Data gold mine lifts veil on world of online poker

Data gold mine lifts veil on world of online poker

Software has provided a mass of statistics about online poker, one of the world's biggest draws, and could help pinpoint problem gamblersWhen 4 million people worldwide checked into some of the world's most popular poker websites and played an estimated billion hands, software was watching.The results reveal patterns in play that could help inform how poker is regulated and uncover a wealth of information about one of the internet's most popular pastimes. "It's a data gold mine," says economist Ingo Fiedler at the University of Hamburg in Germany. "It is interesting for regulators, academics and also for the treatment of problem gamblers."Fiedler gathered his data on the 4 million players between September 2009 and March 2010. To do so, he turned to the poker-market spectator Pokerscout.com. Its software logged the locations of players, game outcomes, the date and time, and the commission paid to the operator by people playing on the two biggest sites worldwide at the time - Pokerstars and Full Tilt Poker (the latter has recently been shut down amid allegations of financial irregularities) - as well as smaller operators, Everest Poker, IPN Poker and Cake Poker.Altogether, that amounted to 4.6 million different online-poker "identities" worldwide, which Fiedler reckons equates to about 3.9 million different players; some players play under different screen names on several different poker sites. As those websites accounted for about two-thirds of the market at the time, he used the data to extrapolate a figure for the total number of people playing online poker worldwide: 6 million. Click here to see the geographic spread of poker players and current legal status.But this information, which first appeared in a book co-authored by Fiedler and released earlier this year in German called The Market for Online Poker: Player origins and gambling habits, also reveals patterns in play, painting a picture of a few dominant players who play a huge amount, and a majority who barely play at all. Fifty per cent of people played for less than 5 hours in a period of six months, while 6 per cent played for more than 100 hours. "Very few people account for a lot of the playing volume," says Fiedler.Although he did not capture the amount of money exchanged between players, Fiedler can still get some idea of how much money is changing hands. He recorded the average rake - the amount of money paid to the poker site by a player - per hour (Click here to see amount paid by players to online poker sites). Generally, the higher the stakes being played for, the higher the rake.Fiedler says the next challenge is teasing apart which of the people who play intensively are pathological gamblers as opposed to professionals - perhaps by finding ways to use the data to measure their gambling patterns. Impulsive betting, for example, is one way to tell a problem gambler from a professional.Kahlil Philander, who studies gambling policy at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas says that this could help further our understanding of gaming behaviour. "Online poker is a relatively benign activity for 95 to 99 per cent of its users, but is very intense for a handful of professionals and potential pathological gamblers," he says. "Further distinguishing between those two groups is the next challenge for player-analytics software, to help determine which players may be at-risk gamblers."


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