The names in this story are fictitious. The story is not.
Because I’ve been associated with PokerStars for more than a dozen years, people often reach out to me with concerns and issues that are no longer part of my official responsibilities. Which, from my perspective, is plenty cool. They tell a story about a vice-president at Disney giving some executive guests a tour of Disneyland. The VP paused to pick up a piece of litter on the ground and one of the execs said “Hmm. That makes me wonder; who picks up the trash at Disneyland?”
PokerStars is a big enterprise (about 1700 employees) and most of us have well-defined jobs – it’s not like “first-grade soccer” (everybody just runs toward every ball they see :-). But there exists a long-established culture that looking after a customer is always a good thing – no matter your particular role in the company.
Thus, when a customer issue reaches me, I try to ensure that it gets to the right people if it’s not already there. This particular issue came to me via a poker buddy outside PokerStars who asked me to look into the case of a friend – call him “Evan” – who’d had his account closed. It seemed that PokerStars’ security people had felt that Evan was playing on PokerStars from the U.S. via a VPN.
[Sidebar: Please do not play on PokerStars for real money from the U.S. unless you’re in New Jersey, and then only on our New Jersey client. If you get busted playing from the U.S. on a VPN, we will close your account and confiscate your funds. We do it multiple times daily.]
My friend showed me the evidence that Evan had provided. He said “Obviously, I don’t know, but it sure looks to me like Evan was following the rules.” As I reviewed the evidence, I thought to myself, “I think he’s probably following the rules too, but he’s doing a fine job of emulating somebody who’s using a VPN.”
One of the perks of having been at PokerStars for a long time is that I know a whole lot of people throughout the company; many of those people are long-time veterans. So I was able to send an email to an old friend who’s a senior guy in the security department. His name (for the purposes of this piece) is Lenny. As I always say in these situations, I told him “Lenny, I don’t have a dog in this fight; I just want to be sure that we treat the guy fairly. If he was using a VPN to play from the U.S., then fine, close his account and take his money. But this one smells a little off to me.”
Lenny is a busy guy with a demanding job, but he told me he’d have a look and get back to me. A bit over a week later he emailed me. This is a paraphrase:
“You know, this is one that isn’t obvious on first review. He is using a VPN, which is always a bit suspicious, but you’re allowed to use a VPN – just not to play from the U.S. Furthermore, he does a fair amount of international travel, so we see him logged in from all over the world, including the U.S. But he’s just railing other games when he’s in the U.S. All in all, it’s a complex review, but I’m persuaded that Evan is following the rules. I’ve reopened his account and restored his play privileges.”
Here’s the thing I really appreciated about this: neither Lenny nor I thought it was a particularly big deal. And my friend who’d contacted me didn’t seem all that surprised. It didn’t shock him that PokerStars went back, reviewed the situation, and made the customer right.
PokerStars is a big company and sometimes things fall through the cracks. But like the Disney VP, we believe it’s our job to pick those things up whenever we see them.
Lee Jones first joined PokerStars in 2003 and has been part of the professional poker world for over 25 years. You can read his occasional Twitter-bites at @leehjones