Is Online Poker Rigged or Real?
- Reviewed by WSOP Winner Chris ‘Fox’ Wallace
It doesn’t matter if you’re a serious pro or just playing for fun, you need to know your poker 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, a rigged game with cheating players does not make for a fun game.
Search “Is online poker rigged?” on Google and you’ll find many comments along the lines of: “Only sore losers complain”…”Those moaners are just bad poker players”…”They just don’t have a big enough bankroll to ride out the bad luck, so feel cheated.”
In the end, the reason doesn’t matter. Online poker sites that are legitimate and have passed through third-party scrutiny are NOT rigged. But some players won’t believe this, and feel they are being cheated over issues such as:
- Too many bad beats
- More pots being won by depositing players (to encourage new players)
- Fewer pots being won by depositing players (to encourage more deposits)
Online Poker Sites – Why They Want a Fair Game
Online poker is a multi-billion dollar industry with money coming in from all corners of the globe. “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” is an old adage, and one that springs to mind when considering the fairness that online poker offers its players.
No reputable online poker site would risk its reputation, legal status, and all-important cash flow for the sake of interfering in any individual poker hands being played.
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.
What is RNG?
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 online gaming.
Random number generators use mathematical formulae 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, and 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.
Why Licensing and Jurisdiction Matter
When choosing a reputable site, it’s 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, 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:
Let’s look at what a high quality, safe poker site looks like.
- First, they have a large number of players, and 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
The purpose of the eCommerce Online Gaming Regulation and Assurance, i.e. eCOGRA, is to formally regulate the online gaming industry. The eCOGRA 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 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.
Dispelling the Myth
It is important to explore the myth that online poker is rigged, as well as the possibility and plausibility that players’ concerns are justified.
Many players, whether it is an online game of poker or even online slots, will believe after enough losses that the house is cheating. Yet 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.
Online poker players should realize 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, that one of them smelling a rat and going public would quickly damage the reputation of the poker site.
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 dollars 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. An independent group of online poker aficionados from all around the world have utilized tracking software to identify any signs of rigged sites. After carefully exploring millions upon millions of hands of poker, they confirmed 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.
But Is It Possible for Sites to Cheat?
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 losing their reputation would mean losing their entire business. 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.
Nevertheless, as with any online pursuit it pays to be vigilant on a technical level, especially when money is involved.
How to safeguard yourself against cheaters:
- Never use public computers to play
- Password protect your accounts
- Be wary of mobile devices prone to hackers
- Pay attention to other players and their frequencies of playing together
Follow this advice to protect yourself from any potential online cheats. They’re extremely rare, but as you’ll see below, they may be some out there.
Past Online Cheating Scandals
One of the most notable cheating scandals occurred in 2007 through an online site known as Absolute Poker. The operators of this site were based Canada, on Mohawk Tribal lands.
In this particular case, the runner-up in a poker tournament – a lawyer turned poker pro named Johnson – called foul after he noticed the tourney winner, a player known as Potripper, was suspiciously winning a lot of money with horrible hands and very bad bets. After Potripper beat Johnson for first place and a prize of $30,000, Johnson started his own investigation.
As luck would have it, an anonymous tip quickly set Johnson on a path that would uncover the story of an ex-employee of AbsolutePoker.com and an accomplice hacking into the site and producing a mechanism to see every player’s cards.
Unfortunately, prior to online poker becoming as popular and regulated as it is now, it was possible for a rogue employee to cheat their way to a win in this way. A great deal of money was lost in this one particular scandal. Many of the players did recoup some of their losses, but not all of the money was recovered.
Fortunately, this type of cheating scandal with rogue employees, players and conspiratorial activity is close to impossible when online players stick with licensed, regulated sites.
Poker Scandals Timeline
|1816||Jefferson Randolph Smith, known simply as “Soapy”, operated a number of poker rooms – and poker scams – in 19th century America. Corrupt deputy sheriff officers would be solicited to make fake arrests in Soapy’s 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.|
|2001||Poker Spot, founded in May 2000 by popular poker celebrity Dutch Boyd, was one of the pioneer websites for online poker. However, 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.|
|2005||The UltimateBet scandal, which the company claimed had been perpetrated by employees of the former owners, Excapsa Software, used unauthorized software code that transferred the hole-card information of other players. Essentially, a single user was being fed the details of other players’ hands. Eventually, superstar poker pro Russ Hamilton was found to be the main person responsible for multiple cheating incidents, and estimated to be responsible for 20 million dollars worth of fraud.|
|2006||Through operating more than one account at once, at the same table, a fraudster can control many aspects of the game and make sure the other players have much lower odds of winning. A player named JJProdigy, after winning $140,000 in a tournament, started boasting on chatrooms that he was playing two accounts. 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.|
|March 2010||Poker scams often involve the act of staking another player. 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. 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.|
|August 2010||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 Partouche Poker Tour in France. 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.|
|2011||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. It turned out that Full Tilt Poker 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. PokerStars eventually bought Full Tilt and acquired all its former players, in the process returning their bankrolls (which it keeps in a segregated account with all other player funds, as legally required).|
|2014||The Borgata cheating scandal saw an eccentric man by the name of Christian Lusardi trying 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. 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.|
|2015||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 used that information to target them on online casinos. Concerned players were told to make sure their antivirus software was up to date and to remove any malicious looking files.|
|2019||A fairly low-stakes cash game, which was being streamed live online from the Stones Gambling Hall in California, became the center of a storm of allegations after one player in the game, Mike Postle, won hundreds of thousands of dollars over many months. Seemingly only winning big in games which were streamed online, Postle was accused of using a conspirator to gain access to the stream’s card information via his mobile phone. Multiple lawsuits ensued, including bankruptcy proceedings for Postle.|
How to Find Good Online Poker Sites
Choose sites that have:
- Good player traffic
- High quality software
- Safe, secure banking options
- eCogra certification
- Outstanding customer service
- Bonuses and loyalty rewards
Of course, the fastest and most convenient way to check if a poker site is legit is to check our dedicated online poker room reviews!