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Real Money Poker Apps, the black market of social poker games

Gold Dollar Bills

There are now dozens of "social poker apps" and "play-money poker apps freely available for download from Google, Apple, Samsung, Amazon, and other app stores. There is a dirty little secret however, most of these are de-facto real-money poker apps.

How can this be you ask? This article will explain how shady "agents" offer real-money poker via apps ostensibly designed for play-money or social purposes.

Real Money Agents ABUSE Play Money Poker Apps

Since 2016, a growing number of mobile poker apps, designed for social play as opposed to real money play such as at traditional online poker sites, have become available in the various app stores. These social poker platforms are intended for people to form clubs with their friends and enjoy play money poker on their mobile phones and tablets. However, a group of shady clubs has emerged that are breaking the rules by using these practice chip venues for barely-disguised real money games.

Play Money Apps Used for Real Money

How Do These Apps Work?

Blue Info Button

PPPoker is perhaps the progenitor of the popular mobile poker club app formula. First debuting in 2016, the model established by PPPoker sees club owners invite players to their clubs, distribute free chips amongst club members, and set up the games and tournaments for members to participate in. Although there are a small number of “global” games that are available to everyone logged in to a PPPoker account, the majority of the action takes place within the membership-based clubs.

All lobbies and tables are geared toward mobile users, and they employ a portrait screen orientation. Although recent releases of PPPoker from developer AceKing Tech have included a PC software option, the most common way of running PPPoker is by downloading the app and installing it on a compatible iOS or Android system, and this is true of most of the other social poker apps too.

Although creating a club is free, there are certain limitations in effect. There's a cap on the number of people in a club as well as a limit on how many individuals can serve as club managers. In addition, only a certain number of club chips are provided to the club admin for free.

In order to increase the various limits in place and buy more chips, club owners must purchase diamonds, which are the in-house currency at PPPoker, for real money. These diamonds can then be used to upgrade a club's status and can also be exchanged for various goodies, like more chips and custom table felts. Not only clubs but also individual players have an incentive to buy diamonds because they unlock certain gameplay features, like emojis and rabbit hunting. This sale of diamonds for real currency is the only way that PPPoker makes money directly from its user base.

PPPoker DiamondsDiamond Packages for Sale at PPPoker

PPPoker may be the most well-known of these apps, but it has spawned several imitators. Other apps using a similar business model include PokerBros, Pokerrrr 2, UPoker, and X-Poker although the type of virtual currency used and details of how the clubs work vary a bit from app to app.

Real Money Play Taking Place

Money Bag

Despite the clearly stated intentions of the app developers that their services are intended for practice chip play only, some club owners and administrators have taken matters into their own hands by introducing what is effectively real money poker.

Club managers pay minimal fees in the app store to acquire club chips and then sell these chips to club members for a price much higher than they paid for them in the first place. Later on, when winners wish to cash out, they transfer the chips back to the club and receive real money funds. Because of the effect of the rake and tournament fees, the sum that club owners must pay out is less than what they collected for selling the chips. This difference represents real money profit in the hands of the club admins.

None of the apps we're talking about have a traditional cashier where users can make deposits and withdrawals. As mentioned earlier, they sell only diamonds or other virtual goods for fiat money. This means that all real money transactions between clubs and players are processed outside the poker platform.

Evidence

We aren't just speculating when we make the charge that slick club managers are taking advantage of the mobile poker social club model to host what are effectively real money games. The evidence is easily found all across the internet!

You see, there are plenty of clubs that promote and advertise their offerings online especially on social media. Check out this example (one of hundreds to be found on Reddit):

Reddit Post by Pokerrrr2 ClubPost Made by a Pokerrrr 2 Club Advertising Its Offerings

This club, on the Pokerrrr 2 app, boasts of their “OVER $3,500” in bonuses awarded weekly. It seems that they run $0.25/$0.50 PLO in the morning and then raise the stakes up to $0.50/$1.00 in the evening. Furthermore, there's a freeroll for $750 on Sundays as well as weekly hand race payouts, daily high hand bonuses, and a progressive royal jackpot. Note the use of “$” to indicate the currency in use – this club is paying out in real U.S. dollars, not play chips or diamonds or any other type of in-game currency.

Some of these poker app clubs are sophisticated enough to actually have their own web pages explaining more about their operations, big upcoming tournaments or promotions, and the types of games that they host.

Website of a popular PokerBros ClubThe Website of a PokerBros Club

Real Money Gaming Against T&Cs

Those who employ PPPoker, PokerBros, and other similar apps for real money play haven't just found clever loopholes that have escaped the attention of app developers. No, their activities are specifically prohibited by the terms and conditions in effect.

Check out this excerpt from the Terms of Service listed at pppoker.net:

You are not allowed to transfer Virtual Items outside of the Services (e.g., in the “real world”), for example by selling, gifting, or trading them. We won’t recognize those transfers as legitimate. You are not allowed to sublicense, trade, sell, or attempt to sell Virtual Items for “real” money, or exchange Virtual Items for value of any kind outside of a game. Any such transfer or attempted transfer is prohibited and void, and we may terminate your Account because of it.

