Specifically, three major online poker companies inclusive of GVC Holdings (otherwise known as partypoker), Playtech (provider of the iPoker network’s software) and The Stars Group (PokerStars) were downgraded.
But why? According to the global juggernaut investment bank, artificial intelligence (AI) or “bots” is such a concern that online poker could become potentially unbeatable in the near future.
Pluribus beats them all
For the first time in history, an AI poker program consistently beat some of the top poker professionals in the world in a variety of different formats.
Recently, Facebook teamed up with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) to create the AI bot, Pluribus.
Pluribus is the pioneer AI poker bot to consistently beat professional opponents in a six-player format no-limit hold’em, according to the research article released in Science.
Astoundingly, Facebook and CMU took eight days, 512 GB of RAM, and $144 to create Pluribus.
According to Morgan Stanley analyst Ed Young, Pluribus is “stronger than human professionals” in the most popular form of poker. It “plays twice as fast as professional players and can be adapted for any poker variant.”
Therefore, the analysts reduced confidence in online poker. GVC and PlayTech faced reductions of 2% and 4%. Notably, The Stars Group only dropped to $17 from $18. However, Morgan Stanley did not mention 888 Holdings (888 Poker) by name. The downgrade also presumably affects them, too.
Well-founded fear for online poker
In 2017, Pluribus’ predecessor Libratus made waves in the poker community sparking fears of bots versus humans. Libratus beat out poker professionals in a no-limit hold’em format for more than 20 days. However, unlike Pluribus, Libratus required millions of dollars plus supercomputing power. As a result, fears that bots would run rampant in online poker diminished.
Then again, Pluribus’ economics of $144 and the short eight days of development comes with a serious pause to the integrity of online poker. With Pluribus, Morgan Stanley analysts noted that scientists refuse to release the code because of the “serious impact” on online poker.
Essentially, online poker consumers and investors may be spooked by the major online poker operators’ ability to kill bots.
The vigilance of poker operators
Online poker operators have long fought against bots and even third-party software tools. For example, Partypoker’s newsletter vigorously publishes poker bot kill rates in recent months.
Check out partypoker’s #FairPlay campaign:
In 2015, poker operators changed their rules and policies on third-party software. Software such as HUDs (heads-up displays), hotkey scripts that allows a user to act more quickly, and seat selection programs received the ax. Partypoker even took its rules a step further by disallowing a player to download hand histories.
In addition, poker sites have long used CAPTCHA during poker sessions in order to authenticate suspected bot accounts. Moreover, poker operators are quick to freeze cashouts or money transfer requests. It requires extensive additional documentation, even in video form, if operators suspect fraudulent activity of any kind.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, poker players themselves provide an important safeguard to the online poker economy. In 2015, a massive poker bot ring was uncovered by TwoPlusTwo user Schwein with the help of the poker community. The poker bots won an estimated $1.5 million. As a result of the investigation, PokerStars subsequently banned the accounts and issued refunds to customers.
It takes a village to keep play fair
On Aug. 15, 2018, PokerStars presented to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB). Obviously, game integrity is of utmost importance with online poker to PGCB and PokerStars.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the presentation:
- PokerStars identifies 89.9% of collusion from proactive alerts.
- It detects 88.96% of all bots.
- It has 240+ security employees worldwide.
- There are 65 game integrity employees to identify and prevent cheating.
Considering how important game integrity is to the poker operators and players, we doubt that anyone needs to fear playing online poker. Honestly, it appears that Morgan Stanley was quick to jump the gun over the success of Pluribus.
Online poker in PA soon, but not yet
Meanwhile, all of Pennsylvania is still holding its collective breath for when online poker launches. Online gambling went live in PA on July 15. PokerStars is likely to be the first online operator to launch in PA after inking a deal with Mount Airy Casino. However, as of now, the Keystone State is still in a holding pattern.