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One of the world’s largest and most well-known online poker brands, partypoker, has announced its latest update in a worldwide and brand-wide effort to rid its sites of accounts playing with the aid of automated decision-making software. Such accounts, commonly called bots, have always been illegal under the terms of service dictated by party and most other online sites, yet party is prominent among a smaller number of sites that is making a resurgent effort to identify, close, and seize the balances from such cheating accounts.

Party quietly began its increased policing efforts against botting late in 2018 by forming a dedicated Poker Fraud Team, which according to the site’s initial update is comprised of “a collection of former poker professionals who are equipped with the necessary knowledge and expertise to investigate suspicious activity and aid partypoker in ridding the poker site of unscrupulous accounts.”

Party began identifying bots and seizing account balances last December, and in its initial update, announced that 277 bot accounts had been closed in the period December 1, 2018 through March 31, 2019. A total of $734,852.15 was seized from the identified bot accounts, with that money redistributed to players who were negatively impacted by the bots’ cheating.

This time around, the period covered by party’s latest update is much shorter… just the month of April 2019. Still, party reported plenty of bot activity being detected and confirmed. Between party’s global partypoker.com site and its single-nation (dot-eu) offerings in France and Spain, another 94 accounts have received the official banhammer. A total of about $182,500 was seized from the two sites; since the dot-com is valued in US dollars and the France and Spain sites are valued in euros, an exact figure is difficult to calculate.

Also, the average balance seized from the 39 bot accounts found on the global dot-com site was more than six times as much as the average seized from a bot operating on the France/Spain site. That shows up in the totals announced for April. On the dot-com site, party identified 39 bots, accounting for a total of $143,908.10 in seized funds, or nearly $3,600 on average per account. Compare that to the France/Spain bot findings, where there were 55 total account closures, but those 55 seizures accounted for €34,546.17 (about $38,600 in US dollars).

The reimbursement process is ongoing, as seizing the balances is only the first step; all play involving the cheating accounts — determining who was cheated, and for how much — can extend for several weeks.

Party’s first update in what it plans as an ongoing, once-a-month offering didn’t offer a breakout between the global and France/Spain offerings, so further comparisons lose some relevance. A month ago, party asserted that more than three fourths of the total bot accounts identified and closed came through the work of the new anti-fraud team, with the smaller remainder coming as a result of player complaints. That held true in general terms in April, but not specifically with regards to the global site: For April, 15 of the 39 bot-account closures originated with consumer complaints. On the ring-fenced France-Spain platform, only five of the 55 closures originated from player complaints.

(For those wondering, botting has yet to be a publicly announced issue with the party-branded offerings in the US state of New Jersey. One contributing factor is that in New Jersey, botting is against the state’s gambling laws and can bring civil and criminal penalties in addition to account seizures. Further, any bot-related seizures that do occur are handled via a different procedure controlled by New Jersey’s Division of Gaming Enforcement.)

Partypoker is among several sites and networks that, over the past couple of years, have begun to grasp more fully the long-term negative impact bots and automated play inflict on the online-poker scene. Here’s hoping that the push to ban bots continues to expand across the entire industry.

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One of the stranger and darker tails to mar the fringes of the online sports-betting world continues to churn out new details and developments, as Costa Rican authorities announced on Friday that three people have been extradited from Spain to face charges in the kidnapping-for-ransom and disappearance of William Sean Creighton Kopko, the owner of the “grey market” site 5Dimes, which offers online sports betting to a largely US-based audience.

Among the three people who were arrested by Spanish authorities in January and returned to Costa Rica this week was a 25-year-old computer engineer surnamed Morales Vega, who was directly tied to the online Bitcoin wallet into which a large ransom payment was sent. Morales Vega, his long-term girlfriend, and his mother were all charged with being part of the ransom scheme, with the three apparently having fled from Costa Rica to Spain as the criminal plot began to unravel.

Costa Rican authorities conducted at least 10 raids themselves in January, arresting one woman and eight men, including two traffic officers who were accomplices in the crime. Morales Vega and the other two were arrested during a simultaneous raid conducted in Spain.

5Dimes Tony’s pricey Porsche Cayenne was intentionally crashed at a site far removed from where his kidnapping last September was believed to have occurred.

