Thursday, November 06, 2008

New Details Revealed About High-Tech Russian Cheat Team Called The "James Bond Mafia"

That high-tech Russian casino cheating team I have recently written about has been active in Moscow and other casinos in Eastern Europe. In one Moscow casino, their team of Caribbean Stud Poker players had ingeniously hollowed out a stack of 100 dollar chips and incorporated a mini camera with battery, the signal was transmitted using blue tooth technology, in order to read the dealer's cards as they were being dealt from his hands, fortunately the scam was discovered before it even developed legs because the casino itself was deploying equal high tech equipment, in the form of mini camera scanners to discover this type of action. Russians and Ukrainians are leading the cheating world with this type of scam, in an even more recent coup a group of Russians were arrested in a casino in Northern Cyprus; their equipment was so high tech it led the press to dub the scammers the James Bond mafia.

Tokwiro Wins $15 Million Judgment Against Excapsa For Damages In UltimateBet Poker Cheat Scandal!

In the latest twist in the reimbursement of players at Ultimate Bet, a subsidiary of the parent company (Tokwiro) of the online poker room has won a $15 million judgment against Excapsa, a software manufacturer and former owner of the site. The money will now be used by Tokwiro to refund players who were affected by the cheating scandal that rocked the site.

Justice Sarah E. Pepall of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (Canada) handed down the ruling on Monday. Paul Leggett, the CEO of Tokwiro, commented in a press release distributed by the company on Wednesday, “We are pleased that we have finally agreed to a settlement with the previous owners of Ultimate Bet, and we are happy to announce the completion of the final refunds to players.” The cheating scandal was found to have been commanded by World Series of Poker bracelet holder Russ Hamilton, who was also involved with Ultimate Bet’s affiliate program. In July, one of the questionable accounts was positively linked to a home owned by Hamilton in Las Vegas. The cheating began in May of 2004 and occurred for nearly four years.

To put to bed any allegations that Tokwiro was responsible for the scandal, Leggett added, “Now that the main perpetrator has been named, the settlement with the previous owners is behind us, and players have received refunds, it should now be apparent that Tokwiro had no involvement in this cheating and that we have fought to correct it with every tool at our disposal.” The Kahnawake Gaming Commission (KGC), which is the regulatory body that oversees Ultimate Bet as well as a handful of other popular online poker rooms, hit the company with a $1.5 million fine.

The KGC issued a press release of its own following Monday’s judgment, claiming that Ultimate Bet will shell out around $21 million in refunds to players, consisting of $15 million from the judgment and $6.1 million in reimbursements that have already processed. The KGC originally gave Ultimate Bet until November 3rd to comply, but because of ongoing litigation with Excapsa, the organization will allow its licensee extra time to comply with its mandates. The KGC’s press release states that its “final decision in this matter is expected to be issued once all player refunds have been confirmed.”

Although its litigation against Excapsa is now finished, Leggett implied that additional legal action may be forthcoming: “We continue to reserve the right to pursue further legal action against any individual or individuals involved in stealing from us or our customers.” The wrongdoings at Ultimate Bet and its sister site, Absolute Poker, may among other recent developments be the subject of a feature by CBS news program “60 Minutes.” An air date has not yet been announced. Its show lineups are typically released every Thursday and available on the “60 Minutes” website. Each episode usually consists of three features.

Blast-Off Ltd. was the actual beneficiary of the $15 million in damages. It is owned by Tokwiro and “originally acquired Ultimate Bet” from Exapsa, according to Tokwiro’s press release. In September, MSNBC printed a story stating that a $75 million claim had been filed by Blast-Off.

Meanwhile, the online poker room is gearing up for its third Ultimate Bet Online Championship (UBOC), which kicks off on January 9th and concludes with a $1,050 buy-in $1 Million Guaranteed Main Event nine days later. In the middle of the schedule is a $5,200 buy-in Six-Handed No Limit Hold’em Championship that boasts a $1 million guaranteed prize pool. There are 12 events in total in Hold’em, HORSE, and Omaha. Deep-stack, Sniper, short-handed, and heads-up tournaments will be featured. In 2007, Ultimate Bet members Maria Nuccia and Fred420 each took home $168,450 from the UBOC Main Event.

