Online poker has taken the poker world by storm over the past few years, making it possible for players to get the best of both home game and brick and mortar style play. U.S. Online poker combines the organization of brick and mortar, by providing a bank, dealers, chips, and tables with sometimes tens of thousands of players looking for a game, with the casual features of a home game that allow the player to participate without having to physically leave the comfort of their own home.
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The legalities of online poker are hazy at best, with the activity being legal in some states and illegal in others. Several states, including Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, and Wisconsin, have expressly outlawed Internet gambling in the USA while the rest of states have not been as clear. The federal government is also perplexed when it comes to the online gambling and Congress is looking to pass legislation to either restrict, regulate, or ban the activity altogether. With online poker in a legal grey area in the majority of the country, players are taking advantage of technology to cheat like they’ve never cheated before.
The $14 billion online poker world and its lack of regulation, surveillance, and identity is the perfect stomping ground for poker cheats of all varieties. With a computer and Internet connection, a poker cheat can log onto a US poker site from anywhere in the country to strike unsuspecting honest players. To start playing on an online site, often all a player needs to do is create an alias and deposit funds through a third party banking site. Personal information such as name, address, phone number, and date of birth is usually not required by the site, and if it is, it is almost never verified.
While poker sites often track a players internet protocol (“IP”) address to watch what computers players are coming from, cheaters can easily get around this hurdle by masking their Internet identity by spoofing, reassigning, or using multiple IPs. There is now conceivably millions of online poker players with access to old cheating methods as well as technologically advanced new ones, making Internet poker more dangerous than ever.
One of the easiest and most common methods of cheating at online poker is collusion with other players. Most poker sites offer tables that seat anywhere from two to ten players at a time and colluders typically like to take anywhere from two to five seats at a table. Player collude at an online table for the same benefits they seek to gain in a live home or casino game, however it is much easier for them to share information since they aren’t physically sharing the poker table with the other players.
Colluders might be in the same physical room when cheating other players or they may be using an instant messaging program or telephone to share cards and discuss strategy. For the poker cheat without any confederates, computer software is available to allow the lone cheater to set up multiple accounts and then physically play them simultaneously at the same online table.
Another frequent online cheating method is “cutting the cord,” which occurs when a player terminates their internet connection in the middle of a hand. The goal of cutting the cord is to allow the cheater’s hand to remain in the game without having to make any further calls or bets, a sort of pre-mature unilateral all-in, however online sites are getting wise to the cutting the cord cheat and are beginning to limit them in.
Online poker has also created a new playground for technology savvy cheaters. Software hackers have claimed the ability to see other players down cards and crack shuffling algorithms to allow them to know what cards will appear face up, but poker sites argue that they are always a step ahead.
One software cheat, available online for a modest price, allows a player to keep endless statistics on every hand and every player encountered on the Internet, allowing a player to study and expose weakness in another player’s style.
Advanced tracking software can also be used to follow players and tables when the cheater is not online, so statistics can be compiled around the clock whenever opponents are at the tables. While some may argue that tracking statistics is not cheating, it should be pointed out that it would be impossible for one player to accumulate as much information as a computer program at a tournament, such as the World Series of Poker that takes place in a brick and mortar casino.
Regardless of whether statistics tracking is seen as cheating or just a great advantage, other methods such as the use of bots are clearly a poker rule violation. Bots are computer programs that take the place of the human behind the computer and play poker for the player, sometimes for 24 hours straight. A cheater can configure a bot to crunch the probabilities of the hand and call, bet, fold, or raise depending on the chance of winning. Basically, with statistic trackers and bots, a poker cheater doesn’t even have to be playing poker to be cheating at it.
With all of these methods of cheating available for online poker, it may be difficult to ascertain when one is sitting at a table with a crook, but what if a player did discover they were being cheated, what legal actions could they take?
In order for a person to bring a civil action, two elements are crucial; someone to sue and a court to hear the case. Even if an online poker cheat admitted to cheating to the other players at the online table, it would be nearly impossible for the victims to obtain the cheaters name, address, and other information necessary to bring the action.
Assuming the cheater refused to volunteer their identity, victims could attempt to gain this information from the online poker site, but as mentioned before, these sites do not always require or verify these vital pieces of information. Furthermore, even if the cheater was tracked down to an apartment in Los Angeles, would a court even hear a case regarding quasi-legal online gambling? The answer is that there is no answer because it hasn’t happened yet, but assuming that the state hasn’t expressly outlawed online poker, a court may handle this type of case the same way it would handle a civil action for fraud or conspiracy to defraud in a home game of poker.
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