Creighton, who was long known in the Caribbean sports-betting industry as “5Dimes Tony”, was kidnapped last September 24 after dropping off an employee of his firm at the employee’s home, then continuing on toward his own residence, which he never reached. Creighton often traveled with a bodyguard, but did not on that fateful evening, and his easily recognized Porsche Cayenne — an expensive SUV which would have stood out in Costa Rica, was pulled over by the two Costa Rica Transit officers, who were among 12 people later charged in Creighton’s disappearance.

Once Creighton’s car had been stopped, four more men who were part of the scheme arrived in a pickup truck, then are believed to have held him at another house in Costa Rica as they issued ransom demands to 5Dimes and to Creighton’s family. Though a US citizen himself, Creighton was a long-term expat with a Costa Rican wife, and he was unlikely to have returned to the States, where he might have been the subject of a secret arrest warrant regarding his company’s US-facing operations.

The kidnapping of Creighton was believed to be, at least in part an inside job. Numerous reports emerging from Spanish-language news outlets in Costa Rica reported as much, as well as relaying various tips that the kidnappers had sought $500,000 or $750,000 from Creighton’s family or company, to be paid anonymous online via Bitcoin.

Those rumors were at least partly true, though the numbers were under-estimated. Instead of a half a million American, the criminal group sought up to five million dollars, as told to La Nacion by an unnamed official of Costa Rica’s primary investigative agency, the OIJ (Organismo de Investigación Judicial), in January. A million dollars’ worth of Bitcoin were indeed sent to the kidnappers soon after Creighton’s disappearance, but he was never released, and he remains officially missing. The sad truth is that the site’s owner was almost certainly killed soon after the kidnapping. Some news reports even claimed that his body had been found in early October, but those reports were later recanted.

The OIJ investigators not only linked a computer belonging to Morales Vega to the online Bitcoin wallet — they have not stated whether they also recovered any Bitcoin from that wallet — they also obtained Morales Vega’s fingerprint from the same tied-in computer. Given the depth of the details already known and published, the OIJ had long known who was responsible for the kidnapping and how the event occurred.

5Dimes is not widely known to most European bettors, as the company has generally withdrawn from the Euro sector as countries enacted regulatory regimes. However, the kidnapping and disappearance of “5Dimes Tony” remains a notorious and even cautionary tale. Certain types of high-risk online sites mean more than just increased risk to the online bettor; as this sad story has illustrated, that risk also is increased for the operators and owners of such sites.

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Pennsylvania gaming regulators have confirmed that the Keystone State will become the fourth US state to offer real-money online poker, beginning on or about July 15, 2019. Between seven and ten online rooms are expected to officially go live on that date, following a brief two- or three-day soft launch designed to catch any bugs that might appear as real-money action commences.

The July 15 official launch date had been bandied about for a couple of weeks, though it received official confirmation this week from Kevin O’Toole, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. O’Toole, speaking at Wednesday’s meeting of the PGCB, ended more than a year and a half of launch-date uncertainty following Pennsylvania’s approval of online gambling back in 2017. O’Toole and the PGCB also published a formal notice of the upcoming launch date, including a status report on the licensees and third-party service providers moving through the state’s approval process.

With a launch date now confirmed, Pennsylvania’s neighboring state of West Virginia remains the current favorite to be the fifth US state to go live with real-money, state-regulated online poker. The Mountaineer State’s planned online poker sites are expected to go live in early 2020.

Pennsylvania’s long road from approval to live online gambling still won’t be complete after the July 15 rollout, which also includes other casino-style games. Sports betting, both live and online, was also approved in the state, yet O’Toole and the PGCB have yet to confirm a timetable for that market’s debut.

Nontheless, getting the online poker and casino games running is all part of the slowly-developing plan. “Staff has reviewed the estimated time that it would take for us and the industry to complete all necessary steps, and it is our view that 90 days would be adequate,” O’Toole said on Wednesday. “Accordingly, I have advised the ten iGaming certificate holders and three iGaming operators that a coordinated go-live period for interactive gaming will commence on July 15, 2019.”

