Party And PokerStars Enact New Third Party Software Use Policies

Third Party Software Rule Changes On PokerStars, PartyPoker May Alter The NJ Online Poker Landscape

This article may be outdated. Get the latest news on New Jersey here.

As part of a nearly industry-wide effort to balance the online poker ecology, PartyPoker and PokerStars have either introduced, or are in the process of introducing, sweeping amendments to their policies regarding third party assist tools.

Major shakeups aside, Garden State grinders too will feel the impact of the industry’s rec-friendly leanings, as Party and Stars will constitute two-thirds of the New Jersey online poker market come early 2016.

What changed on PokerStars?

The core changes on PokerStars pertain directly to the use or disuse of third party software programs and/or features.

PokerStars began toying with the idea of change in mid-June, when Poker Room Manager Steve Day outlined a potential retooling of existing policy on the two plus two forums. It was suggested that the proposed changes were in response to a controversial HUSNG player-assist program (skier_5) that enabled players to make ideal pre-flop decisions.

Shortly thereafter, PokerStars concluded that change was necessary, and voiced its dedication to both refining its policies regarding heads-up displays and other assist programs, and working with developers to ensure that their products were in compliance with the new guidelines.

The extensive results of the Rational Group’s internal review were leaked on two plus two in late September. Days later, an official announcement was made from PokerStars Sit & Go and Tournament Manager Baard Dahl.

A few highlights of Dahl’s post:

  • HUDs “are no longer permitted to display non-numerical data” such as graphical chart displays.
  • Tools that enable players to analyze situations or player hand ranges can no longer be used while the PokerStars client is open.
  • Hotkey scripts have been severely limited in their functionality.
  • Spin & Go players will no longer be able to utilize the SpinWiz program to help them cherry pick their opponents.
  • Seat-selection programs beyond those tied to Spin & Go’s will remain on the white list, but based on the tone of Dahl’s post, won’t remain so for much longer.
  • The company will continue seeking ways to prevent external sites from datamining. Already, a solution has been implemented for Zoom games (put into effect on September 1).

The policy changes were slated to go into effect on October 1. At the time of this writing, they appear to be live.

What will be changing on PartyPoker?

PartyPoker has adopted a more roundabout approach to its policy changes. Instead of placing outright bans on tracking software and HUDs, the operator has decided to amend its client so that third party assist tools mostly lose their efficacy.

There are three major components to the upcoming software update:

  • Players will only be able to view their hand histories from the Missions icon in the PartyPoker software. They will no longer be available for download.
  • Players that join cash game waiting lists will be seated once a seat that matches their preferences becomes available, all but eliminating a practice known as “bumhunting.”
  • Once seated, players will not see the names of their opponents until after the first hand is dealt.

The changes are part of a larger campaign dubbed by PartyPoker as “Poker for the People.”

In a recent blog post, PartyPoker Director of Games Golan Shaked defends the logic behind the shift:

“As part of our Poker for the People campaign, the partypoker team is committed to providing all poker players, regardless of experience or skill levels, with trusted poker products that are fair, ethical and fun. We will continue working with the wider poker community on developing a mutually beneficial, trusting relationship.”

The amendments coming to PartyPoker bear some resemblance to those recently implemented on Full Tilt, at least to the extent that they’re friendlier toward recreational players than pros.

Not surprisingly, Full Tilt’s policy changes resulted in liquidity stumbling 16 percent in the three weeks following the update. This per to Poker Industry Pro via

Granted, a portion of this loss can be attributed to the removal of unpopular games, but the lion’s share is (probably) due to regular players seeking action elsewhere.

To date, the lost regulars have not been replaced by a new breed of amateur players.

Has the New Jersey online poker market been impacted?

No, and by the looks of things, it won’t be for some time.

PokerStars has yet to launch in New Jersey, and in all likelihood the Garden State will remain a two trick pony at least through the holidays.

As for PartyPoker – when prompted on the two plus two forums, Party representative Colette responded with the following:

“For now changes are applicable to all .com markets (bwin, party, dankespille etc) excluding NJ. These changes are likely to be implemented at a later date however no time line has been set for this to take place. I have no further feedback to offer for now regarding implementation in NJ.”

Given the propensity of PartyPoker NJ to lag significantly behind its ROW counterpart with regards to software updates, it may be months before the amendments are enacted.

Implications for New Jersey poker players

There are a few.

A quick glance at NJ online poker cash game lobbies reveals that the majority of mid-to-high stakes traffic occurs on Party/Borgata.

Also, based on revenue figures and traffic analyses, it appears that the average player value is significantly higher on Party/Borgata – which makes sense if on average, Party/Borgata players frequent higher stakes.

What may occur once PartyPoker’s policy changes go live in New Jersey is that we’ll see HUD-wielding regulars shift their focus away from Party and toward WSOP/888 (where HUDs are permitted).

New Jersey pro Michael Gagliano (Gags30) pointed out that the elimination of written hand histories removes a much needed player safeguard:

“Written hand histories give players a safeguard to protect themselves in the games they are playing. They give players the capability to sort through thousands of hands and pick out things that look suspicious. Whether it be cheating or botting, it is literally impossible to do this without written hand histories.”

To this end I agree. Hand histories act as material evidence against botting. The removal of hand histories eliminates an accuser’s first line of defense, thereby opening the doors for botters and other cheaters to prey on players.

As for PokerStars, my feeling is that professional and recreational players alike are going to gravitate toward the site regardless of its third party software policies. However, the distribution of players may be slightly skewed toward the recreational player.

Furthermore, casual player retention rates may be higher than they would if no amendments were instituted – by and large a good thing for PokerStars.

Lastly, I imagine WSOP/888 will at some point conduct an internal review of what should and should not be allowed on their site. This will become more pressing if New Jersey and Nevada/Delaware forge an interstate liquidity sharing agreement, as interprets Nevada iGaming regulations to disallow the use of HUDs.

Suffice it to say, if some players on the network were permitted to use HUDs and other weren’t, it would prompt the outrage of the poker playing community.

- Robert DellaFave is a game designer and avid poker player. He writes for several publications centered on legal US online poker and the regulated online gambling industries in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
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