US Online Poker: Guide to Staying Safe and Protecting Yourself from Bots, Collusion and More

US Online Poker: Guide to Staying Safe and Protecting Yourself from Bots, Collusion and More

One of the concerns online poker players have is whether they are playing in a safe environment, that is, if the games are fair and that they are not being cheated.

Most regulated online poker rooms including the ones in the US do a fair job of keeping the room safe and secure from fraudulent activities but there can be instances where they can go undetected and cause a nuisance.

In this guide, we tell you how to stay safe in terms of bots and collusion, what sites do well to protect players from cheating and what you should look for as a player.

But before we get to the part about what operators do to combat unscrupulous activities or what you should do as a player, it is important to understand what are some of the most common forms of cheating in online poker and how they operate.

Cheating or unscrupulous activities in online poker exist in the following ways:

  • Bots
  • Collusion
  • Multi-Accounting
  • Ghosting
  • Super-User

What are Poker Bots?

In the online poker world, bots are computerized programs that play in the place of humans. They are designed to make mathematically perfect decisions all the time which puts them at a huge advantage. Unlike humans, bots do not succumb to tilt as they have no emotions, do not tire or misplay a hand and they can continuously play for long hours without getting tired.

They are widely considered to be menaces which in turn have a negative impact on the economy of the game. These automated programs are rightly prohibited by all poker rooms as they eliminate the human thought process required for a game like poker.

Bots are often used by users who are looking to make quick and easy money. However, the good news is that poker bots are rare in reputable sites and are very likely to get caught thanks to the sophisticated programs used by the operators to detect them.

What is Collusion in Poker?

Collusion is basically a team play that occurs when two or more players on the table cooperate by privately sharing their hole cards or any other knowledge, gaining an unfair advantage over other players.

Collusion can also include intentionally losing to an associate account more commonly known as Chip Dumping. Another form of collusion is Soft Play in which player opts to take less aggressive line against their friends with the goal to avoid winning money or chips.

It is a clear offense and players getting caught can be given a warning or banned from the room. Compared to the use of bots, collusion is more common but can be easily detectable thanks to security systems put in place or through players’ reports.

What is Multi-Accounting?

Multi-accounting in online poker refers to creating more than one real money account in a single poker room. It is strictly prohibited and can lead to account suspension with even the possibility of getting bankroll seized if caught repeatedly.

Players usually create multiple accounts to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents. They can do so by joining a cash game table or a sit and go with two accounts or more, thus giving them access to four hole cards instead of two and help in manipulating the game. Some also create multi accounts to take advantage of the site’s welcome bonus offers or participate in a freeroll thus giving them a higher chance to win the tournament. They also do so to get a new user name or identity which is considered unethical.

Multi-accounting does happen in all the sites but like other forms of cheating or unfair methods, they are easily detectable thanks to the comprehensive measures put by operators to prevent this from happening.

What is Ghosting in Poker?

Ghosting usually occurs when a player is deep in the tournament where huge money is at stake and takes advice from another player or their coach. In live games, ghosting is strictly prohibited but in the virtual felt, it is very difficult to prevent this form of cheating as players can take advise from someone sitting right next to them.

Another way Ghosting can occur is by giving access to their account to their friend. Some third-party screen-sharing tools such as Teamviewer or Skype can also be used to get control of their friend’s account but these methods are likely to be caught by operators for breaching their terms.

What are Superuser Accounts?

A Superuser account means a person with access to an opponent’s hole cards in real-time. In the past, there have been instances of where an employee of a certain room was able to see hole cards of all their opponents but in today’s world, this is almost unlikely to happen in a reputable online poker room as all the information on the hole cards is stored centrally on the poker server, which can only be viewed once a hand is completed.

In other words, this form of cheating is least likely to happen. However, some users can get access to hole cards by hacking the victim’s computer by sending a trojan or a virus.

Conclusion

Cheating does happen in online poke whether it is in the form of collusion, the use of bots, or multi-accounting but not to the extent that would harm the economy of the game. So as long as you are playing in a legitimate poker site, rest assured that you are playing in a safe environment.

But yes, there can be rare instances where you can get cheated like in any other gaming industry but if caught and their funds get confiscated, expect reimbursements to be made to those that were affected by unfair methods.

How Do Online Poker Rooms Combat Fraudulent Activities?

Most mainstream online poker rooms have a specialist Poker Risk & Fraud team set up to tackle any suspicious activity that may be against the site’s rules. The team is equipped with enough resources and expertise necessary to hunt down cheaters.

Be it the usage of poker bots or software aids, collusion, multi-accounting or any other form of unfair play, these rooms use sophisticated security systems.

