Online Poker Players Expose Alleged Fraud

You've gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em -- and know when to turn to the collective intelligence of the Internet to root out an alleged online poker gambling scandal.

A network of professional gamblers turned amateur sleuths followed the money in what appears to have been a series of rigged online poker games, gathering what they say is enough evidence to accuse a part-owner and former executive of the Web site of cheating by looking at other players' digital cards.

The allegations have the $9 billion to $12 billion online poker industry abuzz. The Internet gambling business, which is illegal in the U.S., is built on the trust that the games, based on offshore servers, are being run on the up and up.

AbsolutePoker is headquartered in a semi-autonomous Mohawk Indian territory outside of Montreal. Both the Quebec provincial police and officials at the Kahnawak Territory told that they have launched investigations into the allegations.

The controversy began last month, after a suspicious Marco Johnson, 21, of Las Vegas e-mailed AbsolutePoker for a history of the cards he was dealt during a high-stakes tournament. It was further brought to light Wednesday in the New York Times' Freakonomics blog.

Cheating, Electronic Style

"Basically, I took second place in a tournament, and there were just too many weird hands at the final table," Johnson told ABC "My friends thought I got cheated and I e-mailed [AbsolutePoker] and asked for a hand history."

What he received instead was a document that included the hand histories of everyone involved in the tournament, their e-mail addresses and the IP address of their computers.

That information, either mistakenly sent by a company employee, or intentionally leaked by a whistleblower, seemed to confirm Johnson's initial suspicions and set off an amateur investigation.

"It's so shady. Why would they send me this whole file? A regular hand history just shows the cards you had, but this was the master copy of a file in Excel. It showed 14 tables, every person at every table in the tournament. Instead of just seeing my cards, I could see everyone's," Johnson said.

Johnson took second place, a prize of $20,000, in the tournament, losing out to the suspected cheater, who played under the handle Potripper and bagged $30,000.

"[Potripper] was cheating in the most obvious way. He was just a bad poker player and was playing very badly," said Serge Ravitch, a New York lawyer and professional poker player who moderates the Web site and was one of the first people Johnson trusted with the Excel file.

"In the last hand, he just blew it. He made a gigantic call with 10 high. The chances of winning a hand like that are something like one in 1,000. It was obvious he was cheating,"

Johnson also shared the file with player and poker blogger Nat Arem, who looked past the hand histories to the IP address of the players.

The Excel document showed that at each table Potripper played, another user identified as #363 was present. Online players could not see him at the virtual table, but he apparently could seemingly see everyone's cards.

Trail Leads to Insiders

Potripper folded twice before #363 began watching, then did not fold once before the flop for nearly another half hour of play.

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