You might be a serious poker player, or maybe you're just in it for the sheer fun of the game. In the end it doesn't really matter: you want to know the game is fair and square. One of the first things online poker fans look for is a safe and secure site that doesn't cheat. After all, we learned early on in our lives that a rigged game or someone who bends the rules to their advantage does not make for a fun game.
If you take the time to search a bunch of chat rooms, information sites, and blogs, you will see this question come up over and over again. You'll also discover time and time again that the comments include: "Only sore losers are the ones complaining." "Those who complain are just not good poker players." "Far too often, people do not have a large enough bankroll to stay in the game, and feel cheated when they have to give in." In the end, the reason doesn't matter. Online poker sites that are legitimate and have passed through third party scrutiny are, in fact, NOT rigged.
Signs that make players feel the game is rigged:
- Too many bad beats
- Bad hands leading to big pots
- Big bankrolls equaling bigger wins even with weak hands
This is a case where a person enters into a room appearing as multiple players, and playing against themselves. The effort necessary to pull something like this off make it highly unlikely.
The action hand is believed to increase up the action. Although it may seem suspect, it is possible. RNG is at work with all online software, so the "fixing" of hands is impossible.
This suggests that the cheating is not from the players themselves, or the reputable site owners, but hackers.
A player has stats that are seemingly impossible. But are they truly impossible? Or is the player being labeled a "bot" just an unwise player?
Many online poker experts have investigated long and hard to discover any possible fraudulent activity. The theory suggests that there are more bad beats online and therefore the game is rigged. In reality, there are exponentially more games being played at one time online than in any live casino. The RNG is constantly at work, and online action is running much faster than any live game could ever run. Although it appears as though there is something amiss, in fact your not sitting face to face with your opponent keeps you from becoming aware of the many attributes that give rise to different approaches to dealing with bad hands, or bad play in general.
It is important to explore the myth that online poker is rigged, as well as the possibility and plausibility that players' concerns are justified. In the end, such a concern will help to ascertain whether or not it's a poker player's reality. Many players, whether it is an online game of poker or even online slots, will believe after enough losses that the house is cheating. Because of regulations that are in place, it is virtually impossible for any reputable online poker site or online casino to cheat. Although there have been some cases where disgruntled employees have hacked into the system and benefitted financially, it is also true that the organization running the poker site paid dearly for the past-employee's criminal activity. Since that time, even greater attention has been paid to ensure that this type of criminal behavior does not go unchecked.
There is common consensus among online poker pros that there is little real evidence to suggest online poker is rigged. Experts believe it is more a case of sour grapes and disgruntled players trying to explain away their losing streaks. It may be time for such players to take some time to:
Online poker players should realize that it is not beneficial to the online poker site owners to cheat. To knowingly break the law would be professional suicide. There are so many checks and balances, not to mention top ranked poker players on their guard so that the likelihood of one of them smelling a rat and going public would quickly damage the reputation of the poker site. It is important to choose highly reputable online poker sites and choose those that have high levels of play action. Those are good signs that they are high quality operations.
The cost to the online poker room would be so great that it would not be in their best interest to run the gamble and risk the liability associated with such a scandal. Many players might say, "But wait, they make so much money that a couple million dollar fine is a slap on their rich hand!" But the reality is that laws and regulations are in place in this modern age of online poker, and the punishment to casinos is much higher than a "slap on the wrist."
In many cases, the best independent auditors are the players themselves. It is very important to follow the guidance of the old pros, as they have been playing online for a long time, and in many cases cut their poker teeth online. It is true that not all online poker sites pass the strict scrutiny of independent auditors, professionals, or online poker pros. Let's dig a little deeper and differentiate between pro and, well, so-called "pro".
Online poker pros consist of an independent group of online poker aficionados from all around the world who have utilized tracking software to identify any signs of rigged sites. After exploring millions upon millions of hands of poker, they carefully identified that there was no sign of rigged games among the online poker giants. They incorporated scientific research and broad-spectrum data analysis, including careful disaggregation of data and further in-depth dissemination of data over time. The results were clear: the conclusions of the bad beat tests proved that all games were fair when looking specifically at bad beats for flop all-ins.
First of all, let's look at what a high quality, safe poker site looks like.
First, they have a large number of players and, yes, those players have been playing at the same site for a long time.
Secondly, the online poker site has been in business for a long time. Longevity and reputation go hand in hand.
Thirdly, they openly report auditing outcomes from organizations like eCOGRA.
It's probably not just a coincidence that eCOGRA was born after one of the biggest online poker scandals, way back in 2003. With the massive increase in online poker action, it became apparent that online poker sites needed to protect themselves from cheaters and to ensure that they would not become the victim of such scandal. The purpose of the eCommerce Online Gaming Regulation and Assurance, i.e. eCOGRA, is to formally regulate the online gaming industry.
