Last month, a large number of players were issued refunds by the world’s largest online poker room, PokerStars. Each refund was accompanied by an email explaining that the operator had uncovered a breach of the Terms of Service by an un-named and un-numbered source of players.
New information exposed by community members on forums like TwoPlusTwo and TiltBook revealed PokerStars’ popular lottery-style, Spin & Go tournaments being the most affected, and points to possible data mining as the culprit.
Although lengthy, the email sent out by PokerStars did little to satiate the desire for extended knowledge by the online poker community.
“PokerStars has become aware of a situation involving a violation of our Terms of Service, to the potential detriment of other players. You participated in games that were under consideration in this case and as a result you may have been adversely affected,” read the email from PokerStars Game Integrity Team.
“In a case such as this it is our policy to confiscate the balances of the offender(s) and for PokerStars to add funds where appropriate,” the email continued. “This compensation pool is then distributed to players potentially affected in as fair a way as possible.”
Players were then advised of how to confirm the reception and size of their refund. However, they were also told that PokerStars would not answer questions regarding “how your specific credit amount was calculated,” nor are they “at liberty to identify the specific games or player(s) in question.”
To ease concerns, the online poker giant added, “The integrity of the games at PokerStars is of paramount importance and appropriate action will always be taken when players operate outside the Terms of Service. PokerStars works hard to police the games in order to pro-actively prevent such instances. However, in cases where it is discovered that rules breaches have occurred, the aim is to ensure that any players affected are compensated appropriately.”
Players Say Spin & Go Most Affected
According to myriad responses from PokerStars members on community forums, the vast majority of refunds were applied for buy-ins to Spin & Go tournaments, but not all of them. TwoPlusTwo’s “STTranger” claimed to have received a $60 refund from “six-max hypers”.
The actual amounts refunded seemed to vary greatly. Some players reported being reimbursed only a couple of dollars, while others redeemed 4-figures. And since PokerStars refused to divulge how the refunds were calculated, many believe they are not receiving nearly as much as they lost due to the culprit’s TOS breach.
TwoPlusTwo’s “Don Stefano“, a Serbian poker player who only participates in PokerStars’ $60 Spin & Go tournaments under the moniker “delijesever1“, believes the issue was long-standing due to his reception of more than $1,000. He also believes that amount to be well below what he was cheated out of.
He said the fact that most refunds are “usually like 10 bucks…raises a lot of questions that I don’t know where to ask.” He opined that a “$1,000 refund means something really big happened, and I wonder how much was I affected considering that you always get a really small portion of confiscated money from cheaters.”
Data Mining Suspect
PokerStars’ Terms of Service explicitly prohibits players from things like collusion and the use of poker bots or any other illegal software that aids their gameplay. These have been banned for years and are actively thwarted. Data mining is also strictly proscribed, but efforts to put a stop to the activity have been less successful.
Data mining occurs when a player purchases hand information from another source, imports that data into their poker tracking software and then uses it to gain an advantage over another player. While it’s perfectly acceptable to gain such knowledge by personally playing the individual, purchasing that information and then utilizing it against them is not.
As Stefano pointed out, “it doesn’t make much sense” for data mining to be an issue with Spin & Go tournaments, since players aren’t able to choose their table or opponents, but if the problem has become so widespread as some are suggesting, perhaps it’s not that far-fetched after all.
A senior member of PokerStars’ Management Team, Baard Dahl, told the TwoPlusTwo community last December that data mining is one area where PokerStars continues to struggle.
“We are aware that there are sites that collect data from all our games, and we are taking steps to prevent them from doing so,” wrote Dahl. “Unfortunately, this is not as easy as flipping a switch, but we have dealt with the issue in the Zoom games, and we expect that we will be able to roll out a solution for the Spin & Gos as well.”
He stated that PokerStars was aiming for a fixed solution by Q1 2016, but that quarter has come and gone, and if the community’s suspicions are accurate, these recent refunds from PokerStars could be a direct result of the operator’s failure to get the situation under control.