Back after another week’s unplanned break, Mike and Nick talk the planned ban of HUDs on partypoker, PokerStars’ new Aurora game engine and the operator’s ramp-up to 200 billion hands. Mike then takes us through the latest from Pennsylvania, and they wrap up on the latest on the bot issue at WPN.


Full Transcript

Mike: Hello and welcome, everybody, to The Pokerfuse Podcast. This is episode 12 coming at you on April 25th, 2019. I’m your host, Mike Gentile along with my co-host, Nick Jones. Nick, how’s it going today?

Nick: It is going very good. It is very good indeed. We can get this out of the way early on, we skipped a week didn’t we? That happened.

Mike: Yes, yes, yes. I was definitely under the weather last week so that was a contributing factor. I guess the good thing is that means we have a lot of things to cover this week.

Nick: Yes. It’s going to be another one. Hopefully, we’ll keep this under the hour, though our last episode was our most listened to date by quite a long shot. Seeing some scenes that-

Mike: Was it the longest as well?

Nick: It was the longest. If we were to graph it, there will be very much a trend line between length and listenership. Maybe if we bang on for like three hours, we’ll go viral or something.

Mike: [laughs] There are some that go on a lot longer than that. There’s got to be a point of diminishing returns at some juncture, but yes, if listeners have a preference as to the length, definitely would like to hear that. Tweet at us. I am @spookybugs, and Nick, you are?

Nick: I am pokerprojones. Yes, let us know how we are doing, please. Meanwhile, we will just dive into the week’s news.

HUDs on partypoker

Mike: It seems like there is a trending topic in online poker these days with the reduction of the use of third-party tools. We saw that partypoker has not officially announced, but we’ve gathered from multiple sources that HUDs are going away in partypoker as well as tracking software. Nick, what can you tell us more about what we know at this point having not had any real official communication yet?

Nick: Yes, I think, probably, if we looked at all the topics we talked about in our 11, 12 episodes that we’ve recorded, this is probably the most consistent. We definitely even talked about PokerStars’ policy on this. Absolutely going with 2019 is being defined so far by operators approaches too, where the players were allowed to use third-party tools when they play online poker. I think we probably talked in the last month or two about partypoker moving towards reducing or restricting quite significantly what players can do. It does seem very much like next month, they will ban all HUDs, all automated seating scripts.

We thought initially, all third-party tools entirely, although, a more recent statement says it’s going to be very restricted what third-party tools will be allowed. We are in direct communications with partypoker. We do expect to get an official statement from them very soon, but as it stands now, they’ve communicated to their customers on their Discord channel on social media that this is coming in May. We expect to see a ban on HUDs. All players are apparently going to be forced to change their screen name. It’s a one-time thing so everyone is reset to a baseline anonymity.

Mike: Let me ask you on that because that was something I wasn’t sure of, if they would have the option of changing their screen name or if they’re going to be mandated to do so.

Nick: Well, my interpretation of what they said is this will be like, you will one day log in and it will say, “Set a new screen name.” and you will type one in. The implication is that it’s going to be mandated but we’ll see. Nothing is entirely concrete right now. A lot of this came through Rob Yong. He spoke on a couple of different— gave one interview a month or two back, I think, did a video podcast or podcast with Jeff-

Mike: Jeff Gross? [crosstalk]

Nick: -with Jeff Gross, recent party poker ambassador and he talked pretty freely about this, that this was going to happen. Rob talks about quite a lot of things in quite free-form sense so that was never clear. This thing’s much more clear cut. This will be happening next month. Well, hopefully in a week’s time, this will be much clearer and we’ll hope to have a specific day and the exact parameters of what party will be implementing.

Mike: The idea behind the screen name change, just to get back on that topic a minute, is to obfuscate your playing history, as far as I understand it. They are going to be removing downloadable hand histories and that seems like a direct hit against players that are using tracking software. It seems

like the force name change of screen names is also to facilitate that initiative.

Nick: I guess the way I would look at it, is that on the data supplied you will not be able to use a hand see. You won’t be able to bring up your historical play statistics against the player. Any other preventing hand history donors there’s is going to be a new hand history replay, so you can replay hands in the client. Any future play that you have against an opponent, you won’t be able to gather data on.

However, of course if they didn’t force everyone to do a screen name change, then historical data that somebody might have either observed and have had that data later on or in theory illicitly purchased these hand histories. If players still have the same screen name, people could manually go into the their tracking and software look up players and still work out if tables were filled with recreational casual players, based on the historic play style.

Although, that history won’t be extended into the future, kind of the forced screen name change, wipes the slates clean. Any previous play in addition to future play will be wiped clean I guess.

Mike: It’s an interesting move. It’s definitely a trend that we have seen for years now, back with the recreational player model that was put out by Bodog back. What was that? Like 2011. I think that was Red Rock Black Friday.

Nick: Yes, we’ll definitely looking in six, seven years ago Universal Software was probably the biggest kind of European emasculated site to implement that. That was five plus years ago now. It’s not like we’re saying this is the trend of 2019. Absolutely, if you teleport it back two, three years and we had a podcast, we would be saying actually [unintelligible 00:06:48] . There’s been definitely been this move towards that. We told probably I think two weeks ago about Poke Stars and their banning of automated seating scripts. They haven’t gone as far as like Huds or tracking tools. At least not yet. The big two operators in the last three months, have taken large straws in reducing the usage of these tools.

