It doesn't exactly take a large amount of google searching to find countless discussions and comments detailing how and why certain sites are rigged. Is there any truth to these claims? After all, we don't want to be investing valuable time and money on an event that is already a foregone conclusion.
While there seems to be a rather unanimous conclusion that various sites are rigged amongst certain posters, we'll often find that there is general disagreement regarding exactly how and why the site is rigged. Such discussions will also usually be tempered by a few brave individuals who are there to tell everyone else they are stupid because “of course online poker is not rigged”.
Let's think about both sides of the argument before drawing a conclusion. Perhaps the conclusion may even surprise you if you are here to read another standard “poker is not rigged article”.
The Standard Arguments for Riggedness
Let's regurgitate a few of the bog-standard arguments that will be floating around pretty much every poker-is-rigged thread that has ever been created.
Action Flops – The site deliberately deals out flops that create huge action. Perhaps one guy gets top set while the other guy has an up-and-down-straight-flush draw. Obviously the money is going in and the site owners take a holiday in the Seychelles with all of that extra rake money.
Babysitting the Fish – The sites don't want recreational players to go broke too fast and have a bad experience, otherwise they might not redeposit. The regs will probably keep playing anyway. So it makes sense for the site to bad-beat the regs when they play against the fish to keep the player pool as large as possible.
Suckouts, Just Because – This is my favourite. The site has no specific reason for the river suckouts, they do it just because they can. They must profit somehow from this, but no-one in the thread knows exactly how.
Cashout-Curse – This one has destroyed hundreds, no....thousand of bankrolls in it's time. The dreaded cash-out-curse. You have tried to take some money from the site and as a result it's necessary that you be punished with a never ending downswing until you start depositing again.
House Bots – A large amount of our opponents are secretly undercover house bots who work for the site. They know our hole-cards and skim a little extra money off the top every now and then as an additional way for the site to make money.
They can get away with it – This one is sadly undoubtedly true. A site could likely easily get away with rigging the games and make extra money as a result. There is a very good chance no-one would ever be able to prove this. And seeing as the objective of most money making enterprises is to well.....make more money – morality is the only thing that stands between most poker sites and the extra money they can make by subtly rigging the games.
The Standard Arguments for Non-Riggedness
Not in their interest – If anyone found out that the site was rigged, then pretty much no-one would ever play there again.
RNG Audits – All sites with a gaming license must undergo an RNG (random-number-generator) audit. If the results of this RNG test are not sufficiently random then the gaming license can be revoked.
Someone would know – A standard argument we see in “poker is rigged threads”. If poker was rigged, then surely someone would have realised by now. The problem is....they probably wouldn't. Variance is so huge that crazy things can happen over big samples. Besides, we get hundreds of people daily posting somewhere in a thread that poker is rigged because this one time two weeks ago their Aces got cracked by Quad-Kings. And no-one takes a blind bit of notice of them.
The Argument for Agnosticism
Agnosticism is basically the belief that the truth cannot be knowable. Here are the reasons why I feel agnosticism is the correct stance on this topic.
Variance is very big & RNG audits can be faked - So, the first issue is that no one person on their own is likely to ever have a sample size large enough to prove that poker is rigged. This decreases greatly the likelihood that anyone is ever going to be able to categorically prove that a certain site is rigged. We need an infinite sample to prove anything. Even RNG audits have to use a finite (albeit very large) sample. And those audits don't prove beyond a doubt that the RNG isn't rigged, they simply specify that it's within a certain number of standard deviations from the norm and hence “probably not rigged”.
There is a website online that does independent audits. While most sites pass with flying colours, there is at least one major poker site that was noticeably outside what was expected. Does this prove that it's rigged? No, we can't prove anything as we have mentioned, but it's certainly worrying. It seems as if there is nothing to stop a site using a good RNG when it is being audited and then modifying that RNG once the audit is complete.
Depends on our definition of “rigged” - If 5 of our opponents at the table are working together against us and all sharing hole-card information via skype, does that count as a rigged game? It might not even be anything to do with the poker site itself. This kind of thing does happen at the table. If by rigged we mean that we are playing with an unfair disadvantage, then there are absolutely a number of rigged games online, and we should be very careful that we don't get cheated.
Dishonest Employees – It's just a sad fact that poker still has strong connections with shady underground business dealings. It's consistently emerging into a more regulated and open environment, but essentially it is still gangsters that are running many of the games. The difference now is that these gangsters are a new breed who wear suits and make millions of dollars.
The semi-recent “Black Friday” Full Tilt Poker scandal should tell us that the poker companies we put our trust in are not quite as honest as we'd like to think they are. If a respected company is capable of spending the money that they have promised us is segregated – what's to stop them making subtle alterations to the way the cards fall at the table in an attempt to increase their profits further?
Hole-Card Cheaters – We can no longer really say that a site would never secretly use our hole-card information against us. Why? Because it already happened in the Absolute Poker scandal. It seems as if a disgruntled employee used access to hole card information to print money at the tables. If it can happen once, we'd be foolish to say it could never happen again.
This can also happen on an individual level if we are not careful who we let see our hole-cards. Someone might pretend to be a friend who is sweating us, but they are actually sitting at all of our tables taking money from us.
Maybe this is not the conclusion you were expecting, but here we go. Poker might be rigged and certainly can be in some instances.
If we are talking purely about the integrity of poker sites and not cheating that occurs on an individual basis then poker is probably not rigged. But this is not something we can really prove, so it's not right for us to claim that we know for certain that poker isn't rigged. That's ironically why guys who post in “poker is rigged” threads to say “poker is definitely not rigged” are basically as ignorant as the guys who post there saying it's definitely rigged. There is not enough information to prove anything either way.
We must remember that we shouldn't tar all poker-sites with the same brush either. Different companies obviously operate at different levels of ethics and morality. Some sites definitely might be rigged – I've played at a rigged site before and lost some of my roll when the site owner was taken to prison and the site promptly shut down with no cashouts for anyone.
So it's the responsibility of the player to make a good appraisal of a site before depositing. Check to see if there has been any legitimate problems in the site's past. We want to know as much as we can that the site we are depositing on has good integrity.
A final thing to mention is, that even if we knew for certain that poker is rigged, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a non-profitable enterprise. It might easily still be possible to make consistent money despite the fact that we might not be making as much as we could in a fair environment.