It’s likely that seven or eight Pennsylvania online-poker platforms will be ready to launch, either by the July 15 rollout date or shortly after. According to OPR’s Eric Ramsey, the likely early-to-market platforms should include the following:

  • Mount Airy, using a PokerStars-branded site;
  • Harrah’s (Caesars) license #1, a WSOP-branded entity;
  • Harrah’s (Caesars) license #2, but using 888’s software;
  • Valley Forge, using PartyPoker’s platform;
  • And, as many as four more operators — Hollywood, Parx, Sands, SugarHouse — whose plans regarding online poker in the state remain under development.

Two out-of-state entities, Golden Nugget and MGM, also applied for and received licenses that were left over, becoming available after a couple of the state’s brick-and-mortar casinos opted not to venture online. Golden Nugget and MGM could become the ninth and tenth platforms to offer online poker in Pennsylvania, though at least in the Nugget’s case, it’s at best a qualified maybe: The Golden Nugget Atlantic City has emerged as one of New Jersey’s online-gambling leaders, but it has risen to the top in that state without offering online poker there.

Uncertainty over the fate of the reversal opinion of the Wire Act and its impact on multi-state compacts may also dampen the early rollouts in Pennsylvania. The Keystone State is by far the most populous state to have approved online poker to date, and the state’s sites would benefit even more should New Hampshire succeed in its legal challenge to the DOJ’s latest opinion on that matter.

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The Winning Poker Network (WPN) has announced a new refund program for the victims of “bot” accounts on WPN sites in the wake of the public furor over video of a malfunctioning and blatantly obvious botting account went public a little over a week ago. After WPN and its flagship site, Americas Cardroom (ACR), suffered the public embarrassment of having the weird malfunction of a long-term and highly profitable bot exposed on a Twitch stream, the operator has issued refunds and has stated it will be more active in the future in addressing bot-related problems.

The virtual fur started to fly on April 7, when ACR player and Twitch online-poker streamer Eric Collier live-posted on Twitch his appearance that day at the final table of a tourney on WPN, a $10,000 guaranteed affair with a modest $16.50 buy-in. Eventually, Collier and his “TheKamest” account made it to heads-up play against the then-leader, a Latvian-based account and WPN tourney regular called “FoxRox”.

Then the unexpected happened, as the FoxRox account made a long series of bizarrely horrible plays that made it evident to virtually any observer that FoxRox was a software-account on the fritz. In almost every hand until being blinded out, the FoxRox account folded its small blind instantaneously to TheKamest’s big blind — and note that FoxRox was also the button during heads-up play — or folded its own big blind to a min-open from TheKamest’s small blind. However, in the second instance, which occurred every other hand, the FoxRox account delayed folding the same span of time, about nine seconds. In just a couple of hands, the FoxRox account also made massive over-raises, making it clear that this was no instance of a disconnection, but rather a bot-controlled account gone haywire.

The Winning Poker Network was quickly flooded with complaints about the obvious bot-driven play, truly forcing the network’s hand. WPN has not been known as being proactive regarding bots, though backed into something of a corner, the network quickly looked into the incident, agreed with the common assessment that FoxRox had long been in violation of WPN’s terms of service (TOS), seemingly confiscated whatever it could from the account, and announced refunds and a new policy regarding botting-driven play:

We are proud to announce the first and only transparent and verifiable reimbursement policy. Taking a stand against bots, we have disabled user FoxRox and refunded 4,001 players for a total of $175,728.80. Check out our new policy here: https://t.co/uLosdMpr7Z pic.twitter.com/x4isVldKQN

— Americas Cardroom (@ACR_POKER) April 12, 2019

FoxRox, an account based in Ogre, Latvia, had contact with 1.3% of WPN’s entire player base during the cheating period, which is a large percentage for any single account. The FoxRox account did not play on WPN’s Americas Cardroom skin, but rather on another WPN offering, Black Chip Poker.

WPN also announced a new policy for publicly announcing each bot account ID’d and closed:

*WPN’s Reimbursement Policy:
We reimburse money won from players by accounts proven to be breaking WPN’s fair play policies. We use the following method for reimbursement.

1. Game type
a) Tournaments – Ladder Up: We remove the offending player from the payout spot and move each lower payout spot up one position and pay each player the difference between his old spot and new spot.
b) Cash games – We subtract losses to the offending player from wins taken from the offending player in a given session.

