The pokerfuse pair are back after their summer break to bring you the latest in online poker news.

Nick and Mike kick off the episode with a rundown of all the latest news from PokerStars, including the deployment of All-in Cashout, hints of a new tournament format called Swap Hold’em, and the surprise decision to limit the number of cash game tables to four.

We then switch to US news, with Mike bringing you up to speed with all the latest from the regulated markets, with the DOJ’s continual latest appeal in the Wire Act court case, developments in Pennsylvania, and hopes of future states regulated.

In the final segment, Nick breaks down partypoker’s latest monthly update in their battle against bots, and what July’s increase in account closure could mean.


Full Transcript

Mike: Hello, and welcome everybody to the Pokerfuse Podcast. It is August 22nd. We are coming at you with episode 24. I am your host Mike Gentile along with my co-host Nick Jones.

Mike: This week in online poker we will be discussing PokerStars and the flurry of changes that have happened over there, including the controversial decision to limit the number of cash games that can be played simultaneously to four.

Mike: In Pennsylvania, we’ll be looking at when we can expect online poker to launch and who that might be.

Mike: And over at Partypoker, the latest figures for Bot closure accounts are up and out for the month of July.

PokerStars’ All in Cashout, Swap Hold’em and Table limits

Nick: PokerStars has been on a real tear with their product update since we last spoke. They rolled out their all-in cash-out feature, something that we revealed on this podcast a few weeks ago. They have gone live with a new table cap. A maximum table cap which is perhaps the most controversial decision they’ve made in the last year or two. There’s also hints that they’ve got even yet another kind of product variant coming in the name of Swap Hold’em.

Mike: Wow, that’s a lot of news coming out for PokerStars. Why don’t we break those down a little bit? Let’s start from the back end. We have another new came coming out from PokerStars.

Nick: Yes, Swap Hold’em is something that we spied in a recent product update as we’ve done the last couple of years. Other than that name, we are not really sure what the game’s going to be like. It seems it’s going to be a tournament variant only. You can actually see it live, I think, in most clients now, in the filter’s drop down of the tournaments there is a new game called Swap Hold’em which obviously if you filter to that there’s nothing there yet, because the game hasn’t gone live. So, we’re left to speculate on what that game might be.

Mike: What’s our predominant speculation? What do we think this game is going to be? What are they actually going to be swapping?

Nick: Let me throw that to you. What would you think?

Mike: Wow. I would think that you’re hole cards would be a prime candidate for something to swap. Is it possible that it would go the way of Power Up and a player would have the option to swap a card on the board?

Nick: Yes, I think that’s definitely my first thoughts as well would be some kind of you could swap a hole card for another one in the deck as exactly as you say, it’s a power in PokerStars Power Up game. In other similar titles, there is a game called Hands of Victory that also has that kind of swap ability. I’m thinking that being that this is a tournament specific mode, it might be something that makes more sense in tournaments and being that we’ve also seen no real assets associated with it that we have with others, suggests that it might be a fairly simple game with something like swapping your hole card sounds pretty involved.

I wonder whether it might just be a name for some kind of dealer’s choice game. That would make sense in tournaments obviously if something changes every orbit. Maybe it swaps between regular Hold’em and Six Plus Hold’em. Like, say if some of the cards are removed from the deck each orbit.

Mike: Yes, that sounds interesting.

Nick: I think that’s my best guess. We don’t really have anything else to go on. I believe just before we hit this record button we might have just spied that they do have a table theme for Swap Hold’em which suggests that, A, it might be coming quite soon and, B, that it is going to be kind of styled and branded up like we’ve seen in other games. It is not on the current WCOOP schedule which was released this week. There are no Swap Hold’em games in there, but we have seen PokerStars add them on later on.

In fact, I think with SCOOP earlier on this year they released the schedule and then a couple of weeks later they added on five million more guarantees for tournaments. Some of those were, I believe their novelty games like Fusion or some such. Maybe we will see some last-minute additions and some Swap Hold’em games, but we will have to wait and see.

