Is there any validity to the myth that online poker games are rigged? That depends on your definition of the word “rigged.” That’s kind of a coy answer, so I’ll say it this way: there have been a few high-profile cases of cheating on the part of poker site operators, but even these cases don’t really indicate what I would consider the rigging of games.
The word rigged implies intention. The implication is that poker sites host games designed so that players lose more. One common version of this myth goes like this: poker sites deal cards in specific patterns that ensure bad beats for the players. The details of the accusation may change, but the implication is always the same – that the games provided by poker websites are intentionally designed to screw players.
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But no evidence exists that this kind of behavior has ever actually happened. In the high-profile cheating scandals at Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker (for example), the cheating occurred among a few consultants who had access to backdoors that allowed them to peek at player’s hole cards. That’s cheating, and it’s reprehensible that it happened, but it isn’t really rigging, is it?
In case that all sounds like hogwash – a language-based argument against the rigging myth, and not an out-and-out denial that rigging occurs – I would invite anyone who still thinks games are rigged to provide evidence. Accusations of rigging are as common as pennies in a fountain, but proof (beyond a user’s anecdotal experience) is just not to be found.
Do I think that some poker sites conduct business poorly? Yes, I do. And I acknowledge the “super-user” cheating scandals of 2007, and I fully understand that people have trust issues when it comes to placing real-money bets over the Internet. But it isn’t fair to accuse the industry of offering “rigged games” when there’s no proof, and it isn’t even a sensible argument.
Debunking the Rigged Poker Rooms Myth
Take the following three facts under consideration when considering any online gambling rigging myth.
Games of chance and skill don’t need to be rigged in order to be profitable. Technically speaking, the rules of the games are already “rigged,” in the sense that these games and services are designed to turn a profit. When a poker room charges rake, that’s one way the site offering the game rigs it for profit.
Many accusations of rigging are due to a misunderstanding of how online poker works. When I read poker players lamenting the unusually high number of bad beats they see online compared to their real-world game, I just have to laugh. Of course you see more beats – online poker games see way more hands dealt overall. Online poker is fast, and the speed with which the game moves makes it different from traditional face-to-face games in a lot of ways. Most accusations about rigged games are born from the simple fact that the game moves a lot faster on the Internet.
Proper licensure and regulation are an easy way to tell if a site’s games are fair or not. Licensure from a respected gaming authority (Alderney, the UK, etc.) is a sure sign that a poker room’s games have been tested for randomness and fairness. If you only play at reputable poker rooms, you’ll never have to wonder if your games are rigged in the first place.
How to Find Non-Rigged Poker Rooms
Maybe the best way to learn how to spot a non-rigged poker room is to look at examples of rooms that currently do business and are definitely not running rigged games. The thing is – pretty much any poker room with legitimate licensing will do. Concerns about rigging are ungrounded. There are more important aspects of a poker room’s business than whether or not they rig their games.
Here are three sites whose licensure I respect that serve as good examples of non-rigged poker rooms.
Full Tilt Poker has a bit of a checkered past because of the way the company handled the UIGEA bill (and Black Friday) in 2006. Since that time, Full Tilt has been acquired (by the parent company of PokerStars) and all suits against them have been settled. Full Tilt is licensed by the Isle of Man, with endorsement from the UK Gaming Commission. You can be sure that Full Tilt’s games aren’t rigged, because licensure by the Isle of Man requires that the site abides by certain codes of conduct and have its software tested for fairness and randomness.
Sky Poker is another site I am fully confident does not offer rigged games. That confidence comes from their gaming licensure authority, which is Alderney. This authority has some of the strictest standards in place for their licensees. Sky Poker is also operated by a company based in the UK. Those two facts right there are enough to convince me that Sky Poker is not hosting rigged games. There are just too many regulations in place to prevent that sort of thing at this particular poker room.
You could write a really interesting (and really long) book about the history of gambling myths. The idea that online poker rooms rig their software to increase the pot, to ensure bad beats, or for any other reason is ridiculous. Other more legitimate reasons for concern exist – rogue sites that actively rip off their customers still exist.
In the face of actual threats like those posed by black hat poker rooms, the notion that poker rooms rig their software is ridiculous. Provided you do all your play at a room licensed from a legitimate authority that requires software testing, you don’t need to worry about playing a rigged game of poker on the Internet.