Sunday, June 29, 2008
Annie Duke Speaks Out Again on Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet Cheating Scandals
The cheating scandals surrounding online poker sites UltimateBet.com and its sister Absolute Poker.com continue to make waves in both the mainstream and industry media and in the player community, and the latest element in what seems to be a concerted damage control initiative by the owners is a Poker News video-streamed interview with the much respected poker pro Annie Duke.
This can be accessed at the Poker News Website,
Duke has a long association with UltimateBet and has been involved in both operational and branding endorsement for the website. Apparently last fall she was disenchanted with the way things were going and was thinking about distancing herself from the enterprise. In January this year, the 'hole card' scandal broke and apparently the change of management that occurred convinced Duke to revise her position in a move that was "a big 180 for me."
The cause of this epiphany was apparently the transparency of the new management, headed by CEO Paul Leggett; the way in which it handled the crisis (paying out an unspecified but claimed "seven figures" to affected players); getting rid of the "bad apples" responsible for the scandal and a bigger say for Duke in the conduct of the business.
Judging by her comments in the interview Duke is now firmly on board and confident that the historical problems have been fully addressed, although management is still considering the pursuit of those responsible. This is apparently problematical due to legal considerations around identifying the culprits and under which jurisdiction to pursue them.
Duke follows the company line in claiming that company revenues were not affected by the crisis, which is surprising when one considers the magnitude of the cheating and the editorial coverage it received. The company strategy of recruiting big poker names to endorse the website is also apparent in her comments.
Listening to the interview, there are confusing references to both 'change of management' and 'change of ownership'. This gives little clarity on who owned Absolute/Ultimate Bet prior to its acquisition by Tokwiro Enterprises, a Kahnawake registered company owned by former Mohawk grand chief Joe Norton, or what Tokwiro paid for the companies and when.
The UltimateBet story is not about to fade away. In her interview Duke confirmed information circulating for some months in the industry that the mainstream television investigative program "60 Minutes" is about to air the scandals. Producers for the program contacted Duke whilst she was at the ongoing World Series of Poker, although she does not amplify what was discussed.
Subjectively speaking, we had the impression that this was a continuation of the damage control initiative which the "new management" has been so vigorously pursuing, suggesting that the impact of the cheating scandal may have been bigger than UB would like to acknowledge. The role of the major poker forums in driving the resolution of these scandals also appeared to be underplayed, whilst the proposition that bashing UB was not good for the industry is arguable.
That said, the potential for harm to the industry's credibility that an adverse "60 Minutes" take on the affair is likely to have is a legitimate concern. What a pity that the systems at UB/AP failed in the first place, bringing about this crisis.