Mike: Yes, from my perspective, it will be interesting to see if this is really the beginning of the bigger operators jumping on board and doing whatever they can to reduce the use of third party tools in online poker in general.

Nick: Yes. At least in my opinion, we are also seeing this conversation happening with Run It Once Poker. Which obviously launched with fairly anonymous names every time you see it down the table, your screen name is changed. No hands, no trackers, no nothing really. Players having mixed opinions on that. I think is one of those things that in my opinion the avenue automated Sitting scripts. It was insane to me that these were allowed for such a long time. They basically confer such an advantage in my mind.

Back when I used to play professionally, I did this and I did this very well. One of the biggest skills that I brought for myself was using these tools manually or automatically finding the best tables and finding the best seats quicker than other people. No one wants online poker to be that. That should never be where you extract your skills at. It’s insane that they existed for the longest time. I can absolutely see an argument for how it shouldn’t exist. I personally I don’t like the idea of anonymous tables. I think it removes any player.

Mike: Social aspects?

Nick: Yes. The social aspects. Just identifying the weaker players is an aspect of poker going back to pre-internet. That just was finding the good games and sitting in them was absolutely part of the experience. You do lose a part of the experience sitting down and just having six random names. Even if you’re playing cross multiple tables, you won’t be able to know that’s it’s the same player across multiple tables. You won’t be able to know you sit down tomorrow and whether it’s the same people or not.

I see kind of the anonymous tables in quite distinct from the other aspects. If the industry continues in this direction, I think there will be an opportunity for online poker going like, allowing use your real names. Not being the kind of standout feature. I think isn’t Joyously, I think for a casual player, it’s an enjoyable aspect, you hold grudges against regular opponents. You avoid certain players. You don’t want to sit on the direct right or direct left of certain players. It’s a social important part of the game. I think it’s a lost when you go for the anonymous.

Mike: Yes, I think there’s a lot of good points on both sides of the third party tools arguments. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

PokerStars’ new Aurora

One of the more exciting things to happen to online poker in recent time is the implementation of Aurora by PokerStars. For those of you that don’t know, Aurora is the new game engine. Do I have that? Right, Nick? I’m not quite clear on the different names that they have behind the different components.

Nick: Yes, I’d say game engine is fine.

Mike: What that is allowing PokerStars to do is to implement enhanced features, visual and audio so you can see animations, there will be new sound effects, there will be new, and it’s weird saying that there will be new interactive elements such as I think, in like cigars at the table and stuff, because those were elements that were present back. Paradise poker back in the day was famous for ordering drinks for your friends or getting, something delivered to the table. It sounds weird that that is being pushed as something new but it has been something that has been absent from the major online poker rooms for quite a while.

Nick: Yes, it’s an interesting story. On one hand, it’s a very geeky or perhaps insider kind of story because from the user’s perspective, initially when they play PokerStars and they have in Aurora engine, which would probably stay up front, is very slowly rolling out to market. It’s actually been live in Portugal for real money for like two or three months. It’s been live in the .net client for four months. We actually wrote about it back in December. I think it’s just gone live in Estonia. I think in the next few months, it’ll be live in other markets but ultimately when you do start playing with this new engine, probably you won’t notice any significant difference and that’s obviously by design.

It’s something that PokerStars wants to do. They want to make it nearly invisible. We were told in an interview we did this week but, behind the scenes, PokerStars is completely changing how they are developing their online poker software. They’re using a newer generation 2D game engine, which allows them to develop the product much faster. We’ll see in iteration one is that a lot of the table themes have changed some of them quite subtle, some of them much more dramatically. Some of the things that aren’t really used that much today, the old classic theme and the saloon theme have been completely overhauled.

I think there they’ve experimented a bit more with some of the new kind of animations and sound effects that— To me, it just feels a bit more modern ultimately, but the themes that most people use like the black theme, and I think it’s called mercury, that’s it. I think that’s the default thing now. The changes there are actually very, very subtle. What was interesting is we wrote these stories and published them across our sites this week. One of our most read stories in the last three months is this article. Once it hit a nerve but it’s certainly been—

Mike: Something of interest.

Nick: Yes, some something really of interest. I think that just goes to speak to I don’t know how people are intimately familiar with their online poker software. Whenever someone updates around a poker software, mostly response is negative I think from the high volume players because if you’re a professional player, you play on a client for hours and hours at a time. It’s like when anyone Microsoft updates their operating system or Microsoft Word or Gmail has an interface update, everyone says he hates it because you get used to what it is.

Mike: You have to change your processes. That’s a big thing for professional players too.

Nick: Yes, I think what’s worse stressing is the PokerStars I think, realize this and they want to introduce this without having that upheaval, but then it will give them the ability to incrementally improve the product launch new like features. We’re seeing like, power up their game that already uses its new engine. They’ve been using it for the last few years specifically with power up. You can see with power up just the effects, the animations, the sounds, just feel next generation.

