Are Poker Bots Illegal?

[Standfirst] A piece of technology to play the game for you? If you don’t actually enjoy the game of poker (or you’re just very bad at it) this sounds like the ideal way of making money. But really, when is life ever that easy? Read on to find out exactly what is a bot, are they illegal, and what happens if you get caught using one?


What is a bot?

Firstly, let’s cover the basics. What is a bot? In video games or online gaming, a bot is a type of artificial intelligence-based system software that plays in the place of a human. Traditionally they attempt to mimic the behaviour of a real-world person in the game while using mathematics and player knowledge to beat genuine players. Naturally, poker sites across the globe ban bots from their tables. Even so, it doesn’t stop cheats from trying to sneak them in. 


Despite their reputation in online poker circles, bots aren’t the money-making success story you may think they are. Many argue that their efficacy in making a profit is questionable short-term. Therefore, a player would have to play a large number of hands with a bot before they see a return on investment. What’s more, bots rarely account for the human element within the game. As we all know, strategy, logic and mathematics are key elements to success in poker but it’s equally true that most players don’t incorporate these elements into their playing style perfectly. Thus, bots can often falter in the face of this illogical behaviour, resulting in a poor game. 


Are Poker Bots Illegal?

The real question here is are the use of bots on poker sites illegal? Firstly, you’ll most likely find a bot (or many) being used on every poker site worldwide. While they’re highly frowned upon, by both operators and players alike, they’re not strictly illegal. This means that while there’ll be no legal repercussions to using bots, you may find yourself banned from almost every reputable poker site available. As you can imagine, this would hamper a player’s ability to make money. So, considering the use of bots aren't actually illegal, what else can operators do if you’re caught using one? Along with a ban from that particular operator’s site, anyone using a bot will find their IP address shared with similar sites with the aim of blacklisting it. Furthermore, any profit gained from the use of bots will soon disappear as their bank balance dwindles quickly to zero. 


How to Spot a Poker Bot

Of course, there are ways to spot whether or not you’re playing against a bot. Most notably, they’re recognised by the playing of identical moves repeatedly throughout the game. Firstly, unlike real players, bots don’t have the torment of mulling over their next move. This means a bot will make its move almost instantaneously. Even in the most difficult of games, bots, while perhaps not making the best move, will make a quick one. Another hint that you might be playing against a bot is when a rival folds in a situation where the bet required to continue is minimal. Furthermore, while programmers have done their best in recent years to randomise the playing of their bots, in many cases it hasn’t been successful. If you find yourself playing against a rival making the same moves on a loop, then you’ve guessed it - your game has a bot. Finally, while it’s not conclusive, a good indication you’re playing a bot is when you notice a player online for inhumanely long hours. If it were a human being behind the screen you’d imagine they need time away from the poker tables to eat, sleep and work. A computer has none of these demands on their time. Thus, if you spot someone playing all day, every day, then they just might be a bot.


How Sites Spot Bots

Of course, site operators have to have a more technical way of spotting fraudsters. Given the trouble that these bots cause for their authentic playing community operators are keenly motivated to remove them. As a result, they regularly look for new methods of detection. Still, poker operators are less keen to share these methods with the general public. That said, many experts have speculated on the matter. 


Fighting fire with fire, or technology with technology, poker sites often employ algorithms that run across the site and detect the unusual behaviour mentioned above. But beyond factors like session length, this software also checks if players are regularly changing IP addresses with the use of a VPN. Also, if you own a computer, you’ll be familiar with CAPTCHA technology. This is the little box a player has to check to confirm they’re not a bot, accompanied by a short vision test - which we all fail despite being human! While irritating, the presence of these checks is a small price to pay for keeping bots off the table. Speaking of the human element, companies rely heavily on their employees to spot bot fraud. This comes from fielding reports from genuine players Then, from having employees actually play at the tables and monitor them closely for bots.


Given the difficulty in making it out of the casino undetected (with a full balance) using bots may not be as easy as it first appears.