A social media storm has been raging recently between GGPoker and several UK-based poker pros who believe their accounts have been closed unfairly.
The dark clouds began gathering last at the end of February when British pro Andy Wool, aka dawhiteninja, posted what he described as a “warning” on Twitter.
In his words, a request to increase his deposit limit resulted in GGPoker permanently closing his account. Other pros, including Phil Galfond, were quick to rally around Wool, but that wasn’t the end of the story.
Twitter Reacts to GGPoker Warning
With speculation mounting that GGPoker was taking aim at winning players, other regs began sharing their experiences on Twitter.
CardsChat News spoke to Wool. He told us that a well-known pro had reviewed his correspondence with GGPoker and agreed that it looks like a move against regs.
⚠️Warning UK players!⚠️ I contacted @GGPoker to increase my deposit limits since new UKGC regulations and they've permanently shut my account down. See image. Ignored my appeal request too. Top work. 🤡
⚰️RIP ruffler ⚰️ pic.twitter.com/BM9y1uByCD
— dawhiteninja (@whiteninjapoker) January 30, 2021
Wool is well aware of GGPoker’s desire to make novices feel welcome. In fact, it’s one of the things that attracted him to the site in the first place.
“I was very supportive of the CEO’s comments regarding not catering for pros,” Wool said. “I thought GGPoker was heading in a great direction for poker.”
In the past, he’s even defended GGPoker against people saying it didn’t want pros to play on the site at all.
“I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as they wanted to cater for recreational players and that, in turn, would be great for pros,” Wool continued.
However, with his account now closed, the Brit feels he may have been wrong about the company’s intentions.
Hope Fades Following Account Closure
For context, Wool left his job after building up a solid bankroll online. Coaching and backing from one of the UK’s best pros, Patrick Leonard, followed, and Wool has been playing full-time ever since.
His most recent score, a $150,000 win in PokerStars’ Big Blowout, took his overall earnings above the $1 million mark. But, despite his tournament record, Wool was unable to convince GGPoker to up his deposit limit.
“If the proof of monthly income and cash I gave to GGPoker isn’t enough, I really wonder how anyone can play there. That’s why I put out the warning out to UK players,” said the disgruntled pro.
Other regs shared similar experiences on social media. Scrolling through the comments, it’s clear that changes to deposit limits and an inability to provide proof of earnings is the recurring theme.
More Pros Speak Out
We spoke to Ryan Hutchinson, who tweeted that he too was limited to deposits of $200, despite showing GGPoker account balances of $100,000+.
He said he was given the option to make a large one-time deposit, but declined. Hutchinson’s account remains open, but he believes GGPoker is interpreting UKGC regulations to suit its own agenda.
its $200/day capped at $1.3k/month. So someone earning minimum wage w/ 30k cc debt is allowed to deposit their entire monthly salary. I however, with no debt and evidence of 6 figs net worth am deemed unable to afford an increase.
The regulation is to "protect people"… lol
— Ryan Hutchinson (@razh54) January 30, 2021
It’s regulations that are at the heart of the matter, as the UKGC recently announced another set of amendments to British gambling laws.
Although it’s always had strict regulations, things just got tougher for British pros. The reaction from GGPoker is in line with the latest UKGC rules.
Same issues here. Iv gone from a 8k a day 20k a week 50k month deposit limit to a $200 a day limit.Iv sent all relivant docs to prove my sources of income and proof of funds to play within these limits yet they still decide to cap me at 200 a day ridiculous.
— wiisssppppaa (@lllmurphlll) January 30, 2021
Proof of earnings is a metric used to determine whether a player can afford an increase. As such, all British players are subject to affordability checks when they request deposit limit increases.
Additionally, a player’s betting activity will be reviewed to assess whether or not they have a gambling problem. A problem occurs when full-time poker players can’t provide wage slips or proof of a stable income.
GGPoker Clarifies Its Position
CardsChat spoke to a GGPoker’s Paul Burke about the recent allegations. He couldn’t comment on individual cases, but confirmed that a player’s record doesn’t determine their status on the site.
“The fact that any given player is a winner or loser does not factor into our safer gambling or security team’s decision making at all,” Burke explained.
He also told us that responsible gambling is a hot topic within the industry at large right now, and that all operators are taking it extremely seriously.
“We are required by the UKGC and other gambling regulators to follow strict safer gambling measures and have been asked to be hyper-vigilant in the current uncertain times. We are following all such guidelines at present, which might be a cause of frustration in the eyes of some players,” Burke continued.
It may be a storm in a teacup, or it may be crossed wires due to strict gambling regulations made tougher by COVID-19 concerns. Still, GGPoker maintains its position is clear and that it doesn’t close accounts simply because someone is a pro or a winning player.
It’s a Regulatory Thing
The one safer gambling measure that Burke is referring to above all else is affordability checks.
All UK licensees are required to check that customers can afford to play if they notice unusual spending patterns. However, over the last five years, a number of operators have been fined for failing to carry out adequate Know Your Customer (KYC) checks.
Betway, for example, was fined £11.6 million/$14.3 million when a customer used illicit funds to deposit $9.8 million over a four-year period.
These failures, plus a recent push to tighten standards in the online gambling sector, have prompted the UKGC to adjust its rules. A call for evidence was launched in November 2020 and was due to end in January. The deadline was extended to Feb. 9 due to a significant amount of feedback.
Once the submission period ends, the UKGC will review the evidence and issue a new set of rules governing KYC and affordability checks.
Labour MP Carolyn Harris has already called for tougher rules. She recently appeared on Sky Sports Racing and said that anyone regularly betting £100 on horse racing must show they can afford it.
Affordability checks for punters are a violation of privacy and basic rights, but a close reading of the Gambling Commission's proposal reveals the reality is even worse than you might imagine
Here's why: https://t.co/1EWHG76yJC
— Tom Kerr (@ThomasKerrRP) February 2, 2021
Members of the industry, including media outlet the Racing Post, have been critical of what they see as an attack on the industry.
Tom Kerr believes that overly strict rules could negatively impact horse racing and sport in general.
From the investigation carried out by CardsChat, it seems the push for more affordability checks is already having an impact on poker. Although the UKGC is yet to update its guidelines, the tide is turning.
GGPoker has stated it’s being “hyper-vigilant” with regards to affordability, as are other operators across the industry.
This same thing happened to me when I relocated to London thinking it was safe. Sending GG documents now. However @PokerStarsUK put a ban on my account 5 months ago. Their support team has been worse by far. Running out of options.
— Brian Tougias (@Brogias) January 30, 2021
Supporting the idea that it’s not just GGPoker getting tough on players is a tweet from Brian Tougias. He recently relocated to London (he previously lived in Boston and Thailand), and had his PokerStars account closed because of a similar issue to Wool.
His new GGPoker account is pending approval, however, his issue with PokerStars over deposit limits and identity suggest that its UK regulations, not specific poker sites, that are the problem.
While poker players may be unhappy with the current system and rules being imposed by online sites, they are a symptom of the UK’s efforts to stamp out problem gambling. With affordability checks set to get tougher, operators like GGPoker are acting sooner rather than later in a bid to avoid the wrath of the UKGC.