Global online poker giant, PokerStars, particularly invests millions in game integrity and has been doing it for two decades. Partypoker also has a dedicated Fraud team and is one of the few rooms that does not shy away from revealing the number of fraudulent accounts banned every month and the amount confiscated and reimbursed.

Other poker networks such as GGPoker, 888poker, Winamax, iPoker, Run It Once Poker, and other licensed rooms—all employ a designated team to ensure the site is safe and fair.

In this guide, we will mostly focus on the regulated online poker rooms active in the US. Currently, there are three major online poker networks in the country.

  • PokerStars
  • WSOP/888 Network
  • partypoker US Network (comprising partypoker, BetMGM and Borgata Online)

PokerStars

PokerStars has been in the industry for two decades and is considered to lead the industry in proactive detection, with a team of 50+ employees in their Game Integrity division that use a variety of advanced techniques to detect irregular play.

It is licensed in several countries across the globe including three in the US states namely:

  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • Michigan

While their US operations are handled by a different team, make no mistake, they are equally well efficient and capable of detecting nefarious activities. Any kind of cheating or unfair play is not tolerated on the site and anyone caught can face penalties in the form of warnings, account suspension, or even confiscation of player’s funds.

As per PokerStars, the tools used by them to detect and investigate fraud cases “are multifaceted, incredibly sophisticated and always improving.”

The fraud team examines player’s accounts such as their hand histories, win rate and playing statistics on an individual basis. Some of the mechanism used by PokerStars include using special collusion detection software, ensuring mouse movements are realistic, using popup Captcha inputs, preventing the same IP address to register for the same game more than once, requiring players to record a video of their gameplay and various other mechanisms that cannot be revealed publicly for obvious reasons.

These security measures are triggered not only by their own internal systems but also depend on player reports which point to potential cheating. PokerStars like other operators encourages players to report any suspicious activity to their support team.

Depending on the infraction, refunds may be distributed back to those affected as compensation.

WSOP.com/888 Network

The WSOP/888 network is {n:211568-online-poker-delaware-powered-888-enjoys-levels-not-seen/:one of the largest networks in the US} and the only interstate poker network in the country at the time of writing. The duo currently operates in three states, all sharing the same player pool:

  • Delaware
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey

WSOP has its own room in Nevada and New Jersey and uses 888poker’s software. It shares its player pool with the three “racinos” in Delaware powered by 888, the exclusive provider for online poker in the state. 888poker also has its own brand in New Jersey which again combines player pool with that of WSOP NJ.

Like any other top-class operator, WSOP.com takes fairplay and cheat detection very seriously. It has employed security teams designated especially for this purpose. It has its own set of House Rules which every player must abide by. Players can report suspicious or unfair play by contacting their email at [email protected]

What exact methods the operator uses to prevent and detect cheating is not known publicly for security reasons, but it states that it has developed and employed “sophisticated proprietary technology” to detect plays that appear questionable or suspicious.

Besides, the operator also verifies the player’s account details from time to time by requesting documents such as a valid government-issued photo ID and proof of address so there is no identity fraud. Furthermore, the operator may ask for proof of payment method to prevent fraudulent payment activities. The operator also verifies the player’s location through geo-location software so they are not breaching the site’s policy.

Should a player’s account is found breaching the site’s policy, the operator can freeze and close their account and even notify the state gaming regulatory board of the suspected activity. Affected players can expect to be reimbursed with amounts that have been confiscated.

888poker NJ itself has its own set of rules and regulations which can be found on their website. Like WSOP.com, it has its own fraud team to prevent nefarious activities.

partypoker US Network

The partypoker US Network is another esteemed operator in the US—also operating in three states:

  • New Jersey
  • Michigan
  • Pennsylvania

It comprises three skins—BetMGM, Borgata and partypoker and depending on the states they vary in each of them. For instance, in New Jersey, all three skins are active; whereas in Pennsylvania, all three are active with the exception of the partypoker brand and in Michigan, only the BetMGM operates.

Much like any other reputed operator, partypoker US has zero tolerance towards inappropriate play and fraudulent activity. In its global network, it has a dedicated Poker Fraud Team comprising former professional poker players. It has pledged to update players on account closures every month, including revealing the number of accounts banned and funds confiscated.

The US network has its separate fraud team and although it does not reveal the number of accounts closed on a monthly basis like its dot-com counterpart, the US fraud team is equally well equipped and the site does everything to make players feel safe.

In fact, it does not shy away from revealing the countermeasures it takes to prevent the use of bots. As per the network, their efforts are divided into three separate categories:

i) identification and detection

ii) warning/suspending offending users

iii) additional measures through enlarged customer choice.

