BitCoin Poker – Is It Really a Thing?

It’s strange for an old-school guy like me to think that a virtual currency is being used to play poker.

I’m used to using what I’d consider traditional payment methods to fund my own action – cash, credit cards, and eWallets. A few months ago, I couldn’t have told you what BitCoin is if you’d sat down and patiently explained it to me for an hour first.

BitCoin poker is, really, a thing. A few poker rooms and other gambling sites are now accepting BitCoin as a payment method.

So what is it? And how is it being used to fund online poker accounts?

What Is BitCoin?
Bitcoin is a virtual currency invented in the year 2008 by a person going by the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto.” The first mention of the currency was in a document sent to a cryptography mailing list made up of just a few people. Not much is known about the person (or people) behind the pseudonym, and they left the project altogether in 2010.

It’s interesting that the project was first mentioned among a small group of cryptographers – BitCoin was invented to exist without the need for a financial middle man. Taking banks and fragile world governments out of the equation produces a more stable and equitable currency, and it means that BTC (the currency’s acronym) are immune from seizure or asset freezing. Or so the theory goes.

So what is a BitCoin? You can’t hold one in your hand, in the traditional sense. It exists in the same way that an email exists – stored in a digital cloud. One important thing to note, for those of us used to fiat money, there is no FDIC or other insurance for your BTC.

Why Use BitCoin?
Here are some popular reasons suggested by blogs and message board posts:

BTC is crypto-currency, which means using it is completely private and anonymous.
Yes, transactions are recorded in a public log, for accountability purposes, but names of people involved in transactions are kept secret, hidden behind a generic wallet ID. There’s a dark side to this – goods can be bought or sold online and authorities can’t easily trace the people involved. That means lots of people are participating in illicit activity (see the story of The Silk Road for a perfect example) using this currency.

BTC allows you total control of your money.
Its value can’t be manipulated by any outside entity. Essentially, using BTC turns you into your own bank. The currency’s lack of physical production costs and non-existent need for storage makes it even easier to handle at the end-user level.

Big companies are bringing it into the mainstream.
BTC wasn’t well known until 2011, when the mainstream press got word of its early and rabid adoption by the Technorati. Now, thousands of businesses all over the world accept it as a mainstream payment method, including some surprisingly big names. You can buy your next Dell laptop with BTC, or shop for a cheaper alternative at Overstock.com. Cities saturated with tech geeks now have ATMs where you can exchange cash for BTC, and the other way around.

How Does BitCoin Poker Work?
The reason BitCoin struck me as so strange initially was simple – I am used to traditional (known as “fiat”) currency. So is everyone reading this – it’s what we’re used to, so any alternative feels a little strange.

The first thing a poker player who wants to use BTC needs to do is exchange their native currency for their new virtual currency.

The popular method of purchasing BitCoin is to deal with an exchange or brokerage. Exchanges are places where buyers and sellers are matched based on their bid criteria, while brokerages hoard large collections of BTC that they sell on-demand at a variable rate.

Exchanges and brokerages are pretty much identical for the end-user. It literally takes a minute or two to complete the transaction.

The BTC are then transferred to you through your unique Bitcoin wallet ID. Think of it as a hyper-focused email address for virtual currency. What’s neat about that is you can send money to anyone in the world using BTC, the same way you can send an email across the globe in a second.

Your wallet ID (BTC address) will be a randomized string of letters and numbers, anywhere from 27–34 characters long. That wallet ID is also the place buyers will send cash – which makes the whole email address analogy easier to understand. BitCoins can be sent or received from anywhere, or even sold among friends or in person.

Now that you’ve got your currency in your virtual wallet, it’s time to transfer it to the poker room of your choice. After confirming that the room you want to play at accepts BitCoin, simply send the appropriate amount to their wallet ID. It takes anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours for the BTC to appear in the receiving account.

As an added bonus for poker players, transferring with BTC is totally free, thanks to the virtual nature of the currency. It costs nothing to send and receive virtual money, so you shouldn’t expect any additional transfer fees from your poker room’s cashier department.

Overview of the Major Comp Programs

Before we dive into the intricacies of blackjack and poker comps, I thought it might be a good idea to take a quick crash course on comp programs.

Thanks to the corporate conglomeration that has dominated the casino industry in recent years, most gamblers have two major comp programs to choose from – M Life and Total Rewards.

The M Life program is operated by MGM Resorts International, while Total Rewards is a product of Caesars Entertainment.

If you enjoy visiting sunny Las Vegas for a stroll along the Strip, chances are good you’ll wind up in a casino owned by one of these behemoths. And I’m not talking about the MGM Grand or Caesars Palace flagship properties, as the two companies own dozens of casinos between them.

