The terms “Ultimate Bet / UB Poker” and “scandalous” are synonymous. What was once a thriving, respected member of the online poker community turned grotesquely sour back in 2007-2008 when it was unearthed that the site’s owner, Russ Hamilton, and several others involved with the poker site, were involved in a massive ignominy of cheating. Now, former employee Travis Makar has come forward with recordings of a meeting in which Hamilton discussed keeping UB’s limelight pro, Phil Hellmuth, in the dark.
The tapes were recorded back in late 2008, right around the time that Ultimate Bet was headlining every poker new source in the world. Hamilton secretly recorded the meeting, ostensibly to cover his backside while detailing the depths of his own reprehensible behavior. At one point, he actually admitted to stealing between $16 and $18 million from patrons of UB by utilizing the software’s back-end ‘God Mode’ feature, designed by UB’s own security company, Iovation. While some stipulate the amount stolen was near double that amount, Hamilton also let it be known on the recording that he declared $5.2 million of the pilfered gains on his taxes.
There is no telling just how many online poker players lost money to the UB cheating scandal. Some rather well known players were among them, though. Hollywood actor Ben Afleck was actually receiving coaching from one of UB’s sponsored pros, Annie Duke, and reportedly lost half a million on the site. Russ Hamilton admitted to absconding with those funds as well.
Prahlad Friedman, one of UB’s own Ultimate Bet Pros, was targeted, suffering $360,000 in losses. Tom Dwan even spent some time at UB before joining the exclusive ranks of Full Tilt Poker, and it was never publically known that Dwan had been swindled until he sat down for an interview with Poker News Nation on October 19, 2010 to explain why UB had just refunded him $300,000.
According to Tom, it was an isolated incident, but an expensive one at that. Dwan said that he suspected a little cheating going on because he was seated at $50/$100 PLO and one of his opponents was playing “absolutely crazy”, and winning repetitively in the process. Dwan said the suspect-opponent’s moniker never appeared in the list of super-user accounts, but that “nothing else the whole time piqued my interest about UB at all.” One way or another, he was obviously a victim due to the excessive refund applied.
One of the most irritate victims of all, however, is Phil Hellmuth. Though he didn’t directly lose money in the scandal, he fears he has lost the trust of his fellow poker players; and understandably so. His fury at being so blatantly lied to was extended to the online poker community via the twoplustwo forums, posted by Kevin “Kevmath” Mathers, an independent composer of poker news.
The statement from Hellmuth began: “I’ve made a living off of reading people at the poker table and in the business world. Trusting my gut has allowed me to be at the top of my profession and develop a lifetime of friends and great experiences,” explained Hellmuth. “Unfortunately, I made a horrible read regarding my relationship with the founders of the now defunct online poker site Ultimate Bet.”
He explicated his reasoning for staying on board with UB, after learning of the super-user cheating scandal, as one of compassion for the players. He claims his first reaction was to demand the firing of anyone involved in cheating and the return of due funds to those who were affected. According to Hellmuth, however, he was told – by the seemingly sympathetic team of owners – that if he left, they would never make enough one to pay back the victims. “As such, I made the decision to believe the leaders of UB and stayed on in the hopes that they would make right to anyone cheated.”
Although he later knew he’d been blatantly lied to, the former UB sponsor revealed his repulsion from listening to the recorded tapes. “To hear them discussing this situation and actively deciding to keep me in the dark disgusts and infuriates me.” He expressed his empathy and apologies to everyone adversely effected for his prior support of UB management, and said that he hopes for a “strong, regulated online poker environment in the US” in the near future.