Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Worst Countries to Play Online Poker From, Part 3 of a series

We've told you the best places to play online poker in both developed and developing countries. Well, what about the worst places or countries to maybe avoid? No one has made that list yet!

So, other than the United States of America (arguably and tragically, currently the worst place to go to play online poker) where should you not go to play online poker? We've come up with the following list - part subjective, part objective, and probably all controversial for your reading pleasure.

Some things are just too good to be true - Photo: Kristin Wilson

1) Most of Central America: Besides Costa Rica, Panama and Mexico, most of the other countries in Central America would be (how do we say this) less-than-ideal. The electricity in Nicaragua goes out multiple times per day, every day. Honduras has the highest crime rate in the hemisphere (El Salvador and Guatemala aren’t far behind). Belize is known for having the most expensive and slowest internet in the region, although it's certainly improving a bit each year. It’s not that playing online poker from these places is impossible, but it’s probably not optimal. We know that poker players are always looking to make the optimal decision in every spot with all the information available.

Caribbean Blues

2) The Caribbean: Sadly, the Caribbean is a better place to take a cruise or a honeymoon than to play online poker from. Then Caribbean is a haven for hosting offshore online gaming companies, but is still not the most practical choice for online gambling itself. Why, you may ask? 1) It’s expensive. If the cost of living is super high, your ROI will be lower, end of story. 2) The internet isn’t that good. Not only is it slow and expensive, but many times Caribbean islands may route through nearby countries with a different ip. Sometimes even a US ip! PokerStars doesn’t like that. 3) The visa regulations aren’t known for being particularly generous. The average passport stamp is for 1 month around here. It’s kind of annoying to move around that often, unless you live on a yacht, in which case, carry on. 

Beautiful and cold Russia

3) Russia: Russia is the only place on any of these lists that we actually haven't been to, but Russian poker players are constantly contacting us for help moving out of Russia. So, it doesn’t seem like the best place to be. We are under the impression that online gambling has been banned multiple times over the years and ip’s have been blocked out of nowhere on more than one occasion. Yet another sinister-sounding bill with possible threats to the future of online poker was proposed in late 2014 (#478806-6). Bottom line - regulation is sketchy. It’s really cold there. Sochi wasn't exactly a hit with foreign visitors. It's not a country known for great achievements in human rights and freedom, either. There are probably better places out there for the most part. 

Night market time - Photo: Kristin Wilson
4) China: The Chinese love gambling - poker included. We know this. But outside of Macau, gambling is illegal in China. The extent of enforcement varies and at the moment, PokerStars is accessible, but it still seems like an unnecessary risk to play from there unless you have a specific reason for doing so. Depositing and withdrawing from sites can be difficult or expensive at best. “In a sweep from June to December last year, Chinese police arrested over 1,000 people involved in an online gambling network that operated over 200 illegal websites using Thai servers (Blouin News).” That’s no fun. Everyone also heard about the shenanigans in April 2015 with the APPT Nanjing Millions event shut down as local authorities declared that the event “criminal and illegal”. Yikes. We've heard enough.

Europe's best airline - Photo: Kristin Wilson

5) Most of Europe: No! Say it ain't so! We love Europe. To visit, that is. Word on the street however, is that it's not the best place to live and play poker SOMETIMES, in some countries or depending on which country you're from. We'll break it down a bit below.  

Wish you were here - French Riviera - Photo: Kristin Wilson
  • France: Darnit, we love a good baguette with cheese and a glass of wine, but France is known for having a segregated player pool. and other local French sites are limited to this player pool. The good news is, you don't necessarily have to be based in France in order to play on said sites if you have an EU bank account to deposit and withdraw from, and to verify yourself with. Word on the street is that the games are a bit softer as well. The bad news is, rake and taxes are high, so many French players move out of France. The cost of living is also high, which adds to the rake, tax and other expenses for locals. 
Wishing we could grind from gorgeous Cannes - Photo: Kristin Wilson 

  • Other countries with barriers to entry so-to-speak: 
    • Spain: Another segregated player pool closed to the Spanish market
We love Barcelona - Photo: Kristin Wilson
    Come for the football, not the online poker - Photo: Kristin
    • Italy: Segregated Italian player pool; proof of residency is needed
Save the grana padano for vacation - Photo: Kristin Wilson
    • Greece: Recent changes in legislation, rake and taxes caused many Greek player to migrate over to Malta in 2014-2015
Good-bye Greece, Hello Malta (Photo: Kristin)
    • Netherlands: Taxes are high for those banking and playing poker in Holland. Many Dutch players are known to have moved to the Dominican Republic, Curacao, Mexico and other countries in order to change their tax domicile. That being said, we can't deny that Amsterdam is a great place to live while passing through, however. 
Eh, we can still visit - Photo: Kristin Wilson

    • Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Hungary, others: While these countries are open to international sites (and are really nice places to live - ranking high up on the global standard of living indices), high taxes have, er, inspired many local players to move to neighboring EU countries in order to legally change their tax domicile. 

