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Gamblers Anomalous
November 30, 2008 9:06 PM   Subscribe

A long-brewing online poker scandal reaches the mainstream: 60 Minutes Report (1, 2) (text version) and two consecutive front page Washington Post articles (by Pulitzer winning investigative journalist Gil Gaul) (plus lots of web exclusive content about the investigation)!

Originally discovered by high-stakes online math whizzes on a poker forum, news of the insider cheating by some big names in the game is coming out nationally just as the Bush administration moves hurriedly to implement a last-minute back-door crackdown on banks who enable the flow of money to gambling sites, casting the industry even further beyond regulation that would help make such cheating impossible. But perhaps there is still
hope
for online poker to eventually be fair and as legal as other areas of US private life.

Previously
(and)
posted by Potomac Avenue (45 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
How would the new laws make poker less regulated then it already was? When I played on partypoker.com back in the day, most of the players were from the UK or Germany, and the big sites were run by legitimate publicly traded corporations.

The U.S. isn't the only country in the world.

Also, as bots get better it's going to be impossible to prevent cheating. What could prevent someone from writing a bot that used machine vision to read the cards and moves off the screen, rather then reading it out of memory in a detectable way? You could also host the game in a virtual machine.

Lots of people say that bots are "obvious" but I think that's B.S.
posted by delmoi at 9:15 PM on November 30, 2008


bah, at least my online gambling site doesn't have this problem.
posted by troy at 9:18 PM on November 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


investigation grinds on, the Internet sleuths have settled on a leading suspect: A professional poker player who was associated with ieLogic in the early days.
Who is the mystery player?
posted by delmoi at 9:26 PM on November 30, 2008


Make something "bad" illegal, and it slips beyond the reach of regulation and gets worse.

Make opium illegal, you get heroin and overdoses and drug lords. Illegal cocaine gets you crack and drive-by shootings. Crack down on crack and you get toxic, explosive meth labs.

Legalize, regulate, and tax. Bad as cigarettes are, no one's getting murdered over them.
posted by orthogonality at 9:30 PM on November 30, 2008 [11 favorites]


Who is the mystery player?

Former WSOP champion and founder of Ultimate Bet, Russ Hamilton.
They name him specifically in the 60 minutes piece only because very recently the gaming commission named him as the mastermind, but rampant speculation has been wondering what other band-name TV professionals might have been in on it.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:32 PM on November 30, 2008


Hah. I work with a guy who worked with the guy who went on to work for UltimateBet.com.

That's all I got…
posted by parhamr at 9:37 PM on November 30, 2008


One effect of the laws is that the publicly-traded companies like PartyPoker have left the US market for fear of legal repercussions.
posted by cwhitfcd at 9:42 PM on November 30, 2008


According to that article (corroborated by Merriam-Webster), the word winningest is, in fact, an english word. I'm surprisedest.
posted by vernondalhart at 9:43 PM on November 30, 2008


And to think, all us cheaters on the outside have to limit ourselves to mere collusion. Totally unfair.
posted by ryanrs at 9:45 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


If you gamble online, you may as well have written a check out to cash, folded it into a paper airplane and thrown it off the roof of a skyscraper.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:47 PM on November 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


bah, at least my online gambling site doesn't have this problem.

Yea it does, ask Mark Cuban
posted by BrnP84 at 9:48 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


And the only reason that this was discovered was because some idiot was making it completely obvious that he could see everyone's hole cards.
posted by ODiV at 10:07 PM on November 30, 2008


I usually stick to sit-n-go's and tournaments to avoid the blatant collusion I've run into once or twice at ring game tables. Not a whole lot you can do about systematic cheating, though. Kind of scary, yeah.
posted by empyrean at 10:19 PM on November 30, 2008


I think it's very interesting that the poker sites never detected the cheater. I sort of expected they had analysis software to detect collusion, bots, etc. But apparently they don't.
posted by ryanrs at 10:20 PM on November 30, 2008


Ryanrs: They have plenty of those and have proven themselves quite good at stopping players from cheating. As empyrean says, this brings to light a much bigger and scarier possibility that was in the past only spoken of by sore losers and paranoiacs: the sites themselves are rigged. (Not all sites, but some, and only in this very specific, and ultimately silly, way). (So far).
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:25 PM on November 30, 2008


This is why I burn any excess cash. Cuts out the middleman.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 10:40 PM on November 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


This is why I burn any excess cash. Cuts out the middleman.