After All...I Mean All The Cheat Scams and Scandals, Is Online Poker Safe Or Ever Going To Be Safe?

Is online poker safe? Is is safer in the UK than in the US and the rest of the world?
After the UltimateBet and AbsolutePoker cheat scandals rocked the online world, let's see how safe online poker really is.

For years people have filled forums and chat rooms with their crackpot theories about how online poker is fixed. It seems like anybody who’s ever had their Aces cracked or bluff called down has hit the net, telling all and sundry that the online game is rotten to the core.

These conspiracy theories have been shot down by anyone with half a brain, and were refuted by this magazine just a couple of years ago. The evidence against cheating is fairly substantial, but overriding every argument and counter-argument is the big question: why would online operators want to cheat players out of money and risk losing everything, when they make so much money legitimately?

The biggest sites in the business rake in over $1m-a-day profit, so why would they need to cheat you out of your paltry bankroll? Getting more bad beats online? You need to remember that you play lots more hands online, and people play much looser, especially at the lower stakes tables. Still losing and you can’t explain it? Get better at the game...

Smoking gun!

Unfortunately, that sort of explanation doesn’t cut it any more. Not after the smoking gun was found. It emerged that a former employee at Absolute Poker had access to a ‘superuser’ account that enabled him to view his opponents’ hole cards. Poker’s an easy game when you can see all the cards, and using this information, an account under the name Potripper played a ‘perfect’ game and watched the money come flooding in.

The problem was that it flooded in a little bit too quickly and it didn’t take long for the calls with Ten-high and unorthodox pre-flop play to raise warning flags among the online community.

After much speculation, accusation, explanation and denial, a statement was issued by Absolute Poker that cheaters had indeed found a way to see players’ hole cards, and the world of online poker was turned upside down.

Incredibly, while forums were filled to bursting with people saying, "I told you so," a second scandal broke involving sister site UltimateBet. Former employees of the company had placed ‘unauthorised software code’ on the servers, which granted specified accounts the ability to see opponents’ hole cards.

It transpired that for three years these "superuser" accounts had demolished some of the world’s finest players and then mocked them as they counted their winnings. WSOP bracelet winner Todd Witteles was one of the victims. "I personally lost over $15,000to the Absolute Poker cheaters," says Witteless. "The person behind the account wasn’t just satisfied quietly stealing money from the site’s highest limit players – he got some sort of perverse and sadistic enjoyment out of the whole thing, often obnoxiously celebrating his victories and taunting opponents from the rail after beating them and leaving the game."

Safety Second

Both UltimateBet and Absolute Poker had been acquired by Tokwiro Enterprises, which inherited not one, but two cheating scandals. What initially looked like a couple of profitable acquisitions, now promised to stand for everything that was bad in online poker.

Paul Legget, chief operating officer of Tokwiro Enterprises, explains how they set about restoring customer faith in the now tarnished brands and ensured that the same thing could never happen again. "Once Tokwiro discovered the cheating scandals, we reacted with a determination to do everything we possibly could to protect our customers in future, and to reimburse them for their losses in unfair play."

Refunding players that have been cheated and putting in much more stringent safety and security features is one thing but the question posed by many players is, "Why weren’t these security measures in place before?" Why did it take a bunch of internet players to notice irregular betting patterns that should have been picked up by elementary checks online? And how about naming the perpetrators, whose alleged names are being whispered across internet forums the world over?

According to Legget, there’s nothing he’d rather do, but he says the company’s hands are tied. "We’ve collected a massive amount of evidence...key addresses of people who’ve accessed the cheating tool," he said in a recent online interview. "I’m confident in my own mind that I know who the perpetrator is, but unfortunately I can’t just come out publicly and condemn someone – we’re not a court of law and we have to be very careful what we say. Our lawyers have specifically forbidden us to name any names at the moment because we’re involved in very complicated legal action, and we hope this legal action will result in recovering a very substantial amount of money... The perpetrators may come out as a result of the legal action, which would be very satisfying."

