The Current State of Integrity and Security in Online Poker
Online poker has seen a major resurgence in the last several years, especially in the United States. With payment processing made much easier due to the growth of cryptocurrencies, some US-facing sites keep having surging levels of player traffic, which is leading to record-breaking guaranteed prize pools that seem to increase every month.
However, not everything is perfect in the online poker world as some players are constantly trying to gain an edge whether through online bots, using banned External Assistance Tools, or outright colluding with other players. While the top sites have done a great job combatting these issues, it is a continual battle where they can never let down their guard.
The purpose of this article is to help you determine which online poker sites have the highest integrity and which are the safest from a security standpoint.
What is an online poker bot?
The term Online Poker Bot gets thrown around a lot in the industry and for very good reason. They have been around practically as long as online poker itself, which is more than two decades. Yet online poker bots are extremely important to discuss. If allowed to run rampant, they can create an unfair advantage at the tables, which is the last thing that either poker players or poker operators want.
In a nutshell, an online poker bot is a computer program that has been purposefully designed to play the game against human opponents and create an advantage.
Please be aware that even the most advanced online poker bots can only see the same things as live players. That means they can’t see the cards in the deck or the cards that are in your hands.
The information that an online poker bot can see are things like the shown cards, bets, stacks, and pots. They then use this data to make decisions in real time that are preprogrammed by the software company.
Are online poker sites full of bots?
As we mentioned above, online poker bots are prevalent in the industry and catching them is a game of Cat and Mouse. Many poker sites do the cursory amount of work needed to temporarily remove bots like mouse movement detectors and statistical analysis.
However, the bots typically reinvent themselves and are back up and running in no time. Most poker sites have decided that it is not worth the time and money needed to more permanently remove bots.
However, there are some poker sites that draw a firm line in the sand against bots. One of them is Americas Cardroom, which is the flagship site of the Winning Poker Network. Their continuous battle against bots proves that it’s possible to curb them both in the short and long term.
Americas Cardroom first decided to put in the manpower truly needed to deal with bots. That meant increasing the size of both their dedicated Bot Team and Customer Assessment Team.
Next up was a software update. It included a new Google Captcha service in the poker client, forcing players to verify that they are human in a set amount of time. If players fail to do this, they have their account immediately suspended. To get reinstated, they must create a video session of them playing, which is then analyzed against their prior playing sessions to make sure they’re for real.
The next step is even greater as it targets some of the biggest commercial bot companies. Americas Cardroom now frequently changes the graphics table pixilation in their poker client. This renders the bots powerless since they can no longer see the cards, positions, stacks, and other essential information.
That means if these companies want their bots to keep working on Americas Cardroom, they are forced to do constant programming development. This is too big of an expense for most bot companies who have decided to stop targeting Americas Cardroom with their bots.
The final step was to employ a transparent and verifiable banned account policy. This means that when the bot (and corresponding account) gets banned, Americas Cardroom publishes all the details on their website and pays the affected players back. This gives players the confidence that the bot problem is being continually addressed and not just being done for show.
How is it legal to have bots on online poker?
The answer to this question is very simple. All online poker sites ban the use of online poker bots per their terms and conditions. Sites will sanction, and in most cases, permanently ban any account that is found to use a bot or collude with them.
Technically, using bots is not illegal in most jurisdictions. You will most likely never go to jail or even be charged with a crime if you attempt to use them.
Is online poker rigged?
Despite the presence of some bots, the vast majority of online poker sites are not rigged. However, players should never just take the word of the online poker site. That is where a random number generator (RNG) comes in.
The official definition of an RNG according to Wikipedia is as follows. “An RNG is a device that generates a sequence of numbers or symbols that cannot be reasonably predicted better than by a random chance.”
An RNG is used for things like casino slot machines, both online and land-based, guaranteeing that the customer is not playing on a rigged device. For online poker sites, an RNG ensures that each shuffle of the deck and every card dealt is fair and random. That means your odds are exactly the same as if you were playing live with a physical deck of cards.
Online poker sites have third-party companies test their RNGs to ensure that everything is working correctly and fair. The online poker site then gets issued an RNG certificate, which has to be continuously recertified as the years go by.