Mike: Yes, one of the subtle differences, I mean, super subtle, but for me, it really demonstrates the difference. If you go over to F5 poker, we have a post-up there that compares the beginning of Spin & Go’s. For those not familiar when you register for Spin & Go, there’s a variable prize pool and there’s a spinner. There’s one up there with the old spinner and one with the new spinner. If you look closely

definitely see the difference. It’s there. It’s subtle, but it’s there. I think that really goes to show the difference between the old game engine and the new game engine and what we can expect to see as far as animations and graphics going forward.

Nick: I think animation is a big one. I’ve always said well, [unintelligible 00:15:19] is two things, all online poker software sucks, has done for a very long time. It’s just the development cycles are excruciatingly slow compared to modern rapid application development. The software feels like it’s out of the ’90s in a lot of cases from like an Excel spreadsheet list of tables on the lobby is default experience to, I don’t know, just tables feeling junkie and slow.

Lanky, is a word to use to try and just explain just that they don’t feel responsive or exciting or engaging compared with other modern particularly like a mobile application development today in new games. Just these development cycles are so slow that it can take, if will look at, it takes poker great client and we’ll run it once this poker client is in development for years and still doesn’t have some core features. Is that just as been in, I don’t know, it seem apparently a key part of the industry.

Seeing folks as I think, take this step and what they’ve done so far, I think it’s very good that those subtle animation changes really can make a game feel responsive and engaging rather than unresponsive and impersonal and cold. It’s something that I think Full Tilt poker still is one of the best four, that the old software which no longer exists. They managed to really nail that responsive feeling that I think sites still strive for today. I can only see this as a good time.

I will say, because I mentioned it once, I feel their software gets it as well. That just feels good and just feels responsive enough. I’m hoping this new poker stars want from our limited play testing definitely seems to be a good step in that direction.

Mike: I’m really excited to see phase two, the second iteration. I want to see how they’re able to integrate elements with the online poker playing experience. There’s talk of adding features or different elements to this for example, the buy-in screen of tournaments, or the results, or I believe several had talked about perhaps even integrating poker stars school into the client. In my mind, I went back and I thought about what party poker recently did with their descriptions of your playing style that are personalized.

If you take that concept and then the integration of graphics and animation that to me is the exciting next step that I’m looking for in online poker.

Nick: Absolutely. I will say something else is, I hoped that this can be used for the integration of casino games or sports betting as well, because this absolutely staggers me in online poker clients. That almost always there’s casino sports betting integrates into the client, but you click on a casino button or the sports betting tab, and basically a webpage is loaded in the window. It’s unbelievably slow, and just immediately feels, naff is the word, just so poorly integrated, like it was just done.

Funnily enough, I criticize, they say a few weeks back because their casino integration they were just were too good and they were really, really slick. You’re at the poker table and you click scene and you get a side widget where you can play blackjack, basically at the poker table. That maybe was a step too far just because it took up so much real estate. I think there’s a good middle ground there, absolutely.

Maybe this product can be used for that as well, because right now, I think poker stars is, at least in my experience in the UK, obviously, this could be different in different markets, but the integration level is very poor cross vertical, there’s a big opportunity there. Obviously, some of their Poker stars is trying to encourage them as possible is cross pollination of their gaming verticals, and that there seems to be lots of opportunity for improvement there as well.

Mike: We talked a lot about how, or I should say you just talked a lot about how the online poker software in general seems to lag behind other gaming software that’s out there in look and feel. I’m curious; do you have any ideas as to why that’s happening? Personally, from my perspective, I can understand why

to existing software might be slower because it feels like there’s so much at risk because if you screw up something, you’re talking about running real money online poker worldwide that is down for a while. When it comes to new developments, such as a new client or a new online poker room launching, I guess I’m curious as to why it’s behind the curve?

Nick: Yes, there could be lots of factors, maybe one can just be inertia because for the longest time poker grew and grew, and grew, and grew with little to no effort and investment in product because it was under such demand and it’s only in the last few years that hasn’t been the case. Obviously, with real money poker, there are hoops to jump through regulatory issues particularly if your life in a dozen markets, you have to— Every regulator wants to see a specific role about how a buy-in box DNA sets certain things or there’s responsible gaming, which I’m not saying it’s not important but each one has a different thing.

That can actually slow down development. Maybe there was even fear of breaking support third-party tools which we know a few years ago was important for an online poker room to have poker trackers support and things like that. Again, we touched on at the start about how your high volume player base will resist certain changes because what they used to set an interface. I think a lot of those reasons don’t exist anymore. What we’re just left is inertia. We saw MPN rewrote their online poker time almost from scratch in like a nine-month period.

Five years ago, six years ago relaxed gaming developed bets online poker client from scratch in a year. It can be done. Absolutely. The more we can see the industry move in that direction the better, certainly.

Mike: One of the things that I want to ask you about you just touched on was the breaking of support for third-party tools. There has been some reports that where Aurora has been rolled out, that may be tracking software is not working any longer and I solved through some of the images that we had posted that it seems like the sitting around the table is different from the pre-Aurora. Is that correct? I’m going back ways, but I remember that you would be able to select where your seat is around the table. I’m wondering if that has anything to do with the difficulties of the tracking software in the company-?

