The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) poker bots might present a threat to individual online poker players, but it seems the effects could be more devastating to the industry at large.
In a financial update published on September 12, Morgan Stanley analyst Ed Young, adjusted the price targets of three major online poker operators, including GVC Holdings (Partypoker), Playtech (iPoker), and Stars Group (PokerStars, Full Tilt).
Citing the rise of AI as real and present danger, Young said the technology could have a “serious impact” on the integrity of the game.
Poker Bots Could Turn on Us
For insiders, AI poker bots have been an emerging force for the last four years. In 2015, Claudico made headlines after narrowly losing a series of Limit Hold’em, heads-up battles against four pros.
Fast-forward two years and its successor, Libratus, put up a better fight. Defeating a quartet of pros in a No-Limit Hold’em contest spread over 20 days, Libratus proved that AI is developing at a rapid rate.
The latest AI poker bot to shake things up and worry financial analysts is Pluribus. Trouncing multiple world-class players in a one-sided contest, the Carnegie Mellon University system was completely self-taught.
While humans may be comfortable with machines winning poker events, the manner in which Pluribus triumphed is a concern. In addition to developing its own strategy based on millions of computations, the hardware powering the system cost less than $150.
For Morgan Stanley analysts, the latter point is one of the main reasons online poker companies could suffer.
Online Poker Sites May Suffer
In reviewing the industry’s prospects, Young said consumers may lose faith in an operator’s ability to stop bots.
Almost in anticipation of this, Partypoker has been actively publishing its poker-bot kill rates in recent months. However, even with security teams upping their games, Young believes a drop in confidence will affect future revenue streams.
In light of this analysis, Morgan Stanley has reduced GVC Holdings’ share price target by 2 percent, and Playtech’s by 4 percent. The Stars Group did have its target increased by $1 to $18, but even that’s a sign AI could hurt the growth of online poker.
The one saving grace at this stage, according to Young, is that part of the code used by Pluribus hasn’t been released. However, with other AI poker bots now being used for military technology, it’s likely to get out at some point.
If that happens, online poker could face a Pandora’s box scenario where machines gradually dismantle the industry.