The SAFE Port Act of 2006 was a kneejerk reaction to the idea of foreign ownership of domestic ports. That’s boring stuff to most of us online gamblers, especially if (like me) you’re not really into global politics. Why am I even bringing this up in an article about online poker?
Go read Title VIII of the SAFE Ports Act, and you’ll find language that’s miles outside the scope of port security. Title VIII states plainly that it is unlawful for banks and financial institutions to “. . . knowingly [accept] payments in connection with the participation of another person in a bet or wager that involves the use of the Internet and that is unlawful under any federal or state law.”
Does Title VIII (called the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act) make online gambling illegal in America? No – instead, it prevents American banks from doing business with known gambling websites. It’s also why, if you are reading this from the United States, making deposits to online poker rooms is much more difficult today than it was before 2006.
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One result of the UIGEA was the loss of availability of traditional methods of payment processing for US-based customers. Visa credit card poker sites exist, and I have some decent ideas in terms of alternatives for Visa card users in America, but these options are limited compared to what was available pre-UIGEA. Let’s take a look at USA poker player’s options for making deposits to online rooms using a Visa card.
Online Poker and Visa Card Payments
So why did the rate of acceptance of Visa card payments drop off so sharply? Legitimate gaming site operators who had been doing business with American customers for years suddenly found themselves unable to do so.
The US poker market at the time was massive – remember that these were the days when poker tournaments were popping up on ESPN and the entire world seemed to be abuzz about Texas hold’em. The aftermath of the loss of US customers to sites like PartyPoker was immediate – that company’s stock took a famous nosedive the day the UIGEA was announced.
There’s another lesson to be learned here. Notice how PartyPoker pulled out of the American market even though the result was a financial disaster. PartyPoker was an above-board room, publicly traded, with stockholders and all the trappings of a legitimate business; they dumped their American customers because they had to in order to stay in business.
What does this have to do with Visa? It’s a simple analogy – Visa has to abide by the UIGEA. Even though these deposits to online sportsbooks, casinos, and poker room were no doubt good business, Visa had to follow the rules in order to stay in operation. The number of poker sites that accept this type of payment method to and from US players plundered because Visa is a trustworthy company that has to obey Title VIII of the SAFE Ports Act just like every other American financial organization.
Websites that Accept Visa
The two casinos briefly described below are good examples of the kind of online poker rooms Americans players will find that accept Visa payments. These aren’t the only such rooms, but they represent the half dozen or so other rooms that fit the bill.
Bovada accepts American customers and allows deposits and withdrawals using Visa-branded products. This is a special case, because Bovada’s sports betting, casino gambling, and poker games are available only to American and Canadian customers. Bovada charges a 4.9% fee for Visa-based deposits; I couldn’t locate the specific fee for Visa-based withdrawals.
Carbon Poker accepts bets from US poker players and allows payment processing using Visa-branded products, just like Bovada. The big difference (for the purposes of this article) is that Carbon Poker is open to customers from other parts of the world. As far as I can tell from their website’s cashier page, Carbon charges a 3% fee on both Visa-based deposits and withdrawals.
Visa Card Payment Alternatives
What is a US-based poker player to do if he can’t use his Visa-branded credit or debit card to make a deposit to his favorite room? Here are a few alternatives I’ve come across in the years since the UIGEA.
The most viable alternative for many Americans is also the most boring and probably the most time-consuming – deposits by wire. The two main players in this industry are MoneyGram and Western Union. Wire payments are on the expensive side – MoneyGram transfers cost about $10 per $100 sent from the US to any of the handful of common headquarters for online poker rooms. Western Union transfers cost even more than that, as much as $18 per $100 transferred.
An alternative to credit card payments that I’ve recommended to many US-based players before is the venerable money order deposit. If you find a poker room that accepts deposits by money order, count yourself lucky. These are inexpensive (even free at some check-cashing chains in America) and though they take a long time to move from your hand to your online account, they’re reliable and easy to find.
A final alternative to consider is communicating directly with your poker room to find out how they prefer customers make deposits. They may be able toattempt using a different payment processor or running your Visa card at a different time of day to work around the restrictions of the UIGEA.
The UIGEA was not the death of online gaming in America, at least not to the extent that the Department of Justice would probably like. While the American political landscape appears to be shifting in the direction of regulated Web-based poker and casino gambling, for the moment it is still difficult to find US-facing poker rooms that will accept a Visa card as a payment method.
If you are considering opening an account and have trouble using your Visa card to make a deposit, consider the alternatives discussed above before you give up. Just be sure to read the fine print when you make any credit card deposit – fees for Americans who use these products may be higher than you expect.