Nick: I think you can still have a set seat. I think the seat positions should be the same, be alright in the, I would say what we have reports of from Portugal where it’s life for real money is that hot software does not support the new Aurora tables at all. Portuguese players have basically been playing heartless for the last two or three months. Now, my assumption there is just that the third-party software developers have not had the impetuses to support this which you can understand because we’re still in trial. You don’t go and develop for a new software platform that might be changing.

I believe that the way that third-party tools hook in to PokerStars is quite complex. I don’t think it’s just a rudimentary screen scraping. I think they actually hook into the messages that are sent. I’m going back a few years when I used to do some of this but I think it hooks into the windows API calls of all the network traffic of the poker tables. There are three possibilities. What I’ve read from the Portuguese community is that this is a fact that we know heart’s on the new Aurora client. We’re going heartless. That’s a fact which I’d be surprised certainly PokerStars hasn’t ever said to us or publicly told that that’s one of the design goals here. I would be surprised if this is just collateral damage by accident and it just continues that way.

With that said, it could be much harder for the third-party tools to support this new client and if PokerStars is not working directly with them then that could be nothing or it might just be, I think still the most likely scenario is that they haven’t gotten around to making the necessary tweaks to support it. This definitely watch this space and see if and hopefully, we’ve reached out to poke track and how to manage it to get their take on it. Hopefully, we’ll get an update there in the future. I would be surprised if it starts roll out globally that we don’t see first-party support from the tracking tools.

Mike: From the images that I saw, it looks like the players are in different positions all table new table.

Is that just visually balancing so that you don’t have head-to-head players sitting right next to each other on the left side of the table now, and if that does change, that could have implications as to for example how HUDs work.

Nick: It’s interesting, what we’ve go, which you can play around with on poker fuse and you could see animations of on F5, is we’ve got this cool- we use it for previous articles- the way you can move a slider and move between the old version, the new version so you can quickly switch and see what’s changed. What you’re describing there Mike is when I created these screenshots, conveniently Portugal and Spain share the same platform, but Portugal is our new client and Spain isn’t. I loaded up both clients and tables and observed tables, I’ve got screenshots of exactly the same situation, one in Spain, one in Portugal, one on Legacy, one on Aurora.

What’s bizarre is when I observe, say a zoomed table, both clients bring up the same table but the players are shifted clockwise by two spaces on Portugal to Spain. The seat positions are the same but the whole thing’s been rotated by two pips. I don’t know if it’s randomized when you bring up a table observation or whether for some reason Portugal is shifted around but the seat positions are the same. I don’t think they’ve moved, it’s not they’ve all shifted a couple of degrees. It’s just that my observed Portuguese table is the player isn’t it sitting in different place. They’ve obviously all in the same positions but just rotated.

Mike: They’re not trying to visually balance anything, that’s just perhaps the difference between the two clients?

Nick: I’m just looking at our sliders now. Definitely on the classic theme, the seat positions are the same. They’re just moved around. Whereas actually on the saloon theme, the positions have changed, there’s none directly up and down. They’re more offset. That theme has changed. I think broadly speaking; we can say that nothing significant has changed in terms of seat positions. I think it’s just more a artifact of my screenshots.

Mike: I see. Regardless of what has changed and what hasn’t, I expect we will see more, more players will be getting to experience Aurora in the coming weeks and months. When is it planned to be fully rolled out?

Nick: Yes, severing caution to us, they’re giving themselves no time-tables this year. One of the good things about this is they can roll this out as slowly as they like. The current Legacy client is perfectly fine. This is just a bit better. With that said, he said they might be targeting Q3, they would have fully retired the legacy client, which if they’re aiming for that, you would expect it to be fully deployed by the end of Q2 I guess.

Mike: Yes, end of the summer.

Nick: There’s line for real money and Portugal, that’s the European shared liquidity and Estonia, that’s the first kind of .com liquidity pool. That obviously impacts more things because you have more game bearings and that kind of thing. I would imagine the side of scoop we’ll see on a couple of bigger licensees maybe like Denmark and Sweden, something like that. Yes, it’s keep your eyes on the tables and expect it to have it in the next few months, whether you want to it or not.

200 Billion Hands

Nick: Mike, what do you know that there are 200 billion of?

Mike: Yes, 200 million? Not yet but there soon will be. 200 billion hands dealt by poker stars, which is just an astronomical number. They are celebrating this event as they have in the past with previous milestone hands as they referred to them. This time, they’re putting up over a million of dollars as part of the celebration to be given out in promotions. That is currently ongoing. I think one of the interesting aspects of this is when you think about 200 billion hands, how did we get here? I think that was something that you wrote on in depth in Poker Industry PRO.