Mike: Now that I’m thinking about it because it is or it appears to be specific to tournaments, it does make most sense that it would be a swap of a game during that tournament that makes—

Nick: Maybe it’s like you can swap tables so you can move to another table under some criteria. I’m just thinking out loud now but—

Mike: Or swap seats, but that seems pretty involved and could cause a lot of headaches.

Nick: Yes, if it is just some kind of mix rotation game, you think they would have that in cash games as well though. We have changes every orbit throughout games in cash games. I don’t know. We’ll wait and see, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t see that in the next month or two.

Mike: Then what else? Let’s work backwards. What was the second thing, because I remember the big one upfront.

Nick: Well, the all-in cash-out feature we can touch on briefly. We mentioned this in the podcast a few weeks ago. We revealed that that was coming last month and indeed it did launch and it launched exactly as we kind of guessed which is, just as a quick refresher when you go all-in any cash game pot you can choose to cash out basically your equity. PokerStars will offer to effectively buy your hand for you based on the equity that you have in that all-in situation.

Whether, neither, or both or just one player takes that bet, the board is still dealt out so you get to see whether you would have won or not. Effectively, you’re selling your hand to the house and PokerStars takes on that risk for you obviously at a price. It takes 1% of your equity. Effectively, it offers to buy the handoff you for 99% of what it’s worth. Only a couple of weeks after we saw PokerStars were planning it, they launched it and it went live across, I think, their lowest three micro-stakes games in all the dotcom markets where they can offer it. Yes, and it is live today.

Mike: Okay, we know it’s low stakes, it’s most markets. I would assume that the regulated markets are probably lagging a bit behind just because they need to get approval. How’s it been received? How have players been looking at this?

Nick: Yes, that’s fairly difficult to ascertain. Certainly, when we first revealed the information, I would say overwhelmingly people were mixed to negative. I guess I think specifically because of the 1% fee. If it was 0% I think it’d be very interesting in that PokerStars makes no money off this bet. If it was much lower like 0.1% or something, I think at 1% it ultimately is not something that any serious player could afford to take in the majority of they’re all-in decisions.

I haven’t really seen the mass but I saw one person say that if they had taken this that six-max hands it would cost them somewhere between 0.5 and 1.5 big bets for 100 hands which is probably most of your profit, which, in a way, it’s a shame that it’s not feasible for most people to take it because I think it’s definitely an interesting option that would appeal to a lot of player types.

We have no data on how many people are using this feature and I would say that the discussion has quietened down. Most people who talk about it often the people who aren’t playing PokerStars anyway are playing Moke Stakes PokerStars games. The people who were actually in those games, how they’re responding, we don’t really know to be honest.

Mike: Yes I would think that if PokerStars felt that players would use it more, whether they be recreational players or more high volume players, that they would lower the price to make that happen because that’s going to be the sweet spot where they’re going to make the most from offering this new feature. It’ll be interesting to see if they have any tweaks that come as a result of getting more data on how players are actually using this feature.

Nick: Yes, they’ve got two decisions ahead here. One is changing that price point and the other is rolling out a high stakes game. It wasn’t really indicated why they only chose the three low stakes and whether that was just a trial or if it was coming to higher stakes games long term. You would assume it would but yes they didn’t indicate either way. I think in terms of the price point, you’re absolutely right that they want to set it so that obviously they’re making money.

The interesting thing is that there’s a good argument to make that even if they had made it rake-free, this decision, they still ultimately would have made more money long term because you’re ultimately keeping more money in the system. If you’re reducing everyone’s variance and people keeping more cash on the table that’s more hands that play. That’s more opportunities to take a rake cut from that money. I assume when they—

Mike: I would think also that, that would increase the maximum take on rake overall, as well, because people are going to be more likely to shove.

