In the poker community, scandals have frequently happened over the years. Some have had a big influence on the game, while others only briefly caught our attention.
Even though it’s entertaining to examine sizable cash game pots or write about the most recent big tournament winner, nothing beats a good scandal.
The scandals aren’t listed in order of their size for a reason: each player will have a different opinion of which is the most important depending on how they affected them.
Black Friday must be mentioned when discussing significant poker scandals, despite the fact that it has been extensively covered in countless blogs, articles, and op-eds.
This, in my opinion, is without a doubt the biggest scandal the poker world has ever seen, and it had an impact on countless players all over the world. The game’s overall development was significantly impacted by its aftermath.
Three of the biggest poker sites at the time—PokerStars, Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet, and Full Tilt—were the targets of indictments that the US Department of Justice unveiled on April 11, 2011.
The DoJ confiscated the sites’ domains on the grounds that they had violated the UIGEA, shocking the poker community as a whole.
The weeks and months that followed were very difficult for many professional players who had their bankrolls stuck on one of these sites after players were cut off from their funds. It is a shame that nobody thought about claiming a bonus runde gratuite.
PokerStars was the first—and ultimately the only—room to truly bounce back from this setback. In no time at all, players from the rest of the world were able to access the website and their funds, and business as usual resumed.
Although US players had to wait a long time to receive their money back, PokerStars eventually made everyone whole.
When it turned out that the room didn’t actually have money on hand to reimburse players, Full Tilt’s career as a major brand with support from some of the biggest names in the industry came to an end.
The poker community never forgave the Full Tilt executives for everything they put them through, even though all players were eventually paid back when PokerStars bought the Full Tilt name.
After Black Friday, they never fully recovered, and players continued to wait in vain for their money. Utilizing funds left over from the Full Tilt repayment fund, the repayment process finally started in 2017.
While some fortunate players were able to recover some of their money, the process has been incredibly slow, and it appears that many of the AP victims will never see the day when their money is reimbursed.
The biggest and most significant poker scandal in history continues to be the Black Friday incident.
In addition to all the financial difficulties, it effectively cut off the US from the player pool of the rest of the world and forced three of the biggest rooms out.
The landscape of online poker has never been the same since this happened, and little has changed.
Players from the US are unable to play with anyone outside of US borders, or at least they cannot do so legally, despite the fact that some US states have legalized online poker.
The Demise of Lock Poker
The Lock Poker scandal is largely a direct result of events that happened in 2011, even though it may not have been as significant as Black Friday.
Many smaller outlets saw their chance after major rooms were compelled to leave the US market.
This was a risk worth taking for smaller rooms like Lock Poker because it gave them a great opportunity to increase liquidity by serving poker-starved US players.
They started off by launching a number of fantastic promotions that provided players who chose to take action there with tons of extra value.
Many players from the US and the rest of the world gravitated toward Lock Poker due to the lack of viable alternatives and the sound of its promises.
The room first started breaking its promotional promises by retroactively adding terms and conditions that made it impossible for players to actually withdraw their bonus money.
Even though few players were able to cash out completely, many players tried to withdraw their money while they still could.
The entire situation came to a crushing end in April of 2015.
It had been impossible for players to withdraw funds since April 2014, and it was only a matter of time before Lock Poker gave up.
Poker Scout reported a 7-day average of 10 ring game players when the site finally shut down, with traffic at an all-time low.
Although the precise amount of money lost with Lock Poker is unknown, the estimate appears to be in the range of $15 million.
But in contrast to the Black Friday scandal, most of the players ultimately received their money in full or at least in part, this $15 million simply vanished.
Ultimate Bet and Absolute Poker Super-User Scandals
A few years before Black Friday, there was yet another poker scandal that rocked the community to its very foundation. Unsurprisingly, it involved the first two rooms to go bust after April 11, 2011, two different poker rooms.
Absolute Poker (AP) and Ultimate Bet (UB) are the in question rooms, of course.
Players began making claims in September 2007 that someone playing on Absolute Poker had access to a super-user account and could see the hole cards of other players. Similar charges against Ultimate Bet were leveled not long after in January 2008.
In the AP incident, players examined the hands of the player using the now-famous alias “POTRIPPER” in great detail.
When hand histories were reviewed, it became abundantly clear that “POTRIPPER” could somehow see “through” the cards because many of his choices didn’t seem natural or normal..
When their opponents had strong but second-best holdings, he always knew when to bluff, when to throw away a hand, and when to bet heavily.
Absolute Poker eventually acknowledged the existence of super-user accounts and decided to reimburse players $1.6 million.
Even though it was a significant amount, it was nothing in comparison to what came to light a short while later.
Similar red flags were raised for a player using the alias “NioNio” at the beginning of 2008, but this time at Ultimate Bet.
The Kahnawake Gaming Commission opened an investigation because there was enough evidence to support it, and what they found was quite shocking.
The Commission came to the conclusion that there had been cheating since January 2005, which is a significant amount of time.
Russ Hamilton was identified as the mastermind of the UB super-user scheme, and it was estimated that the harm he caused to the university was worth more than $20 million.
In a later recording of a phone call, Hamilton acknowledged that he was the mastermind behind the entire scheme.
This effectively put an end to his poker career, and he never tried to make up for the money that he had taken from the players.