Take a break from poker for Oktoberfest - Photo: Kristin 

    6) Anywhere that online poker is blatantly illegal: China aside, Singapore, most of the Middle East & Africa and a few other countries in between come to mind. We’re out for that. PokerStars & FTP withdrew from an extra 30 markets in 2014. Most of the places on this list, you probably don't want to go to anyway (let alone live there). Syria was one of them. Neteller and Skrill have a list of non-serviced countries that are also hints to some of the lesser desirable places to play:

    aw, shucks

    So that is that. Are you saying to yourself, "why so negative, Poker Refugees?" Do you want to know what are the BEST places to play online poker from? Check our out lists here and here

    To speak with the experts at Poker Refugees about your next move, visit:

    Wednesday, 3 June 2015

    Best Places to Play Online Poker from: Part 2, Developing Countries Edition

    Welcome back! In our last installment, you learned about our top picks for the best countries in the developed world to play online poker from. Our top 5 were: Australia, Vancouver, Canada, UK & Malta (with Hong Kong/Macau as a runner up to this list). 

    Today, hold onto your hoodies as we delve into the jungles, the tropics and the 3rd world with our list of: 

    The Best Developing Countries to Play Online Poker from: 

    Medellín: City of Spring - Photo: Kristin Wilson

    5) Colombia: We’re going to start off with this trendy online poker destination (Medellín) because Colombia overall is pretty cool. While you could live in the capital of Bogotá or tourism hotspot Cartagena, most poker players are posting up in Medellín. Some of the reasons why are: 
    Medellín Metro - Photo: Kristin Wilson
    • It’s really not that dangerous: Medellín especially has shed its former kidnapping/drug war image. It’s quite mellow these days and violence is much more isolated than in the past. 
    • Medellín is known as the city of eternal springtime. Read: the weather is good
    • It’s a pretty small yet urban city with good public transportation, including an underground metro and sky cable cars 
    • Cost of living and rent are both low
    • Arguably some of the most beautiful women in the world are from Medellín
    • Arepas are delicious
    • There's a strong party scene
    • Cons: It’s pretty impossible to open a bank account, it’s a bit isolated compared to other Latin American destinations and you may want (ahem, need) to learn to speak Spanish
    Line up of shots in El Poblado District of Medellín - Photo: Kristin Wilson

    4) Panama: A good place to go if you already have a bank account in another country. Why play online poker from Panama

    Msaucepoker doing his thing - Photo: Kristin Wilson
    Miami Living in Panama - Photo: Kristin W.
    • Low cost of living pretty much anywhere in the country 
    • New (and dirt cheap) metro system
    • International and domestic airports throughout the country
    • Caribbean and Pacific coasts: take your pick
    • Decent infrastructure thanks to the Americans and the Canal Zone
    • Low price on electronics thanks to the Americans and the Canal Zone (imports)
    • Diverse climates: live in Panama City (urban living), Coronado (beach), Bocas del Toro (island), or Boquete (coffee plantations, mountains, volcanos and valleys)
    • Fast track to residency program for citizens of Panama-friendly countries (most western nations)
    • Panama City has everything you could ever need/want - it’s a metropolis
    • 6-month renewable travel visa
    • Access to Skrill & Neteller
    • Dollarized economy
    • People speak a fair amount of English
    • Cons: Limited selection of Internet Service Providers (sigh), banking system on lock down, limited back up internet options and it's pretty hot everywhere except Boquete (Can you take the heat?)
    Avenida Balboa/Cinta Costera Panama - Photo: Kristin Wilson

    Check out this interview with a real players who moved to Panama for online poker: 

    • Adam Ross: 

    #3: ¡México!

    Mexican border - Photo: Kristin Wilson

    3) Mexico: You can really live almost anywhere in Mexico (sans any drug war capitals perhaps), but most poker players tend to congregate in Rosarito or Playa del Carmen, with Cabo a distant 3rd place. Rosarito/Tijuana makes sense because it’s right over the border from California, but there’s not too much more to offer. It’s a great place to go if you want to eat, sleep, play poker and stare at the ocean from behind your monitor. 