It sounds convincing, but is it a classic case of slamming the door shut after the horse has bolted? A lot of players aren’t in the mood to forgive and forget. And why should they, when there are plenty of other places to play? But then that begs the question, are other poker sites any better?

We spoke to Joe Legge, poker product manager at Virgin Poker, which is part of the Boss network. He’s adamant that what happened to Absolute and Ultimate simply couldn’t happen in its games as the hand history is only generated once the hand is settled. This means that hands can be replayed by the fraud and customer service teams after the event, but they can’t access the hands in real time, making it impossible to abuse the system. The world’s biggest online site – PokerStars – says the same.

Rise of the Robots

But even if you can trust the site and its software, what about the external threat? With all the talk of superuser accounts, the threat of "bots" seems to have been forgotten about. But surely as technology improves, the idea of a poker bot, programmed to optimum strategy and hoovering up money night and day, is a recurring worry?

To hammer home the fact, it seems like all you have to do is conduct a simple Google search and you’ll find dozens of companies currently advertising their own poker bots, which they guarantee will clean up online. Slogans such as, "Make $1,500 while you sleep... EVERY NIGHT!!" scream out to attract the gullible, who can’t resist the lure of easy money. You can obviously ignore all of these amateurish commercial offerings. If they actually made money it would make more sense for the developers to keep them quiet and make money from playing. We tested one of the better-known ones – WinHoldEm – back in 2006 and it bust our account overnight. Also, the better known the program is, the more chance that you’ll be detected and have your account closed and assets seized.

Because poker rooms know their future depends on convincing poker players they won’t be competing with super computers, they’ve put lots of resources into the problem.

Stephen Winter, senior manager of PokerStars Game Security, explains, "We recognise the fact players don’t wish to play against bots and we take our responsibility to detect and remove bots very seriously. PokerStars has, without question, the industry’s leading bot detection system. It is to our credit that many bot operators openly advise their users to avoid PokerStars. Dedicated servers are running constantly to detect bot activity, backed up by a team of specialist "bot hunters."

All well and good, but while the poker rooms claim that they detect the majority of bots, it’s still possible to imagine a bunch of MIT students building an undetectable super computer to take the world by storm.

We asked the man behind the University of Alberta’s much lauded Polaris programme if he thought an advanced poker bot could be put together by enthusiastic amateurs. He explained, "Based on our experience, I think anything close to Polaris’s level happening outside an academic institution is unlikely. It’s taken 15 researchers over five years to reach this point. In addition, we’ve made use of various high performance computing resources – for example, months of time on a 30-node computer cluster containing quad-core machines each with 8GB of RAM."

Split Personality

A simpler way to get an edge over your opponents is to play with multiple accounts in the same game. The theory is that in addition to giving yourself multiple chances to win a tournament, you also stand the possibility of having two or more of your accounts ending up on the same table where you can increase your chance of winning.

Several major tournaments have been scooped by people controlling more than one account. In 2006 the online player JJProdigy won the $500k guaranteed PartyPoker tournament and collected the $140,000 first prize. Unfortunately, he won it using a second account he was in control of, and when details of his multi-accounting reached PartyPoker the site suspended both accounts and confiscated a total of $180,000 in winnings.

More recently, other high-profile cases have been uncovered by vigilant online sites, along with instances of players "selling" their tournaments once they’re deep into the money for a better player to finish off. This was the scandal that mired popular online player Sorel Mizzi late last year. It might not seem as blatant a case of cheating, but whether the player has already played or not, it puts the other players at a big disadvantage. Imagine you’ve been playing against someone for a couple of hours when, unbeknown to you, a switch takes place, and you’re suddenly up against a completely different style and one of the best players in the world?