To have the eCOGRA seal of approval on an online poker site is equal to the "Good Housekeeping" seal of approval. The seal of approval is awarded to online gaming operators that have fully complied with the eGAP requirements, which ensure that fair gaming, responsible operator behavior, and player protection is up to or exceeds standards. Also, it ensures that all software is in fact in keeping with eGAP standards of excellence, and passes internal audits.
Because eCOGRA is the leader of online auditors, it is important to understand the regulatory jurisdiction of such auditors. In this particular sense, eCOGRA is a testing agency specifically used in jurisdictions that include Spain, Italy, the UK, Denmark, the Isle of Man, and a few other locales.
Why would it matter where a licensing jurisdiction is located? Well, when choosing a reputable site, it may be a good idea to investigate what region or gambling jurisdiction the organization is located in. You want to be assured that it has passed rigorous tests such as eCOGRA's tough internal audits.
It is valuable to know that the online gambling site you're choosing can provide services legally, and in keeping with authentication. Because you are choosing a site located in a reputable jurisdiction, you can play safely and with great contentment, knowing your wins are because you played it right, and your losses are not based on a fear of the game being rigged.
So, when choosing a site, make sure it is REAL:
RNG is an acronym for "Random Number Generator". The RNG is central to all online software, slots, and video poker at an online casino, and can be considered the most important facet of gaming. Random number generators use mathematical formulas or algorithms that constantly transfer numbers; they never stop running, so they don't singlehandedly choose who is going to win. It is impossible for software to produce a predetermined winning hand. It is the luck of the draw, just like in live poker. Random is random. The RNG produces a totally unbiased, random distribution of hands. The RNG is in place to protect you the player and the online casinos from hackers, so that a hacker couldn't identify a pattern or control the RNG.
In the end, while it may be possible to cheat in some obscure way, reputable online poker sites are not ignorant. They know that they have a billion dollar industry that is based upon fair play and safe engagement with their clients, and have no need to cheat. While small operators might be desperate and have greater motivation to cheat, they are not inclined to do so as their reputation and salvation depend upon quality reputation. With players from around the world chatting it up and discussing best places to play, safe places to play, and suspected rigged operations, it is not in the best interest of any online poker sites to run the risk.
The biggest risk of cheating comes from the player sitting next to you in a poker room. While there are cheaters in the world of online poker, the amount of time and energy involved and the charges imposed upon a cheater would deter most from going down that path. Cheating at online poker sites can range from a misdemeanor to a Class B felony. It is very important to safeguard yourself against the potential threat of online cheating.
How to safeguard yourself against cheaters:
Never use public computers
Password protect your accounts
Be weary of mobile devices prone to hackers
Pay attention to other players and their frequencies of playing together
One of the most notable cheating scandals occurred in 2007 through an online site known as Absolute Poker. The operators of this site were out of Canada, on Mohawk Tribal lands. Because online poker for the most part is illegal in the United States, the regulation of sites that do not necessarily fall under careful regulations and jurisdictions can fall somewhat beneath the radar for a time.
In this particular case, a second place winner in a poker competition called foul after he began to notice that the person known as Potripper was suspiciously winning on horrible hands and very bad bets. After Potripper took first place and a prize of $30,000, a lawyer turned poker pro named Johnson started his own investigation. As luck would have it, extensive incriminating documentation inadvertently landed into second place winner Johnson's hands.
The anonymous tip quickly set Johnson on an investigation that would uncover a link between an ex-employee of AbsolutePoker.com and an accomplice. Between hacking into the site and producing a mechanism to see every player's cards and the collaboration between Potripper and someone who went by a handle of #363, the journey to first place was suddenly paved with easy gold.
Unfortunately, prior to online poker becoming as popular as it is, including the increase in regulations, rogue employees could possibly connect with other sources to cheat their way to a win. A great deal of money was lost in this one particular scandal. Many of the players did recoup some of their losses. But due to the inability to find out all that was lost, some money was never recovered. Fortunately, this type of cheating scandal with rogue employees, players, and conspiratorial activity is close to impossible to encounter when online players stick with licensed, regulated sites.
Poker Scandals Timeline
In late 19th century America you couldn't go far without encountering three things: men boasting big beards and even bigger hats, horses on almost every street, and poker scandals wherever the opportunity presented itself.
One man who became a byword for such scandals was Jefferson Randolph Smith. Known simply as “Soapy” after he started his criminal career with a soap selling scam on the street corners of Denver, Soapy quickly progressed from the relatively clean hustling of his soap scheme, to much bigger things. Things like operating poker scams across a large portion of the United States.
