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Apr 02, 2019

Even Social Online Poker Is Infested with Bots

By RTR Dennis

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Real-money online poker has dealt with a serious bot problem for several years. But now, it seems that social-poker is also running into the same dilemma.

As you may know, poker bots are programs that automatically plays hands for the user. These programs have become a larger pain, with their collective skill levels growing stronger.

It stands to reason that bot owners would only want to employ these programs in real-money games. However, Zynga, the world’s largest social-poker site, has recently reported that A.I. is now after play-money chips too.

Zynga Reveals Bot Problem through Conference Call

Zynga recently had a conference call to discuss their Q4 2018 results. Bots were one of the key issues brought up during the discussion.

Company executives highlighted how the poker site has a big increase in play that “couldn’t be duplicated.” In other words, Zynga clearly felt that the pattern of play from some accounts indicated bot activity.

Forum users have been complaining about going up against A.I. in Zynga games. They claim that low-ranked players continue entering games, not playing any hands, and eventually leaving the games.

What Is Zynga’s Official Policy on Poker Bots

Just like real-money sites such as PokerStars and 888, Zynga Poker is clearly against bots. Here’s their official policy on the matter:

"Zynga Poker does not support the use of automation software or bots. The use of automation software is strictly prohibited and is a direct violation of our terms of service. Additionally, we do not introduce bots or non-player characters into our own system to play against real users.

"If you believe an opponent is exhibiting repetitive playing behavior and is reminiscent of an automated tool we encourage you to report the profile through the report abuse feature. Our compliance team reviews reported profiles and reprimands accounts that exhibit unwarranted behavior.

“Zynga Poker is dedicated to maintaining a safe and fair poker environment for all users."

How Do Bot Users Benefit on Zynga?

One seemingly doesn’t have much to gain by deploying bots at a social-poker site like Zynga. After all, these games are only seeing play-money chips exchanged.

Nevertheless, people do pay to buy more chips and accolades. Zynga Poker earned the company over $36 million in revenue last year. While this is down from 2017, it’s still a significant amount.

Most users buy extra chips directly through Zynga. However, they can also purchase discounted chips through a thriving black market. Bot users likely make money through these channels.

It’s also possible that the bots could be testing Zynga in case the company’s poker site ever offers real-money play. The company launched real-money games through Facebook (UK) in 2014 and have maintained interest in the US regulated market.

What can Zynga Do About Their Bot Problem?

Many online poker sites have dedicated resources towards stopping bots in recent years. This group includes PokerStars, which consistently monitors for bot usage on its site.

They have employees who look for suspicious activity that’s consistent with A.I. Assuming PokerStars confirms bot usage, they’ll close the associated accounts.

Zynga can take a similar approach and look for the low-ranking accounts that are engaging in bot-like behavior. They likely haven’t dedicated too much time to the matter yet, because this is a newer issue for them.

But even PokerStars struggles to deal with bots, and they have more resources than any company in the online poker space. That said, Zynga will face an uphill battle if they decide to take the same measures.

Of course, they can’t site idly by either and watch more and more bots filter onto their tables. Look for them to try and do more about the bot infestation at some point in 2019.