Banning Winning Poker Players is a Bad Business Practice

lockHere we go again. Another online poker site thinks that it is OK to ban winners. This time it is Poker Host, a new member of the Equity Poker Network. It moved from Merge Gaming to Equity Poker earlier this month.

Several players have reported that their accounts have been closed for playing too aggressive, or being pro or semi-pro players. That is absolutely ridiculous.

Poker Host has been in business for nearly a decade. It is a journeyman poker site. It has been a member of Dobrosoft, Tribeca, Microgaming, Cake, Merge Gaming, and now Equity Poker. Its parent company also operates SBG Global, a sports book. The site should know better.

Poker ecology has become a difficult topic for site operators. Winning players have become better through experience and tracking software. Some sites have combated this with anonymous tables, fast-fold poker that rotates tables after every hand, anonymous tournament lobbies, segregated tables, removing wait lists, allowing username changes, and removal of key info in hand histories to prevent tracking software. Some of these changes and features are better received than others.

Few sites have simply forced winning players out the door. It instantly tarnishes a site’s reputation. Poker is a skill game. Better players are going to win. That is the whole point of playing. Banning players for accomplishing that goal deservedly hurts a site’s good name. In addition to that, it creates a problem that cannot resolve itself like other solutions, such as anonymous tables, have been able to accomplish.

What happens next? The second-best players now move up the chain. These players are only marginally below the top players that were just banned. Those players now have to be banned, too, because they are winning too much.

Rinse and repeat, over and over. Now you have no players.

It is not like there are just three types of players – winners, break-even, and losers – There is a wide spectrum of players in each category. Disturbing the ecosystem will move a player’s ranking around.

Players also perform better in certain games. Some specialize in shorthanded games, some handle aggression better than others. How does a player know where he stands? Does a player now have to chip dump after a big win to not show up on the radar?

Another reported issue is that players are getting banned after just three days, while another states he was banned after about 1,000 hands. Neither sample size is statistically significant. Maybe action from other networks was taken into account. That hardly seems fair considering Poker Host changed networks.

One player was told that his action was too aggressive. That is ridiculous, as well. That is a part of playing No Limit Texas Hold’em. If the poker room is not comfortable with that style of play then it should only offer fixed limit games, or perhaps remove the raise button altogether.

The Equity Poker Network and its skins have every right to operate the network in any way they see fit, but it should at least be clearly disclosed. I searched the site’s terms and conditions and could only find vague entries that allude to the software only being for recreational use and not for professionals.  Even if this policy is buried in there somewhere, it needs to be prominently displayed.

Players in the regulated U.S. market might have the law on their side to prevent these types of banning. A New Jersey Supreme Court ruling on the Uston v. Resorts International lawsuit could also apply to regulated online gambling in the state. In Nevada, all gaming must be open and available to the public. In other words, this situation is just another argument for online poker regulation.

Operators are rightfully concerned about the poker ecosystem. Reasonable solutions are accepted or even embraced by poker players. Kicking winning players off a site without any other offense, without clearly disclosing this policy, is not something even losing players can stand behind. It defeats the entire reason to play online poker and makes it appear that sites simply do not want to pay winners. Hopefully Poker Host and the Equity Poker Network will come up with a better policy to help preserve its delicate ecosystem.

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