Using his soap dollars, malleable deputy sheriff's commissioners would be solicited to make fake arrests in his own gambling houses, apprehending patrons who had lost large sums in rigged poker games. The victims were happy when the ‘officers' allowed them to leave the crime scene rather than be arrested. Naturally, they never got a shot at recouping their losses. After two decades of organised crime and poker hoodwinking, Soapy's criminal career came to an end in a shootout, shortly after uttering the famous last words "My God, don't shoot!”. The nearby Canadian mounties didn't head his request.
1900 - 1920
The grand age of Western frontier gambling, and the poker scandals that inevitably followed, ended with the demise of the frontier lifestyle.
The rise of probation, accompanied by the woman's suffrage movement which swept across the nation in the first decades of the 20th century, were the defining features of the change, leading to a huge drop in the number of people playing poker. State after state passed legislation outlawing casino gambling.
Gambling returned in the latter half of the 20th century on Indian reservations and in Las Vegas, a city defined by it's high rolling sensibilities. Its great popularity led to legalisation in many areas of the country with states wanting to tap into poker's money making potential. However, a much bigger change was on the horizon. The Internet was about to change the world. The dawn of online poker was coming, and once again the game would explode in popularity, bringing scandals aplenty.
Poker Spot, founded in May 2000 by popular poker celebrity Dutch Boyd, was one of the pioneer websites for online poker. Scandal was not something anyone associated with Dutch and Poker Spot was considered to be a shining beacon of the future for online gambling.
The site was popular and growing, the possibilities of online poker seemed limitless, all would surely share in this wonderful bounty of never ending gold and riches. It all looked like a dream come true - until the site closed down.
Within its first year of operation things started to go horribly wrong. Two payment processors failed, leaving the company with debts of $480,000 owed to its players. It was never able to fully recover and closed its doors permanently in November 2001, leaving huge swathes of its former players out of pocket to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. No one knew it at the time, but it was a sign of much worse things to come in the world of poker.
The online gambling company UltimateBet would in 2005 provide a scandal profile that came to define much that would later follow - software manipulation, high profile players, huge sums of money. In the decades before the Internet, players were being shaken down for thousands of dollars, now the numbers were in the multiple millions.
The company claimed that the cheating had been perpetrated by employees of the former owners, Excapsa Software. According to UltimateBet, the fraudulent activity was traced to an unauthorised software code that transferred hole-card information of other players. Essentially, a single user was being fed the details of other players' hands.
In 2008 the Kahnawake Gaming Commission stated it had found clear evidence to support a conclusion that between the dates of May 2004 to January 2008, world super star poker player Russ Hamilton was the main person responsible for multiple cheating incidents at Ultimate Bet. Russ was estimated to be responsible for 20 million dollars worth of fraud. Poker scandals had officially entered the financial stratosphere.
When the Internet came along and offered poker players the chance at complete anonymity, one obvious scam was never going to be far away: taking up multiple positions at one table.
Through operating more than one hand at once at the same table by using different identities, a fraudster can control many aspects of the game and make sure that the other players have much lower odds of winning.
A player named JJProdigy got the ball rolling, winning $140,000 in a tournament. Being only 16, he soon started boasting on chatrooms that he was playing two accounts. When he realised what he'd done, he initially tried claiming that his grandmother was playing the second account and that after granny felt tired he took over for her and went on to glorious victory.
PartyPoker investigated, not only seizing all the winnings from the tournament, but also all the funds in his multiple accounts, totalling $40,000 on PartyPoker alone.
Poker scams often involve the act of staking another player. This means one party handing over cash so that the second party can carry on playing. The player who borrows the money then pays it back to the funders, along with a portion of the winnings, once the game is completed. It doesn't take a criminal mastermind to see where problems might arise.
One of the more famous examples of this activity occurred in 2010, on a UK poker forum called Blonde Poker. A long-time and respected forum member named Neil Blatchly created a staking thread, managing to gather a bankroll of £70,000 from over 40 investors.
Week after week, Blatchly would post about how well his poker playing was going, boasting tens of thousands of pounds in profit. This went on for months, until a few people finally started asking him to provide some proof. Initially, people who questioned him were ridiculed, but to everyone's surprise, Neil soon posted that the money was all gone. Partly lost at the casino and partially spent on extravagances like a vacation in Miami. A vacation with his whole family, all 13 of them!
The huge, diverse world of online poker is made up of lots of colourful characters. Big money pots and interesting characters mean one thing on the Internet - an army of fanatical bloggers will be watching the top match ups, reporting on every detail of the major tournaments. However, not all of these bloggers are who they appear to be. In August 2010 it turned out that some of them were in on a $300,000 crime.
Ali Tekintamgac became known in the poker world after he won the WPT in Barcelona. Just a few months later, he became the target of cheating allegations at the Patrouche Poker Tour in France. Eventually, it turned out that Tekintamgac was using fake sideline reporters posing as bloggers, who were able to get a peek at his opponent's hands and communicate them to Tekintamgac. He ended up in prison for over 3 years.
During mid to late 2011 in the fallout following Black Friday, a number of accusations were leveled at the previously highly respected Full Tilt Poker site.
As more and more information came to light, it turned out that Full Tilt Poker was not the clean and well-managed company that most had come to believe. Instead the site was barely surviving on a day-to-day basis. Shortfalls of over $150 million were recorded and there was barely enough cash available to cover customer withdrawals.
As if those shortfalls weren't bad enough, it also came to light that the owners of Full Tilt Poker had pocketed many millions of dollars, knowing that no money would be available to cover the casinos outgoings.
Not every con artist looking to exploit poker has turned to tricks facilitated by the Internet. Some out there are still looking to keep things old school. Keep it classy. Well, as classy as a toilet full of poker chips will allow.
Welcoming in the 2014 New Year was the Borgata cheating scandal, in which an eccentric man by the name of Christian Lusardi decided to introduce his own chips into the mix at the Borgata Winter Open Big Stack event.
The tournament was halted as soon as the rogue chips were spotted, and suspicion soon fell on Lusardi when he attempted to flush almost $3 million in poker chips down the toilet of his hotel room. This was the act of a desperate man.
Lusardi's madcap escapades soon clogged the pipes and caused water to drip down into the rooms below. Hotel staff were rather surprised when they entered the bathroom, immediately calling the police.
Everyday the online poker industry handles transactions totaling millions of dollars. Deposits, winning pots, bonuses; there's an abundance of financial activity. This provides a ripe environment for one dangerous type of Internet phenomenon: hackers.
In 2015, a particular type of software had been exploding, a piece of spyware named “Odlanor”. Using malicious spyware to sneak a look at a player's virtual poker hand, the hackers then use that information to target them on online casinos.
Like other computer Trojan viruses, Odlanor can be unwittingly installed on a computer if the user downloads infected apps or software. Once installed, the Odlanor malware is used to create screenshots of the window of the two targeted poker clients, PokerStars or Full Tilt Poker, if the victim is running either of them.
Concerned players were told to make sure their antivirus software is up to date and remove any malicious looking files. Hacking will increasingly be the face of poker scandals going into the next few years, taking the necessary precautions will be an ongoing battle for the entire poker playing community.
Online poker is a multi-billion dollar industry with money coming in from all corners of the globe. If you think casinos in Vegas and Macau are rolling in the dough, you haven't paid much attention to this fine detail: online casinos and poker sites have minimal overhead. Seriously, even land casinos are offering online poker options. "Don't bite the hand that feeds you" is an old adage. Keep that in mind when you're prone to worrying about the fairness that online poker offers its players.
Think about it: no reputable online poker site would risk reputation, legal status, and the all-important solid cash flow. It would not benefit them in any way, shape, or form. The theory that they would be in collusion with certain players to help them win a few extra hands is nothing short of absurd. They have no need to ensure that certain players win and others lose. One way that governmental regulators and auditors such as eCOGRA know there is no chance to cheat is the RNG. Random number generation ensures that hands cannot be manipulated.
One of the primary ways in which there can be collusion or cheating is for a player to create more than one account and play against themselves. While this is against the terms of most online poker rooms, cheaters are cheaters. The thing to remember is that it would take a great deal of focus, as well as a pretty hefty bankroll and numerous bank accounts to pull this off.
How can you protect yourself against such a rogue? Well, first of all, if you begin to notice that there are always the same players seated at a table, and that one reacts too similarly to the actions of the other, you could begin to question the validity of both players. Alternatively, you could wonder if they are two different players communicating with each other in order to take other players. Multi-accounting or communication is collusion against not only other players, but the house as well.
Choose sites that have:
Good player traffic
High quality software
Safe, secure banking options
Outstanding customer service
Bonuses and loyalty rewards
Is that the dinging of a jackpot bell or of warning bells going off in my head? It's probably the latter, considering you are playing online poker, right? First of all, whenever you are entering into anything online, you are freely giving your information away. Every reputable, high quality site protects your information and, in fact, values your patronage. But like anything in the e-commerce world, there are sneaks. You will want to safeguard yourself. Trust your intuition. Trust what other online players are saying in chat rooms and social networks. Most importantly, protect yourself and your interests. Locate those online poker rooms that are REAL: Reputable, eCOGRA, Authenticated, and Licensed.