Nick: Yes. Exactly that. Coming in at 1% gives- if they’d come in and made it free, it’s almost like it’s much harder then to add at a rake to it. Coming at 1% make sense. You’re absolutely right, they’re going to be looking at those numbers and seeing whether it’s profitable for them and affecting the games in the way they want. Maybe we will see some tweaks to that. The thing is, I’m not familiar enough with the dynamics of no-limit games to know what’s fair at this prize. I honestly haven’t seen much discussion. I’ve seen no one saying like, “Oh, if this was 0.2% I’d be taking this every single time,” which I would have liked to have seen more from the regulars in this games.

Because everyone’s pretending that this is a negative feature. It absolutely isn’t. I remember when I did play these games, I absolutely would have been interested in taking this feature. I would absolutely pay some money for this variance and people who pretend that they wouldn’t, I don’t think have had a stint of being a professional poker player for a long time, because the variance is an absolute killer and offsetting is on its even very successful tournament players stakes. Because they don’t want to have to live and die by their wins each day and week and month.

Mike: That’s a good point. All right. Well, that’s pretty interesting news that’s happened and we will look to see more to see if PokerStars decides to roll this out at higher stakes.

Nick: The final thing and perhaps even more controversial than that is the quite surprising decision this week to globally overnight limit the number of tables a player can play cash game tables, they can play from the historic 24 tables that they’ve had for a decade, down to four.

Mike: That’s a pretty big change.

Nick: On the one hand, we knew this was coming to some extent. PokerStars has been trialing a cap at six tables in Italy for the last year or so. They then a couple of months ago, tried that six-limit at the segregated European markets, that’s Spain and France and then from these trials, they decided that four is the magic number and they deployed it literally in every single market with, I believe, the two exceptions on New Jersey and India, two very small, segregated markets where they, I think, clearly felt they couldn’t take that liquidity risk from cutting tables. A lot of other sites have these caps. I think 888 is at six. Unibet is 8 to 10. Obviously, Run It Once came out with a six, I believe.

I think that PokerStars have got it is not surprising. The two surprising things are is one, it’s at four and the other is that it’s just at Ring game tables. It’s not at Zoom tables, which still have the same limits as before we understand which is eight.

Mike: As you pointed out, the writing’s been on the wall for a while so this should not come as a surprise. Other operators have implemented these types of caps and PokerStars has been testing with different cap sizes in other markets. That is not the surprising part, the move to four tables is probably the biggest headlining surprise that I see there. From a perspective of Zoom, why is the cap different at those games? One that jumps out at me is those games tend to lend themselves quite well to multi-tabling because the action is so quick.

I’d be interested to know exactly the rationale behind implementing this cap for normal Ring games and leaving the Zoom tables as is. What are your thoughts on that?

Nick: I think there’s two. There’s the party line and then there’s the skeptic’s opinion. From PokerStars’ perspective, the reason why sites have caps at all and which you probably just touched on that briefly is that professional players can play dozens of tables at a time. In fact, PokerStars dug up an old article from 2012 where Randy “Nanonoko” Lew set a world record of averaging 37 concurrent cash game tables and making a profit over an eight hour period I think or a six-hour period. I remember back when I used to play poker and I would buy like four tables, people were like, “Oh my word, how on earth can you do that?”

You go on YouTube boom people used to play the same games and play like 50 or 60 at a time. The issue is if you’ve got one person who can do that, the dynamics at the table are completely controlled by what can only sometimes be just a handful of professionals playing these tables. If you are a recreational player, you’ll join a table, you’ll see the same faces on every single table sitting and waiting to play on these six-max or full ring tables and they can slow the games down.

I guess it feels predatory and PokerStars’ argument is that it is an unfair advantage, players feel that they are outmatched if they’re seeing the same pros sitting across all these tables. On the zoom side of things, A, everyone constantly changing tables so perhaps you don’t get that vibe that it’s all the same faces at every table playing all these tables. In many respects from a completely casual player looking like bots. You see those same faces on every single table, you can’t believe someone can play 24 at one time, you might think they’re bots.

