“The Existential Threat”: PokerStars Battles Real-Time Assistance Tools

PokerStars reveals their evolving strategies in the fight against online cheaters.
"The Existential Threat": PokerStars Battles Real-Time Assistance Tools
October 31, 2023

PokerStars recently provided an update on its efforts to combat the use of Real-Time Assistance (RTA) tools, stating that its strategy must evolve in order to mitigate what one executive dubbed “the existential threat to online poker.”

That moniker came from Francis Lincoln, Head of Game Integrity at PokerStars. In a blog post in late September, Lincoln said the operator’s in-house gaming integrity unit “needed to get ahead of the curve and ensure we had the tools necessary” to counter the threat posed by RTA.

PokerStars offers online poker in three states United States on the PokerStars US real money network, in Ontario on PokerStars ON, and internationally on its global dot-com network.

Although Lincoln couldn’t divulge too much of the operator’s strategy — since doing so might tip off cheaters on ways to avoid detection — he disclosed that PokerStars uses “a wealth of data gathered from numerous sources” to help it identify unusual gaming patterns.

According to Lincoln, some data is gathered through the real-time monitoring of a player’s decisions and actions — including mouse clicks, which can indicate so-called “fully-automated bots.” If a case of cheating is detected, the operator suspends a player’s account and investigates — which often includes phone or video calls.

The database that PokerStars has compiled isn’t its only tool for combating RTA. The operator has developed additional tools in-house to detect events, such as how often an individual plays perfect game theory optimal (GTO) poker and what programs an individual might run simultaneously for advice.

“Our RTA detection tool is far more than just a database of solutions,” PokerStars said. “We use many ways to identify the different types of cheaters.”

PokerStars said its proactive detection rate exceeds 95%. While that’s not a perfect score, the operator said it strives to get its detection rate as high as possible — and sees setbacks as opportunities to refine its strategies. Players also have the option of reporting suspicious behavior and accounts, which the operator said helps its efforts as well.

The operator regularly discloses how many accounts it has closed and how much it has confiscated from cheaters. For example, PokerStars reported that in Q4 2019, it returned $1.87 million to players with money confiscated from cheaters.

Drilling down those numbers further, the operator said that there were 1.9 million active unique players during Q4 2019. Of those, PokerStars said it confiscated funds from 2,792 accounts during the quarter. It also reviewed 709 bot cases and found that 105 accounts had violated the operator’s terms of service.

Investigations were launched into 428 cases following a player report — 15 of which were submitted by other players suspicious of another’s betting behavior.

The timing of the operator’s update on countering RTA is noteworthy, since in came just days after GTO Wizard announced that it had launched “Fair Play Check,” a tool where players can look up if a board was solved using its software within a date range and considering all strategically equivalent boards.

GTO Wizard announced in mid-September that it had partnered with WPT Global and one US-facing offshore network to crack down on cheaters. It’s possible that PokerStars could also join forces with GTO Wizard.

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