Nick: Yes. It’s funny with the promotions, they made a huge deal of when they got to 100 billion hands which was- I’m just going to check my dates here- end of 2013, they ran like a multiyear promotion building up to that. I think it properly kicked in at the 60 billion hand mark, where they have this wrote to 100 billion. I’d say 60-

Mike: Yes, I remember that. That was all high-

Nick: It was a big deal, and it was very 5 or 10 billion, which occurred every three to six months. They would have this big promotion and they would have this big milestone hand counter. Every time a hand is dealt, obviously the counter goes up one, and if you get dealt into a round number, so like every hundred thousandth hand or something like that, the table would get a prize. This caused huge, huge spikes in traffic. I think initially, it crashed the server because so many people flooded to it.

PokerStars came up with this idea of the milestone hand, it’s since been used by other operators. Winamax still does it, they count their hands and, again, they get like 30%, 40% traffic spikes, really, really popular with players. Obviously, the million hands you get even bigger prize, and if you’re in the actual 60 billionth hand, 70 billionth hand, tens or hundreds of thousands is given out in prize money.

I remember they used pause the table when it got there and there’d be effects, and Lee Jones would come into chat and tell people, “You’re going to win all this money.” They made this really, really big thing. It was a massive deal, 100 billion hands happened in 2013, and then that was it. Until now, they never have really talked about milestone hands again.

Mike: Wow, that’s a long period of time. Six years in between because even— Was there a milestone hands before the 100 billionth? It feels like that’s been a tradition at PokerStars for a while.

Nick: Yes. I think starting at 60 billion, they had every 5 or 10 but it was called the road to 100 billion, but they celebrated. I think even before that, they did have a 50 and a 40, and a 25, and I think a 10 billion, and a 5 billion way, way, way back in like we’re talking like UGA time, and they did [crosstalk] . Ever since, I can’t remember what they did at the 5 billion ,the big like counter cash giveaway thing was in the 40 billion plus mark. They celebrated over a dozen times, overpaid a six years and they’ve done nothing in the last six years.

Mike: It’s surprising because I do remember it being very successful, but obviously, they have data that we are not privy to. Perhaps there were things that were more successful at promoting and getting people to the tables.

Nick: Yes. We’re also seeing here the 200 billions, the way they are celebrating this is very different. As you say, you can remember the hundred billion hands, they were bigger deals. This, I’m going to say, does not seem like a big deal yet, at least. I mean, they’ve got— I think we think it’s going to hit like the 1st of May or very close to it, so we’re a week out, something like that, at the time of recording, but as it stands right now, I would not say there’s significant buzz around them hitting this milestone like there was previous time.

Mike: One of the the things to understand is 200 billion hands. Well, I mean, that number is just almost so large. It’s hard to wrap your head around. How did we get here?

Nick: One thing that we did, which is fun, I probably think maybe one of the reason they stopped doing this is it gives us a very good insight into how frequently they’re dealing poker hands. Obviously, we jumped at this opportunity and plotted a big graph, which is on Poker Industry PRO , I think I tweeted about it as well, so have a look on Twitter if you’re interested in the nerdy stats, but obviously, you can plot a nice time series graph on the X-axis of when all these milestones has hit, and on the Y-axis the milestones.

Mike: Number of hands.

Nick: What is fascinating is, obviously, we have the six year gap, but the rate that PokerStars has been dealing hands from a period of, I think, 2012 to 2016, where we had all the milestones— sorry, to 2013 when we had all the milestones to the last six years is the rate they’ve been dealing hands has been almost constant, and it’s pretty much a straight line from the 40 billion to the 200 billion hands.

That is a rate of hand dealing, let me just bring up the numbers. They deal about 17.5 billion hands a year, which works out at just under 14 million a day, which is, maths getting easy now, 2 million hands an hour; every hour of the day. What’s incredible is that the last six years they’ve been doing that rate, which is the same rate as kind of the four years prior to that, which might surprise some given, I mean, just so much has happened in that time period.

We’re talking about a period which includes the United States withdrawing from the market. This is how broad this timeframe is, and then much smaller events like Australia withdrawing, but also there’s very positive events for the poker industry like the zoom poker, lottery sit and gos, are just generally like the growth in tournaments and sit and gos and mobile gaming didn’t really exist at the start of this graph. All these things that’s happened and PokerStars has been extremely consistent dealing these hands.

Mike: Looking at some of the math that you did, a couple of questions is, do we know what that breaks out to from a revenue perspective per hand? Or at two million hands an hour, how much does PokerStars bring in per hand? Then, my part two of that question would be, projecting forward, when are we going to get to one trillion hands?

Nick: We could leave both of those questions as an exercise to the reader. Again, you’re absolutely right, both of those could be done. Yes, the first question— Yes, you’d have to divide one number by the other. The second one, if we’re saying that they do 17 billion a year, then—

Mike: That’s a long time before we get to one trillion.

Nick: It’s still a long time. Interestingly, I did see, after I tweeted about this earlier this week, GameIntel that tracks cash game hands across the industry said— I did say, “The caveat in this data is that we have this gap in this chart of six years,” and so we don’t know, within that, whether it actually is a straight line or whether it actually fluctuates a lot. They said, according to their data it definitely increased initially and it’s now flattened out somewhat, and they said that’s due to fast-fold poker caused an increase in the rate of hand dealing initially, at the start of this period, say, 2014, 2015. That has slowed and, in fact, the rate is actually slower than it’s been. They said the 300 billion will take longer to reach than the last 100 billion has happened.