You don’t get that one Zoom and there’s less potential for them slowing down the tables because they’re much faster. They cap zoom eight and playing eight Zoom tables still boggles my mind because again with fast-fold tables, you click fold you’re onto the next hand immediately. Unless you’re playing hands post-flop on multiple tables, whenever that happens, it’s extremely tricky to keep up. That’s PokerStars line. That will be I think PokerStars answer as to why they’ve left the Zoom cap.

Mike: Let me ask some questions on that. Two main reasons are to reduce the appearance of automated accounts and to speed up play of the game. Let’s look at the speed up play the game because that I guess is the one that I thought was the predominant reason there. Why would you throw a cap limit on the number of tables when you can just as easily reduce the time bank which would have a similar effect of speeding up the game?

Nick: Yes, I think that’s a very fair counterpoint and PokerStars have done that. They did that early this year. They, on average, reduced the time to act by about 40%, I think, across the board. I guess you can do that but you still need less than- I don’t what the time bank is- say 10 or 15 seconds to make a decision. There is a difference between somebody doing that now and then and doing it constantly because that table is fourth in your stack of 24 tables and every time you take that long.

Now again there are things you can do there with timebank. You can say you have to average this amount ever a certain number rounds but you probably don’t want to get too complicated with your system. You’re right there are other ways of going about it than limiting the number of tables people have. That can only partially explain it certainly.

Mike: Yes, the appearance of automated accounts or bots because you’re seeing the same faces or the same screen names at all the table. I guess, yes, that wasn’t really something that I had considered before that could be a turn off for a recreational player but now thinking about it, it certainly could. I know that if I were to experience that and I had very little knowledge about how the industry worked, in general, I’d be skeptical.

Nick: I’m somewhat putting words into PokerStars’ mouth there because I think that’s my take on it a bit. I’ll read out what they said in the blog post defending this decision and this is from Severin Russet whose title just changed now to PokerStars’ managing director and commercial officer of poker. He said, “Ever since the dawn of online poker, experienced players have experimented with multiple tabling, there’s nothing wrong with this and poker will always be about finding an edge over the competition within the rules of the game.

However, most of our players play on one table at a time. Without careful management, we risk ending up with an environment where the majority of players find themselves at tables disproportionately populated by multi-tabling players. This can lead to a difficult playing experience.” He went on to add that tables can be regularly interrupted and players may feel they are outmatched against the competition.

Mike: It sounds to me like there’s an effort there to try and limit the exposure of recreational players to high volume players.

Nick: Yes, it’s trying to rejig that ecology so that it’s not 95 to 5 in the ratio of multi-tabling players to casual single tablers on their mobile device or something. This still opens the question up to, where you’re going to have that even more in Zoom now because these players who were playing 24 tables, they’re going to play their four cash games tables, they’re going to drop a couple of Zoom in there as well. Now you’re going to have the Zoom pool is going to be much heavily saturated with the high volume players. Obviously, PokerStars feels that’s fine. That comes onto the cynical argument as to why PokerStars did this and didn’t cap Zoom, reduce the Zoom cap and that is that they make more money at Zoom tables. The argument goes that they collect more break per 100 hands at Zoom than they do at regular tables because professional players’ edge is reduced at fast-fold tables. This is the cynics reading between the lines of why they’re happy for the zoom pro to become more saturated with professional players.

Mike: That cynical view is that the biggest thing that we see critics talking about this move currently or is there other topics that they’re pointing at saying, “Hey, PokerStars is trying to do this,” because that seems to be a pretty common thing.

Nick: Regardless of what PokerStars does, the majority of people on certain forums and on social media will say it’s a rake grab. I think even if now PokerStars reduced rake but people would still say it’s a rake grab somehow. We saw it with all-in cash-out. I’m sure we’ll see it with Swap Hold’em. We saw it with most novelty games. People saying, “Oh, edges are lower so blah blah blah and we absolutely saw it here. Phil Galfond of Run it Once did a thread which got a lot of attention where he basically put that argument together in a very comprehensive form.