This abuse really hit the headlines when PokerStars caused a massive stir by revealing that the winner of its flagship 2007 WCOOP series and richest online tournament ever, TheV0id, had been disqualified for account irregularities. This case played out in great detail online, and it turned out that the account belonged to Natalie Teltscher, the sister of well-known UK pro Mark Teltscher. Rather than taking it on the chin, Natalie Teltscher decided to chance her arm and take PokerStars to court, effectively forcing the online site to prove its security team could provide detailed and concrete evidence. Thankfully it could, and Teltscher withdrew her case and was ordered to pay PokerStars’ legal costs. All of these high-profile cases prove that players playing multiple accounts is a problem, but it also proves the top sites are on the case, and won’t let players get away with it – even if it means dragging its name through the courts.


Which brings us to the problem that most online players in the know are concerned about: collaboration. People communicating their hole cards through instant messaging or over the telephone can prove to be powerful allies and gain a massive advantage over their opponents, no matter how good they are.

Thankfully, collaboration is also one of the easiest problems to detect. All the major poker sites hunt cheaters statistically, flagging any players who are playing together and regularly winning more than a specified limit and analysing their play. This form of analysis makes online collaboration much more difficult and accounts are immediately suspended if the evidence backs up the site’s suspicions. And, in addition to tracking collaboration, every reputable online cardroom should be happy to fully investigate allegations of collusion made by their players. If you make a complaint and you don’t feel it’s being taken seriously by your operator, let the site know you’ll be taking your business elsewhere if you don’t receive an adequate explanation.

But ultimately, why should you have to trust in people power, or the words of a third-party business which is obviously in the game for the money? I`m hoping that reading this makes you feel easier about playing poker online, but I`m not trying to hoodwink you into thinking that cheating never happens. It happens in online poker, in live poker, in football, and even in business... Unfortunately, cheating happens everywhere. What is important is that you know you’re playing at a site you can trust, that’s properly regulated and run correctly.

Unfortunately, if you’re a US citizen you’re on your own. By effectively making online poker illegal and refusing to take any responsibility for its own citizens, there’s no protection for American players through law. Thankfully, authorities elsewhere have done things differently, and this makes it much easier for you to claim recourse, providing the site you play on falls under the correct regulation.

In order to gain a license in one of these territories, a company will have to be stringently audited and this in itself will go a long way to proving its integrity. This is much more of an issue for players who live in countries where poker is outlawed, as the big reputable companies are more than likely not operating there. If you’re not sure whether the site you’re playing on is under the lawful umbrella, there’s an easy way to check. Give customer services a call and ask them. Or play on the sites that advertise in PokerPlayer. Since the UK Gambling Act came into effect last year, publications cannot accept advertisements from any company that’s not regulated in the UK. Every advertisement you see in UK magazines is proof that the operator is working under strict UK regulations, which gives you the ultimate comeback if you think anything untoward is happening. Plus, if anything happens to the site itself you’ll have a very good chance of recovering any money you have deposited.

What it boils down to is this: online poker is safe, and it’s definitely safer in the UK thanks to properly regulated sites. But there are dangers out there and wherever there’s money you’ll find people that want to cheat you out of it. Play on a reputable site though, and stay vigilant, and the only way you’ll lose money is by being beaten, fair and square. Now you’ve just got to hope your Aces don’t get cracked!

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.

UltimateBet Will Refund $15.1 Million to Players Victimized By Scandal

A statement released Nov. 5 by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission (KGC) corroborates Tuesday's story run in Canada's National Post saying that Excapsa Software Inc. will pay USD $15 million to Blast Off Ltd., owned by former Kahnawake grand chief Joe Tokwiro Norton, which bought Ultimate Bet from Excapsa in 2006. The settlement will enable Ultimate Bet/ Blast Off to pay an estimated $9 million, on top of the USD $6.1 million already paid, to poker players affected by the hole card cheating scandal while playing on Ultimate Bet between 2004 and 2008.

An Ontario Superior Court judge Monday approved the USD $15 million settlement to be paid by Excapsa shareholders to Blast Off to allow Ultimate Bet to stay in business, be licensed by the KGC, and to refund all cheated players, as part of Excapsa's liquidation proceedings.

