you’re depositing, or something similar, depending on which site it is. Do those things, if applicable.
Finished! You’ve now purchased Bitcoin and sent it to an online poker site, and you’re ready to play poker, online, for real money, from the USA!
Note: Coinbase has recently decided to be kind of a pain in the ass when it comes to sending BTC, insisting on “verifying your account” every single time you do it. You may be asked to submit a picture of your ID, along with a selfie, in order to get them to process a send in <72 hours.
If this happens to you, I’ve found the fastest way to resolve it is to open the e-mail they send you on your phone (the subject will be “[NOTICE] A recent withdrawal has been delayed”), click where it says “view the affected withdrawal here”, then tell them you’ll verify your identity using your webcam. You’ll then use your phone camera to snap pictures of the front and back of your ID, and to take a selfie, at which point they’ll verify you and the BTC send will go through immediately.