DON'T YOU HATE PANTS!?
posted by Dark Messiah at 11:42 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Bad as cigarettes are, no one's getting murdered over them.

Are you sure about that?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:48 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, for all this special investigation involving the collaboration between two major news sources reveals, there's really nothing in this story that wasn't originally discovered and reported by players themselves on twoplustwo.com.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:54 PM on November 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Potomac Avenue: Nice post! I'm a long time 2p2er and have followed this controversy since it first appeared there, and you've assembled a very thorough collection of links from multiple sources. Well done, and nice title, too.

If you gamble online, you may as well have written a check out to cash, folded it into a paper airplane and thrown it off the roof of a skyscraper.

Interestingly enough, this is not necessarily true, or at least didn't use to be. Prior to the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) and the near simultaneous demise of Neteller, the process of moving money in and out of the various poker sites was straightforward and remarkably easy. As a result, the games were OMFG juicy -- online poker ca. 2004-2006 was a gold mine for a lot of legitimate players, myself included. In the two years since UIGEA passage and the departure of Neteller, playing poker online has become more difficult for everyone, with significantly fewer casual players. The games are now a lot harder across the board; I used to play 20-30 hours/week online at the height of the boom, but now I don't play any online poker, as the online games all too often suck, and my local live games are much better. But there are still those that play online, and the winners still get paid.
posted by mosk at 12:11 AM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hmm. Murky, off-shore internet gambling operations might be less than ethical, you say? I am positively shocked. Next, you'll be telling me that hookers don't really like their customers.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 12:27 AM on December 1, 2008


I won 100 bucks last week in my friendly neighborhood highly illegal cash game.

Good times, since I don't usually, you know, win.
posted by bardic at 1:17 AM on December 1, 2008


Winningest can't be a 'real' word? Maybe in the USA but elsewhere.. you would be laughed off the paper i'm sure.
posted by mary8nne at 3:26 AM on December 1, 2008


Ditto what Mosk said.
I've also cut down my online poker to the point where it is just recreational, and have started playing more in live (but illegal) venues in NYC, which have their own risks.
However, as he says - you can still make money online, it's just harder. I redeposited into Full-Tilt 2 weeks ago, and have been running pretty hot. I cashed out my original investment, and am now just trying to grow enough profit to pay for drinks and dinner every so often.

(as an aside, I am now wondering about the intersection of the sets of MeFi and 2p2 members...)
posted by bashos_frog at 4:22 AM on December 1, 2008


(as an aside, I am now wondering about the intersection of the sets of MeFi and 2p2 members...)

well, you can count one more.
posted by 256 at 6:15 AM on December 1, 2008


Winningest can't be a 'real' word? Maybe in the USA but elsewhere..

Actually I hear it a lot more often in the UK than in the US. Just sayin.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 6:19 AM on December 1, 2008


Could we fill a table for a private MeFi tournament on FullTilt?
MeFi mail me...
posted by bashos_frog at 6:31 AM on December 1, 2008


I ran a yearly mefi tourny on Full Tilt for a couple years in a row (three?). Didn't get around to it this year, unfortunately and no one asked me about it so I just let it go.
posted by ODiV at 7:43 AM on December 1, 2008


We used to have yearly private tourneys over on MeTa, bashos_frog, so I'm sure it's no problem at all to get a tourney table. Now, if only I could figure out how to bypass that stupid law and get money in my FullTilt account, I'd be able to join one again!
posted by absalom at 7:48 AM on December 1, 2008


What kills me about this story is that the only way the crook was caught is that he was really, really stupid. You've got a cheat that allows you to win 100% of hands, so what do you do? You win 100% of hands. Dumb. Win 10% of hands and play 10x longer and no one would have ever caught on. No doubt this is going on right now.

I've often wondered how hard it'd be to collude in online poker. Arrange to have you and a friend at the same table in a large cash game and share cards. Nothing sophisticated here other than the table arrangement; how much protection do the online games have against that?
posted by Nelson at 7:51 AM on December 1, 2008


That's the way to make a post!
posted by caddis at 8:06 AM on December 1, 2008


I've often wondered how hard it'd be to collude in online poker. Arrange to have you and a friend at the same table in a large cash game and share cards. Nothing sophisticated here other than the table arrangement; how much protection do the online games have against that?

