Cheats prospering in online casinos

Poker chipsA new version of Poker-Spy has been released today and the premise of the program sparked dollar (well, Euro) signs flashing in our eyes as we heard the ker-ching of cash registers ring out around the office. The application boasts a patent pending alert system and game tracker designed to help you constantly monitor online card games and pick up on your competitors’ playing habits, thus enabling you to choose your hand more wisely and gain a competitive advantage.

Now, if you strolled into a Las Vegas parlour with such a piece of technology, you’d more than likely end up being driven out to the desert and bashed over the head with a bat by Joe Pesci. However, in the Net’s many online casinos this form of “real-time player profiling” (or “cheating” as it’s often known) is apparently rife.

According to Richard Marcus, one of the world’s most notorious casino cheats, online poker sites are at a much greater risk from cheating than the establishments in Vegas, Atlantic City, London and Monte Carlo, where he made his fortune. The card crook, who pilfered a reported $5m by unfair means, reckons that the anonymity of online gambling makes it a haven for cheating scallywags.

In an interview with Silicon.com, the gambler-turned-author predicted that “within a short amount of time we are going to see about one in a hundred people playing honestly. The rest will be using bots, or it will be computers playing against computers.”

Without the benefit of CCTV or table watchers it’s difficult to see what the online poker and card-playing sites do to snuff out the use of gambling software, bots and users using multiple accounts in their virtual rooms. So what on Earth are the big gambling sites doing to weed out cheating and avoid a scenario where matches are being played out by a bunch of robotic card sharks?

Lee Jones, Poker Room Manager for leading gambling site Pokerstars.com told us: “It is easy to identify cheats if you have suspects. It becomes much more of a challenge when you have tens of thousands of players playing in hundreds of events.”

Nevertheless Pokerstars claims it is able to snuff out threats from players who are using any of the programs on the site’s “banned” list. According to its terms and conditions PokerStars “prohibits External player assistance programs (“EPA Programs”) which are designed to provide an “Unfair Advantage” to players”.

“We have several methods of discovering the use of bots (both specific bots such as WinHoldem, and generic bot-detection algorithms),” Jones adds.

“Methods such as session lengths and lack of table chat are used, but we have numerous other technical ways of finding bots which I am afraid we cannot reveal for security purposes. Using these techniques, we will find most bots playing at our tables very quickly. It may reassure you further to know that of the bots we have discovered, few have been winning players, and of those few that are winners the win rates are quite meagre indeed.”

While this may provide relief to genuine, rule-abiding online poker players, Richard Marcus says the cheats are prepared to fight dirty, insisting that although “people with unsophisticated bots can be caught, the really sophisticated stuff has a mind of its own.”

As more and more of these advanced bots crop up, we’re likely to see many bonafidé players leaving their morals at the splash screen and adopting the “if you can’t beat ’em, cheat ’em approach.” Many outside observers such as Richard Marcus would argue that the crafty casinos have had this coming for some time.

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