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Cheating at online poker
In recent years online poker has gained tremendous popularity. But can you trust your money into the hands of an online poker room? How safe is your money with all the uncertainty about online gambling?
You may have read or seen on TV reports about cheating that took place at online poker room Ultimate Bet to the tune of 22 million dollars. Is it the tip of the iceberg of just an isolated case?
The Ultimate Bet scandal
The Ultimate Bet cheating scandal is the largest case of cheating in the history of online poker, by a large margin: 22 million dollars.
The way the cheaters proceeded to steal money from other players was by using a so-called superuser account, an account where they could see all the cards, including their opponents'. You may wonder how come such superuser account exists, let alone how they put their hands on it.
It is understandable that this type of account may exist or has existed in the process of creating, testing and debugging the online poker software. Programmers need tools to be able to analyze the behavior of the software, for example if they want to test that the distribution of hands is close to random. For running such test, they would need to know the hands of all players, obviously.
Clearly these superuser accounts should be disabled once the software has been beta-tested. And if one such account is left for further tests in the future, its access should be controlled with the utmost security. And this is where the problem came from at Ultimate Bet. The previous owner of Ultimate Bet who was none other than 1994 WSOP Main Even winner Russ Hamilton is the one to blame.
As previous owner he had access to the most confidential information, including knowledge and access to a super-user account. He used it to set up a team of players who would be unleashed to methodically poach other high stakes. It was like shooting clay pigeons shooting, and they amassed millions using hundreds of accounts to avoid detection.
Fortunately some of the most sophisticated losers had their suspicion. They conducted in-depth statistical hand analysis and uncovered the ugly truth.
Is online poker safe?
This is a worrisome story. The good news is that it made the entire online poker community more aware of these risks and it enhanced its self-policing.
This was a wake up call and now any questionable activity is immediately spotted, analyzed and punished if proven to be wrongdoing. Online poker rooms, especially the largest ones, have a vested interest in making sure that they offer a fair playing arena. Ultimate bet is still in business, but they lost a lot of players in the aftermath of the scandal and they even decided to rebrand themselves to UB recently in order to attempt to put their past behind them.
To show how far the top poker rooms are ready to go to police their players, Full Tilt banned a high profile player - not named to protect his privacy - simply because he had shared and discussed hand histories with other high stakes players in a public forum. This is against the term of service of most online poker rooms, but it is certainly a minor offense which has nothing to do with cheating. But online poker rooms want to show that they are serious about promoting fairness at their tables and respect of their rules.
Online poker was still in its infancy but it has grown up. Because of the focus of online poker rooms on security and fair games, and the general scrutiny of the online poker players population, it is much harder to cheat nowadays.
To put all the chances on your side, only play at the largest and most reputable poker rooms, especially if your are a beginner. These rooms have too much to lose to let cheating happen at their tables, and they demonstrate their continuous efforts to offer the cleanest and safest online poker environment.
You can read more about the best and safest online poker rooms in our list specifically created with that goal in mind.
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