2. We reimburse to a cap of $25,000 per offending player.
The reimbursed funds are distributed to affected players beginning with the most recent occurrence to the oldest.

WPN intentionally ignored the $25,000 cap with the FoxRox account, perhaps as a goodwill gesture in light of the fact that the Latvia-based account had been the subject of numerous cheating and collusion complaints over the past several years. And, a second account, also based in Ogre, Latvia, has been added to Winning Poker Network’s banned botters list. WPN has refunded $25,134.60 to 1,057 players negatively impacted by the antics of account “Gluckhof”, which is far better than even odds to be controlled by the same person behind the FoxRx account. Gluckhof’s overall cheating could have been well into six figures as well, but the cap as announced by WPN covers that account’s cheating back only to early February of this year.

Several more high-volume accounts also playing out of Ogre, Latvia have also been the subject of complaints, all but cementing as a certainty that several of these cheating accounts are interlinked and controlled by the same person or small group. That means that several more $25,000 rounds of refunds are likely to be issued to Winning Poker Network players in the near future.

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Even though tomorrow seems to never quite come, there’s still no arguing that the real growth in online poker — in the United States a well as the rest of the world — continues to be in the online sphere. And, with that surely in mind, the 2019 World Series of Poker will include a record-setting nine bracelet events.

Not only is that well up from last year’s four such events, it equals the total of all online bracelet tourneys offered over the course of the last four annual WSOP series. When added to the live events at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas announced in earlier weeks, the 2019 WSOP slate will serve up a total of 90 bracelet events, another record.

This year’s online bracelet events will be available mostly as Sunday specials, with at least one such tournament getting underway at 3:30 pm (Pacific Time) each Sunday. (The complete schedule is offered below, courtesy WSOP.com.) Two of the nine events will be offered on Tuesdays (June 19th, July 3rd), with the July 3rd offering being this subset’s high-roller offering, a $3,200 buy-in event.

“Just like the land-based WSOP, the annual summer series is also the best time for online poker players in the U.S. to chase big prize pools and WSOP gold bracelets,” said WSOP.com’s head of online poker, Bill Rini. “WSOP.com is offering a consistent gold bracelet schedule this year, plus non-stop satellites to both the online and live events, giving players the best opportunity to participate in the 50th Annual WSOP.”

However, the phrase “online poker players in the US” leads to this story’s most intriguing point. There is one element of the 2019 WSOP online-event offerings that remains uncertain, however, and that’s exactly who’s going to be allowed to play. In 2018, for the first time, WSOP.com players from New Jersey were allowed to join in the fun, playing alongside the Nevada-based players who’ve been there since 2015. Yet the Wire Act reversal opinion issued in January threatens the participation of the New Jersey players this time around, as it bars “interstate” communications connected to gambling and would almost certain block the participation of New Jersey-based players.

Even as that reversal opinion is under challenge by a lawsuit filed by the State of New Hampshire, with New Jersey also having threatened to file suit, plans continue regardless. It’s entirely possible that the January Wire Act reversal opinion could be overturned by January, and the Department of Justice has already announced an extra 60-day non-prosecution window amid the legal turbulence. That means the earliest compliance date is now June 14, 2019, raising a worst-case possibility that New Jersey players on WSOP.com could play in the first two online events, yet be blocked from the following seven. That would be a strange development indeed.

2019 World Series of Poker Online Bracelet Event Schedule
DATE EVENT BUY-IN CHIPS LEVELS RE-ENTRY BB TIME LATE REG
2-Jun No-Limit Hold’em $400 15,000 15 minutes 3x 300 3:30 pm PT 7:15 pm
9-Jun 6-Handed Pot-Limit Omaha $600 15,000 20 minutes Unlimited 150 3:30 pm PT 7:15 pm
16-Jun Knock-Out Bounty No-Limit Hold’em $600 20,000 15 minutes None 200 3:30 pm PT 7:15 pm
19-Jun Turbo No-Limit Hold’em Deepstack $500 40,000 8 minutes 3x 400 3:30 pm PT 6:30 pm
23-Jun Double Stack No-Limit Hold’em $1,000 30,000 15 minutes 3x 600 3:30 pm PT 7:30 pm
30-Jun No-Limit Hold’em Championship $1,000 15,000 20 minutes 3x 300 3:30 pm PT 7:30 pm
3-Jul High Roller No-Limit Hold’em $3,200 25,000 20 minutes 3x 500 3:30 pm PT 7:30 pm
7-Jul 6-Handed No-Limit Hold’em $800 15,000 15 minutes 3x 300 3:30 pm PT 7:30 pm
14-Jul Summer Saver No-Limit Hold’em $500 20,000 15 minutes 3x 200 3:30 pm PT 7:15 pm
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The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced that it will delay for an additional 60 days any prosecutorial efforts stemming from the agency’s controversial reversal in January of its legal opinion regarding the applicability of the US’s 1961 Wire Act to almost all forms of online gambling rather than just sports betting.