Which might be the case if PokerStars continues and celebrates 250 billion, well certainly be able to add a plot to this graph and find out.

Pennsylvania go-live

That is the trumpet sound for Mike taking over the podcast and educating us all about the United States and what’s happening in online gaming and online poker regulation in your neck of the woods.

Mike: Yes. Well, the biggest news has been that Pennsylvania has set a go live period date, however you want to look at that, and that is going to be July 15th, so their online gaming market will launch during that week. From what we know, there will be a— and they haven’t called it such, but there will be a soft launch period, very similar to what we saw in New Jersey.

I don’t know the specifics off the top of my head, but I can recall that in New Jersey, for example, they had limited hours and maybe even limited number of wagers over the course of a couple of days just to test a lot of the consumer facing things that they may not be able to get as good of testing data on, in the lab; things such as making real money deposits, how a player’s responsible gaming aspects work in the wild—

Nick: Geolocation, yes, I presume?

Mike: Geolocation, yes. That’s going to be a huge one that that would be, I guess, a bit difficult to replicate in a lab.

Nick: What are the borders of Pennsylvania? Because I knew that there was a big thing with New Jersey as well, that it’s quite hard, just from a physical perspective, to identify whether somebody was in the state just because people do live a few blocks to the next state kind of thing. There’s not a clearly segmented kind of borderline. It makes it harder to geolocate and say, “Yes, this person is in state boundaries.”

Mike: That area of the country is pretty densely populated. For example, Pennsylvania does border New Jersey. There’s going to be competing geolocations near that border, but it’s also right there with New York. At least from our perspective, my perspective, I haven’t seen much many problems being reported with geolocation recently. There’s been a story that came out recently about a geolocation problem that happened early on when New Jersey first opened, but nothing that has been publicized as of late.

The other thing to consider, and I’m not sure exactly how this plays into the complexity of the geolocation but the shape of the state, for example. New Jersey is pretty irregular where Pennsylvania is much more rectangular.

Nick: It’s not your classic Ohio square box though, is it? We need one of those guys to come online, [crosstalk]

Mike: Yes, something like New Mexico, or what’s the middle states over around Nevada? Utah, Colorado I think those are very squarish states but it will be interesting.

Nick: Just to pull back a bit, we are talking online casino and online poker although segregated from the other regulated US states going live in three months time, brief short launch period. We expect three, four online poker operators, maybe five, six online casinos, something like that.

Mike: That’s what it’s looking like right now. I think the important part of what you just mentioned is that it will be segregated. They’re not joining the player pool with New Jersey, Nevada, Delaware. That was always the plan from the start with Pennsylvania then looking later to join the other states, but since the reinterpretation of the Wire Act that has been definitely put on hold. I know that there was, and we’ve talked about this in previous episodes, that they were plans for companies to consolidate some of their operations.

For example, I’m of the mind that there were companies that were going to locate their gaming servers in Atlantic City even though they would be serving Pennsylvania because they already had gaming servers there. With the reinterpretation of the Wire Act, I believe that has changed and they’ve had to move all of their infrastructure within the state borders. There’s been an impact, as a result, we don’t except that they’re going to be joining player pools anytime soon until that Wire Act situation is resolved.

Nick: The deadline there we’re looking it’s June the something 13th, 14th?

Mike: I think it’s 14th.

Nick: Where operators have to bring the operations in line with the new DOJ interpretation. As it stands right now, WSOP is still dealing cards across state lines and the fight is still ongoing working their way through the courts to see if there’s further clarification. Presumably WSOP will chop that off if there’s no further—

Mike: It will be interesting to see what they do with the start of the world series because I believe there are online events scheduled to happen before that June 14th date. Are they going to allow players in New Jersey to compete for those online bracelets?

Nick: They have said, I think the last press release they did at least going to address this was an unknown, didn’t they? They said subject to change given warrant interpretation that kind of thing, but it’s interesting to think with the Pennsylvania launch, at least from where I stand with the outside things, it just feels a bit more muted than when New Jersey came online which is interesting because I think it’s something you tweeted this week. Pennsylvania, their population and size of the market is expected to be larger than all other regulated US states combined, which is bigger, it’s not massive, it’s not California, but it is sizeable .

When New Jersey came online, there was a flurry of excitement among— and I suppose it’s their first chance to reenter the US market, but there is not that kind of level of buzz and excitement as— Of course, New Jersey, that was a segregated market and still is for most operators, right? The MSIGA is a new thing in the brief history of US regulated online gaming.

Mike: Not that it plays into what you just said too much, but from a relative standpoint when New Jersey came online, their population was twice the existing size, and now Pennsylvania is just equal to the existing size. Yes, New Jersey was—

Nick: Twice the size of the market at the time.

Mike: Yes. That, I’m sure, is not a big factor in the hype that we’re talking about, maybe just people have gotten used to it, I’m not sure but I agree with you that there has been less of a buzz around Pennsylvania. It makes me think that when New Jersey came out there was hopes of very fast proliferation across the country about online poker, I think because of the period of time, from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, those hopes have been pulled in a little and I think that there’s not that same thought that this is going to be the tipping point for online poker in the US.

