Last month, we tallked about the problem facing many online poker players on Nevada’s only legalized and regulated site, WSOP.com, and how it appears that the prospect of winning a bracelet in a relatively inexpensive online tourney has drawn a lot of cheaters out of the virtual woodwork.
This month, the battle over transparency and responsibility toward one’s customer base has taken on a new aspect with the recent introduction of a bill in Nevada’s House that would have, in its original form, created an online poker blacklist.
The blacklist measure, Assembly Bill 380, would’ve mandated that all players banned or suspended by any Nevada-authorized online poker site must report the full name, online screen name, and date of birth of each cheater to the Nevada Gaming Commission, for inclusion on the online blacklist, although this original vision has already been watered down to some extent.
And, as with the NGC’s famed “black book” of excluded casino patrons, the online blacklist would be openly accessible to the public — at least as originally. Such public shaming, one quickly realizes, is one of the hidden intents of the bill, since cheating in most instances has been a freeroll of sorts — the worst that typically happens is an account ban and a confiscation of funds illicitly won.
Caesars comes out hard against proposed online blacklist
When AB 380 was first dropped, it wasn’t immediately evident whether WSOP.com parent Caesars Entertainment had a role in the bill’s creation. As it turned out, the company wants no part of it.
In the first committee hearing for the bill, held on April 5, Caesars execs Mike Alonso and Danielle Barille testified that the measure, if passed, would place an undue burden on the company.
AB 380 was drafted by a Nevada poker pro, Sara Cholhagian Ralston, who also formerly served as the executive director of the state’s Patient Protection Commission. Ralston drafted the bill in conjunction with Nevada Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager, as an attempt to provide transparency to the situation, meaning the cheating and collusion on WSOP.com.
According to a recent Nevada Independent update, Caesars’ Alonso dismissed Ralston’s design as “a laudable goal,” but that such a publicly accessible list could harm Caesars, exposing the company “to expensive and burdensome litigation for damaging someone’s reputation or from players who think that they lost money to an alleged cheater and want compensation.”
Alonso and Barille also stated that WSOP,com employs “advanced algorithms” to catch cheaters, and that the company was doing “everything reasonably possible to keep bad actors off the [online poker] site.”
The end result was that Ralston, Yeager, and other backers of the bill announced a strategic retreat. Ralston drafted an amendment to the measure, which is technically sponsored by the Assembly Judiciary Committee itself.
The amendment’s watered-down text now removes several instances of the word “cheating” from the language that would be added to Nevada gambling statutes to authorize the blacklist’s creation. Also gone are the requirements that a (cheater’s) real name and date of birth be published. Instead, only the (cheater’s) screen name and the current status — likely either “suspended” or “banned” — would be published.
Non-cheating players continue to carry unfair burden
While Caesars may have been largely successful in quashing the most severe elements of AB 390, it doesn’t mean that doing so serves the poker world’s greater good. Instead, the lack of transparency will largely remain, as would-be cheaters will quickly learn to create throwaway accounts under third-party real names to shield their real identities from public awareness.
But that’s not the worst of it. The real problem to date is that the victims have borne the cost of the cheating, rather than the cheaters or WSOP.com itself. As ws noted in last mont’s piece on the topic, WSOP.com may have banned the account that bested Jeremy Ausmus in a bracelet-event duel, but as Ausmus shared on Twitter, WSOP.com made no effort to redistribute the prize winnings or otherwise compensate the cheated players.
Other sites around the world — both regulated and unregulated — issue refunds to cheated players. Caesars and WSOP.com, to the best of my knowledge, have never done so. They want the rules to remain in their favor so they don’t have to do so, either.
That’s not transparency; that’s a shuck. Protecting your players from cheating is supposed to be part of your job as an operator. You’re never going to catch all the online cheaters, and no realistic player expects that every cheater will be caught.
However, when cheaters are caught, it is the site’s responsibility to make cheated players as whole as possible. All the available evidence says that Caesars and WSOP.com just don’t want to do that.
All that stuff about “expensive and burdensome litigation”? No company ever wants to face lawsuits, but using that as a defense is a pile of crap. This is a cost of doing business. If those advanced algorithms are enough to provide cheating evidence solid enough to ban a player, the evidence should also be strong enough to stand up in court. Otherwise, WSOP.com really has no business in banning an allegedly cheating player.
What does it say about the state of online poker when players have an infinitely greater chance of receiving a cheating refund from an unregulated site — say, ACR — than they do of getting one from WSOP.com?
Or to look at it from a different perspective, what WSOP.com does now is to deny cheated players due process in recovering losses from cheaters. It says here that’s never going to be the right or proper approach, regardless of whether an online-poker blacklist ever comes to be a reality.