Most online poker sites do have an RNG certificate and the ones that don’t should be steered cleared from until they do.
How to spot cheaters
Online poker sites know that there is always a certain subset of players that will try to cheat, whether it is by using banned External Assistance Tools, colluding with other players, or other means.
The responsibility to spot cheaters is ultimately on the online poker site itself. Poker sites want to solve these problems as quickly as possible as it is bad for business, but sometimes they need help from the players.
Many online poker sites give players the tools needed to help spot cheaters and collusion. If a player learns how to spot these items on their own and communicates what they find with the online poker site, the process is much easier and productive for all involved.
Let’s start with defining an External Assistance Tool. This is a third-party tool, piece of software, or source material not developed by the online poker site itself that allows players to improve their poker performance.
Some External Assistance Tools are simply designed to help educate and improve players’ poker games. However, some are specifically designed to give players an unfair advantage at the tables. This is why sites allow the use of some External Assistance Tools and ban others. It is up to each player to read the terms and conditions of each poker site and make sure they are within compliance.
An External Assistance Tool that is banned at a lot of sites is Seating Scripts. A Seating Script allows players to hand-pick who they want to play against. In almost all cases, this will be the weaker players who are identified. The Seating Script then automatically detects when these weaker players have sat down at an online poker table and reserves a spot directly to the player’s left.
Some of the other banned External Assistance Tools at most sites are hole card sharing tools, and tools that offer real-time advice on how to act at the table. The latter are known as push-this-button bot or advisor.
Hand Histories and Heads Up Display (HUD) are two External Assistance Tools that can help players improve their play but also help spot a cheater and/or collusion.
Hand Histories are records of the action in an online poker hand. These are recorded by online poker sites and used by them to track player behavior, resolves disputes and more. Some sites make Hand Histories available to players. Through the help of commercially available products, players use Hand Histories to analyze and improve their play, plus make sure the cards are being fairly dealt.
A Heads Up Display is a computer app that collects and displays statistics about your poker opponents. It overlays your poker table with info about how each individual opponent has played in the past.
Online poker sites should allow Hand Histories and Heads Up Display as long as the data is limited to games the player has personally participated in and doesn’t include data from a current hand in play. Players should research which online poker sites allow these tools before deciding to sign-up.
Can you cheat in online poker?
One of the questions that many players ask is “can you cheat in online poker”? A select few research that topic on Google and other places with the intent of actually trying to cheat at the virtual tables. However, most players are asking that question because they simply want to make sure they are playing at a completely fair site where everything is above board.
One of the ways that online poker sites cut down on potential cheating is never allowing a change to a username once it is set up. That way, you always know who your opponent is, just like if you were sitting across from the person in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. This makes it easier for players to spot any cheating or colluding that might be happening.
By the same token, these usernames should always be shown during play, i.e. no anonymous tables. The concept of anonymous tables has been used in the past in online poker, and some of the bigger operators have tested out bringing them back recently. However, that lack of transparency makes the job harder when it comes to combatting cheating.
Some online sites increase transparency by making mucked hands available at showdown. This provides an ease to players, especially new ones, who could only previously see the information through Hand Histories. However, the real added benefit is that players can identify play that doesn’t make sense and spot potential collusion which can then be reported for further review.
Deciding whether to play at an online poker site is an important decision and the last thing any player should have to worry about is whether they are going against a bot, or the player next to them is cheating or colluding with others.
It’s important that you research which sites are actively combatting these issues and which are just paying lip service and hoping that the problem doesn’t get out of hand.
We already identified the Winning Poker Network (flagship site Americas Cardroom) as one location that is actually winning the war against online poker bots, but other sites are making strides as well.
Before making that first deposit (or subsequent ones), players can ask the Customer Service departments of these online sites what they are doing to combat poker bots and cheating in general. And if you don’t like what you hear, you can move on to the next site.
It’s also important to remember that players themselves can be a big part of the solution in making online poker sites safer. You might think that operators don’t want to hear from you if you see something suspicious at the tables, but the reality is the good ones really desire your input as they want to solve any problems as much as you do.
We hope you found this article useful as it is part of a series of how to play online poker safely and legally in the U.S. and worldwide.