Anyone remember Russ Hamilton and the Ultimate Bet scandal?
Well a couple of weeks ago an audio tape surfaced exposing the roles played by Hamilton and other Ultimate Bet staff as they cheated their way to $23m of their customers’ money.
As you probably know, the cheating was done through special software – they called it “God Mode” – which allowed Hamilton and others to view the hole cards of opponents at the Ultimate Bet tables. I say Hamilton “and others” because it is widely accepted that it wasn’t just him doing the cheating, although the Kahnawake Gaming Commission named Russ Hamilton in their 2008 report as the sole perpetrator. (Was it a shoddy investigation? Pretty much, yes.)
Now remember that all this cheating happened between 2003-2007, so this is really old news. But the tape is still very interesting. It features a three hour conversation between Hamilton, two Ultimate Bet attorneys, Daniel Friedberg and Sanford Millar and the Ultimate Bet founder (and current Iovation CEO) Greg Pierson.
The Iovation connection is worth a mention. I’d never heard of the company before but it’s inextricably linked to the reason that this tape was released in the first place. The man who released the tape – Travis Makar, who worked as Hamilton’s personal computer expert for years – cited the re-emergence of Iovation in connection with Nevada’s newly legalised online-poker industry as one of his motivations for releasing the tape. Unbelievably Greg Pierson is still working in the industry – laughably, in relation to Nevada’s first ever legalised online poker site.
And Iovation’s business is? Fraud prevention! You really couldn’t make it up.
In the tape the men discussed the specifics of the cheating and ways for covering it up, refunding some affected players, and otherwise minimizing the impact of the cheating. They also discussed ways to not issue refunds to some of the players if reasons could be found. Apparently one reason Hamilton proposed for not repaying a certain player was if “he just didn’t like him”. But it’s not exactly surprising that Russ Hamilton could come out with something that would make you want to smash him in the face with a brick.
Players specifically mentioned as being cheated were Prahlad “Mahatma” Friedman, Mike Matusow, Mike “trambopoline” Fosco and Robert Williamson III. These players were scammed for enormous amounts.
Hamilton was so scummy he used to actually phone Matusow up – Matusow would have considered Hamilton to be a friend – and ask him to play online. One time when Matusow was skint Hamilton even lent him 50 grand to play with, which he cheated out of him straight away, leaving the 50 grand debt to be collected later. (Like I say, when you think of Hamilton, the old brick-face-smash dynamic isn’t far away.)
Interestingly Annie Duke and Phil Hellmuth are mentioned as well. They represented the site from the beginning and Duke was instrumental in setting up the software – giving her input as to how the site should look and how the features should work. So now everyone wants to know exactly just what Phil Hellmuth and Annnie Duke knew about the cheating and the tape does shed a little bit of light on the matter.
For Hellmuth’s part, they specifically spoke about keeping him in the dark about “God Mode”. But before you get the impression he’s Mr Goody Two Shoes consider this: he carried on taking money from Ultimate Bet all the way until 2010. Whether or not he knew about the cheating when it was happening is one thing, but he definitely knew about after 2008 . We all did, because it was investigated and the company was censured and fined and forced to repay $20m odd. He’s a wrongun for having anything to do with the site at all in my book and he should have walked as soon as that report was out.
Perhaps a better reason for keeping Hellmuth in the dark was that they didn’t want him mentioning anything to the likes of Prahlad Freidman or Mike Matusow when he saw them on the circuit.
So what of Annie Duke? Well her situation is murkier. It transpires that Annie Duke definitely did know about God Mode and had even used the software herself, but on a 15 minute delay. Both Hellmuth and Annie Duke issued statements in the wake of the tape being made public and we’ll have a look at those next time.