UltimateBet Poker Site Admits Players Cheated, But Won't Name Names

Here’s a mystery story to distract you from the U.S. Banking Apocalypse. UltimateBet.com, “one of the top 10 poker sites,” has admitted that employees manipulated the software to cheat from at least January 2005 to January 2008, when some players started noticing an unusually high rate of wins for a certain user name. An Australian player mapped that user’s wins against accounts that had played a similar number of hands, and realized that “NioNio’s” wins were “less likely than ‘winning a one-in-a-million lottery on four consecutive days.’” But NioNio is just one part of the mystery.

As the players continued to dig, they concluded that NioNio was at the center of a web of accounts that were able to change user names with ease, making it harder for victims to detect the cheating.

UltimateBets launched an investigation when the players brought this to their attention, and in March of this year they issued a confirmation that certain players had been cheating by taking advantage of malicious code that had been inserted by prior employees.

As of September, no one has been named in the scandal, although some players have named a poker pro. Two other poker pros visited him in person, with a lawyer present, and now say they’re no longer sure he was the culprit—or at least not the main culprit.

Another problem is that the company that claims ownership of UltimateBet—”Tokwiro Enterprises, headquartered in the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory in southern Canada”—may be a front for Blast-Off Ltd., which has filed an $85 million claim against UltimateBet. The Kahnawake Gaming Commission has ordered an investigation of UltimateBet, but that’s not comforting some victims:

[Tokwiro] has issued some refunds and promised to repay any players who lost money once an outside investigation is completed. But many players who haven’t received credits remain fearful they will never see a dime.

“Poker site cheating plot a high-stakes whodunit” [MSNBC] (Thanks to Patrick!)

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  1. JohnDeere says:

    canadian maffia

  2. Zeniq says:

    …Huh.

  3. BrianDaBrain says:

    I don’t know about you, but I think that the players were the ones who found this out, even though there was apparently much name-changing, is really cool. Mad props to the folks who figured it out.

  4. rpm773 says:

    In my day, we settled this sort of thing outside of the saloon with pistols

  5. Gopher bond says:

    Man, if you can’t trust an online gambling/poker site, who can you trust?

  6. drjayphd says:

    Phil, Annie, you got some ‘splainin’ to do…

  7. mugsywwiii says:

    I’ve always wondered why people would trust online poker sites, especially when they’re all located in other countries (if you’re an American). It’s too easy to add a way to cheat.

  8. clessness says:

    Nice detective work. But I really want to know is what the axes on that chart represent. I’m guessing the X-axis is how often you win, with x=0 breaking even and x<0 losing money, but I’m stumped as to what Y is.

  9. ILoveVermont says:

    Y is the percentage of hands you play (that is, you at least post the blind). If I recall, X is the avg amount you win as expressed in ‘big blinds’.

  10. This is really surprising.

    Who would have thought that a game played over the internet… connected to computers in Antigua… far away from regulation or oversight… with millions of dollars at stake… that is generally considered illegal to play in the states… would be manipulated improperly for illicit gain.

    I am shocked. Shocked.

    • Xanaxian says:

      @twophrasebark:

      I have just recovered after swooning at the subtlety of your sarcasm, and so am somewhat hesitant to inform you that it actually IS rather surprising, because fairness and above-board operations account for a huge wedge of online poker sites’ profits. Their business models depend on it. Simply put, the slightest suspicion of cheating will cause players to leave in droves, and out go the golden-egg-laying geese. Case in point: I will be very surprised if Ultimate Bet is still around 6 months from now, while their main competition will still be raking in the big bucks after having upgraded their security even further. Most of these companies are run by savvy businessmen, and they know very well that cheaters in their midsts would be VERY bad for their bottom lines.

      • Gopher bond says:

        @Xanaxian: true, but only the owners have a reason to ensure the above-board nature of their product. So, while you may trust the owners and their security measures, you can never know for sure that some other player somewhere in the world hasn’t devised a way to cheat. And even if you could, there’s no immediate satisfaction available such as shooting him with a derringer you have hidden in your belt buckle.

      • @Xanaxian: I actually mostly agree with you. However, I also firmly believe that what has occurred is inevitable at almost all of these gaming sites. You’re right that even a whiff of impropriety and you’re toast in this business, but it still took a few years to flush out the cheating at Ultimate Poker. And this is quite a blow to the entire community, as Ultimate was backed by some big poker players. If they can’t guarantee the site’s safe, who can? I’m not saying that Phil Helmuth is a computer genius or anything, but you have to imagine they received very comprehensive assurances. Just image how bad this looks for Helmuth and how they could damage his image as well.

