The Ethics of Datamining Poker Sites, Part One (Common Complaints)

The Ethics of Datamining Poker Sites, Part One (Common Complaints)

Poker data mining services are the most important third-party for anyone who wants to play online poker in a safe and secure environment. At the time of writing, online poker is at a tremendous transition point: Countries are finally regulating, poker sites are starting to consolidate, and the DOJ finally shut down US online poker in the Black Friday scandal.

Full Tilt Poker - Domains Seized

Poker rooms are facing more competition than ever, a tough regulated market with significantly higher taxes, a general public weary and less interested in poker, and a poker economy full of extremely talented and smart players. For these reasons and others we’ve started seeing some actions from poker rooms which really hurt all online poker players and especially winning online regulars. Bodog recently switched to a fully anonymous model (which wasn’t so anonymous, as we found out) under the guise of protecting players (which wasn’t effective), and other operators have even stopped winning players from sitting on certain tables. With sites facing lower margins and struggling to stay profitable there is an increasing disregard for botting, multi-accounting and other actions which hurt the long term viability of the games and directly affect honest poker players. There is even more reason for people within the company to steal and cheat. Not only this, but poker sites will have less money to ensure safe and secure software, something which they have been laughably lax about in the past.

Prior Regulation

Existing regulation has proved almost useless at protecting players. No one was ever prosecuted in the Absolute Poker / Ultimate Bet superuser scandal and Full Tilt was allowed to effectively run a ponzi scheme for years. The current and growing rise of bots seems to go undetected by poker rooms and takes a huge community outcry to get anything done (probably because the bots are very close to break-even players who play massive volume). It generally isn’t in the poker site’s best interests to protect players and publicize insider corruption, cheating, collusion on any scale, botting, multi-accounting and huge security vulnerabilities in their software. Poker sites want to increase their revenue and the amount they rake, and in the current climate a lot of poker rooms won’t be around in three years so they are even more short term profit focused; that line of thinking is diametrically opposed to online poker players.

We believe there is a huge need for an honest, transparent and independent source to seriously investigate these issues and start protecting online poker players. Unmonitored and unregulated markets breed corruption and scandal. With more players being forced to play on smaller and less known sites the risks continue to increase. That is why we data mine.

Every member of HHSmithy has at some point derived a significant portion or all their income playing online poker. We all have many friends within the community who play online poker and also make their living from this game. We currently make all of revenue from online poker player’s who use our services. So it goes without saying, online poker is important to us. We’ve only recently taken over HHSmithy and plan to completely transform the company, and poker data mining into what we call ethical data mining.

Anti-Data Mining Fever and Some Common Complaints

“Data mining is against some poker site’s terms of service so it must be bad!”

What is good for a poker site is usually not good for online poker players. The ideal player pool for a poker site would be high volume, break even players with no rakeback so the poker site would eventually win every cent of deposits. Clearly, what is good for an online poker player is playing in games where they are have an edge rather than playing a few hundred hands of marginal or losing poker with huge swings to find out.

Just because a poker site says something is evil that doesn’t mean it becomes a fact. Poker sites have their own agenda and are not moral arbiters who decide what is fair and what is not. Initially, most poker sites wanted to ban tracking tools and heads up displays (as these create less breakeven players) but they quickly realized this was unfeasible due to community backlash. If the poker sites had decided to continue to ban tracking tools does that mean that tracking tools are evil?

“Data mining ruins the games by ‘fostering a skill gap which threatens the long term viability of the games.’”

Clearly users with data mined hands will have a larger edge than users who don’t but when you compare the additional edge players gain from services such as poker training sites, tracking tools, poker forums, and HUDs it isn’t even in the same league. The reason for the continued development of the game and how tough the games are becoming is not to do with people using datamined hands, but to do with the fact that any industry with an opportunity for people to profit will become increasingly efficient and competitive.

PokerTracker

PokerTracker makes the games harder - truth!

If you think that poker training sites, tracking tools, HUDs, and other allowed 3rd party tools should be banned you probably will have not changed your mind on this point. But even if you don’t agree, datamining is the only 3rd party service which has the opportunity to ensure the fairness and security of poker sites (more on this point later).

“Data mining provides an unfair advantage to people with the data.”

One could easily argue that tracking tools, video training sites and HUDs provide an unfair advantage to people who know how buy the tools or know how to use them correctly; data mining is no different. In fact, the advantage players get from other software and training is significantly more than is provided from hand-histories yet it is not considered ‘unfair’ that some players use the tools and others do not.

In addition, there is absolutely no way to stop groups of poker player’s sharing hand histories, comparing notes, and combining databases secretly. This practice has went on for years and isn’t different to what goes on in various industries around the world. If hand history sales sites were not available, a large majority of players would be at the mercy of groups of poker players who share data.

Data mining sites actually level the playing field by allowing anyone to have access to this data. If a poker player decides to move poker sites, or doesn’t have contacts in the poker community to share data with, through hand history sites they have the ability to access the exact same data that everyone else can.

“Data mining causes fish to loser their money faster!”

This is a interesting and wholly incorrect statement. If a fish were to sit down on a random table and the table would then fill up with completely random players, those players would mostly be tough regulars who will play anyone. The average game selecting player, commonly and unfortunately referred to as bum hunters, would not be as good as a random regular who doesn’t game select so the fish would actually have a lesser negative edge on a table full of game selecting pros. At some point we will do a full on statistical study about this point so be sure to subscribe to the blog or our email list to read that when its done.

“Fish see their profiles on popular tracking sites and never play again.”

Most recreational players are unaware of poker tools like PokerTracker and video training sites such as DeucesCracked so it is pretty unlikely they have ever heard of sites like PTR (go ahead and try asking someone who plays poker for fun). Any loss of recreational players due to being embarrassed about their profiles would be insignificant (if not zero) compared to the multitude of other factors driving recreational players away from the games such as fear of legal repercussions, difficulty to deposit and withdraw, and tough games.

Even if it is true that occasionally a fish will discover their online profile (with a handle and not their real name) and never deposit or play online poker again, the opposite is definitely true. Many enthusiasts and recreational players will discover tracking sites and see how much some of the biggest and most famous players in the game are winning and decide to start learning and playing poker. This is common place and not only drives new players to the game but also generates revenue for satellite industries such as training sites.

“The poker data is private.”

Data miners use no server side hacking or other illegal techniques to access any poker data. Anyone can open up a poker client and start observing a poker table. We just choose to do it on a large scale.

Wrapping Up

In our next article, we’ll talk about the positive effects that poker data mining has on the Internet Poker community.

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