PokerStars Head of Game Integrity says: Trust is Everything
Ensuring that poker remains safe for players to play on and free from cheating is a priority for any online poker site. And when you're a poker site the size of PokerStars it requires a whole team.
PokerNews sat down with PokerStars Head of Game Integrity Francis Lincoln to discuss what his team does, the importance of trust within game integrity and what goes into making sure PokerStars remains one of, if not the safest, poker site around.
PokerStars' Game Integrity Team
"Game Integrity is made up of a team of around 50 operational staff," Lincoln says. In addition, we have multiple dedicated squads of developers who provide us tools to work with, alongside our own data analytics team.
Lincoln's team is a combination of passionate poker people and ex-professionals, along with others with a background in data analytics. The team comb through casework, look at hands and analyze data to look for game integrity violations.
Put simply: stopping players who are defrauding or cheating other players.
"As someone once put it, there are maybe 100 people in the world that do what we do, and more than half of them work for PokerStars. This was a while ago, but I think that's probably about true."
The three main areas Lincoln's team works on are:
"Trust is Everything"
Lincoln previously spoke with James Hartigan on the Poker in the Ears podcast, explaining that the work the game integrity team puts in is integral to the level of trust players have in PokerStars.
"Trust is everything," he explained. "You have game integrity, then there's making sure that the RNG is fair and also making sure your money is safe. Without those three core things, the business is on 'shaky ground' which is why we invest so much in it."
What is RNG?
A Random Number Generator is a computer program that generates random numbers, determining the cards and outcome of each hand. It ensures that online poker is fair and unpredictable.
Discover What Data PokerStars Tracks About YOU to Keep Their Games Safe
The work of the game integrity team is ongoing and continuous, something that Lincoln likens to cleaning your house.
"And because we've been doing this for twenty years, there are now a lot of different checks that get carried out regularly to keep the site safe"
"You have to make sure you clean it every day everywhere, otherwise you might miss a spot down the back of the sofa. And so it gets really dusty, and if you don't have enough people to clean everything all the time, you miss something.
"There are a lot of different places to clean a lot of data to look at and we know that ourselves. We have a very big team with a lot of brainpower and a lot of man hours every day and still sometimes we miss something.
"But because we maybe missed something, we now make sure there's an additional check that gets put in place. And because we've been doing this for twenty years, there are now a lot of different checks that get crried out regularly to keep the site safe."
Resource is Key
Other sites may have smaller security teams, and with some reviews taking days or weeks to carry out they may get overwhelmed with the task of ensuring the site is safe and secure to play on.
"Another analogy I like to use is the game Ker Plunk," says Lincoln. "Game integrity is like a game of Ker Plunk. The more straws you have in, the more things an account can run into. It's not to say a marble doesn't get through, but the PokerStars game integrity team has a lot of straws."
"When you go onto the websites advertising these bots they say 'Don't use on Stars'"
And it's the amount of resources at PokerStars' disposal that makes it increasingly difficult to bot on the site, with most bots caught within a matter of only a few hundred hands.
"These can be fairly simple bots, but when you go onto the websites advertising these bots they say 'Don't use on Stars' and they don't have that warning when it comes to other sites.
"Another example is with heads-up poker. This was one of the first formats to be susceptible to AI and botting and the feedback we were getting from players at the time was that the players would be botting on other sites but playing legitimately on PokerStars. This was because they knew that they needed to play straight-up on PokerStars or they would get caught."
PokerStars' Battle Against Real Time Assistance (RTA): How They Detect and Deter Cheaters
Working to Thwart Bot-Rings
As a result of the level of resource available to the PokerStars game integrity team, so-called "bot-rings" are an extremely rare occurrence.
"When you see this type of behavior posted on forums as evidence, it's usually large groups of accounts that spring up at the same time, with very similar playing stats and individual playing stats that people deem unusual.
"It makes it difficult for rings or more sophisticated groups of cheaters to get through"
"It's hard for someone on PokerStars to do that, because it's hard for someone to avoid our attention for long enough. Bot-farms want to get the easiest money. If they know that PokerStars is going remove them, they're all like 'Well, why bother?'
"If an account is flagged as potentially suspicious, it will be difficult to get past our detailed, rigorous checks. There's also the question of stringent KYC requirements we have. It makes it difficult for rings or more sophisticated groups of cheaters to get through.
What is KYC?
Know Your Customer checks are required by law and are used by online poker operators to verify a player's identity when opening an account. This may included players verifying their age and address and ascertaining whether identity documents are legit.
PokerStars "a cut above"
Lincoln says he, like many, tracks social media to see the latest stories and allegations of cheating on other poker sites, and says that he is all too aware of just how much resource goes in to maintaining a safe playing environment.
"If you were to set up a poker site now," says Lincoln, "You just can't afford to spend these millions a year on game integrity, because getting a site up and running is difficult enough. PokerStars was set up with game integrity built into the client and the level of data we can get, as well as the ability to get and manipulate that data later. That's my assumption why we're a cut above the rest."
However, his focus remains on PokerStars and his work and that of his team.
"My job is to make sure PokerStars is the safest site to play on. Although I don't know what the size of other people's teams are, for PokerStars it's an enormous investment totaling millions every year. For me, that's almost certainly the difference."
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