The delay will push back any potential prosecutions or investigations based on the January reversal to June 14, 2019. Originally, the opinion issued in January from the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) included a 90-day window before implementation. This secondary delay was informally announced by DOJ sources late last week, with an official memo expected to be sent by the OLC to US Attorneys General offices across the country in the coming days.

All this comes as the DOJ prepares for what appear to be multiple and considerable legal challenges from forces allied with legalized online gambling in the US, notably many state governments. Last month, the State of New Hampshire filed suit against the DOJ seeking a summary judgment overturning the January reversal opinion, which was issued in the name of an assistant DOJ officer, never formally signed, and bore language and court citations highly similar to the effort of “RAWA” (Restore America’s Wire Act) lobbyists in the employ of Sheldon Adelson, the CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp. and the single-minded casino magnate behind the RAWA efforts to ban most forms of online gambling across the US.

The January reversal opinion, if left intact, would expand the each of the 1961 Wire Act to every form of online gambling except pari-mutuel horseracing, which was exempted from the Wire Act in a separate 1978 law. However, in addition to online poker and casino games as legalized in New Jersey, Delaware, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, the January reversal would also make illegal many US states’ online-lottery offerings. Those state-lottery-related concerns were the impetus behind the 2011 opinion issued by then-US Attorney General Eric Holder that clarified, based on existing case law, that the Wire Act applied only to sports betting.

Indeed, the reversal opinion would likely make the multi-state Powerball and Megabucks lottery drawings illegal, since information connected to the operation of those lotteries is transmitted across dozens of state lines. That’s part of why New Hampshire quickly sued; the state generates tens of millions of dollars annually from lottery sales.

New Hampshire’s lawsuit seeking summary judgment invalidating the DOJ’s reversal opinion was filed in mid-February, in the US District Court of New Hampshire. The federal judge assigned to the case, Paul J. Barbadoro, recommended to the DOJ that the agency should further delay implementation, and that is indeed what has happened. The current case schedule, already expedited, includes a hearing scheduled for early April in which Barbadoro could grant New Hampshire and its iLottery providers that summary judgment against the DOJ’s Adelson-purchased agenda.

The odds in New Hampshire’s favor are stronger than they appear. The state is part of the US’s First Circuit, one of nine such districts partitioning the country. The First Circuit has prior case law involving the reach of the Wire Act, and that existing law states that the Wire Act applies only to sports betting and not to other online gambling laws. Both Barbadoro’s US Circuit Court and the First Circuit Court of Appeals — should the DOJ pursue an appeal in the likely event of an adverse ruling — would likely be bound by the direct limiting of the Wire Act’s reach in the case UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. TODD LYONS and DANIEL EREMIAN.

Given the likely victory by New Hampshire a few weeks down the road (which also might involve a stay of the DOJ’s reversal opinion pending further appeals), that means the DOJ could face a tough choice of its own. Will it abandon its pursuit of Adelson’s blatant “crony capitalism” wishes, which are designed to bolster his Las Vegas casino (Venetian, Palazzo) interests? Or will the DOJ continue serving corrupt masters? Time will tell, indeed.

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Amid the larger and troubling clouds of the latest federal reinterpretation of the US’s 60-year-old Wire Act and its potential present-day impact on most forms of online gambling, New York’s State Assembly will again consider an online-poker legalization bill for the seventh consecutive year. The latest in a long line of such measures offered for consideration is NY State Rep. J. Gary Pretlow’s Assembly Bill 4924 (A04924), introduced by Pretlow on February 5.

