It would be unfair to say scamming, or other forms of cheating are commonplace in online poker markets. But it would also be untrue to say they are rare. As we continue on this topic you might also want to take a look at my write-up about the safety of online poker as well. As poker looks for its rebound, collusion will always be the biggest problem but in some cases you can take action. See below for more on collusion.
Online poker and other forms of online gambling in the United States and across the world are still rather young, especially compared to older forms of gambling. The history of Internet poker started back in 1998 with Planet Poker. Planet Poker was the first real-money cardroom [A] and took their first clients on Jan 1st, 1998, dealing a game of $3–$6 limit Texas Hold’em to a few select customers. The site continued growing from there.
The industry truly took off during the period of 2003 to 2006, which is known as the “Poker Boom” [B]. In these years, the number of online poker players grew exponentially, repeatedly doubling, year after year. However, due to the passage of the UIGEA [C] later that year and the US government’s crackdown on Internet gambling, the industry’s growth has been stifled.
While the brick-and-mortar casino industry has been around for at least 50 years in the United States and even longer in other countries, online poker still remains in its discovery phase.
Even in the now-regulated online poker markets of New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada, there have been lots of hiccups for both regulators and players. The offshore world is ahead of them in many aspects, but not in terms of regulatory oversight.
What is Collusion and Does it Happen
This is the most common form of cheating by players. Since using sleight of hand, bottom dealing, stacking the deck or marking cards isn’t possible in online poker – wannabe cheaters must resort to colluding.
In online poker, collusion is when two or more players are working together with a clandestine but common strategy. This can be as simple as two players soft-playing each other, which if they’re playing heads-up, has little effect on others players. It is essentially two friends “checking down” a pot in a live game. This form of collusion is generally harmless.
However, more advanced forms of players can cost unsuspecting players a lot of money. Professional-level cheats, even in online poker markets, have taken unsuspecting players for tens of thousands of dollars.
Their tactics can go from trapping players with raises and re-raises, which forces them to fold or rethink their hand, to losing to each other so as to not arise suspicion. Heck, players can even talk to each other through an instant messaging service, like Facebook Chat or Skype. Bovada created an ‘anonymous’ pattern and while I believe they are the best site for safety concerns, it won’t stop collusion. A lot of the inside knowledge is shared at poker training sites that are legit (our top list).
They can also disguise themselves by using different IP address or creating multiple accounts and playing under different aliases, which is known as “multi-accounting”. This allows players to play multiple hands and go undetected.
Do You Suspect Collusion?
Collusion at online poker websites isn’t exactly commonplace, but the threat of being colluded against, especially in middle- to high-stakes games, is very real. How sites and networks handle collusion or how proactive they are at spotting it varies wildly, depending on the poker room.
Ideally, each room would have a security team that is heavily dedicated to stopping collusion on all fronts. Players who engage in collusion at the higher levels can be extremely sophisticated and organized. For this reason, it’s vital for operators to be vigilant against collusion and thoroughly investigate claims made by players.
If you’re playing and suspect collusion, immediately email or call support. Email any available hand histories where you suspect collusion is taking place as well. It should also go without saying that you should stop playing against those opponents. There’s no need to berate the suspects in the chat – just report the incident to support.
It may be worth posting on a public forum to warn others of the suspected collusion and to publicly post the correspondence with the poker room’s management and security. Additionally, posting hand histories so that others can review them is another common option.
However, you should remember that many players are quick to blame their losses on collusion when they’re getting beat by a particular opponent(s). In the vast majority of cases, collusion isn’t the reason why you’re losing. In most cases, you’re likely losing to said players because they’re simply better than you. Nonetheless, if you detect strange patterns in play against certain opponents, there may be a reason for concern, and you should report it.
What Are Regulated vs. Unregulated Poker Sites
Once you report suspected collusion to poker room management, it’s up to them to decide how far to go with their investigation. As described above, it would be great if each room vigorously investigated incidents of collusion, but that is just not the case.
In regulated and legal markets, like those in most of Western Europe and now in the states of New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada, these claims are almost always taken seriously. There are stringent gaming commission requirements in these jurisdictions, and the poker sites have to answer to regulators.
Nevada and New Jersey have stiff penalties for collusion [D], which is, of course, a form of cheating. Nevada has taken all of their brick-and-mortar gaming laws and applied them online, which means players caught cheating could face a category B felony in the state for their first offense. This could amount to 1–6 years in prison (and/or $10,000 in fines) and additional restitution to the casino.
