How do I make online poker impossible?
November 19, 2005 5:33 PM   Subscribe

I've got a relative with a gambling problem. How can I fix it so PartyPoker (and its evil twins) will never be able to be played on this computer ever again?
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
Depends how technically adept they are. If they are not completely braindead, the answer is simply: you can't.
posted by phrontist at 5:37 PM on November 19, 2005

Put an entry in your hosts file (Windows assumed) that points the site to . So if the game URL is , You'd add a line that says

Or something like that. You might have to make multiple entries if there are multiple hosts where the game is served from.
posted by intermod at 5:38 PM on November 19, 2005

I assume we're talking Windows XP? Create a user account separate from the administrator account. Make sure that user account doesn't have permission to install programs. Make sure you don't leave the admin account logged in. And uninstall all the offending programs, of course.

That's the most effective thing that has the least negative impact on your other use of the machine that I can think of.

If any of them are playable through the web without installing a local client, it gets much harder to do it in the general case.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 5:41 PM on November 19, 2005

Does the relative in question just play poker, or are they also willing to gamble at online casinos and sportsbooks?

If it's all of them, I don't think a technological solution is feasible. I bet sports by visiting a regular HTML website (or by calling a toll-free number).

If it's just poker, you might have some luck if you can keep them from installing software, or running java.
posted by I Love Tacos at 6:15 PM on November 19, 2005

It's probably worth calling somebody like these people, who might have some advice on addressing the root problem.
posted by I Love Tacos at 6:16 PM on November 19, 2005

Some routers will allow you to block specific websites as part of their "parental controls." Of course, this would definitely tip him off that a human is trying to keep him from the sites he loves.

The changes to the hosts file that intermod suggests would be effective and stealthy. If he finds the changes, one could always blame it on "that damn spyware" or "crazy russian hackers," if he's of a less-technical nature.

If the gambling applications use a port other than standard web traffic (port 80), you could try blocking that port from the router or the software firewall built into XP SP2.

There's probably some way to compromise his browser similar to what some spyware and hijacker programs do, but that's beyond my knowledge.
posted by fatbobsmith at 7:23 PM on November 19, 2005

If it is your computer, stop letting him or her on it.
posted by k8t at 4:00 AM on November 20, 2005

It's hard, because you're up against a huge industry whose livelihood depends on moving around fast enough to get around filters. Hard enough that "you can't" is a pretty accurate answer, but what you can do is make it harder for him to gamble.

So there's three approaches, really, and you can mix and match as appropriate:
  1. URL filtering. Install software, usually in the form of a Web proxy, that looks at the URLs that people are browsing to, and blocks ones that match some in a list compiled by a third party. These products are typically targeted at parents for home use, although there are larger corporate-use ones that probably won't be much use to you. Since it relies on the list being updated, this one will tend to let newer poker sites through.
  2. Content filtering. Instead of relying on some third party to find the poker URL before your relative does, content-filtering inspects the content of the page to decide if it's about a banned topic. Since the patterns to match need to be updated, this will let some well-concealed sites through (including ones that are flash-only, for instance) and probably block some innocuous content as well.
  3. Surveillance. Oppressive or not, the panopticon works. It doesn't matter if you actually do inspect every URL the computer loads if you can convince the relative that you're doing so. It might take a couple instances of calling him on it to convince him, but lots of programs that do the first two things will also keep a log of URLs or domains visited.
As for software recommendations for those I really don't know what's good at the home level, since I haven't had to do it. Dan's Guardian is a popular open-source solution, while Cyber Patrol, Net Nanny and CyberSitter are popular commercial solutions. The latter kind tends to be controversial because they often consider their list of blocked sites and patterns to be trade secrets, but for your purposes the important thing is that they're blocking what you need blocked and allowing what you need allowed, which should just take some testing with each package.

As others have pointed out, if the relative knows what he's doing and what you're doing he can probably find ways around any of them, but it's a start.
posted by mendel at 9:26 AM on November 20, 2005

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