If Pretlow’s name sounds very familiar, that’s because he’s among those who’ve introduced online-poker bills in New York in the past. Pretlow’s A04924 bill, in fact, offers identical body text to the previous placeholder measure he offered on the topic in 2017, for the state’s 2017-18 legislative session. That bill never went anywhere, in large part due to Pretlow’s own willingness to trade off possible consideration of an online-poker bill for other forms of gambling expansion in New York.

Since Rep. Pretlow is the powerful chairman of the NY Assembly’s Committee on Racing and Wagering, he’s one of the few people in the state who directly controls whether such a bill clears his committee… or even receives a vote. In past years, Pretlow has denied such a vote despite paying lip service to the notion that he’s a strong online-poker supporter; instead, he’s quickly shelved his own bills to help promote sports betting, daily fantasy sports, and land-based casino interests.

Pretlow’s concept for an online-poker legalization bill also differs somewhat from a rival measure that passed the NY Senate last year. The previous NY Senate bills on the topic were sponsored by the now-retired State Senator John Bonacic, though the same legislation as Bonacic’s has also been reintroduced this year, as Senate Bill 18 (S0018), by Joseph Addabbo.

One key difference between the two bills is that the Bonacic /Addabbo bills have contained a “bad actor” provision designed to bar global online-poker market leader PokerStars from participating in any regulated market, based on its previous acceptance of US-based players prior to April 2011’s “Black Friday”. Despite having long settled that matter with the US Department of Justice, and being approved to offer its services in New Jersey and (soon) Pennsylvania, PokerStars has encountered significant headwinds in several other states, especially those with tribal-gaming enterprises that would prefer not to compete against Stars’ brand-name recognition. New York is one such state where tribal gaming dominates the scene.

Pretlow’s A04924, however, lacks such bad-actor language, though that doesn’t make it any more likely to pass. Instead, both his Assembly bill and Addabbo’s Senate counterpart face even more uncertain ground than in prior years. Besides the Wire Act mess — and see our next feature for more on that — there’s also a newly introduced measure that calls for a broad, statewide research project to study gambling behavior across several forms, including online.

That measure, introduced by NY State Rep. Linda Rosenthal, would task the New York Gaming Commission to undertake a “statewide evaluation regarding the extent of gambling by New York state residents, including, but not limited to the lottery, horse racing, Native American casinos, internet gambling, sports betting, and poker.” Here’s the kicker: “Such evaluation shall be delivered to the governor and legislature no later than December first, two thousand twenty-three,” meaning that such a research project would likely be served up by gambling’s foes as a reason not to expand into online gambling in New York, in any form. That research already exists showing online poker to be less addictive than most other gambling forms wouldn’t matter to its opponents, and as we all know, politicians love voting for studies as a way to kick controversial topics down the road.

The good news is that Rosenthal’s measure doesn’t yet show signs of garnering significant support. And, of course, the other news is that these latest online-poker legalization efforts are again under consideration. Whether 2019 turns out to be that year isn’t a strong bet, but at least the topic is out there, again.

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At long last, PokerStars is on the verge seriously addressing its long-running problem with software-assisted online poker players using seat-selection scripts. According to a detailed memo recently sent to its wide distribution list of third-party software developers, Stars will implement platform changes on March 1, 2019 that are designed to minimize the impact of such programs, which have dramatically and negatively impacted the balance between high-volume grinders and recreational players.

What appears set to occur is an expansion of a protocol first announced and implemented by PokerStars way back in 2017. Called “Seat Me”, the protocol assigned open seats at cash-game tables in a random basis, instead of allowing users of the automated, high-speed scripts to grab seats where known “fish” (lesser skilled players) had just taken seats themselves. Stars announced the Seat Me protocol in January of 2017, and implemented it immediately on the pokerstars.es (Spain) site, and promised that it would be implemented “soon” in a worldwide fashion. Instead, for undisclosed reasons, PokerStars implemented the Seat Me protocol only on another single-nation network, pokerstars.it (Italy), while leaving the script kiddies free reign on all other PokerStars offerings, including its primary global network.

Given that many other sites and networks have banned such scripts in recent years, including one of Stars’ chief rivals, PartyPoker, the non-implementation was concerning. It’s true that PokerStars had received fierce criticism from its high-volume player population over other network changes, and parent company The Stars Group may have simply decided it was best to push this alteration down the road.