Similarly, a section of the Terms and Conditions at PokerBros reads as follows:

4.3 You are not allowed to transfer Virtual Items outside of the Service (e.g., in the “real world”), for example by selling, gifting, or trading them. You are not allowed to sublicense, trade, sell, or attempt to sell Virtual items for “real” money, or exchange Virtual Items for value of any kind outside of a game. Any such behaviours constitute a breach of this Agreement and Thinklean, Ltd. Is entitled to take immediate action if the Company believes you are in violation of this provision, including account closure.

The other social poker apps contain similar language on their websites prohibiting the sale or trade of in-game chips for any real-world consideration. This means that not only are the clubs in violation if they conduct real money play, but you also are breaking the rules if you merely participate in these games.

How Are the Real Money Transactions Handled?

Diagram

Since these apps lack cashier functions, you might be wondering how clubs are able to process deposits and withdrawals for real money play. The answer is that these transactions are arranged outside the app between a club and its players, and the management of each app platform has no knowledge of the details.

Club owners and managers have become increasingly sophisticated in their attempts to circumvent the rules against real money play. It's now rare to find clear and complete details of how to make club deposits and withdrawals on the internet for all to see. In fact, club ads and pages frequently contain a disclaimer, like, “PokerBROS is an online social media platform and does not provide any real money service.”

Instead, there's usually some contact info listed or a telegram group, and then prospective customers receive instructions in these semi-private channels. This gives the clubs and hosting platforms some plausible deniability in the event that anyone questions what's going on.

As part of our research, we contacted several club representatives to find out how to make deposits and withdrawals. Some of them preferred to communicate in Skype while others favored phone SMS text messaging or Telegram. We received directions like the following:

Deposit Instructions at PokerBros ClubDepositing Instructions for a PokerBros Club

It's the same on the withdrawal side of things with the user giving the club a Bitcoin address (or other payment info) and the club then sending the payout there. Besides Bitcoin, other crypto-currencies are sometimes employed for this purpose. The same is true of popular ewallet services, like PayPal and Venmo, notwithstanding the fact that such activity is against their terms of service.

Agents

In addition to the club owners and administrators/managers, there's another important position that's involved in the system. This role is filled by agents who are basically affiliates of the clubs. It's their job to drive traffic by referring players. In exchange, they receive a portion of the rake generated by their referred players. Agents generally are not involved in setting up the games or deciding what games are offered.

Agents are also usually the ones responsible for cashing out players and collecting their deposits. They serve as go-betweens forwarding money back and forth amongst the clubs and players. Many agents provide rakeback to their players; the percentages involved vary wildly but are generally in the range of 10% - 40%.

Most clubs retain the services of multiple agents. Also, each agent can represent multiple clubs. Some agents even have dealings spread out amongst clubs on different apps.

Agents at PPPokerClubs Employ Agents to Bring in New Players

Unions

A union, in the context of social poker apps, is a grouping of clubs that have combined together to present their users with busier lobbies and more games. At certain intervals, they settle up with each other for the wins and losses owed to each club's players.

Unions make it easier to build a sustainable level of player traffic for all participating clubs. However, they add an additional layer of administrative overhead and come with extra fees that must be paid by clubs to the union. Should one member club falter, the entire union could be in jeopardy.

Your Money at Risk

Caution Sign

As we have explained above, using PPPoker or a similar app for real money play puts you in violation of the rules governing the use of such services. This means that your account could be terminated by site security at any time without your being entitled to receive any compensation.

Not only that, but the complex arrangement of club owners, club managers, agents, and possibly unions means that there are multiple entities you have to trust with your money. Even if most of these people are legitimate, all it takes is one shady or greedy individual to upset the apple cart.

Needless to say, if your agent decides to steal your money, it's highly unlikely that the club he represents will make good your losses. And if you get into a dispute with your club, the app team will be of little use because both you and the club would have been breaking the terms of service by engaging in real money play in the first place.

Exorbitant Rake Possible

Unlike at mainstream internet poker rooms, where the rake in specific games and stakes is consistent across the site, each club on a mobile poker app can set its own rake. For instance, on PPPoker, club managers can set a rake cap as high 8 bb while at PokerBros, the limit is 10 bb.

Pokerrrr 2 Tip Box25% Rake up to $15 (and Even Higher) Is Possible on the Pokerrrr 2 App

Some clubs certainly have reasonable rake schedules comparable to what you would encounter at typical poker sites online. However, others realize that most poker fans don't really think too much about the rake, and they therefore jack the rake up to exorbitant levels as a means of maximizing profit for the owners of the club.

Custom Club Rules to Extract Extra Money

Many clubs, besides charging hefty rake amounts, also rely on additional methods to generate income. It's not uncommon for there to be a fee on winnings extracted weekly. Inactivity fees punish those who play infrequently or take a break for a while for whatever reason. At some clubs, people who win too much are prohibited from playing anymore or are forced to take a break for a designated period of time.