        @twritersf: I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to wager money in online poker by federal law. It didn’t used to be, but I believe it is now for a few years. This is why when you wager online, you always charged on your credit card with something that doesn’t sound at all like “CHARGE ONLINE POKER INC.” It’s always something completely random that sounds like it could be anything.

    • twritersf says:

      @twophrasebark:

      With the exception of the state of Washington, which passed it’s own law banning online poker within the state’s borders, playing poker online is not against U.S. law.

  11. ideagirl says:

    I always assumed online poker games were rigged…

    $$ + computers X gambling = poorhouse

  12. muddgirl says:

    I remember when the UltimateBet players broke this story… what, two years ago?

  13. Ramrod says:

    From the article:

    “We’re taking it seriously and are in contact with the stakeholders with a goal of settling the claim…’

  14. Gopher bond says:

    That reminds me, a long time ago, a friend of mine put together a NCAA friendly pick-em, $10 got you one pick out of a jar with a team name on it. Winner takes all money. Well, that was the year UNLV was undefeated and the bastard cheated and grabbed UNLV for himself. Unfortunately they were, as we all knew, upset by Duke who went on to win the title. So my idiot friend feels it’s OK to admit he cheated since he didn’t win and some of the particpants find out and beat the piss out of him, even after he lost. It’s the principle dammit.

  15. Justafan says:

    “[Tokwiro] has issued some refunds and promised to repay any players who lost money once an outside investigation is completed.”

    That is real nice of them. But that’s just the half of it. What what about the money players could have won if others weren’t cheating? Are they going to make that up?

  16. Moosehawk says:

    I’m not entirely sure how you read that graph, but if that line means breaking even, imagine being one of those dots all the way over on the left 0.o

  17. Like two players can talk to each other by cell phone during play and manipulate a table for their mutual benefit?

    How about a live table game when “good friends” are sitting across from each other. Hmmm, I wonder what the single finger scratch on the left ear might mean.

    Cheating in cards is nothing new. Wild Bill found that one out the hard way.

    • ILoveVermont says:

      @Corporate-Shill: In multi-table tournament play it is unlikely that two colluding players would be at the same table, at least initially. Hands are played fast enough that collusion would be difficult at best via cell phone.

      And you’re right about cheating at cards being nothing new; the thing here is that the poker sites allegedly were aware of it for a fairly long period of time without addressing it in any meaningful way. If this article steers but a few players away from these particular sites, then it is a good thing.

    • TideGuy says:

      @Corporate-Shill:

      Although the motive is unclear, it is not believed that Wild Bill Hickok was shot for cheating at cards.

  18. bezalel says:

    I find it funny that they narrow down the nefarious evildoers’ location to “southern Canada.” Everyone in Canada lives in “southern Canada”:

    [atlas.nrcan.gc.ca]

    Maybe it would be more useful to say if they’re talking about eastern or western Canada.

    • chartrule says:

      @bezalel:

      while the majority of Canadians live within 120 miles of the US border – there is a fairly large number of us that live in Northern Canada

  19. Murph1908 says:

    From what I understood about these sites, they had systems in place to detect such things. Even 2 players playing in the same public tournament together too often was supposed to be detectable.

    I could see a savvy cheater rigging the system, then moving on to a different name to stay under the radar. But ’1 in a million 4 consecutive days’ kind of win pattern screams at best incompetency by the site, or at worst, collusion.

  20. Confuzius says:

    FYI Kahnawake is where we get all out blackmarket tax free native cigarettes in Montreal.

  21. bezalel says:

    @chartrule I didn’t mean any offense by my exaggeration. I’m Canadian myself. My point was that “southern Canada” could be Vancouver, Montreal, or any point between, and that the small amount of geography they gave us was (almost) a given.

  22. Sharkfan says:

    @Mr_Human: Absolute Poker had an insider breach also. UltimateBet did disclose their breach a few months back in an email to players. BTW, guess who merged just after the AbsolutePoker scandal broke. AbsolutePoker and UltimateBet!

    @twophrasebark: The federal law only prohibits banks from processing credit card payments to gambling sites. If you can get money into a poker account through other means (MoneyGram, Western Union, etc), it’s legal.

  23. Megladon says:

    the guys over at http://www.twoplustwo.com have a weekly poker cast and have been covering this mess for months. These guys are on one of the best sites about poker, so if you want to learn more about all this mess, and maybe how to play some great cards, thats the site to visit.