Online Poker Misconceptions: The Internet Is Anonymous

Written By Steve Ruddock on October 30, 2014
Is anonymity a real problem for iGamers?

In this new series I’ll be dissecting the different arguments being made in regards to legalizing and regulating online poker, in an attempt to try and get to the underlying truth. I’ll take a look at the arguments both for and against online gambling, and see if we can toss the rhetoric aside and look at the situation on the ground.

The first topic up for discussion is the argument that online gaming is impossible to regulate and police due to the anonymity of the Internet.

A favorite Argument For iGaming Opponents

Since their movement to ban online gambling began late in 2013, Sheldon Adelson and the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) have offered up many hypothetical situations detailing how the anonymity of the Internet could be used for nefarious purposes.

Truth be told, Adelson and the rest of the opposition to iGaming have been winning this argument all along, playing on the fears of lawmakers and the general public over the anonymity of online gaming, and how it will lead to money laundering and create easy access to gambling for problem gamblers and children.

A favored line of Adelson’s is that he can see if a person is drunk or underage in one of his casinos; something that can’t be done online.

This line of attack usually causes online gaming advocates to start shining a spotlight on Adelson and brick & mortar casinos failings on this front, which in my opinion is not the best counterargument to make.

While it’s fun to do and is a valid criticism, most of our energy has been spent pointing out Las Vegas Sands own issues with money laundering and underage gambling, and thus leads to the inevitable cat calls of hypocrite and fraud directed Sheldon Adelson’s way.

However, this is basically reinforcing Adelson’s message by implying it’s not just an online issue but also a brick & mortar issue. Instead of pointing out the safeguards that are in place we tend to point out how other industries are not perfect on this front either.

So, while we are launching ad hominem attacks against Adelson and CSIG, we do little to assuage the actual concern he is raising, and it’s the perceived anonymity of online poker among the public that allows Sheldon Adelson and his Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling to drive their message home.

So let’s take a look at just how anonymous people are on the Internet, and how we should be countering this claim.

You’re Not As Anonymous As You Think

The other argument that could be used to rebut concerns over money laundering and access to problem and underage gamblers (the anonymous Internet), is to point out that while the Internet does provide a certain amount of anonymity between players, you are for all intents and purposes an absolute open book when it comes to what the online poker site and the regulators can see.

While every other player at the table may not know anything about “AlwaysBLUFF” other than his general location, the site has verified that person’s name, age, and home address. They have a credit card or payment option on file for AlwaysBLUFF. They can quickly pull up every bet AlwaysBLUFF has ever made on the site, that person’s deposit and withdrawal history, the number of hours they have played, and any other scrap of information they may need.

The Internet may provide a single layer of anonymity, but licensed and regulated online poker sites have access beyond that top layer, to layers that leave a paper trail a mile long that can be traced and followed.

They can see where you are logging in from, see if your betting habits suddenly change, track the amount of money you deposit and withdraw, and so on. In the same ways a bank can alert you to potential fraud, an online gaming site could alert players to the same.

Is it foolproof? Of course not.

Anyone who really wants to hack the game system will find a way, just like anyone who wants to mark cards in a casino can still go and do it if they really want to. But, just like marking cards, we can now hold people accountable for their actions online.

A minor using a stolen credit card or stolen Social Security Number to create an online account has broken laws and will be punished if they are caught. Someone trying to launder money online faces the same consequences as someone trying to launder money through some other channel.

The penalty for breaking these laws is our recourse and the main deterrent, just as they are in a land-based casino and every other walk of life. Not every criminal, tax evader, and law breaker is caught.


Sheldon Adelson is 100% correct. People can create an account and then hand their phone off to a 16 year old kid to play. Someone desperate enough could steal someone else’s SS# and open an online account. A child could figure out their parents online password and use their account.


An adult could also purchase alcohol and give it a minor. Someone could steal your credit card and buy items at Best Buy or Target. A child could figure out their parents password for eBay or Amazon, or their Debit Card PIN and do just as much if not more financial damage.

Nothing is foolproof.

The safeguards currently in place remove the layer of anonymity that online poker players had before regulations, and the punishments for people breaking these laws are more than enough to protect the integrity of the industry

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Steve Ruddock

Steve Ruddock is a longtime member of the online gambling industry. He covers the regulated US online casino and poker industries for variety of publications, including,,, and USA Today.

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