He said if PokerStars had reduced the cap on Zoom, if they just made their game Zoom only, fine but when you just reduce on the Ring games and don’t on Zoom, you’re just basically forcing people to play in a lower edge game. I think in a place where you going to collect more rake and you should just be more upfront about that rather than pretending that X Y Z.

Mike: How is that different then? If PokerStars have gotten rid of all of their Ring games and only offered Zoom, they’re in effect pushing more action into the Zoom.

Nick: Yes. I would agree. I guess the idea is that at least there would be no pretense there that you care about the ecology of your Ring games. I will say this, I think this will, in the short term, hurt PokerStars’ revenue and traffic numbers, and they know this. They’ve done this just after their Q2 results, which I’m going to say I don’t think was a coincidence. I think they feel that this will have a short term impact. If they’re doing something that has a short term impact, it means that they’ve got their eyes on the mid to long term and they think this will be better for the games longer-term and definitely better from their bottom line, which is fine.

I don’t think anyone can really have a complaint about but this is not just a short term as in we need to— A lot of criticism people are like, “Oh, they’ve made the Sunday Million 109. This is to bump up revenue ahead of the next quarter.” This is definitely something that was probably a difficult decision to make. They’ve got lots of moving parts in this decision because as you talked about they could have gone Zoom only. It’s something that they’ve tried before. They might still be trying at high stakes.

They’ve also got a blind lobby which system that we thought would have rolled out now everywhere. It’s like a Zoom light and fixes some of these issues in terms of your randomized and put on a table. They could do anonymized tables. They could do a lot of things to address this issue and they’ve taken this one which I think is a tough decision to make and will be costly in the short term. It will be very interesting to see.

I will say something else is that they have all these trials that last a year and then they go, “Okay, trial is over. We’ll do something different. We’ll do it four rather than six.” I’m not quite sure how trials work in the PokerStars offices but it seems bizarre that they go, Oh, these trials were fantastic. Let’s do four globally, everywhere tomorrow,” but this is where we are.

Mike: Yes. A lot of changes going on at PokerStars. I think that’s been a pretty steady theme throughout this year. We’ll look for more changes from them coming in the last quarter.

US News: DOJ, the Wire Act, and Pennsylvania

Mike: On the US front, all eyes are still on Pennsylvania. I figured I’d give a little update since it’s been a while since our last episode and we can inform our listeners on what’s going on there. A couple of things have happened. I think most significantly has been that the US Department of Justice has filed a notice of appeal, which basically means that they are not taking the verdict in the New Hampshire Lottery case sitting down and they are at least giving the impression that they’re going to continue to pursue their new interpretation of the Wire Act which says that basically online gaming is restricted to be able to cross state lines and that not just sports events or sports betting is covered by the Wire Act but that’s all online gaming or most I should say online gaming is prevented from crossing state lines.

Nick: This was their interpretation. It was then shot down in New Hampshire Lottery court case and then they’re now appealing that decision. Is it surprising that they’re appealing? Did we expect that to happen?

Mike: Well, technically it’s a notice of appeal so what they’re doing is they’re maintaining their ability to file the actual appeal should they decide to do so. This is just procedural, it kicks the can down the road, extends the deadline, gives them more time to decide how they’re going to handle this. No, from that aspect, it’s not surprising. I think it came right near the end or right before the deadline of the time that they had to do so.

Just seeing it filed really doesn’t give me personally any indication that they still are moving forward full steam with trying to get the courts to agree with the new interpretation but more of a just, “Hey, we’ve reserved the right to try and pursue this at a later date.”

Nick: You say it’s kicking the can down the road. How far down the road is this can? What’s the next key date that we’ll be looking to?

Mike: That, I’m not sure. I don’t know this notice of appeal. I’m not sure how much more time that gives them. I’m sure that there is a window that they must file the actual appeal and pursue it further but I don’t know when that window is. This last one was 90 days so it could be between now and just before the end of the year but I would expect that before the end of the year, we will at least have a better idea of what their intentions are.