Nonetheless, this long-awaited environment correction is coming, and soon. The changes have yet to be formally announced via the vaunted PokerStars Blog, where such changes are ultimately revealed, yet several outlets across the word released selected text from the memorandum. One of the first such info releases came from a Russian software site and related forum, which offered this take:

“Stars has recently sent developers new rules for auxiliary software, which will come into force on March 1. According to these rules, new requirements are established for the means of a game select – everything that uses statistics, notes and the like to search for a game will be banned.

“That is, if I understood correctly, almost any landing scripts and screenscanners are forbidden.”

That notification also included this extra info received from PokerStars’ software support: “At the moment we are working on ways to eliminate Seat scripts. We are looking for the best scenario in order not to affect other programs, and we will reveal detailed information later. While the old rules are in effect, follow our updates.”

PokerStars soon confirmed the general gist of the changes from an press statement sent to a handful of news outlets. This excerpt offered what for now remains Stars’ most official announcement:

“In order to continue to protect our players and enhance the overall experience, in the coming months we will be introducing a range of changes to our Third Party Tools & Services policy, which we will communicate ahead of time. One such change is we will be prohibiting any tool or service for table selection efficiency that filters or sorts available games, or automates/semi-automates the process of joining available games based on opponent gameplay statistics or notes.

“For example, the use of seating scripts that join players to a set number of tables that have an average statistic for opponents above/below a certain figure, or work off pre-assigned player notes, are prohibited.”

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And then there were… still four, as in the number of US states where online poker has been authorized by law. Michigan came within a signature of becoming the fifth official US online-poker state, falling just short after Michigan Governor Rick Snyder vetoed House Bill 4926 (HB 4926) on Friday.

Though HB 4926 was passed by both the Michigan Senate and House earlier in the week by seemingly veto-proof margins, Governor Snyder’s veto will stand, since both the House and Senate have already concluded business for the 2017-18 legislative session. HB 4926 and two companion bills were sent to Snyder’s desk as the two bodies wrapped up numerous bills, and the three online-poker bills were among 40 that Snyder ultimately vetoed.

Snyder vetoed the online-poker measures on his own next-to-last day in office. The Republican governor was barred from seeking a third term due to Michigan’s term-limits rules, and he will be replaced by incoming Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer in January.

However, the expiration of the 2017-18 Michigan legislative session means that the online-poker bills have died a last-minute technical death. The bills will have to be re-submitted, something that primary bill sponsor Rep. Brandt Iden has already announced will occur in January. However, a new bill, likely to be a near mirror image of the vetoed HB 4926, will still need to renegotiate a myriad of Michigan House and Senate votes before, if the process goes well, moving to Governor Whitmer’s desk.

Outgoing Governor Snyder issued a veto letter detailing his reasoning for rejecting the bills. The largest point offered by Snyder was protectionism for Michigan’s existing state-run lottery efforts, though many analysts found much of the reasoning Snyder offered to be suspect. The meat of Snyder’s veto letter offered this:

“A significant amount of work went into these bills and getting them to a place where several stakeholders either expressed support or neutrality, and I appreciate that many pro-gaming stakeholders coalesced around these bills. However, due to largely unknown budgetary concerns, I believe this legislation merits more careful study and comparison with how other states have, or will, authorize online gaming. To be blunt, we simply don’t have the data to support this change at this time.

“Principally, gambling behavior could shift from the State’s ILottery program to internet-based gambling at casinos. In Fiscal Tear 2017, the lottery distributed $924.1 million to the School Aid Fund. For each $10 of spending on the lottery, the School Aid Fund receives approximately $2.76. Under HB 4926, because of its lower tax rate, each $10 in online betting translates into just four cents deposited into the School Aid Fund. Such a significant reduction, without a clearer understanding of internet gambling revenue growth potential, is concerning. Moreover, I am also concerned that revenues may be lost as gambling behavior shifts from on-premises, to online.

“Finally, I am concerned that the bills will encourage gambling by making it much easier to do so. I do not think it is appropriate to sign legislation that will effectively result in more gambling, with a reasonable chance that the state could lose revenue that could be helpful in dealing with social service issues that are ordinarily attendant to increased gambling behavior.”