    Mexico, real life Corona commercial - Photo: Kristin Wilson
    On the other hand, everyone loves Playa del Carmen - it’s hard not to. Here are the pros and cons to playing online poker in Mexico in general & Playa specifically: 

    • It’s huge: pick where you want to live
    • Close to the US/short flights from most of the country
    • Access to Skrill & Neteller
      • Cancun is the biggest airport in Latin America - many direct flights from Europe
      • Tropical weather and white sand beaches
      • Significant spring break style party scene 
        Beach party - yay! Poker players in Playa
      • It’s convenient; no car needed: You can walk from one end of town to the other in about 30 min or less
      • Everything seems to be open 24/7
      • Plethora of food options
      • At least 100 poker players living here at any given time: instant group of poker friends
      • Casinos in Cancun, live sports betting at local bars
      • The cost of living is low if you have a low standard of living
      • There are delivery services for online poker players (food and pretty much anything else)
      • Many local establishments have employees who speak English
        Rosarito, Baja views - Photo: Kristin Wilson
    • Cons: it gets ridiculously hot and/or rainy at times, the rental rates are completely inflated (especially in high season) and let’s face it: the internet is pretty bad. You will be maxing out at speeds of 5-10MB, back up internet (cell network) gets easily saturated, especially during music festivals, and there is always someone on Skype or 2+2 complaining/asking anyone else is having internet problems (on a daily basis). Did we mention most bank accounts and poker transactions must be done in Pesos? 
    • Possible future 'con': Online gaming legislation is on the table and it doesn’t look pretty. Time will tell if this has an effect on online poker pros. 

    Check out these interviews with real players who moved to Mexico for online poker: 

    • Shane Daniels, Playa:
    • Elena Stover, Playa:
    • Gus Voelzel, Playa:
    • Katie Stone, Rosarito:
    • Shaniac, Rosarito:

    Getting close to the #1 spot!

    #2 on our list is Thailand: 

    Feed an elephant in Chiang Mai, Thailand

    2) Thailand: This is a major exception to the rule because… Online poker isn’t actually legal in Thailand (and e-wallets are restricted), but while the sites themselves are still accessible, it’s a great place to be for an online poker player, for the time being
    Tropical Thailand - Photo: Kristin Wilson
    • It’s cheap
    • It’s really cheap
    • Thai food is from there (need we say more?)
    • Surprisingly fast internet
    • Full moon parties
    • Diversity: City, beaches, mountains, islands - it’s all here (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui and Phuket just to name a few destinations)
    • Huge online poker community: there is always a room in a poker house somewhere
    • Cheap international flights in and out of multiple airports
    • Cons: Online poker is technically illegal, drugs are super illegal (especially weed), it’s hard to get a long term travel visa, there is a dark side to Thailand (you can google that), tsunamis, don’t drink the water
    Kristin works from the W Bangkok

    Drumroll please....

    Our winner is: Costa Rica!

    Green Costa Rica - Photo: Kristin Wilson

    1) Costa Rica: Oh the irony… While AP/UB and others were being ejected from Costa Rica in the Black Friday fallout (with the help of the OIJ and DOJ), poker players themselves were setting their sights on the land of pura vida. And for good reasons. So good in fact, that we can’t think of many reasons why NOT to move here. Here are some of the best things about Costa Rica as an online poker destination
    Surf's up! Poker Refugees founder, Kristin, catches a wave at Pavones

    • Direct 2-3 hour flights from the US 
      Typical afternoon in CR - Photo: Kristin Wilson
    • Low cost of living compared to the developed world
    • Internet - The internet all of a sudden got pretty good! Speeds up to 100MB are now available compared to 5-10MB in Playa del Carmen. That’s huge. 
    • Extensive rental market for short-term furnished rentals and vacation rentals
    • Westernized culture and amenities: every chain restaurant and brand recognizeable
    • Diversity: it’s hard to get bored since there are so many places to live and all of them with their unique flair 
    • One of the top ecotourism destinations in the world - enough said
    • Sun, sand, surf, beaches, mountains, valleys
    • No taxes on gambling winnings
    • Ranked as one of the “happiest countries in the world” many years in a row
    • The Central Valley boasts the “best climate in the world” - literally. No, we are serious. Best in the world. That’s a big claim, but it’s true. 
    • Beautiful women who love foreigners
    • Multiple international and domestic airports
    • Relatively straight forward and cheap path to permanent residency
    • Perpetual tourism is possible
    • Bank accounts in USD with online wire transfers
    • Access to Skrill & Neteller
    • Safety: Sure, Costa Rica is not perfect, but it’s generally considered one of the safer countries in Latin America and there is no national military
    • Locals are pushing for the legalization of Medical Marijuana (hey, it can’t hurt)
    • Cons: More expensive than other Central American nations and things move pretty slow around here (but that goes for all developing countries). Internet and infrastructure can be spotty in the remote beaches and mountains, so you can’t play poker from everywhere
    Check out these interviews with real players who moved to Costa Rica for online poker: 
    • Wesley Clark, Jaco:
    • Anton Smolyanskiy, Tamarindo:
    • Mathieu Kuhne, Jaco:
    • Jason Thompson, Tamarindo:
    • Adam Geyer & Shannon Shorr, Escazu: 
    • Poker House, Tamarindo:

    Costa Rica Luxury Home - Photo: Kristin Wilson

    What do you think of our list? Did we miss anything? 

    Are any of these your favorite/least favorite destinations? 

    Do you disagree with us? 

    Sound off in the comments below! 

    Do you want to move to one of these destinations? Email or visit