Prior to this notice of appeal being filed, the DOJ had put out a memo directing the law enforcement officers around the country not to pursue any prosecution under the Wire Act under their interpretation of the Wire Act until at least the end of the year. It seems like that’s the time frame that we could expect to hear more.

Nick: In the meantime, we’re going to see WSOP of 888 continue to offer online poker across the three states that they currently launched in. Of course, Pennsylvania has gone live. Mike, remind me how many online poker rooms have gone live in the state of Pennsylvania in the two months since that market opened?

Mike: July 15th so only just over a month. A grand total of zero have launched. We’re still awaiting the very first one. We’ve got some inclinations that things could start happening rather soon. We did get the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board did make comments to one media outlet, I can’t remember which one it was off the top of my head. Otherwise, I would give them the credit. They did say that they do expect at least one online poker room to be live in Pennsylvania this Summer.

Nick: Which online poker room would we guess?

Mike: It’s got to be PokerStars. From all of our research and digging into the forms that have been filed with the gaming board, they were one of the ones or I think the only one that has full approval for their license that was last I checked which has admittedly been a couple of weeks so things could have changed. We definitely expect that it’s going to be PokerStars, Mount Airy is their partner in Pennsylvania and there has even been some rumblings out on social media of some particular dates which could see them- I believe they were speculating that it could be before the end of this month. That would be interesting if that happens.

Nick: When they go live they’ll be also live in New Jersey but of course we don’t expect these two-player pools to be connected from day one?

Mike: Right, the launch of online poker in Pennsylvania will be within the State of Pennsylvania only. Even id say someone like or 888 launched, they would not be combining their player pools either. The current situation, especially given the DOJ, and their stance on the Wire Act, from Pennsylvania, has been that they are going to be intrastate only not interstate. Those player pools will not be combined.

Also, we’ve have heard words from Hollywood, that they plan to launch an online poker product before the end of the year. That comment I think has been met with some speculation throughout the industry, but it’s definitely pretty aggressive goal for them to set for themselves. I think the big question there is, what is that online poker product going to look like? What’s the software platform that they’re going to use the launch?

Nick: Have they announced any partnerships with existing online gaming companies?

Mike: Well, we do know that they have a partnership with IGT. IGT does have an online poker software package that we have seen in Svenska Spel, I think uses it in Sweden. I think it’s also in use in Canada as well. Yes, it’s out there, but it’s definitely not one of the more premier online poker software platforms. That could be a bit risky on their part, I would think that there’s plenty of well-received online poker software providers that don’t have partners in the US or specifically in Pennsylvania, that could make a lot of sense for a land-based casino looking to offer the online poker to their customers.

I will claim that I do not know the ins and outs advantages and disadvantages financially of leasing or partnering with somebody to provide a particular platform for online poker or to going with an existing partner like they have in IGT. It’s hard to say from a financial standpoint what the benefits are, but it seems clear to me that pick somebody like Unibet. Unibet has a very polished, I would say, online poker software platform that is not in use in the US at all. That might be an opportunity for somebody to come in and partner with them and offer that type of online poker experienced to a new market.

Nick: Yes, which probably their software provider is actually an independent company, Relax Gaming, and they just launched a new network in Europe. It sounds like we’re given them a real plug here. Because I know Unibet is looking at the US market themselves, but I’m not sure if poker makes part of that plan. It’s definitely a product out there that could be used.

One final question for you, Mike, about the US market. Are there any other states that are going live with regulated online gaming where poker will be an expected component? Because I see a lot of chat about West Virginia, but I just assume a lot of this is sports betting. I’m not sure if we’re any further advanced from a poker perspective.

Mike: Yes, you can pick any date and time and take a snapshot of who the next potential state would be to launch online poker. I would say that we’re most likely not going to see anything else happened for the rest of this year. You identify West Virginia, they have legalized online poker, they just haven’t implemented it. There’s also the possibility that another state, such as maybe Michigan could come in and at the last minute and try and push through some legislation to legalize online poker.