According to documents filed by the liquidator, Blast Off originally sought USD $81.4million in damages for being sold corrupted software. That figure included USD $5 million for harm to Norton's reputation and USD $49-million for damage done to the company's value as a result of the cheating controversy, which has been widely publicized in and out of the gambling world.

Presumably the remainder of the $15 million award over the $9 million Ultimate Bet has calculated it still needs to pay out to affected players, will go toward the above damages.


The KGC, which regulates online gambling run out of the Mohawk Territory in Canada, reported in September that it had found "clear and convincing evidence" of "multiple cheating incidents" on Ultimate Bet (between May 2004 and January 2008) involving software being used to enable insiders to see opponents' hole cards (click here for related article).

The KGC identified poker pro and 1994 WSOP bracelet winner Russell Hamilton, a former consultant to Ultimate Bet, as "the main person responsible" for the cheating. Mr. Hamilton has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing, and he has not responded publicly to the commission's allegations.

It gave Ultimate Bet until this past Monday November 3rd to resume refunding players. The site has already paid out US$6.1-million but has calculated that it owes at least another US$9-millon to people who were cheated.

"The good message, and the message that Ultimate Bet wants to send, is that it not only cleaned up and took out the tool, but it's refunding players, many of whom probably don't even know that they were cheated and probably don't have the proof."


This past January, Absolute Poker- another site owned by Norton that was involved with a cheating scandal- was fined $500,000 by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission. This time, the Commission fined BlastOff $1.5 million for the Ultimate Bet cheating scandal.

Media has noted how these cheating incidents may have affected Kahnawake's reputation as a reliable gaming jurisdiction. This past January, the UK's Gambling Commission's announced in a newsletter that it had refused to add Kahnawake to a "white list" of jurisdictions permitted to advertise online gambling in the lucrative U. K. market along with Antigua (who they since just approved).

Compensation For Victims of UltimateBet Online Cheat Scandal

Compensation Resumes in UltimateBet Scandal as Legal Agreement Reached

The Kahnawake Gaming Commission released a summary statement on Wednesday confirming a legal settlement reached earlier this week between Excapsa, the group holding original ownership of the UltimateBet online poker site, and Blast Off Limited, owned by Joe Tokwiro Norton, which took over as proprietor in late 2006. Among the latest revelations is that the total due to be refunded to affected players, including that already paid, will be in vicinity of $21 million.

Approximately $6.1 million had been refunded to UltimateBet players in an original wave of payments earlier this year, though subsequent investigations confirmed that the cheating had gone on longer and had been of a greater scope than originally realized. This subsequently resulted in a legal action between Blast Off and Excapsa which is believed to have been resolved after court negotiations on Monday, in which Excapsa made additional payments to Blast Off to cover the cost of reimbursing players still awaiting refunds due to more cheating accounts being uncovered.

According to PokerNews, KGC representative has confirmed that details of the Excapsa liquidation proceedings as published in a story in Montreal's National Post were "pretty accurate." That story stated that $15 million will be paid by Excapsa shareholders to "Blast Off Ltd., the company owned by Mr. Norton that runs Ultimate Bet." Monday was scheduled as a deadline under which the site's certification by the KGC would be imperiled if the situation had not been resolved and refunds to players resumed. The cheating, which involved the surreptitious use of a software tool to view the hole cards of the cheaters' opponents at any given table (and thereby allowing the cheaters to play accordingly), had been in place from 2004 until its discovery earlier this year through mathematical examination by players of suspect accounts' unsupportable win rates.

Documents released by the Canadian liquidation court as reported in the National Post also showed that Norton (Blast Off) sought $81.4 million in damages for being sold "corrupted" software, including $5 million in damages to Norton's reputation and $49 million in damage done to the "UltimateBet" brand name. Blast Off stopped making payments toward its overall $130 million purchase price last December. However, exact details of the settlement beyond the latest $15 million for player compensation and a $1.5 million fine payable to the Kahnawake Gaming Commission – in addition to the initial $6.1 in player refunds, which also came from Excapsa – have not been released. The $15 million may include a reserve for interest, meaning that the total of approximately $21.1 million may exceed by a million or two the actual amount traced through the years of illegitimate play.

