Matthew Robins, PokerStars' watchdog
In the farthest corner of the PokerStars office building on the Isle of Man sits a nondescript room with a heavily-marked whiteboard on the wall. In the farthest corner of that room, sitting under the whiteboard is a man named Matthew Robins. He's officially known as Head of Compliance at PokerStars, and even he agrees, he's not the kind of employee most PokerStars players think much about.
"It's probably one of those roles most people wouldn't be that interested in," he says.
While that may be true, Robins is one of the most important people in the company, because if he doesn't do his job, there is trouble. Big trouble.
"To protect the reputation of the company is of huge importance to me," Robins said when I met him last week in his office.
You can think of Robins as a sort of internal affairs officer with PokerStars. It's his job to make sure PokerStars complies with every license it gets. What's more, it's his duty to keep a very close eye on all PokerStars employees to make sure they aren't doing anything wrong. He's a watchdog with an eye so keen you wouldn't want to sneeze the wrong way in front of him.
What most people might not recognize about Robins is how much time he spends fighting online poker's version of the Loch Ness Monster.
"There is a bit of a myth that we have to try to dispel over time," he said.
That myth, Robins said, is whether money laundering happens in the online poker world.
"I believe there is a big misperception about whether money laundering takes place on internet poker and on gambling in general," he said.
Robins, who is not the kind of person to cast blame idly, believes a hyperactive media has overblown a non-issue created by opponents of online gaming and people who haven't taken the time to educate themselves about both online poker and the realities of what it takes to launder money.
"I think it's mainly because of the perception that it's not face-to-face," he said. "They don't really understand the controls, the audit trails, and the transparency we have."
You have to imagine Robins as the man who sits beside Loch Ness all day long looking for Nessie to raise her head. Then, every time a tourist comes by, he has to explain there is no such thing. Then he goes back to watching. If he sees a shadow in the water, he investigates, but in the end, it's always just a shadow.
This is Robins' job all the time. He and his team have developed strict and exacting controls over how money moves through PokerStars' system.
PokerStars' many gaming licenses require that the company complies with anti-money-laundering regulations globally. There is no way PokerStars would have the licenses it does if it couldn't prove it had the matter well in hand. Robins and his team keep a close eye out for anyone who looks the least bit suspicious.
"People that are on international sanctions lists, potential terrorists," he said. "Players wouldn't recognize that we have to scrutinize our player base for them to make make sure we don't have any of those people playing, and we have to prove that to our regulators on a regular basis."
The funny thing is--and it would be funny if it weren't so important--is that no self-respecting money launderer would deign to use online poker as a source of cleaning up dirty money. Why? It's incredibly inefficient, despite what online poker detractors might think.
"Part of our goal is to prove them wrong and educate regulators that it's not actually a very effective place for someone to try to launder money," Robins said. "It would be a huge, huge amount of time and effort for them. There are far more easier ways for a money launderer to be successful outside of poker."
Nevertheless, because the misperception exists, and as long as people continue to promote the myth, Robins stays at his post. There are so many alarms and triggers at PokerStars that anything that looks even vaguely weird gets the compliance team's attention.
"We have dedicated a huge amount of resources to prevent fraudsters," Robins said. "It's not in our interest to allow that kind of activity. Our goal has always been to make this the most attractive site for players and the most unattractive site for fraudsters."
So, a word of warning to Nessie, the Yeti, Bigfoot, and the chupacabra: myths aren't welcome at PokerStars, and watchdog Matthew Robins is always watching.
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging