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French Poker Players Suing Winamax Over Bot Allegations

Winamax Logo

France-based online poker site Winamax is facing a lawsuit by irate players because it allegedly “failed to protect the integrity and transparency of its gaming operations.” More specifically, the plaintiffs contend that they were not adequately compensated for having to play against poker bots. A total of 16 people joined in the lawsuit, and they are each seeking payments of between €10,000 and €50,000 ($11,560 - $57,800) apiece from Winamax.

What Are Poker Bots?

Cartoon Robot

Poker bots are automated pieces of software that can play poker without any manual user intervention required. They scrape the screen while tables are open to see what cards have been dealt and then consult their programming to determine whether to bet, raise, call, or fold. Botting has been around for more than a decade, and some of these programs are quite sophisticated.

Screenshot From Old WinHoldem Botting SoftwareWinHoldem Botting Software From 2004

Using bots is against the terms and conditions of virtually every internet poker room. The security departments of these sites are engaged in a constant battle to combat bots, and they frequently close down bot accounts and refund money back to affected players.

Although some worried observers feel that bots are everywhere, the reality is far more prosaic. While it's undoubtedly true that anyone putting in significant volume at the tables will encounter bots now and again, they don't comprise any meaningful percentage of the seats occupied at any given time.

What Happened at Winamax?

Green Question Mark

The current Winamax botting saga began to unfold in November 2017 when Twoplustwo poster “Dontsaycat” expressed his concerns about the Winamax account “Twopandas” in the Expresso lottery SNG games at the €100 buyin level. This screenname had previously been a poor player but suddenly improved to near-perfect game theory optimal (GTO) play while putting in 12-hour sessions of eight tables at a time day after day. “Dontsaycat” suspected “Twopandas” of running a bot.

If these allegations were true, it would mean that this user was breaking the Winamax Poker Terms and Conditions. In section 1.2, “Prohibited software,” we find the following:

Some software is incompatible with honest and fair gaming. The majority of such programs constitute cheating and Website [sic] uses all available means to detect and prevent the use of such software.

Prohibited Software includes, without limitation:

robots ("poker bots" and "auto-folders") automated to advise, act or make decisions for the player in a game. The real player must always be present when playing on;

The response from the player community was mixed. Some fellow Winamax customers said that the account in question was almost certainly a bot. Others were more skeptical and felt that those complaining were just envious of “Twopanda's” winning results. Another contingent of commentators opined that whether or not this specific user was a bot, botting was inevitable in online poker in 2018 and there was no real recourse against it.

Expresso Poker and Bots

Expresso Poker

Winamax's Expresso format is a type of three-handed hyper-turbo lottery sit n' go where a multiplier is randomly chosen before the game begins. The multiplier can take on certain specified values from 2 to 10,000. The prize pool is then set at this number times the buyin amount. For the lower multipliers, Expresso is a winner-takes-all affair, but the higher multiplier prize structures award something to each of the three contestants. Expresso is offered at €1, €2, €5, €10, €25, €50, €100, and €250 price points.

Expresso Lottery-Style Sit & Go TableTable of Expresso Poker at Winamax

This type of poker is similar to Spin & Gos at PokerStars and Jackpot Poker at the Winning Poker Network although each provider has different multiplier charts and probabilities, and there are other subtle variations between the lottery sit-and-gos at each site. You can learn more about this form of poker in our guide to the best lottery SNG poker sites.

Rather than being a cheap knockoff of existing games at other rooms, though, Expresso was actually the originator of this style of play. Winamax initially deployed Expresso in August 2013, and it has been a smashing success since that time.

Because there are only three players in each Expresso match, and the starting stacks are relatively short (25bbs), this type of game is ripe for exploitation by bots. Much of the strategy revolves around making correct push/fold decisions, which can be easily programmed into a bot. By contrast, deeper-stacked play at a full table of six or nine players introduces tons of variables over multiple streets that are more challenging to develop a standardized strategy for.

Maxime Lemaitre Gets Involved

Handheld Calculator

The Twoplustwo thread on this topic continued, in a more or less desultory fashion, for the next several months. But then on June 9, online poker pro, video maker, and coach Maxime Lemaitre reignited the controversy with a post on the French-language ClubPoker forums under his forum ID “BatMax.”

Maxime LemaitreMaxime Lemaitre, a Leader in the Anti-Bot Fight

Lemaitre performed a sophisticated analysis of the gameplay of “Twopandas” and another name that had been thrown around as a possible bot, “VictoriaMo.” What Lemaitre discovered was shocking. Using advanced GTO solver tools, he imported the hands he had observed on the two alleged bots and calculated their average error rates – that is, the amount of expected value they lost on average per decision by deviating from what game theory said was optimal.

According to discussions Maxime had with other solid Expresso winners, most top regs had error rates in the ballpark of 0.75 to 1 chip of EV per decision. The error rates of “Twopandas” and “VictoriaMo” by contrast were 0.220 and 0.201 respectively. This would mean that they were substantially better than some of the best players in these games.

GTO Software Shows Suspected Bot's Phenomenal Error RateScreenshot of Solver Software Posted by Lemaitre Showing “Twopanda's” Amazing Error Rate

Lemaitre stated that he had never seen either of them time out on a decision despite having six to eight games going at once. Nobody in the poker community had ever met them in real life: a rarity among elite players.

All of this information strongly pointed to the fact that there was some kind of software assistance taking place, up to and including the illicit use of bots. Maxime Lemaitre computed that, between winnings, VIP bonuses, and leaderboard payments, these two users were pulling in about €1.8 million ($2 million) per year from the site.

Winamax Responds

Chat Bubble

On June 11, a representative of Winamax, Aurélien Guiglini, responded on the Club Poker forums. He revealed that the players “Twopandas” and “VictoriaMo” had frequently been brought to the attention of site security by other concerned customers in the past.

Therefore, the site had already completed multiple investigations into their play. This included having them each record videos of their sessions on two separate occasions. Winamax found that the actions and timing featured in these videos were consistent with these two screennames' normal patterns of behavior and explained that “to date, we do not have evidence proving cheating.”

The Winamax spokesperson further elaborated that these two accounts do misclick and time out sometimes, contradicting the information that Maxime Lemaitre had compiled. Winamax also disputed the figure of €1.8 million in annual earn for these accounts, stating that the two users had won only €694,000 combined, including rakeback and other promotional cash, since the dates that they had opened their accounts (October 2016 for “Twopandas” and August 2017 for ”VictoriaMo”).

Nevertheless, Winamax conceded that further inquiries into the nature of these two players were warranted. Therefore, the company requested that “Twopandas” and “VictoriaMo” appear at Winamax's Paris headquarters and play a session under the watchful eyes of game security staff. In the meantime, both accounts were suspended.

Office of Winamax Poker FirmWinamax's Paris Offices Where the Alleged Botters Were Invited to Go and Play
Looks Pretty Nice; We Wish We Could Play There...Opening Bot Accounts Now


Banned Logo

On July 30, the Winamax rep returned to the forums with updates. “Twopandas” declined to accept the invitation to play under supervision in Paris. Therefore, the account was permanently suspended, its account balance confiscated, and daily challenge leaderboard positions retroactively voided. Winamax declared that it would recalculate the payouts from past leaderboards, awarding additional winnings according to the new standings with “Twopandas” removed from consideration, and would furthermore provide extra compensation “for the damage suffered by players.”

It was a different story with “VictoriaMo.” This user accepted the conditions laid out by the poker organization and appeared at the office on the designated dates. He played several sessions over the course of two days at his usual stakes and for an amount of continuous time in line with his previous habits.

Winamax found no significant deviations in statistical metrics from “VictoriaMo's” preexisting profile of play. The only difference noted was that reaction times were divergent from his previous play, but this could be easily explained as a consequence of his being in a new environment using an unfamiliar computer system.

Winamax felt that these tests fully exonerated “VictoriaMo” from any suspicion of wrongdoing. Still, “given the suspicion surrounding this player and the general climate of mistrust that ensues, it was decided as a precaution not to lift the suspension of his account.“ “VictoriaMo” can no longer play at Winamax, but he got to keep his entire account balance, including rewards Miles.


Two People Arguing

Many were displeased by the decisions reached by Winamax. Some didn't believe that “VictoriaMo” could have been anything other than a bot notwithstanding Winamax's contention that he was a legitimate player. The feeling was widespread that the poker site should have invited independent observers to witness the testing sessions, and doubt was cast on the ability of Winamax to perform such testing properly.

Some called for hand histories of the sessions that took place in Paris to be released so that outside experts could perform their own analysis. However, Winamax refused, citing confidentiality obligations as the reason.

Also, the promised compensation turned out to be much less than was expected in many cases. Maxime “BatMax” Lemaitre saw just €25 returned to his account despite playing 270 games with total buyins of €46,700 against “Twopandas.” This is peanuts compared to typical refunds for collusion, botting, and other unethical gameplay. For example, when the Winning Poker Network issued compensation for cheating to customers, some of them received hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Legal Action Initiated

Attorney Justine Orier
Justine Orier, the Lawyer Who Agreed to Represent Winamax Players
Pages of a Document

A group of six dismayed customers, including Lemaitre, opted to pursue their legal remedies. They retained the services of Ms. Justine Orier, founding partner of the law firm Orier Risser Advocats. One of her areas of focus is business law, and she has recognized expertise in gambling legislation.

Ms. Orier launched a page on V pour Verdict, a French online platform for collective legal action, seeking additional players to join the case. By the close of the registration period on Sept. 28, a total of 16 individuals had registered for the suit.

Each person seeking relief has agreed to pay Ms. Orier an upfront fee of €360 along with 10% of whatever they wind up collecting from Winamax. Because of the way French law works, should they lose the case, they will be liable to pay Winamax's legal costs. Ms. Orier estimates that if the worst comes to pass, these fees will be unlikely to exceed €3,000, which would, of course, be divided among all 16 participants in the action.

Legal Strategy

Purple Gear Inside Human Head

Ms. Orier is basing the case on the argument that, under the 2010 French law that legalized online poker, Winamax has a legal responsibility to “guarantee the integrity and transparency of gaming operations.” She has outlined a three-pronged course of action for taking Winamax to task:

  1. Begin a civil suit against Winamax to obtain compensation
  2. Get ARJEL (Regulatory authority for online games) and possibly the DGCCRF (General Directorate of Competition, Consumption & Repression of Frauds) to force Winamax to be more transparent in its dealings
  3. Pursue a fraud complaint against X (an anonymous entity, probably one of the botters), which may turn into criminal proceedings. This phase of activity may also include civil complaints against any suspected botters who can be brought to appear before a competent French legal tribunal


Magnifying Glass

There are significant challenges confronting the parties to the class action lawsuit as Ms. Orier herself concedes. Perhaps the most daunting among them is the fact that all the evidence, like hand histories and player action timing data, would have to come from Winamax itself, which clearly has little incentive to be forthcoming with all the details that could reveal the presence of multiple bots on its site.

Another problem lies in the fact that this is the first case of its kind in France. Thus, the judges will have no precedents to rely on to guide their thinking: a formula for unpredictable decisions.

Bottom Line

Line Chart

One of the much-touted advantages of regulated gambling is the supposed enhancement in game integrity that comes with fully legal sites. However, as the current Winamax situation demonstrates, merely holding a valid license does not guarantee that everything will necessarily be OK.

We wish the claimants luck as they continue with the legal process, but we also recognize that they must surmount quite a few hurdles before seeing any payment for their losses. Perhaps the most favorable outcome would be if a negotiated settlement could be reached between the players and Winamax.

It might be a good idea, if you're a Winamax player, to set yourself up at an alternate poker site. Even if fear of bots doesn't especially worry you, it can't hurt to expand your options. We recommend those rooms that transact in Bitcoin because this crypto-currency makes deposits and withdrawals a breeze. Take a look at our list of the top BTC online poker sites.

Winamax Poker Bots Scandal