In regulated markets, instances of collusion will almost always be dealt with appropriately. Once management has completed their investigation, those who are guilty of collusion will usually be barred from the site permanently, and their funds will be confiscated and distributed to player(s) who were victims of their scam.
In theory, this is how it should also work in unregulated markets. However, while some sites will do their due diligence when it comes to investing claims of collusion, many unregulated rooms don’t take the matter too seriously. Or they pretend that they do, only paying lip service to players but in reality doing little to stop collusion or investigate claims of cheating.
Though most of these sites are licensed in their home countries, many of these seals or regulatory bodies are mere formalities. While they occasionally revoke the licenses of serial offenders, for the most part, they have little or no knowledge of a site’s finances or day-to-day operations.
Collusion is much more likely to occur in offshore markets, for this reason. The oversight just isn’t there, and many sites don’t investigate claims adequately.
For instance, still one of the largest US-facing sites, Merge Gaming (Carbon Poker) had a cheating scam back in 2012. The evidence was undeniable. There was chip dumping and collusion going on, but Merge investigated the matter in only 12 hours and determined there was no wrongdoing.
After revisiting the matter and the 2+2 Forum providing more proof, Merge reopened their investigation. The room never made an official announcement, but the cheating stopped, and the accounts in question were never seen again. It’s unclear whether Merge banned the accounts and confiscated the funds or whether the cheaters simply stopped when discovered. The victims of the cheaters never did receive compensation for being cheated, which would be the only fair outcome if Merge indeed banned the players and seized their funds. Judging by their investigation into the matter, it’s tough to have much confidence in their security team when it comes to stopping collusion and investigating issues that players bring to their attention.
Other US-facing unregulated and offshore sites have faced similar allegations of collusion. This isn’t to say there’s collusion going on unchecked at all unregulated sites. Some are better than others. Overall though, sites in regulated poker markets do a much better job catching collision and other forms of cheating.
Checks Bouncing or Nothing Coming from Poker Websites
Not being paid when you request a withdrawal from an online gambling site is a situation many players have experienced. Like our example of collusion, there is a stark difference between regulated and unregulated markets.
For instance, during the “Black Friday” debacle in 2011, Full Tilt Poker went insolvent after the US Department of Justice’s seizures and indictments. PokerStars came to an agreement with the DOJ [E] to bail out Full Tilt Poker’s players and payout balances over a year later, but US customers still had to wait over 2.5 years to have their funds returned to them.
And they were lucky. Absolute Poker and UltimateBet (Cereus Poker Network) players are currently out hundreds of millions after Black Friday, and there’s almost no hope of being repaid.
Of course, the vast majority of players who play at unregulated or offshore online poker rooms don’t end up in this situation. But the cold reality is that there is little players can do in a dispute with an unregulated poker operator. Other than shaming them on poker forums and emailing and calling their support staff relentlessly to get paid – players are mostly helpless. There have been forum posts for years about suing sites that wronged players and run off with bankrolls or went insolvent, but I’ve yet to hear of one of these lawsuits proceeding, let alone succeeding.
Even in regulated climates, it can take a long time to get restitution from a site that goes bust or runs off with player funds, but at least players have legal protections and a court system to work within.
If you’re playing in a state that has online gambling regulated on the intrastate level, (Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey), you can be absolutely sure that you will be paid. From a legal perspective, state-regulated online poker in the United States is no different than playing at a traditional brick-and-mortar casino.
If a site fails to pay players or doesn’t meet the specific regulatory standards mandated by government – they will lose their license.
Getting scammed or cheated in online poker isn’t commonplace. Even in unregulated offshore markets, the vast majority of players are not being taken advantage of and are paid within the appropriate time-frame when they request a withdrawal.
In regulated markets, the security in terms of collusion and the allotment of player funds is much better. Currently, that can only be done in the three states listed above. Legislation has been introduced in dozens of other states, and these numbers are expected to grow as the years go by.
For now, playing at unlicensed sites is the only option for most Americans, and it’s still a viable one. The best way to not get scammed or ripped off is to keep up with recent news and be aware of your opponents’ and their play patterns.
Author: Joseph Falchetti (twitter)
(C) Copyright PokerWebsites.com, 2018