I’d be surprised if either of those happens. If either West Virginia gets online poker up and running before the end of the year or another state comes in and passes legislation that puts them on the radar for potentially being the next state to offer online poker. I’m not sure that happens before the end of this year. I think as we see the legislators come together in 2020, the beginning of 2020, that’s going to be the most likely time that we might see some advancement for online poker.

I think there’s still there’s so much attention being paid right now to getting sports betting up and running. Sports betting once since PASPA has been repealed that was the federal law that was seen as limiting states abilities to offer sports betting. I think there’s still this gold rush that’s happening by the states and a lot of their attention is focused on getting sports betting up and running. Once that happens and that starts to settle in, I think then they’re going to, A, they’re going to have a lot less arguments for keeping poker on the sidelines but, B, I think they’ll also have more capacity and bandwidth to start looking at the regulations involved in being able to offer online poker.

I think things will start moving but not before the end of this year.

Partypoker’s July Bot Report

Nick: PartyPoker has continued to diligently report their efforts to clamp down on bots on their network. It’s something they’ve done every month for the last eight months now. I think something we’ve talked about once or twice in this podcast before. We recently got their numbers for July and there were some pretty interesting figures. By far, the standout is that the eight months it was their second largest in terms of account closures since they started counting back in December 2018.

Mike: They have started reporting how many bot accounts they’re closing, and this month was the second largest. Quick question, what was the largest? Was that the first month?

Nick: No. It depends which metric you look at. If we look at just the number of accounts caught and closed. Their highest was March 2019, when it was 142 accounts. Last month was basically the same 121. What’s interesting is it’s more than both May and June combined in terms of accounts closed. There’s a noticeable uptake and the timing here is particularly relevant because it was, I think the first or second week of June when PartyPoker implemented pretty sweeping changes to their online poker product where they banned all hearts, they banned downloadable hand histories.

One of the biggest concerns raised amongst players is that it would prohibit them from being able to help PartyPoker in their efforts to remove bots from their platform. They wouldn’t have the tools themselves to identify and then report these players. Their statistics up until now had shown that a decent percentage, I think somewhere between 20% and 30% of accounts had come directly from player reports. On the one hand, the good news is PartyPoker can clearly still find and close accounts because the numbers was, yes, the highest in five months and the second-highest today.

Mike: Wasn’t there’s some talk coming out of PartyPoker that the bot operators were shying away from targeting their platform because they were so good at finding bots? It’s a bit surprising that their second-largest number of account closures would occur after making a statement such as that.

Nick: Yes. The other thing is banning downloadable hand histories could have been seen one of the benefits of doing that it makes it slightly harder for somebody who operates bots to run because obviously, an easy way to do it would be to read those hand history files and see who’s at the table and then make decisions based on the information you’re collecting. This is the tricky flip side of the coin of reporting these numbers. If your numbers go up, you can say, “Look how well we’ve done catching bots,” but then it also goes, “look how many bots that we had for to find.”

When you look into the dig into the metrics a bit more, there are a few more revealing data points which might work in PartyPoker’s favor in that side of the coin. The amount of money seized wasn’t their biggest month by far so their first biggest month was December that’s when they started and they caught and returned to players over $400,000 that one month. They clearly found some huge accounts and this is obviously this is money that they’ve got these bot account operators have set online.

It is not how much they have, in total, taken out of the tables. That’s a pretty scarily high figure but they seized almost half a million dollars in one month. Since then there’s been no month that high. July was- let me just have a look. July was $175,000. Again, that is still a lot of money sat around in accounts of people operating bots, and also colluders and other cheats as well. I think bots is by far the biggest. That was their third biggest month in terms of money seized, and again, much higher than June, I will say. In June, they only seized $34,000.

Mike: I was just going to comment on the usefulness of that particular metric. That’s a reflection of how much money is in that bot account or that cheater account. I’m just not sure how that gives us more information about how it’s progressing and proceeding.

