Poker Stories: The Biggest Scandal in Online Poker History
Imagine if you could see the hole cards of your online poker opponents. You’d always know when to bluff, when to call their bluffs, and how to play against them. They wouldn’t stand a chance.
That’s exactly what happened at Ultimate Bet in the early 2000s. There were tons of people playing online poker, and some players, especially the pros, started to realize that they were losing massive amounts of cash to certain accounts while simultaneously crushing the rest of the competition.
What happened and how did they get away with it for so long?
Photo: Dusan Kipic
Entering “God Mode”
When the software developers were creating the engine for Ultimate Bet, they left in a little hidden application on the server side called “stealth observer.” Essentially, this let anyone with administrative access to the site—a group of insiders—see their opponents hands as they played so that they could always make the right decision.
In a game of poker, God Mode is the biggest cheat code you can possibly imagine. Poker is all about information and making the best possible decision based on imperfect information. Having access to stealth observer gave them a huge advantage and let them rip players off for millions of dollars.
An Elaborate Cover up
The story of the cover up, with all of its dirty dealing, offshoring, shell companies, insider trading, and convoluted financial shenanigans makes quite the tale. At the top were founders like pro player Russ Hamilton and CEO Greg Pierson. They did everything in their power to throw off the scent, such as making multiple offshore shell companies to hold other shell companies while making transfers across many different accounts, even including to Hamilton’s stripper girlfriend.
Once they got caught, they did their best to pay off as a little as possible while hiding the real extent of their crime. By limiting their players’ access to data and admitting to a small amount of cheating accounts, they saved face for long enough to transfer their money around, get it out of sight, and keep it for themselves.
In the end, a lot of honest poker players got cheated out of a lot of money and a few people made a lot of money. It may not be poker in the wild west where if you hid a card up your sleeve you could get shot, but this criminal conspiracy shows how they adapted to the 21st century poker landscape to cheat big time.
The moral of the story? Stay on your toes.