So you’re ready to take the plunge and play for real money! The first step is learning the best way to move money around. In this section we explain how to make deposits and withdrawals without paying excess fees, suffering delays or worrying about the security of your financial accounts. If you plan ahead, it is possible to use the web to transfer money in a few seconds with zero transaction fees.

Financial processors – how to move money around

Getting money into and out of an online poker site can be a little tricky. In the US, most of the large banks have decided to stop performing credit card transactions for online gambling, and they include online poker in this category. Your Visa or MasterCard is probably issued by one of these big banks. Paypal has also left the market. In their place, several other companies have stepped in to provide this service.

The most reputable of these new financial processors is NETeller, a publicly-traded Canadian company. NETeller provides a service very similar to Paypal’s. You have an web-based cash account that you can use to transfer funds to and from your bank, your credit card, an online merchant or an online poker site. Since NETeller is not in the business of online gambling, the credit card issuers are happy to do business with them. FirePay is another web-based cash account similar to NETeller and Paypal. Their reputation for customer service is worse than NETeller’s and they charge a $5 fee for withdrawals.

Therefore, we don’t recommend FirePay.

Deposit bonuses

Before you deposit any money at all you should learn about the sign-up bonuses that most sites offer as a promotion to attract new players. You are eligible for only one sign-up bonus at each site, so be sure not to deposit until you understand your options.

Why do poker sites give away money? Just like a cell phone company or credit card company, every poker site is desperate for your business. They figure that once you start playing at their site, you’ll stick around. And since they earn a few cents for every hand you play, they’re willing to pay good money to encourage you to sign up. They’ll pay you directly with a sign-up bonus, and they’ll also pay the person who referred you to their site (called an affiliate).
What’s the catch? Every bonus has some strings attached. Usually the site requires you make a minimum deposit and play a minimum number of raked hands. The better bonuses require 5 raked hands be played for each dollar of bonus earned. The skimpier bonuses require up to 10 hands per dollar.

The poker rooms make it as easy as they can for you to deposit money. If you use the right financial processor, the poker site will even cover the transaction fees for you. To make a deposit, go to the Cashier section of the poker client. The Cashier screen will give instructions on the deposit methods available; you should also consult the poker site’s web pages for details on fees.

Visa or MasterCard

If you have a credit card issued by a US bank, it is likely that you will not be able to use it to deposit money directly into an online poker room. This is not a Visa or MasterCard policy, but rather a business decision made by most US banks. If your credit card is from a UK, European or Australian bank, you probably won’t have a problem. However, even if the bank performs the transfer, it will treat the transaction as a cash advance, which means you will pay a transaction fee of a few percent, plus a higher interest rate that begins accruing immediately. The advantage is that the transfer takes only a few seconds and you don’t have to mess around with opening another account.

Player-to-player transfers

All the top sites allow a player to transfer funds from their account to another player’s account. If you know someone who already has some money in an online poker site, this is the easiest way to get started playing for real money. In the meantime, you can set up a NETeller account so that when the time comes to withdraw your winnings or deposit more money you will be ready.

Withdrawals – getting money out of the poker site

To withdraw money from your poker account, you go to the Cashier section of the poker client and request a cash-out in the desired amount. The most convenient methods are NETeller or, available from only a few sites, an electronic funds transfer (EFT) direct to your bank account. Consult the poker web site for details on cash-out options and fees.

Some sites insist on using the same financial processor you used to make your original deposits, from oldest to newest. For example, if you used FirePay to deposit $100 and now you want to withdraw $150, the site may credit $100 to your FirePay account and give you a choice on the remaining $50. Other sites give you full flexibility to choose your cash-out method.

Most sites also offer the option of mailing you a check that you can deposit into your bank account. This usually takes several weeks unless you pay a fee for express service. Some sites offer free FedEx delivery of checks over $500.
Beware trouble-prone sites

Some poker sites have better cash-out procedures than others. The best sites handle your cash-out request promptly and without making you jump through hoops. That translates into a 1-3 day delay on your first cash-out request while they perform some anti-fraud checks. For example, they might call you on the phone. Later withdrawals may be handled more quickly, sometimes without any delay at all. Once the fraud department has approved the withdrawal, some additional time is required depending on the cash-out method. NETeller takes only a few seconds, an electronic funds transfer a few days, a mailed bank draft a week or more.

The bad sites look for any excuse to delay your withdrawal in the hope that you will change your mind and cancel your request. Some impose a mandatory 3-4 day waiting period before they will even begin processing your request. Then they may demand that you send them copies of your utility bill or credit card statement to prove that you are you. Or they may simply drag their feet and not get around to processing your request until you call them up to complain. In the end, you will probably get your money, but why should you put up with this nonsense? People rarely complain about the top 5 sites behaving in this dishonest manner. If you play for real money, you would be wise to avoid the smaller sites that haven’t yet established a strong reputation.