Several outlets commented on the “Well, duh,” line included in the final paragraph: “Finally, I am concerned that the bills will encourage gambling by making it much easier to do so.” Snyder’s dodging of the entire online-gambling issue in Michigan via the wielding of his veto pen almost certainly denies Michigan an expanded revenue stream from legal gambling activities, despite Snyder’s dissembling claims.

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A three-justice appellate court in Kentucky has reversed in its entirety the bizarre $871 million judgment, including trebled damages, that the Commonwealth of Kentucky was awarded in late 2015 against PokerStars in connection with Stars’ allegedly illegal providing of online-poker services to Kentuckians between late 2006 and April of 2011.

The reversal, announced on Friday by the Kentucky Court of Appeals, also orders the dismissal of the original claims brought against PokerStars and both its former and current owners. The ruling is great news for PokerStars, largely diminishing the likelihood that Stars’ current owner, Canada’s The Stars Group (TSG), would have to pay as much as a billion-dollar legal shakedown, once interest and court costs were also considered.

In a corporate statement issued on Friday, TSG welcomed the ruling. “We applaud the decision of the highly-respected three-judge panel of the Kentucky Court of Appeals,” stated Marlon Goldstein, Executive Vice President & Chief Legal Officer of The Stars Group. “The merits of the case prevailed and we look forward to putting this matter behind us as we sharpen our focus on executing on our growth strategy going forward.”

The statement also noted TSG’s expectations that the law firm representing Kentucky is likely to continue the battle by appealing the appellate reversal to Kentucky’s Supreme Court. Despite the home-court advantage, Kentucky’s chances of prevailing have, nonetheless, taken a significant hit.

TSG also plans to petition the court for the release of the $100 million appellate (supercedeas) bond it was required to post to petition the late-2015 judgment decreed by Franklin County Circuit Court Judge Thomas W. Wingate. Judge Wingate had been purposefully selected for several cases brought by the state’s interests against various online-gambling concerns, though he is among the leading Kentucky judges in terms of having his rulings overturned on appeal.

The case against PokerStars and its original corporate owner, Rational Group, was launched by a politically-connected Kentucky law firm, Deckard & May, back in 2008. The law firm worked closely with the administration of former Kentucky Steve Beshear in bringing the action on a contingency basis, standing to claim a massive 25% of any judgment collected. One would expect the law firm to continue its extreme tactics in the hope of recouping a settlement from TSG to cover its years of self-imposed legal expense. 

The opinion rendered by the three appellate judges (Robert G. Johnson, Allison Jones  and Glenn E. Acree) blasted Kentucky’s use of its 19th-century Loss Recovery Act, or LRA, as a tool to extract many times the amount of money actually wagered by Kentuckians on PokerStars tables between the passage of the UIGEA in late 2006 and April 2011’s Black Friday, when a federal crackdown forced Stars to leave the US market for several years. Amid its shakedown attempt, attorneys from Deckard & May used hand-by-hand calculations of “losses” to inflate the $18 million in rake generated by PokerStars during the period into the $290 million in calculated damages, which was then in turn temporarily trebled under the terms of the 19th-century-vintage LRA.

Instead, the appellate panel ruled, Kentucky had no standing as a “person” under the meaning originally designed within that antiquated LRA law, and the state could also not seek to enrich itself by claiming excessive damages from activity it was already sworn to protect against. (The question of whether Stars’ services to Kentuckians was legal or illegal was never directly answered.

In its conclusion, the appellate panel wrote, in part:

Allowing a complaint, like the one put forth by the Commonwealth, to move forward would lead to an absurd, unjust result. It would mean that any private person with knowledge of the general nature of Appellants’ electronic gaming format could allege an LRA claim in a wholly conclusory and generic fashion and walk away a billionaire without ever having identified a single gaming transaction with specificity. The LRA was never intended to be used in this fashion. It was intended to promote natural persons who had knowledge of specific instances of illegal gambling to file suit to assist the Commonwealth in enforcing its anti-gambling regulations. To that end, we hold that even under our liberal notice requirements, a third-party LRA complaint must set forth basic facts such as the identity of the parties, date of the conduct, and nature of the gambling losses at issue.

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