Nick: Again, each of these numbers can hide so much, how much time did PartyPoker put into catching these operators? Do these numbers just reflect their effort or does it reflect the underlying trend of these nefarious actors on their platform? Similarly, if you know the PartyPoker is clamping down on bots, do you just keep less on your account? Do you chip dump more frequently or withdraw your cash more frequently so you have less exposure? We don’t know that.

The one interesting facet that is in here is that they report how much they seize in the .com market and the .eu market, the southern European market. July was the first month where they seized, let me just get this right, just bring up the numbers, they seized more money from the European market than the .com market. Normally, all other months prior to that it was 80%, 90% from the .com. This time it was close to an even split, I think 56, 57% came from the European market.

Now, somebody on Twitter, who I don’t have your handle up now to give you a shoutout, pointed out to me that when PartyPoker implemented these changes to the hand histories and such, it didn’t go live in Europe immediately because the software needed to be approved through the regulators. I thought it went live overnight across both networks. There is an argument that could be made there that the bot operators switched their activity from .com to .eu because they would continue working on the European market.

In which case, PartyPoker was on top of that, because they caught these new accounts that would have been created in the southern European market. It would also mean that once they can upgrade those platforms, that effect is going to apply there. Now, I don’t think long-term, just turning off hand histories will have a large impact on these things. That is a good data point in PartyPoker’s favor, that their efforts on the .com has worked and they just need to be able to roll that out to the other market.

Mike: Is it possible that somebody just wanted these bots being at the tournament? And that’s where majority these funds—

Nick: Yes. That absolutely could be the case. Another measure that we calculate is the average amount seized per account. That hasn’t varied massively. I think last month they seized on average $1,500 per account. I think, again, the first month was very high, they seized at $5,000 per account. Again, they really found like either the big operators or those that were lax in withdrawing their funds quick enough. Since then it’s pretty much hovered around the $1,000 to $2,000 mark, so it wouldn’t suggest being that both account closures and amount seized were up in July.

It’s not just they got really lucky that month. Again, as you say, that does highlight just how much more information is hidden behind just two figures, three figures.

Mike: I know that Party is reporting on bot accounts or cheater account closures. I think we’ve also seen that from America’s card room. Is anybody else reporting bot activity in the industry or is this PartyPoker blazing this trail on their own basically?

Nick: Yes, you’ve identified the two that I’m familiar with PartyPoker and WPN roughly around the same time started reporting these figures. I think WPN even goes to even bigger detail and says the name of the account that was closed and who received reimbursements and when and how they calculated those reimbursements. Basically, everything they did they dictate where Party’s is just more in aggregate. Then as you said, then, as I mentioned each time, as much as you can criticize these numbers, and you can make these numbers and go, “That’s scary. That’s a lot. Clearly, they still have bots.”

That they are doing it, I think is fantastic. I think it adds some level of transparency, that would be fascinating to see the entire industry doing. Again, it does require however some- and we’ve been talking about for over 10 minutes, some care and nuance in looking at these numbers and trying to work out what they mean because they can be basically interpreted in two completely different ways when you see growth and decline.

I think we’ve even seen it from PartyPoker. I think after June when the numbers were low, I want to say I think I saw Rob Yong on Twitter saying, “Oh, our numbers have got low that shows that we’ve done really, really well and they’re not coming to our site,” and then it raises a lot and then you come and go, “Look, see, we can still catch loads of bots. Look, how many we found.” They can be spun in both directions both by proponents and opponents of the site. I think there might be one reason the other operators would be shy about sharing this data. Personally, obviously, for an analyst and a data guy and we love putting these graphs together and breaking it down. It’s great for us. I think it’s good for players.

It’ll be fascinating to see where we are in a year’s time when we have 18 months of data to see what the trend is because then you really want to see these bar charts getting lower and lower long-term.


Mike: Well, that wraps it up for the week. Thank you, everyone, for tuning in. As a reminder, please give us a like and a subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. You can also follow us on Twitter. Nick is @pokerprojones. I am @spookybugs and we’ll see you next week.