Check out the list below for a full accounting of MGM-owned properties on the Strip where the M Life card is used to track and distribute comps:

ARIA Las Vegas
Bellagio Las Vegas
Excalibur Hotel and Casino
Luxor Las Vegas
Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino
MGM Grand Las Vegas
The Mirage Las Vegas
Monte Carlo Resort and Casino
New York New York Hotel and Casino
And below, you’ll find the Caesars-owned casinos on the Strip where the Total Rewards card is accepted:

Bally’s Las Vegas
Caesars Palace
The Cromwell Las Vegas
Flamingo Las Vegas
Harrah’s Las Vegas
The LINQ Las Vegas
Paris Las Vegas
Planet Hollywood Las Vegas
Rio All Suite Hotel & Casino
Expanding the scope outside of Sin City, these are the MGM-brand casinos worldwide where M Life membership is accepted:

Beau Rivage – (Biloxi, Mississippi)
Borgata – (Atlantic City, New Jersey)
The Water Club – (Atlantic City, New Jersey)
Gold Strike Casino Resort – (Tunica Resorts, Mississippi)
Grand Victoria – (Elgin, Illinois)
MGM Grand Detroit – (Detroit, Michigan)
MGM National Harbor – (National Harbor, Maryland)
MGM Springfield – (Springfield, Massachusetts)
MGM Grand Sanya – (Sanya, Hainan, China)
MGM Macau – (Macau, China)
Bellagio Shanghai – (Shanghai, China)
And finally, take a look below for the full list of Caesars-owned casinos worldwide where Total Rewards membership is accepted:

Bally’s Atlantic City – (Atlantic City, NJ)
Caesars Atlantic City – (Atlantic City, NJ)
Caesars Windsor – (Windsor, Ontario, CA)
Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino – (Phoenix, AZ)
Harrah’s Atlantic City – (Atlantic City, NJ)
Harrah’s Cherokee – (Cherokee, NC)
Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River – (Cherokee, NC)
Harrah’s Council Bluffs – (Council Bluffs, IA)
Harrah’s Gulf Coast – (Biloxi, MS)
Harrah’s Joliet – (Joliet, IL)
Harrah’s Lake Tahoe – (Lake Tahoe, NV)
Harrah’s Laughlin – (Laughlin, NV)
Harrah’s Louisiana Downs – (Bossier City, LA)
Harrah’s Metropolis – (Metropolis, IL)
Harrah’s New Orleans – (New Orleans, LA)
Harrah’s North Kansas City – (North Kansas City, MO)
Harrah’s Philadelphia – (Philadelphia, PA)
Harrah’s Reno – (Reno, NV)
Harrah’s Resort Southern California – (Valley Center, CA)
Harvey’s Lake Tahoe – (Lake Tahoe, NV)
Horseshoe Casino Baltimore – (Baltimore, MD)
Horseshoe Bossier City – (Bossier City, LA)
Horseshoe Council Bluffs – (Council Bluffs, IA)
Horseshoe Hammond – (Hammond, IN)
Horseshoe Casino Tunica – (Tunica, MS)
Horseshoe Southern Indiana – (Elizabeth, IN)
Tunica Roadhouse – (Tunica, MS)
Along with these titans of the gambling industry, you’ll also come across a few smaller casino chains like Boyd Gaming or Stations. And of course, the over 400 tribal casinos operated on reservation land nationwide have their own in-house players club cards.

These smaller casinos tend to model their comp system after the big boys, however, so I’ll stick with M Life and Total Rewards going forward for the sake of clarity.

For both of these programs, you’ll also have two main forms of comp credits to work with – base points and tier points.

A base point equates to $0.01, so you’ll need to score 100 of them to add $1 to your comp account. Base points effectively serve as cash in an affiliated casino, so you can use your accumulated points to purchase that morning latte or some headphones from the gift shop.

A tier point doesn’t have cash value per se, but these points are how you climb through the ranks of either M Life or Total Rewards. You can visit the overview pages for each program that I linked to above to learn about the various tiers used in each. But put simply, accumulating tier points grants you access to a higher tier in the program, which in turn unlocks additional perks. Think priority access at the cashier’s cage line, free valet and parking, tickets to the in-house show, and even free rooms.

Now that you know who is handling your comps and where the players club cards in your wallet are accepted, let’s see exactly how they work for both blackjack and poker.

Racing Awards, Medals and Customized Gear for Runners

Running, whether it be a 5k with the family, a 10k for an extra challenge, or a marathon for the elite runners, can be a very exciting and memorable experience. Running is a very personal sport to lots of people, as it can be great exercise and can make you look and feel very refreshed. Tons of awards are given out to winners at races each year. For people organizing these racing events, finding customized and personal running gear can be difficult, as well as finding unique prizes for running champions. When orchestrating a race, you want to have a memorable competition. Medals and unique prizes can help to make the race more exciting. Participants can keep prizes as souvenirs, and remember the experience better because of a keepsake.
The most important souvenir a competitor can take home is a winning medal. Those are worn with pride, and showed to family members and friends. They are often hung on walls, or shown off where they can be seen. Of course, medals need to be personalized, unique, and specific. You cannot award a running champion with a medal that doesn’t recognize what it’s for. It is often a perfect idea to find a company that will provide you with customized prizes for winners. Often, you can ask for customized medals that include the date, the name of the race, and the name of the company sponsoring and orchestrating the event. That way, when people proudly show their winning medal to others, the people who made the event happen will receive the credit and publicity they deserve.

In addition to medals, running apparel and gear can be a great way to make the race more memorable. Unlike medals, gear is commonly worn and would be used often. Passing out swag, such as customized shirts, jackets, hats, and bags can be a great way to add to the excitement of the race. Races with their own gear are viewed as more unique, as they have customized logos and attractive designs. Shirts can be given out to families, and jackets can be sold at the finish line. Hats can be passed out before the race to keep the sun out of the athlete’s eyes. And, of course, bags can be kept forever and used for multiple occasions. Having the name and date of your race on these items can help to increase publicity and help the runners remember what a successful and memorable race it was. Customizing these mementos can help to define a great race, and will definitely help a race to be more exciting and enjoyable.