Weekly Poker Roundup: January 1st, 2016

By in Poker on

Happy New Year, everyone! Shockingly, there was actually some poker news in what is normally a slow week.

Isaac Haxton Spurns PokerStars

Isaac “Ike” Haxton has announced that he will no longer be a member of Team PokerStars Pro Online, citing the poker site’s recent VIP changes as the primary impetus for the decision. This follows just a couple weeks after Alex Millar did the same, upset with the elimination of the Supernova and Supernova Elite VIP levels and reduction of benefits to high stakes players. Haxton’s contract with PokerStars had expired, but he said that the site did offer to renew.

In a public statement, Haxton wrote, in part, “In the past, when I have disagreed with a PokerStars decision, it has been on practical matters of which goals are most important and which policies most effectively advance those goals. This time my disagreement is simpler, and deeper. I believe PokerStars is behaving unethically.”

His main point:

Announcing in November that players who earned Supernova and Supernova Elite status in 2015 will not receive the benefits they had expected in 2016 strikes me as dishonest and unfair. As a four time SNE, I know what it takes to rake 1M VPP in a year. It’s a tough grind. For most of the players who do it, it is an all-consuming commitment more intense than most full time jobs. Many of them have relocated far from their homes and families to pursue it. Finding out, just as you approach the finish line, that your efforts will not be rewarded as you expected them to be is brutal. I cannot in good conscience continue to endorse a poker site that treats its players this way.

Players Fed Up with Datamining of PokerStars Spin & Go’s

Speaking of PokerStars, some poker players have another gripe with the site: datamining. Specifically, PokerStars’ lack of focus on eliminating datamining from Spin & Go tournaments. A poster on Two Plus Two lodged the following complaint recently:

EVERY Pokerstars spin and go within 30 seconds has 2 viewers appear and stay for the duration of the match from .50-100$. I want an explanation from management why. There is consistently up to 5 viewers for every 2X game and i have played thousands. I have not had ONE game without a viewer. If security is this poor that this is indeed datamining than this should be shared with shareholders that games offered on there [sic] investment are NOT being properly policed.

It is not uncommon for people to observe online poker tables, but it IS uncommon for multiple people to be railbirding innocuous, low-stakes Spin & Go matches. One person watching the occasional game, sure – maybe someone is just interested to see what it’s all about or has a friend playing – but as many as five per game is a clear indication that some datamining site is setting up bots to gather game data.

There can be some benefit to datamining, as it has helped detect cheaters in the past, but in general, players hate that people can buy and sell hand histories on players against whom they haven’t personally competed. At the very least, it goes against the spirit of the game and to some, it is outright cheating. Besides, datamining is outlawed at PokerStars.

PokerStars has curtailed datamining at other tables, but has yet to eliminate it from Spin & Go tables. A few days after the thread on Two Plus Two was created, PokerStars Sit & Go and Tournament Manager Baard Dahl confirmed that the site is getting to work on the matter:

We are aware that there are sites that collect data from all our games, and we are taking steps to prevent them from doing so. Unfortunately, this is not as easy as flipping a switch, but we have dealt with the issue in the Zoom games, and we expect that we will be able to roll out a solution for the Spin & Gos as well. We are hoping to do so in Q1 of 2016, though it is possible we will have to revise that date.

After the Spin & Go solution is in place, our other games will be covered as quickly as possible.

California Online Poker Discussions to Resume in New Year

For years, legislators have been trying to advance pro-online poker bills in California, but for years, nothing has advanced much past the discussion stages of any of these pieces of legislation. People seem to want online poker in the state, but there are so many stakeholders involved, including established card rooms, race tracks, and dozens of Native American tribes, that nobody can come to an agreement on final terms.

Fortunately, talks will pick up this coming week. The Governmental Organization Committee of the California State Assembly will hold a hearing on January 6th to discuss a number of online gambling bills, including ones that cover sports betting, daily fantasy sports, and online poker.

AB 167, the online poker bill introduced by Representative Reginald Jones-Sawyer, will likely garner the most attention. It has been the one piece of legislation that has come to the closest to going anywhere, as it has best addressed a compromise amongst the various stakeholders. It would allow race tracks, card rooms, and tribes to all participate in the online poker industry, whereas other bills cutout race tracks for whatever reason. The bill also fails to contain a “bad actor” clause, which is often included in online poker legislation as a way to keep strong competitors – primarily PokerStars – out of the equation.

Oklahoma Tribe to Launch Online Poker Site

The Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma has received approval from U.S. District Court to operate an international online poker site. This approval comes after arbitrator Charles S. Chapel ruled against the United States Department of the Interior’s stance that Class II forms of gambling as defined by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), including poker, should automatically be considered Class III if they are offered online. According to Chapel, the “use of the Internet is merely using technology to play ‘covered games’ as a way to increase Tribal revenues. It does not extend or restrict the scope of the games and does not amend the Compact in any way.”

Thus, the Iowa Tribe could launch its online poker site, PokerTribe.com, in a matter of weeks. The site, developed by Universal Entertainment Group (UEG), has actually been in existence, just not offering real-money games, since 2013. It was originally developed with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes under the URL PokerTribes.com (plural), but after new tribal leadership was elected in 2014, the plans for the site fell apart.

If the site does get off the ground, it will be interesting to see if it gets any traffic. It will be open to international players and players in the three states where online poker is regulated: New Jersey, Delaware, and Nevada. The natural problem, though, is that international players would have no reason to play on PokerTribes.com when they have large poker sites from which to choose already and offering the games to the three regulated states is against the respective state laws, as the site is not licensed in those states.

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