All of these techniques are used to funnel money away from players and into the pockets of the club owners. If you're lucky, you'll be apprised of them upon initially joining a club. Sometimes, however, such information is not disclosed until after you have made a deposit and started playing.

Past Social Poker Club Scandals

Theater Masks

There have already been notable instances of players losing the money they had on balance with clubs. For example, in early 2019, a scandal emerged when Adnan “NYPokerKing” Mohammad, the flashy public face of PokerClub.ag on the PPPoker app, stopped paying what he owed to his customers. The amount that he stole from players soon approached $100,000.

In a separate incident from July 2019, overzealous site staff accused dozens, perhaps hundreds, of users of being bots and terminated their accounts. Some of the clubs to which these customers belonged refused to reimburse them for their club balances despite the fact that the “evidence” provided for their being bots was flimsy at best.

Even as app security personnel crack down on innocent players, there's substantial evidence that plenty of cheating is going on in some clubs. A video from April 2020 appeared to show a roomful of individuals each with four instances of PPPoker running in emulators on their PCs. This may have been a legitimate gathering of friends who enjoy meeting in real life while competing in play money online poker games against each other. However, an alternate explanation is that this was a “grindhouse” of cheaters all colluding together to fleece their unsuspecting opponents.

App Makers in Cahoots With Club Owners?

Green Question Mark

From everything we've covered thus far, it might seem like there's a cat-and-mouse battle going on between social poker apps, which wish to host only play money games, and a few ambitious club owners who are eager to exploit the software for real money profits. However, a closer examination of the situation reveals that these two groups of actors may actually be working hand-in-hand to promote real money play.

First of all, it would be trivially easy for site management to pose as a prospective customer, obtain deposit information from a club, add funds to a club account, play awhile at the tables, and then request a withdrawal. This would give all the proof needed that a given club was violating the restrictions against trading virtual items for real currency. However, we don't often see clubs being shut down for this reason, and indeed, many real money clubs survive for months or even years without interruption.

Secondly, if we look at some of the content on the websites of these apps, it appears that real money play, far from being discouraged or even merely tolerated, is actively being encouraged! The Terms and Conditions over at pokerbros.net, for example, do indeed take a hard line against such activity, but a look at the Media Guidelines tells a different tale. Within this document, we find such wording as:

ADD DISCLAIMERS TO YOUR PAGE

1. PokerBROS is an online social gaming platform and does not provide any real money service.
2. Any monetary value is solely and exclusively endorsed by the respective club host.

Yes, that's right – immediately after stating unambiguously that it does not provide “any real money service,” PokerBROS tacitly acknowledges that the clubs can assign “monetary value” at their discretion. PokerBROS seems to subscribe to the same philosophy as the fictional Captain Renault from the classic movie “Casablanca”:

While paying lip service to the idea that gambling for real money is not permitted on its app, PokerBROS is collecting its winnings in the form of increased sales of virtual currency driven by clubs and individuals who would not be playing at all if it weren't for the ability to use the software for real money gaming. It's a similar story with the other social poker apps too.

App Makers Taking Hard Line Against Third Parties

Two People Arguing

The clubs that we have been talking about take some care to disguise the nature of their real money games in all their public-facing marketing, reserving the fine details to one-on-one communications with their clients. This is probably a result of pressure put on them by the app developers who wish to maintain the illusion that they don't know anything about the true goings-on in these clubs.

It's not just clubs, agents, and other partners of these app companies that have to be careful what they say. In some cases, the app teams are going after third-party informational websites that they have no relationship with. We here at ProfessionalRakeback have even been affected by this! We received an email from AceKing, LTD., the firm behind PPPoker. It said:

Dear Sirs

We refer to our email dated 11 February 2022 regarding the above captioned matter.

As of today, you have still failed to comply with our requests from our previous correspondence.

We demand that your firm carry out the following actions within fourteen (14) days of the date of this email:

(i) insert the relevant disclaimer on your website; and

(ii) indicate you will desist from this or any other infringement of our rights in the future.

If the above undertakings are not complied with by 27 April 2022, we shall consider taking steps towards the swift issue of proceedings to rectify this situation without further notice.

Please note that time as stated in this letter is of the essence. We trust that your firm would take this opportunity to cooperate with us.

Kind regards

AceKing Tech Limited

Now, there was no “above captioned matter” attached to this email, nor did we receive any email dated 11 February as implied by this message, so we're not exactly sure what AceKing is referring to here. We suspect that it has to do with our unbiased and forthright review of PPPoker, which pulls no punches when describing exactly how the app works and how it is being used in the real world by real players.

Better Options Available

Checkmark

If you're looking for a new online poker provider, then you can do much better than these confusing apps and their myriad clubs, unions, and agents, some of whom are scammers. There are plenty of legitimate offshore poker sites that welcome Americans and deliver an honest gaming experience. You can find out all about them in our guide to online poker for Americans.