38 Hours of Turmoil as Unregulated Poker Site Backtracks on $100k Bot Challenge
It was a weekend to forget for one unregulated poker site ACR Poker (formerly Americas Cardroom) as it announced, clarified and ultimately reneged on a promise to award $100,000 to a player who could successfully create and operate a bot on the platform.
The six-figure challenge stemmed from a 2+2 forum post, which claimed an unbeatable bot had been operating on ACR and consistently winning.
Security issues can and have occurred on regulated poker sites. Last week, it became known that an account on GGPoker could view the equity during hands, allowing that player to operate nearly as effectively as a superuser. The online poker giant, a 2+2 forum member exposed the scandal, banned the account.
So, yes, those sorts of things do happen even on sites that most players seem to trust. But the security issues sites like GGPoker have pale in comparison to the repeated security issues at ACR Poker, which is part of the Winning Poker Network (WPN). On Jan. 4, the company began a tumultuous 38 hours of PR blunders and questionable decisions, all chronicled in detail below.
What is ACR?
ACR Poker is popular among American poker players as there are limited options available in most US states. However, the site operates in a grey market meaning that while there are no federal laws that make it illegal to play there, ACR is not regulated anywhere in the United States.
PokerNews strongly advises its readers to not play on unregulated online poker sites. It's not legal and your funds are at risk.
What is a Grey Market? A jurisdiction which is not considered a regulated market, with an absence of explicit laws or selectively enforced laws on online poker.
Here we take a look at the timeline surrounding the site's $100,000 Bot Challenge:
January 4, 2024 (7 p.m. PT): $100,000 Bot Challenge Announced
On Friday, January 5, in response to stories on social media, ACR Pros Chris Moneymaker and Ebony Kenney acknowledged the flak the site had come under, with Kenney stating ACR Pros were doing "everything they can" to speak up on behalf of poker players behind the scenes.
"We are engaged with social media," added Moneymaker. "We are engaged with security. Were engaged with almost all the components of ACR and trying to steer them in the right direction to help players and do whats right for players.
"Part of our role as ambassadors is to make sure that we hold the site accountable as much as possible. We wouldn't be Ambassadors for ACR if we didn't believe that we were working with good people that are trying to do the right thing."
The former WSOP Main Event champion went on to explain that the site was offering $100,000 and a job "to the first person that can make a bot, and make it operate on WPN for 5,000 hands and show us.
"I believe that our security is very good, I believe we do a very good job. I don't think anybody can create a bot that's going to break our security. But we could be wrong"
January 5, 2024 (7 a.m.): First Reports of Successful Bots
After putting their money where their mouth is, social media was abuzz with speculation and widespread disdain for the site's approach to its game security.
"I currently have a working bot running on ACR ... please let me know what proof you'd like."
Approximately 12 hours later, reports surfaced that players had successfully run bots on the site in pursuit of the $100,000 bounty. These included Matt McElligott who said on X, "I currently have a working bot running on ACR ... please let me know what proof you'd like."
Others had already suggested that it wasn't worth any serious botters time, reasoning that anyone with a working bot stood to make much more than the $100,000 they would receive if they came forward.
January 5, 2024 (5 p.m.): ACR Issue Bot Challenge Clarification
Later that day, ACR issued a clarification to the Challenge, confirming that no one had currently "completed" the Challenge.
The requirements were laid out as follows. Players needed to:
"We appreciate that there are risks with challenging people to put bots on our network," ACR said. "We will ensure that no player funds are lost or risked as a result of this challenge and any funds obtained by bots will be refunded to players as soon as possible."
PokerStars Head of Game Integrity says: "Trust is Everything"
January 6, 2024 (9am): Bot Challenge Offer Retracted
This clarification lasted just over half a day, and was followed by a statement signalling the end of the Bot Challenge. After "overwhelming feedback" against the challenge they apologized for the Bot Challenge, explaining that their intention as to "test the robustness of their security systems" and "showcase the advancements made by their game integrity team."
"However, we now realize that pitting individuals against our player base to create and deploy bots was not the right path to achieve this goal. We acknowledge our mistake and sincerely apologize to our valued player community."
They even used the statement to "call upon the most knowledgeable individuals in the game" to help them improve the safety and integrity of their platform.
What Have We Learned?
Due to limited legal internet poker options available, many poker players in the US are forced to play live exclusively or take their chances on an unregulated site. Its an unfortunate reality, and the reason why sites such as ACR Poker, despite bot scandal after bot scandal, continue to attract customers.
The best way to play online poker in the US has been, and will always be, to play on regulated online poker sites such as PokerStars US, WSOP.com, BetMGM.
PokerStars US: How to Play on PokerStars in the USA
But what can be done to ensure player safety for those who reside in a grey market? The first option is to just not play on an unregulated site and instead give another platform a shot such as Global Poker, a legal social poker site that uses a sweeps coins model.
If you choose to play on ACR or other unregulated sites, understand the risk is high. Pay attention to users that seem to be dominating games at an alarmingly high rate.
Even the best players in the world will go through losing stretches because short-term bad luck in poker is a thing for everyone. If you encounter a player whose graph is on a constant upwards trajectory, dont sit in a game with that player and report the account immediately. Game integrity and safety is on the minds of all operators and poker sites these days, and it should be on the minds of all poker players too.
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