How safe and secure is online poker money? That’s a question gamblers face every time they deposit money on an Internet casino or poker site.
Some customers of a leading online casino and poker site found out December 18, it wasn’t as secure as they hoped.
Pokerroom.com is an online gambling site first started in 1999. As part of the Ongame network, Pokerroom usually has over 6,000 players online at a given time. Over the holiday season, they advertised a series of Big Christmas tourneys, including one of which took place December 16.
For the big winners in this tournament, it was a momentous occasion. According to mvzander (an online screen name), “I immediately told many friends. It was my biggest win ever.”
Mvzander finished first in a field of 251 players. As per the tournament payout page, his account was credited with $3,829.21 and a voucher for an HD-TV. Also amongst the winners was rumrunnerii, a Canadian poker player, clearing over $750.
Their joy would be short-lived. Two days after the tournament, Pokerroom removed the bulk of the winnings from the players’ online accounts. In the case of the winner mvzander, this meant he was left with just over $400 from his initial payout. Rumrunnerii also ended up down nearly $700 after the adjusted payout.
Pokerroom support stated the initial payouts were wrong and the winners had been overpaid. The $19,000 guarantee posted online in the tournament registration area was an error.
“Around $15,000 [was] added to the pot by a technical error on our side. The funds that were paid in excess were removed.”
Anger Spreads Across the Web
The players affected by the loss quickly voiced their outrage on the online forums of the Pokerroom website. A thread which grew to over 1,000 posts sprung up demanding Pokerroom honour the payouts and refund the money.
Amidst the expletive riddled posts, players pointed out that Pokerroom’s terms of service, agreed to by all players upon registration for the site, stated “prizes will be awarded in accordance with the prize list.”
Mvzander echoed the anger of many of the participants in one of his posts on the Pokerroom forum. “Like many, I played in this tournament because of the [guarantee]. I received $3,829.81 and a voucher for a TV. Then [came] an email explaining that my payment should have been $404.75. Goodbye 3,425.06. Goodbye Pokerroom.”
An online campaign to get Pokerroom to pay out the winnings spread beyond Pokerroom to many popular poker chat and strategy sites. Pocketfives and 2+2, two of the biggest online poker forums, became part of a grassroots campaign led by mvzander to get Pokerroom to return the money taken from the players’ accounts.
Pocketfives administration cut all online advertising for Pokerroom until the payout controversy was resolved. Online players across the web echoed the anger expressed by the players. A Google search of Pokerroom returned a large number of articles about the incident on the first page of searches.
A number of the winning players, including mvzander and artie001 filed complaints with eCogra, an Internet gaming regulator, and the Kahnawake gaming commission, who holds the casino license for Pokerroom and is located just south of Montreal on a native reserve.
Online Publicity Leads to Payment Reversal
The large public outcry finally led to a January 3 news release from Pokerroom on their site along with a number of online forums. In the statement from Oskar Hornell, founder of Pokerroom, he stated, “we have paid these players in full…and have taken the necessary steps to prevent a situation like this happening in the future.”
Pokerroom has since undergone a number of software upgrades, including going offline for a number of times during the past month in an attempt to avoid similar problems in the future.
Hornell highlighted this in his January 3 statement. “Over the almost eight years that we have run Pokerroom.com we have made mistakes, a lot of mistakes even. But I can honestly say that we have never deliberately ripped off any of our customers.”
With the majority of online poker rooms being registered in tiny offshore countries like Gibraltar or native gaming commissions like Kahnawake, traditional government regulatory agencies have no control over the gaming sites. While the players in this situation ultimately received their winnings, the lack of regulatory controls means the same scenario could repeat itself in the future.