Identification and detection counter-measures are in place and have been for some time, the site says. Partypoker detects existing bots that are available and also prevents bot programs that are newly released or create. As soon as a player is caught using an illegal program, he or she is notified about the potential steps that the site will take if they continue to use that program. Extreme steps include suspension of their account and confiscation of the funds without any prior notice.

The security team is also tasked with reviewing hand histories. Unlike players, sites have access to all the player’s hand histories on a table, which gives them a good idea of whether collusion or any other form of cheating has taken place.

The site has also has developed special software that tracks every single move a player makes in their poker room. This also includes tracking third-party software (including the illegal ones) being run on the computer.

How to Stay Safe and What Should You Look for as a Player?

First and foremost, always prefer playing on a site that is licensed. Always avoid playing on sites that are unregulated as these rooms are more vulnerable to illegal activities

To know if a site is licensed, look out for the logo of the gaming board at the bottom of the poker site’s home page or the poker client. The three currently active gaming regulators in the US are as follows:

Online Poker Room Regulators

Ensure that you read the site’s terms and conditions. This will give you an idea of how serious a site is when it comes to dealing with fraudulent accounts.

Most online poker rooms encourage you to report any suspicious activity to their support staff. We have compiled a list of all the support contact emails of all the major sites operating in the regulated US online poker market.

New Jersey Players

Contact partypoker US Network (partypoker NJ, BetMGM and Borgata) Support

Contact PokerStars NJ Support

Contact WSOP NJ Support

Contact 888poker NJ Support

Pennsylvania Players

Contact PokerStars PA Support

Contact partypoker US Support

Michigan Players

Contact PokerStars Michigan Support

Contact partypoker US Support

Nevada Players

Contact WSOP Support

Delaware Players

Contact Delaware Park Support

Contact Dover Downs Support

Contact Harrington Raceway Support

Alternatively, players can also contact via the live chat option available on the website or poker software. Players also have the option to option to contact the state’s gaming regulatory board if they are not satisfied with the resolution offered by the room.

Cheating in Online Poker FAQ

Here we answer some of the most commonly asked questions players have when it comes to cheating in online poker.

Do Online Poker Rooms Have Bots?

Yes! But not much as you think. In fact, poker bots are quite rare and you’re unlikely to face them every day.

Do I Need to be Worried About Poker Bots?

As long as you’re playing in a reputed online poker site that is regulated and licensed in known jurisdictions, you should not be worried. Most online poker rooms have various counter-measures in place that prevent players from using bots. Even if they go undetected, they are very likely to be caught in the future or through player’s reports.

What About Other Fraudulent Activities?

Apart from poker bots, other forms of cheating such as collusion, multi-accounting, ghosting do exist. However, online poker rooms have an internal security system that prevents these kinds of unscrupulous activities. For instance, sites have special software that detects any irregularity in play or if they are using any third-party tool.

They also have access to player’s hand histories which helps them know if a group of players is involved in collusion. Operators also can ask a player to upload an ID for multiple reasons including if they are using more than one accounts.

How Operators Combat Poker Bots?

Most online poker rooms have systems in place that track any automated programs that are being run when they are playing on their software. Any third-party software that makes decision on its own is red-flagged immediately and the player using that software can be given a warning or even can get a suspension. Other mechanisms used to detect bots include using popup Captcha inputs, ensuring mouse movements are realistic, review hand histories to detect similarity in play with other accounts suspected of using the bots, and more.

How Online Poker Operators Combat Collusion?

Online poker rooms have access to hand histories of all players playing on the table. This allows them to know if a player or a group of players is involved in collusion. Operators also detect collusion through internal systems that automatically detect collusion in real-time.

How Poker Operators Prevent Multi-accounting?

Most online poker rooms take comprehensive measures to prevent multi-accounting. For instance, a player can be asked to upload a copy of their ID for their account verification. Operators can also detect multi-accounting via cookies and fingerprinting techniques such as storing the MAC and IP address when a player creates an account. Some rooms also have a security feature that prevents the same IP address to register for the same tournament more than once from a different account.

What Players Can do if they Find Suspicious Play?

Operators often encourage players to report any suspicious account activity to their support via email or live chat.

What sites do well to protect players?

Most legalized and regulated online poker rooms do a good job of keeping their players safe. PokerStars, WSOP.com, partypoker US Network and 888poker—all have a dedicated internal fraud team whose sole job is to detect any suspicious play. But in particular, PokerStars is the safest room to play, in our opinion.

Can I Expect to be Reimbursed if a Site Catches a Cheater?

Yes, if a site does catch a cheater and if their funds get confiscated, you will be very likely to receive compensation if you have been affected by the cheater.