The settlement, furthermore, is likely to have trimmed significant equity from the original Excapsa sellers, who according to documents denied knowledge of the cheating tool embedded in the software. However, Sheldon Krakower, the court-appointed liquidator, was cited in the National Post piece as having "advised shareholders that fighting Blast Off in court would likely mean an end to payments of the US $109 million still owed from the original sale and could wipe out Excapsa's cash funds of US $36 million." Previously, the KGC publicly named Russ Hamilton as being involved in the cheating; Hamilton had reportedly been associated with the site since its creation.

Refunds of defrauded funds to affected players are expected to resume within the next few days, according to the KGC, with Blast Off also having to provide proof to KGC officials that payments have been properly issued.

The body of the KGC statement:

Kahnawake Gaming Commission Confirms UB Compliance with Interim Decision

The Kahnawke Gaming Commission ("KGC") announced today that it has received information from its agents, Ultimate Bet and other related parties indicating that Ultimate Bet has addressed, or is addressing, the matters set out in the KGC interim decision of September 29, 2008.

In particular, the KGC has confirmed that Ultimate Bet has commenced reimbursing approximately US$15M to players who were adversely affected by the cheating incidents. This is in addition to the US$6.1M that Ultimate Bet has already reimbursed to players. The KGC will defer its final decision in this matter for a short period of time for the purpose of ensuring that all required reimbursements have been made.

In addition to reimbursements to players, the KGC is considering the available evidence and will decide whether Ultimate Bet has satisfied all of the other terms of the KGC interim decision.

The KGC's final decision in this matter is expected to be issued once all player refunds have been confirmed.

Murray Marshall
Senior Advisor
Kahnawake Gaming Commission

PokerStars Bans SharkScope From Site!

In a move that broke across many of the major online poker forums this morning, PokerStars, which has always been at the forefront against online poker cheating, banned its players from using the database site and its corresponding Heads Up Display (HUD). SharkScope now joins other collective databases like Poker Edge as not permitted on the site. The online poker room identifies 42 total programs in total that players on its felts are not allowed to operate. There had been talk of banning SharkScope in the previous year, but it appears that enforcement has become official today.

SharkScope is a poker tracking tool that has, according to its website, amassed a database of 178 million sit and go tournaments from across the major networks. A player using the website while playing on PokerStars is now in violation of the site’s Terms of Service. Punishment could include anything from a warning for a first time offender to complete banishment from the online poker room. Other programs which are banned from use by players on PokerStars include Poker Edge, Holdem Hawk, Poker Crusher, Online Holdem Inspector, TheCashDB, SpadeEye, and Sixth Sense.

SharkScope is in violation of PokerStars’ decree that “Any program that works off of a central database of player profiles or hands played is prohibited.” In addition, programs that play “without human intervention,” involve the “practice of datamining,” or “offer direct game play advice on the appropriate action to take” are also strictly against PokerStars’ Terms of Service.

On its website, PokerStars lists programs that are acceptable for use by its customers. They include a variety of programs such as Calculatem Pro, Holdem Genius, Holdem Manager, Omaha Indicator, Pokerbility, PokerGrapher, Poker Office, Poker Stove, PokerTracker, ThePokerDB, and Poker Wingman. There are 60 programs explicitly permitted on PokerStars. Any customer with questions about a specific piece of poker software should contact the support department of PokerStars.

Perhaps one of the premier poker software experts around is PokerXFactor instructor Chris “Fox” Wallace. He told Poker News Daily, “PokerStars has been very good about preventing cheating, but banning the SharkScope website itself, when all of that information is publicly available, will probably serve to hurt players who want to follow the rules, while rewarding those who are willing to break them.”

Wallace described how players may elect to get around the new ban on using “Anyone who has SharkScope running on a laptop sitting next to their computer will be almost impossible to catch and they will have a significant advantage over players who are being honest and sticking to the rules they agreed to. Creating a rule that can not be enforced is counterproductive.”

