Since the dawn of the Internet age of poker, there have been accusations, assumptions, allegations and outright assertions that the people who run online poker rooms rig the games.
The reason for this is simple; people, for the most part, don't make the best of plays, sometimes people can't believe that someone stayed in on a particular hand and beat them and, occasionally, people can't believe that .1% hand that trailed them all the way actually came home to beat them.
In the past few weeks, though, arguments about rigging have been made loudly enough that they are at least worth taking a serious look at.
The first accusations were levied against Absolute Poker. The allegations on many forums stated that a handful of players were supposedly using a "super user" account that would allow them to see other players' hole cards during the play of hands, either in tournaments or in a cash game setting.
There is actually a Web site that was created to track these particular online players and it does show some oddities.
For example, the accounts in question had played in lower buy-in tournaments with little to no success before jumping into the larger ($1,000) events and winning right off the bat. Observers called into question particular trademark moves by these accounts, such as for example their play of hands on the river: never calling a bet but either raising (if winning the hand) or folding (if losing).
In addition, these same accounts allegedly dumped the winnings to other players in the higher-limit cash games. It has even been suggested that a high-profile professional player is the person responsible for these actions.
Absolute Poker, for its part, has stated that it fully investigated the situation and found nothing amiss.
I have to admit I am of the viewpoint that it would be insane for these online poker rooms to rig any game, let alone the largest ones that they offer. The cash taken in from rake and tournament vig amounts to several hundred thousand dollars a day (if not a million).
Thus, it's hard to imagine that the owners would tweak the games to pull in a few hundred dollars. But there are factors that have made me think about the possibility of rigging by poker room insiders.
The charge that "super user" accounts exist is at least potentially viable. If you think about it, video games have the "God mode" that allows for players to have unlimited life and unlimited ammunition for the course of their game. These are normally unlocked with a special code.
Software developers would have to have some method of testing their software to make sure the particular parts of an online poker game (card distribution, the RNG, no duplication of cards, etc.) work. Thus the "super user" account. If, and it is a big if, a person of dubious honor were to somehow get access to a restricted play mode like this, he or she could indulge in such shenanigans.
The second case arose during PokerStars' recent World Championship of Online Poker. Many of you are already familiar with the brouhaha that broke out between former World Champion Greg Raymer and online player Belragazo, but controversy has now arisen over the championship event of the WCOOP.
After an exhaustingly long 22-hour tournament on Oct. 1, TheV0id took down the title and, almost immediately, there were charges of multiple users playing the account. A recent European Poker Tour champion allegedly set up the account for his sister who, according to most sources, hasn't played in any large buy-in events ever.
This is a serious charge, especially given the ongoing issues with other top online and live players' accounts being frozen on multi-player account charges recently; the JJProdigy escapade from a couple years ago; and even further back, the case of a couple of European pros who supposedly shared accounts years ago.
PokerStars has been very open about the fact that it is investigating the charges regarding the WCOOP and its $1.2 million winner, and has even posted on several online forums that it is painstakingly looking at all aspects of the tournament to make sure there were no improprieties.
As of the writing of this article, there has been no outcome announced.
All of these situations, and the general "Poker is rigged" posts that you see on virtually any online forum, only demonstrate the need for the online world to be regulated and guided by some authority, be it governmental or institutional. For some time, an organization known as eCOGRA (e-Commerce Online Gaming Regulation and Assurance) has attempted to be an independent voice in this matter.
Through a very stringent testing procedure, eCOGRA has been able to offer their "Play It Safe" seal to more than 100 online casinos and poker rooms. They even offer a dispute mediation program that allows individuals who believe they have been wronged (in one form or another) by one of its member sites to be heard by an independent arbitrator.
But eCOGRA, while it provides a worthy service, is not sufficient to the task. It is of critical importance that individual countries or perhaps a world organization institute regulation and licensing programs. With governmental approval, these would ensure that the online rooms are truly operating in an aboveboard manner, and players would have no concerns about the legitimacy of playing in them.
Furthermore, with the regulation, there would be an independent authority with enforcement powers to ensure that everything is on the up-and-up.
As far as the current controversies go, I still haven't given up my belief that there is simply too much at stake for the online poker rooms to manipulate outcomes. But, after mulling over all angles of the arguments, I can't rule out the possibility that they might.
That is why we need regulation and licensing in the online poker world, not only for the individual players' protection, but for that of the online poker industry as well.