Winamax players prepare lawsuit over illicit botting activity

At least 22 players in the high-stakes heads-up “Espresso” games on France’s Winamax online poker site will join in a lawsuit against the site over losses incurred against illicit “botting” (computer-aided play) accounts.
A pending lawsuit brought by nearly two dozen players on the French online poker site Winamax promises to test the legal obligations in that country for a site to police rules-breaking activity by a few of the site’s players. At least 22 players in Winamax’s “Espresso” heads-up cash games have agreed to pay €360 ($417; £315) each to join in a lawsuit against the site. The suit stems from the publication in June of evidence of botting (a form of cheating in which computers are used to aid the player’s decision-making process).

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Statistical evidence published on the French-language Club Poker forum by 27-year-old French online pro Maxime Lemaitre on June 9 pointed to likely botting by two accounts in the Espresso games, “Twopandas” and “VictoriaMo” (the latter also played under the screen name (mr.GR33N13″). Additional statistical evidence from other players added strength to the allegations against the two accounts, which together appeared to have earned a direct profit of about €700,000 ($811,300; £613,358), along with another €1.1m ($1,274,900; £963,848) in earned rakeback (a form of loyalty reward).

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Winamax conducted its own investigation into the two accounts which, despite playing thousands of the Espresso heads-up games at high stakes, never played against each other. Winamax invited the owners of the two accounts, who have never been identified publicly, to come to their corporate offices to play in person to demonstrate that they could play on a computer in person as skillfully and speedily as the investigation into the accounts.

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One of the two players, “Twopandas,” refused to appear; he was summarily banned, and his unspecified account balance was seized. The other player, “VictoriaMo,” did go to Winamax’s offices and demonstrated skillful play, but at a somewhat slower pace than that indicated by the investigation. His account was suspended, but his account balance was apparently not seized.

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“Paltry” refunds offered
Following the posting of the results of the investigation, Winamax offered refunds described as paltry to two of the victimized players. Lemaitre, who plays as “Batmax” on the site, was sent €25 ($29; £22) in compensation for the cheating. A second player, unnamed but known to be one of the participants in the pending lawsuit, was sent a refund of 1{3d50f9f34107fa7d7534812c73257307572ed6b849cfb838b60e61dda8c665f8} of his total buy-ins.

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Both Lemaitre and the other cheated player played several hundred -up games against the cheating accounts, at buy-ins of up to €250 ($290; £219) per game.
The two cheating accounts extracted some €1.8m ($2,086,200; £1,577,205) from Winamax over the 12 months before Lemaitre published the cheating evidence. The disparity between that €1.8m and the tiny refunds offered brought angered responses from other players, many of whom were almost certainly cheated. Lemaitre found legal representation at V for Verdict (vpourverdict.com), a French firm specializing in consumer-fraud cases.

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V for Verdict master Justine Orier first conducted an informational hearing for players who believed they’d been cheated and then said he would take the case if at least three players would commit €360 each plus 10{3d50f9f34107fa7d7534812c73257307572ed6b849cfb838b60e61dda8c665f8} of any future settlement to fund the case. Six players quickly came forward, alleging cheating losses of €10,000 ($11,590; £87,625) to €50,000 ($57,950; £438,126) each, including Lemaitre. At last report, according to a summary page on the pending action at V for Victory, 22 players are already signed up as litigants against Winamax.

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Players concerned over opaque investigation

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The case promises to be interesting. Among the most contentious points will be Winamax’s failure to publicly identify either the names of the cheating players or the exact balances seized by the site for refunds to cheated players. French online-gambling laws require the entirety of any balance seized to be used for such refunds; however, the law is less clear on what happens if most of the illicit profits have already been withdrawn from the site by the cheating players.

The claimed “paltry” refunds offered to date imply that the victims and their representative, Master Orier, believe that’s what is happening here.

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According to Ms. Orier and V for Verdict, “Winamax is indebted for a legal obligation of transparency of gaming operations. To date, Winamax refuses to provide information on the session that took place during the VictoriaMo/mr.GR33N1 survey.

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“There is, however, no legal justification that allows Winamax to decide partially and unilaterally the rules of the investigation and not to communicate on its content.”
Interest in the case continues to grow. It has already been the subject of two features on French mainstream news sites. Liberation reported on the unfolding saga in mid-September, as the legal action began to take shape, and Slate France visited the intriguing story just last week.

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“Ambitious” case from industry viewpoint
Whether or not Winamax can be forced to turn over the full results of its investigation or to offer refunds over and above the balances seized from the cheaters’ accounts, are points to be determined. However, not everyone thinks the aggrieved players are sure of winning the case.

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Michael Josem, a former Australian online pro who now lives on the Isle of Man, sees a different aspect. Josem was famed as the online player who published statistical evidence proving the massive cheating by a handful of accounts at the large UltimateBet and Absolute Poker sites a decade. Josem’s analyses helped break the players’ investigation open, and both cases of cheating turned out to be inside jobs conducted by the sites’ executives, not that anything similar is suspected in this current Winamax situation.

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Josem, though, went on to work within the industry for several prominent sites, meaning he’s seen both sides of such situations close up. He did not want to comment specifically on the allegations but offered this: “At its heart, the lawsuit will revolve around the players trying to prove that Winamax should be held liable for the behavior of the alleged bot users. No one seems to argue that Winamax approved of the alleged cheating (merely that they failed to stop it soon enough), so this seems like a very ambitious claim to try to make in court. It’s analogous to holding the police responsible for the behavior of criminals.”