Is There More to the Online Bot Scandal Than Meets the Eye?

by Lou on July 23, 2010

On July 20 I wrote about an article at reporting that PokerStars froze ten player accounts following an internal investigation proving they were bots, not real people.  Over the past few days, I’ve thought about this incident, and it seems to raise more questions in my mind than it answers.  You can read all about it here:

It’s clear to me that these were rather amateurish bots. They did not play well, and while they generated a combined win of $57,839 during their run of more than 8 million hands, they earned the underwhelming sum of seven-tenths of a cent per hand.

In fact, if these bots were playing at a brick-and-mortar casino against the very same opponents they confronted online, they would not have been winners at all.  Because of the higher rake in live casinos, they would have lost money! When you combine that with the fact that they were able to be traced because they left a very visible digital signature—they played identically, with no randomization programmed into their artificial intelligence to throw the bloodhounds off the scent—I have to wonder whether catching these ten offending accounts represents only the most visible tip of a much larger iceberg that few of us have seen.

I’m absolutely certain that guys who have more sophisticated skills when it comes to artificial intelligence could design bots that are significantly harder to trace, and that a better class of bot would beat these low-limit games for more than a penny a hand.

If that’s the case, there may well be a profusion of bots online that have yet to be ferreted out because they are better designed than these rather amateurish efforts, and are played and managed in a way that deflects attention by lessening the myriad observable patterns that can be examined when seeking out online bots.

I’m not sure, and I don’t want to be viewed as an alarmist, or a guy who is crying wolf when there might not even be anything there.  But it seems naïve to believe that PokerStars caught the only ten bots playing on their sites, and that none of the other popular online sites have bot issues.

The fact that these bots were uncovered at all seems to be a combination of good investigative techniques coupled with rather amateurish bots that were easily detected and caught.  I don’t know if the poker industry has a bigger problem than just these ten bots.  I’d like to think not, but I can’t be sure and have no evidence upon which to base any reasoned assessment.  Still, I’d like to think that the leading online poker sites are doing absolutely all they can to protect their players—and their sites—from online bots.  But are they?  Inquiring poker players want to know.

What do you think?


Danny July 23, 2010 at 6:06 am

It does raise a lot of questions. As an online skeptic I’ve always preferred casinos and poker leagues and only resort to the laptop for practice. How would you ever know, I can’t see the sites admitting to enormous amounts of this going on, it would scare everyone off. My guess, the guilty parties made the amounts so small as to avoid getting caught, well tried to anyway. Discreet often goes unnoticed for too long, then it’s too late to solve the issue.

john kaupp July 26, 2010 at 1:54 am

i used to get a message from PS occasionally ( in the chat window ) asking me to put in a code to prove i was not a BOT
i guess this was a compliment ??
but it has not happened to me in more than 25K hands
i think colusion my be a bigger threat
it is very easy for 2 players to be at the same table and both know the other players hole cards
does anybody know is PS or the other on-line sites have caught ” coluders ”
???? and banned them
they do NOT talk much about any of these kinds of problems on-line or thru e-mail correspondence

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