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PokerStars Taking Stricter Stance on U.S. Players

PokerStars stopped allowing people from the United States to play on its tables shortly after Black Friday. At the same time, dumped PokerStars players in the U.S. began figuring out workarounds to the problem. After all, we’re talking about the internet, and as soon as you tell someone they can’t do something on the internet, they consider that a challenge (same could be said for my kids). So while the vast majority of PokerStars’ traffic from the States has dried up, there is a relatively small contingent of players who have continued to play on Stars from this country, rules be damned. Now, the world’s largest online poker room is starting to crack down on those circumventing the rules.

First things first. How, one may ask, could a person located in the United States play on PokerStars, a site which both does not allow Americans to play on its tables anymore and can see where someone is from? While it does take a bit of effort, it is not as hard as one might think. One way players have accomplished the task is to set up a Virtual Private Network (VPN) based in another country. In this case, that other country is often Canada, for the sake of proximity and ease of use. A VPN is basically what it sounds like – a group of computers connected together over the internet. While the entire internet is essentially a gigantic group of interconnected computers, a VPN allows its member computers to screen themselves off from the rest of the world. They relate to each other like they are on a physical network in, say, a house or office building, but in reality they are scattered all over the place. Communications are encrypted so that nobody outside the network can spy on what’s going on.

Image credit:

Image credit:

Business travelers often use VPN’s so that they can have the same access to their corporate network while on the road that they would normally have in an office. For a poker player, the VPN would have to be based somewhere from which PokerStars accepts players. Thus, one of the primary hurdles for a player would be to find someone trustworthy with whom they can establish the VPN’s home base. Once it is setup in the other country, a player in the U.S. can setup the VPN software on his own computer, login to the network, and now appear like he is playing from that other country.

The other main way poker players from the U.S. have worked around PokerStars’ geographical restrictions is through the use of remote access software such as TeamViewer. Again, a player would need to find someone in another country that can be trusted to setup the software on a host computer, along with the PokerStars software. Once setup, the U.S.-based player logs into TeamViewer (or similar software) and gains control of the remote computer, just as if he was playing on it himself.

Now, these methods are far from foolproof, as poker rooms have ways to see what software is running on a computer, but many players have found success since Black Friday using methods such as those described above.

Since Black Friday, PokerStars has had its rule about not playing from the United States, but has been generally seen as lax in its enforcement. If not lax, perhaps lenient in its punishments for people who were caught. For a while, PokerStars often accepted the excuse from a player that he didn’t know that he was not allowed to play on Stars from the U.S. and simply closed his account, returning his deposits. No more. In a statement on Two Plus Two, Head of PokerStars PR Michael Josem explained that the poker room has always enforced its U.S. activity restrictions “very firmly,” but now the company is increasing the harshness of its penalties:

… earlier this year, we increased the severity of our punishments because it no longer credible for the vast majority of players to claim that they didn’t know that they can’t play from the US. Our previous policy was, by default, to only confiscate net winnings (except when we were convinced the player was malicious, in which case we would confiscate their whole balance). Over recent months, by default, we have been confiscating the whole balance (except when we are convinced that the player was non-malicious and had no knowledge of this restrictions, in which case we only confiscate net winnings). We made this decision earlier this year, and it this decision has no relationship to any other recent announcements.

By “recent announcements,” Josem is referring to the acquisition of PokerStars’ parent company by Amaya Gaming. While there is no reason not to take Josem and PokerStars at their word, it would not be surprising in the slightest if Stars/Amaya started cracking down harder on rule breakers because a) Amaya Gaming is a publicly traded company, beholden to shareholders, and b) PokerStars is getting closer to acquiring a license to operate in the U.S. and wants to stay as squeaky clean as possible.

Josem added, “These confiscations are still subject to our ordinary processes to ensure that this happens in a fair manner, and allows players the right to appeal any such decisions. A key part of this process, of course, is to ensure that such decisions are based upon actual facts and evidence, not merely hearsay on the internet.”



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