Thursday, November 06, 2008

Famed Poker Pro T.J. Cloutier Sounds Off On Online Poker Cheat Scandals

On Monday a friend of mine e-mailed me a link to a gaming news site with the latest report on something that a lot of us have been following for the past few months. Namely, the Absolute Poker-Ultimate Bet online cheating scandal. The heading on the online article read "World Series of Poker Winner Russ Hamilton Ultimate Bet Poker Cheat."

The article went on to say that the "Kahnawake Gaming Commission (in Canada) released its findings into a very high profile cheating scandal involving AbsolutePoker and its sister site, UltimateBet." Apparently the KGC hired Frank Catania, who is the former director of the New Jersey division of gaming enforcement, and his team to investigate and audit the site. They found the name of the main person "responsible for the scheme that siphoned millions from player accounts," according to the I-Gaming News report that I read. The report also said that Russ Hamilton isn't the only person involved in the mess, and the names of other people will probably come out in the final report.

Until an actual court case, we can't render a verdict on anybody, but this isn't looking good. In the KGC's formal report, the Commission wrote, "The KGC is currently in contact with the appropriate law enforcement agencies and intends to fully cooperate in the prosecution of all individuals involved in the UB cheating incidents." They also directed UB "to remove any and all persons deemed unsuitable by the KGC from all involvement with the company" including "all levels of ownership, management and operation" by November 3. They're also requiring UB to "provide complete details of all day-to-day operations of the company." These are some strong accusations that cut pretty deep.

For years a lot of online players have felt that they were getting cheated, and for years we've been saying that 99 percent of online poker sites are as legal and upstanding as possible. But all it takes to cast a big shadow on everybody is just a hint of impropriety by one or two of the online sites. I honestly believe that almost all online sites are just fine (I play on several of them myself) and people can play on them with confidence.

Tom McEvoy and I will often take 50 percent of each other in small online tournaments, the cheap little events, because I don't play the big ones online, and we have fun doing that. But we'll shake our heads and say, "Boy, with all the drawouts that happen to us, the two-outers they put on us, they must know what cards we're playing!" But that's just talk, we don't really believe it. We're just moaning and groaning about our bad beats. We realize that drawouts are common in our regular casino games, too. It's just that you get a lot more drawouts online.

And there's a logical explanation for that: You get dealt 90-120 hands per hour when you're playing online versus 30 hands an hour with a live dealer in a brick and mortar casino. Plus, I play in a lot of cheap tournaments online, and the cheaper you play, the less expensive it is for people to take a chance on a draw. In the little $11 rebuy tournaments, I've seen players put in $200 at $10 a pop. They're just trying to get a hold of some chips, so they'll play any two cards and try to get lucky. And sometimes they do.

But my main object here is that, if the accusations in this scandal are true -- and that's a big if -- it's just terrible for the whole poker community. I just hate to see somebody who is a well-known player get implicated in stuff like this. We've fought for too many years to stop this kind of crap. That's why we've been glad to play in casinos and get some protection from the surveillance cameras to stop any cheating at poker. But it just seems that it doesn't matter how the game is designed, somebody will find a way to cheat.

There's no doubt that cheating was going on at these two sites. That has been proven. And there's no doubt that they've hooked up the addresses where a lot of online cheating was happening to houses that Russ owned. Still, that doesn't necessarily mean that he was doing any of it himself. There's a lot of circumstantial evidence involved. But still it's pretty hard to think that he had nothing at all to do with things.

Don't think, though, that because two sites had cheating going on -- and the KGC (which licenses these sites) even admitted it -- that it happens across the board. Let's not judge all online sites based on these two examples.

I hate to see this happening. There's just no place for it in this modern day and age. You don't have to cheat. You can win without cheating. That's the bottom line.

Till next time, this is TJ signing off, on the way to Foxwoods, from Texas to the world.