Nick: Yes, will be the domino effects. With all that said, New Jersey pretty much segregated on Poker except for Caesars we do have PokerStars in there. They just announced the million dollar guaranteed scoop tournament series. In a year, we will probably have a PA scoop series of a similar if not larger size, and Borgata PartyPoker, they’re still active. They still deal cards they still have. We have three decent-ish size online poker networks with five skins that are competing and active in New Jersey. We should expect to see the same, if not more, in the more populous Pennsylvania.

Bots on WPN

Mike: Nick, I’m wondering if you got a call from WPN, the Winning Poker Network, or Americas Cardroom to perhaps do some PR work for them? I know the last time that we talked you were on the side of some irregularities were down to perhaps a script instead of a month.

Nick: I came down on the wrong side of that. Pretty much before we had hoped we produced the podcast I was very clearly wrong what I said. If you didn’t listen two weeks ago, very, very briefly, there was someone twitch streaming playing heads up at Americas Cardroom, which is a US facing offshore online poker room on WPN which is an online poker network, and he was playing heads up in an MTT and his opponent basically repeatedly folded with six seconds left on his clock. Very much like a bot.

Knowing nothing about it, but deciding to rapidly form an opinion, I suggested that maybe it wasn’t in fact a bot, maybe it’s just somebody would like to sit back in the script. Soon after I said this, I actually got a PM from somebody on Two Plus Two saying very much like your podcast, however, is very clearly a bot because of X, Y and Z. I think before I’d even read this PM, WPN has actually taken action and banned this account for running a bot and redistributed funds to players.

Mike: It was very public, the exposure of the play of this account. And because it did, somebody, the first place winner of that tournament ended up that they were streaming it live on Twitch. It definitely got out there into the public. As a result of that, WPN, Americas Cardroom, has responded. Phil Naggy, who is the CEO over there, went and he made a video. If you have not seen that video, you can go over to F5 poker, it is on the site there. You can take a listen and see what he had to say. I watched the video, Nick, did you get to see it?

Nick: No. No, I haven’t watched it.

Mike: It struck me in a couple of ways. First of all, what he had said is that they intend to be as transparent as possible. They’re going to be actively pursuing the elimination of bots on their network. When they find them, they are going to out them publicly. They are going to refund players, they Are going to tell players how much all players have been refunded, and how they reached those calculations. That’s pretty aggressive from their point of view.

Nick: Maybe listen to the podcast because we said this two ago, we said all sides could do so much more in terms of transparency when it comes to this issue. We got into this conversation two weeks ago, last episode, because we weren’t specifically talking about WPN, you added down to the end we were talking mostly about was it PartyPoker and bots?

Mike: Yes, right.

Nick: Yes, because PartyPoker asked the closure of 300 bot accounts over that. We talked about that and talked about how this is the first time any PartyPoker talked about it how that’s a good thing but they need to do more, there needs to be more transparency. And then WPN have come out with something which, to be fair, no other operator has. They have a page on their website you can go in, they promised to update it whenever they ban a bot, then you can click on that bot and it will say how much money was confiscated, who’s received redistributed funds.

It’s in MTTs, you can click and see a list of all the MTTs they’ve played and how much they won, how it’s been redistributed to the players. There is a questionnaire at the moment where they are asking players what’s the fairest way to redistribute funds, whether they should use the ICM of their chip stack, or maybe they should— some percentage should be held in a free role for people who were affected, all this. They definitely seem to be doing everything that they can. That’s fantastic. In fact, since the FoxRox account was banned, $176,000 was confiscated from that account by the way.

Mike: Wow.

Nick: We are talking pretty big numbers. They’ve since banned another account, also a Latvian account. I’m not sure if it was related, run by the same person, or perhaps started up when the other one was banned, but another 25,000 was confiscated from that account and redistributed to— In total, about 5,000 players have received refunds from these two accounts.

Mike: If I recall correctly, part of the justification that I’ve heard from other sites not disclosing this information has to do with privacy rules in Europe. Does that sound right?

Nick: Yes, very much PokerStars has stated this in the past. They said that they would— paraphrasing very much here, but saying that they would like to say more. Often if PokerStars bans an account, the people affected do get an email saying, “We just saved somebody who’s cheated or broken our terms and conditions in your account, you’ll find X amount for this,” but they won’t say any more. I don’t believe they won’t say in which games, they won’t say which account was banned, they certainly won’t say other people who’ve been reimbursed.

They’ve said that that’s due to either privacy or data protection rules, I’m not sure, I’m certainly not knowledgeable enough to say whether that’s a legitimate reason. I suppose I can buy it. Obviously, I can also buy that WPN is not going to be following the same kinds of rules based in licensing, I think Curacao and not really paying too much attention to say EU GDPR laws or anything like that, that they might not consider a particular issue for them.

Mike: Just to be clear to listeners, WPN, Americas Cardroom, they consider themselves unregulated. This is not similar to a publicly traded company like PartyPoker [crosstalk]

Nick: Well, you say unregulated, they will have a gaming license and—

Mike: I use that term because I believe, if I’m not mistaken, that Phil Nagy actually said that during his video and referred to them as being unregulated. I could be mistaken, it’s been a while since I watched it, but I thought that that is how he referred to his poker room.

Nick: This is all very good, very much encouraged such activity. If WPN feel they can do this, maybe other operators can go to this level of transparency, but it’s a great step forward. The cynic in me says that this came about because there was an exceptionally blatant Twitch live streams, video goes viral case, where if you had any protocols in place at all, this should have been detected without 1,000 eyeballs pointing and staring at it.

I’m going to read out a quote to you, Mike, and ask you where it came from. “I will make mistakes, I will ban real money people, I will ban real people because they seem like bots. I’ll be merciless about it. There could be collateral damage on a war on bots.” Who do you think said that and when?

Mike: I do remember that. I do remember that. That had to be Phil Nagy again. As far as the date, I don’t know.

Nick: That was Phil Nagy in 2016. Also an exceptionally high profile case, somebody started a thread on the Two Plus Two poke forums, confessions of a botter, when he described the ease that he operated a bot on the winning poker network on Americas Cardroom. That was Phil’s response, again, done through video live stream about how they were going to be the hardest network to operate a bot on, they will crack down so much that some innocent people might get hurt in the flying shrapnel that will be a huge sweeping crackdown.

Mike: That’s the part that really jogged my memory when you said collateral damage. I was like, “Yes, that’s right. That was what was going to happen.” Obviously, that has not come to pass. One just needs to look back to recent history to see how Joe Ingram went and just have full on attack on Americas Cardroom, WPN for the level of bots that have appeared on that.

Nick: That was March 2018. Over a year ago, Joe Ingram did one of his deep dive videos into the blatant use of bots. Again, these are very crude measures, much like we saw on the Twitch stream with the person folding every time his time back had gone down to six seconds. These are not sophisticated bots. At that time I think a bot was banned. It was a PLO bot, WPN did ban it; did say that they take these issues very seriously. To be fair, Phil did apologize, I think, in his latest video [crosstalk] He apologized for taking it personally and not doing more.

Mike: It’s funny that you mentioned that because that’s the exact part that really caught my attention is, yes, his comment about personally he reacted from a personal stand point. Yes, he didn’t elaborate on that so I wasn’t quite sure what he did that was personal and not in the company’s best interest. The apology, I think, from a PR standpoint, I think probably you should contact us, Phil, I think it could’ve been better there.

I will say this that he absolutely seemed sincere. I also agree with you that I think that this is a bit of playing on to what we saw happen with Party recently and I think they’re just trying to jump on that bandwagon and build on the public image of bots that’s currently happening. I guess, even though I think he’s sincere, we’ve heard this story before, I think that this is definitely a PR opportunity for them based on what else is going on in the industry right now. I wonder if it will have some long lasting consequences as far as transparency goes. Maybe that was or was not their intention, but I’m wondering how that will impact other online sites.


Nick: We are definitely going back to weekly episodes from this point on. Is that correct, Mike?

Mike: Yes. We will be very diligent in making sure that we are putting something out for all the listeners on a weekly basis going forward.

Nick: Funny little side story to close the podcast. We said this when we want to do a podcast, we set parameters of what we wanted it to be and I said, “There’s just two things that I want: I want the audio quality to be at a certain level.” Just because I personally get quite frustrated when a podcast might just be done over a Skype call or something that you get a lot of disconnection, so I said, “We’ll record both ends of the podcast.” It’s not going to be amazing thing, but let’s just get some base level quality and let’s just be consistent. Let’s just be half an hour once a week. I think the quality thing, we’ve mostly got down but the consistency thing we— To grade, that’s going to be like maybe a C+.

Mike: Yes, I would agree. Consistency as far as every week, we’ve missed like two of the last three or two of the last four, something like that. There’s definitely room for improvement there. I think the other part of the consistency has been the actual length of the pod. While it has seemed to creep into being a little bit longer, I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.

Nick: Well, I didn’t even get to the funny part. On the quality level, so I was talking to a friend who listens to this podcast and I was saying about how we were going to be quality. it’s good. Mike sounds really, really good on the podcast. He sounds like he’s on the radio and he’s done it for years.” I was like, “Yes,” and my friend said, “Yes. His quality is so much better than yours, but obviously he’s got a much better mic than you.” And I was like, “We have exactly the same mic.” [laughs]

Mike: Exactly. Same color and everything. I’m curious if other people notice any difference in quality. Beyond just—

Nick: It’s just your voice. Your voice oozes natural radio quality, Mike. That’s what it is.

Mike: Damn, then I got to do something with that because—

Nick: Yes, you’re in the wrong industry.

Mike: I guess. If there’s any people that are representing voice models, I don’t even know what they’re called, yes, give me a call or follow me on Twitter. Hit me up @Spookybugs.

Nick: With that beautiful, buttery radio voice, Mike, why don’t you send us out for the week.

Mike: All right. Well, thanks everyone for tuning in. Definitely look for us to be back next week. Until then, be safe.