At least in a game like Texas Holdem (where most of the money is online), knowing a single opponent's cards at a full table usually doesn't give you much of an advantage. Most of the time, those cards won't affect the probabilities involved in play enough to change decisions, and even when they do there are generally much more important things to consider. In my experience most of the money in cash games comes from the one or two worst players at the table, and usually knowing a few un-played cards usually wouldn't help extract any more money from the bad players.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:13 AM on December 1, 2008


Nelson: Most of the better sites (including those two indicted here) have been pretty good about analyzing hand data to discover collusion, at least when prompted by players, and move quickly to close accounts and freeze money. There are only a few techniques that are profitable given the extra information and the higher stakes players (who you'd need to play against), are pretty smart about looking out for these, especially against two unknowns, so colluders rarely last or make serious profits.

In fact it's a lot harder to collude in this way online than it is to signal in a live game. It's easy to get real-time advice from better players about your hands, or have a different player playing on your account to throw people off, or employ a robot who supposedly will make you money (though most do not), but other than that, cheating at an individual level is less rampant and effective than most people think. Sadly, all sites' credibility is now diminished across the board because of the illegal and poorly-planned scamming of these two, and all the idiotic conspiracy theories that ran wild in '04-'05 sound viable again.

I hope that we'll never hear about a similar scandal at Full Tilt or Poker Stars (the columns of the current two party system), because that would officially end the game as we know it until Harrahs.com comes online sometime around 2019.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:15 AM on December 1, 2008


On the "60 Minutes" piece, four or five guys (in the US) went on camera, saying they regularly play online poker. I know the laws against it are not really enforced, but didn't those guys just very publicly admit to breaking the law? How are they doing that without fear? Also, isn't the IRS going to be very interested in their income now?

Many of them are lawyers or former lawyers, so they probably know something that I don't. What it is? Why are they so boldly admitting to breaking the law? Usually when a law is generally unenforced (e.g. smoking pot), the one easy way to get in trouble is to go very public with an admission of breaking it.
posted by grumblebee at 9:49 AM on December 1, 2008


This is absolutely fascinating stuff. Particularly interesting is how statistics can be used to clarify what is almost imperceptibly obvious on first or second glance.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:37 AM on December 1, 2008


grumblebee: Though it is not specifically defined whether gambling is illegal for individuals online--no one, not even the overeager Department of Justice, has ever defined the act of placing bets as illegal or prosecutable. All of these players declare their poker winnings and pay taxes on them I'm sure, so there's no real risk of anything happening to them except annoying co-workers and friends skeptically asking "Yeah but how much did you lose?"
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:33 AM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, in case anyone is interested, here's a fascinating article on Russ Hamilton, high stakes golf hustler. (Previously) The man behind the scandal seems to be almost exactly what one would expect.
posted by mosk at 12:35 PM on December 1, 2008


Todd Witteles

No doubt pronounced "witless".
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:36 PM on December 1, 2008


Excellent post, Potomac Ave.
posted by exogenous at 1:51 PM on December 1, 2008


I'm pretty sure if online gambling is outlawed, it'll mean that online stock trading will be illegal too. There isn't much of a difference between them anyway, except I think you have better odds with online poker these days.
posted by mullingitover at 2:35 PM on December 1, 2008


I'm pretty sure you're wrong.
posted by ryanrs at 3:22 PM on December 1, 2008


(as an aside, I am now wondering about the intersection of the sets of MeFi and 2p2 members...)

And one more
posted by thewalledcity at 5:14 PM on December 1, 2008


I'd be up for a private tournament but I don't have a roll at FT at the moment since I've been playing Poker Stars. Feel free to add me to any MeFi list of players, I'd at least consider playing anything that pops up.
posted by empyrean at 8:39 PM on December 1, 2008


well, you can count one more.

Glimmertwin over there.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:11 AM on December 2, 2008


I would not have known about this story if I didn't check MetaFilter. Thanks Potomac Avenue!
posted by rageagainsttherobots at 10:36 AM on December 3, 2008


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