Full Tilt Poker does not allow the use of “large subscription databases.” However, it has not yet enforced any ban of SharkScope, which also tracks sit and go tournaments on Ultimate Bet, Party Poker, Pacific Poker, and Cake Poker, among others. Players have the option to block their own user name from appearing in SharkScope searches by filling out a form on its website. Coverage of the major poker rooms mainly began in 2006 or 2007 and over 62 million sit and gos alone were tracked on PokerStars. There have been 40 million sit and gos tracked on Full Tilt Poker and 21 million on the Ongame Network.

Right now, SharkScope is focused on sit and go tournaments. It does not yet support cash games, but intends to in the future, according to its site.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Slot Cheating Tied to Birmingham, Alabama Mayor! What's Next?

In a world of political cheating and corruption, can we be surprised by this latest piece of political casino cheating?...especially on the eve of the Presidential Election? Well, whether or not the Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama has presidential ambitions, he had better clear his record of being a casino slot cheat!


An Alabama politician has been accused of cheating at slots with the help of casino personnel. The charge reaches beyond the specific case to raise the issue of casinos which refuse payment based on machine malfunction.

Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford is alleged in a civil lawsuit to have benefited from bingo machines rigged to pay off at Victoryland Casino. Cynthia Teel has accused the casino of setting machines to pay out at specific times, and wants the money she was denied.

Teel won $42,000, but the casino said the machine was malfunctioning and refused to pay. She wants Langford to produce tax and gambling records to prove that the casino manipulates the machines.

Part of Teel's case is a sworn statement from a police officer who worked at Victoryland. He states he saw Langford escorted by casino staff at least three times to machines that promptly hit jackpots.

Langford denied the accusations, but admitted casino owner Milton McGregor is a close friend and political ally. He also said he had received a payout as large as $40,000.

Victoryland patron Rose Thompson said, "How come the machine is in error when it pays, but never when it takes? I think it's the casino's problem if they can't maintain working machines. Give the girl her money!"

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Pastposting Cheat Team Busted At Florida Casino!

Roulette pastposting cheats had been working casinos in the southern US.

A security guard at the Clearwater Casino Resort may have broken up a cheating ring Thursday before it had a chance to bilk the casino. A Kitsap County sheriff's deputy was called to the casino at 15347 Suquamish Way NE at about 7 p.m. after the security guard recognized the suspects from an alert from another local casino, according to sheriff's reports. Three men in their 20s were detained, although a fourth man fled when security guards spoke to the group, the report said. Two of the men had New York City addresses, and the third was a Spanish national. Investigators found a Ford van in the parking lot of the casino linked to the men. Inside were "gaming papers" (I don't know what that means) from other local casinos and several suitcases.

A security guard from the Emerald Queen Casino in Pierce County had warned Clearwater employees about the men and a scheme to cheat at the roulette table. According to the casino, the scheme involved sneaking betting chips under other betting chips already placed on the table "to make it look like the bet was worth more," the deputy wrote. It appears to me that the cheats were simply slipping larger denomination casino chips (probably $25 greens) underneath winning $1 roulette chips already on the layout.

Puyallup Tribal Police in Tacoma reported to deputies they did not have enough evidence to have the men arrested at that time, but said they would like their identities recorded. This simply means that surveillance had no video evidence and security probably should have waited for the cheats to make their moves before busting them. This is a classic example of inexperienced security staffs too eager to make a bust!

The three men, ages 27, 28 and 29 were released and told not to return to the casino under penalty of trespassing.

November Cheating Alerts!

Online Poker:

Complaints of bot play on Carbon Poker and collusion play on Hollywood Poker.

Online Casinos:

Complaints about slow payouts on Rushmore Casino.

Brick and Mortar Poker:

Complaints of Russian collusion teams working the Los Angeles, California major poker rooms.

Complaints of Russian collusion teams working in Slovenia and other Eastern European poker rooms.

Brick and Mortar Casinos:

A group of professional cheats have been working Florida and Tunica, Mississippi casinos picking up "sleepers," winning or push bets that inexperienced players unknowingly leave on layouts of roulette and craps tables.