People love a good scandal and the poker world is no different. While we all love hearing about the latest tournament winners or the latest innovations in the game, the scandals of the poker world tend to get the greatest overall attention.
Some people like drama, others are fascinated by the “other side” of the game and others enjoy seeing a good train wreck. There’s always going to be drama and scandal in the poker world and below we have compiled a list of the 13 top poker scandals of the last decade.
Editors Note: This list was whittled down from a list of over 20. There were a couple of dozen “minor scandals” that we didn’t even put on the list. If there is a scandal you feel should be on the list, feel free to comment below or on Twitter.
Read More: Looking Back: 10 Years Ago in Online Poker
AbsoluteBet – UltimateBet Superuser Scandals
Perhaps the most famous case of online cheating in online poker history, this scandal dates back to September 2007 when players started accusing the site of having superuser accounts.
These accounts could see the hole cards of other players. Hand histories for the infamous POTRIPPER account all but proved the existence of such an account. Absolute Poker would later admit that such accounts existed. The site then repaid over $1.6 million to players and paid a hefty fine.
UltimateBet has similar allegations that started in January 2008 after suspicious activity was reported from the account of “NioNio.” After an investigation, it was discovered that cheating had occurred from January 2005 through December 2007.
The Kahnawake Gaming Commission conducted a thorough investigation and determined that the ultimate mastermind behind the cheating scandals at UltimateBet was 1994 WSOP Main Event Champion Russ Hamilton. His scheme cost UltimateBet over $22 million.
Hamilton even admitted to cheating players out of millions. In 2013, a recording from a private meeting was released online that included Hamilton. He admitted the following:
“I did take this money and I’m not trying to make it right, so we’ve got to get that out of the way real quick.”
To this date, Hamilton has kept true to his word and not attempted to repay any funds stolen from players. He has effectively been blackballed from the poker world and has only been seen a handful of times playing poker since.
Most everyone knows this story. On April 11, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker on violations of the UIGEA and operating an illegal gambling business. Eleven defendants were named as part of that indictment.
Two out of the three sites went out of business because of Black Friday. Absolute Poker’s parent company filed for bankruptcy and hasn’t been heard from again. Full Tilt squandered nearly $400 million in worldwide deposits and shut down as well.
The only company that paid their players was PokerStars. Later, PokerStars settled with the DOJ for $731 million. As part of that settlement, they received the assets of Full Tilt Poker and agreed to repay Full Tilt’s ROW players. American players had to file for reimbursement through the DOJ.
The global online poker landscape changed forever that day. Many players lost their livelihoods or were forced to change their career path. Some lost everything, at least financially, that day. Many were able to recover, especially after the Full Tilt reimbursements. Others were forced to leave the game altogether.
For those that are new to poker, you may have never heard of the controversies surrounding Pitbull Poker. The site ran from 2004 to 2009 and was originally a “no download” site. This small site was famous for bonus abusers, but things went south quickly once superusers were discovered on the site.
At least three superuser accounts were discovered on the site and there were multiple documented instances of pot shaving. For those unfamiliar with that term, pot shaving is when a portion of a pot disappears in addition to the standard rake collected by a site.
Pitbull Poker shut down for good on September 29, 2009 when employees at the Costa Rican office were told to take the night off for building maintenance. Some became suspicious and went back to the office to discover the site owners loading equipment into a moving truck.
There were reports that the Costa Rican police got involved, but nothing ever developed. It is unknown at this time how much money the site actually stole from players but the site still serves as a cautionary tale about online poker’s dark days.
Original Multi-Accounting Scandals (JJprodigy – ZeeJustin)
While there have been many players accused of multi-accounting over the years, the first instances of players getting caught at playing with multiple accounts happened back in 2006. The first and still one of the most famous cases of multi-accounting was discovered in February 2006 when Josh Field played the $500,000 Sunday Tournament on PartyPoker under two accounts.
He played the event under the accounts JJprodigy and Ablackcar and subsequently won the event under the latter. Field was able to exploit a flaw in the program that allowed you to open multiple windows and login with multiple accounts. Field actually bragged about playing with multiple accounts during the event which led to the investigation. PartyPoker froze the Ablackcar account and confiscated over $180,000 in funds. It was later revealed that he had several account on PartyPoker.
After the JJprodigy scandal, online poker rooms started cracking down on players and Justin Bonomo was the next major player caught multi-accounting. Playing primarily under ZeeJustin, he was mutli-accounting on both PartyPoker and PokerStars. He had six accounts on PartyPoker and used all six to enter a single tournament. PartyPoker confiscated over $100,000 from his account. PokerStars would later revoke funds from his account and used those funds to repay players potentially harmed by his actions.
Bonomo was subsequently suspended from PartyPoker and PokerStars and Field was banned from a majority of online poker rooms. The path that the two players took afterwards was drastically different. Bonomo quit his multi-accounting and went on to rehab his image. PokerStars event reinstated his account in 2009.
Field on the other hand has been involved in multiple scandals over the years and even was slapped with a live tournament ban by PokerStars. He is presently banned from most major online poker rooms with little chance of ever getting reinstated.
Lock Poker is an unfortunately a recent throwback to the dark days of online poker. The site went down in April 2015 after two years of complaints from players over lack of payment. According to reports, the site hadn’t processed payments to players for a year prior to their closure.
Lock Poker’s owner Jen Larsen is partially blamed for the demise. According to a Pokerfuse interview with former company spokesman Shane Bridges, Larsen was funding her lifestyle with player funds. Other issues included difficulties in retaining decent payment processors and constant network changes.
Bridges believed that the beginning of the end was in early 2013 but he kept quiet on the matter until early 2015. By then it was too little too late. Lock Poker shut down owing anywhere from $15 to $24 million to players. Many of the former Lock Poker pros are still being ostracized for their past association, including former WSOP-E Main Event Champion Annette Obrestad.
Portugal Poker Prodigy “Girah” Admits to Cheating
Back in 2010, the poker world was enamored with 18-year-old Jose “Girah” Macedo out of Portugal. He was heralded as a “prodigy” of online poker and even secured a sponsorship by Lock Poker. Then things started going south for the so-called “Portuguese Poker Prodigy.”
He started convincing certain players to play against a player on the iPoker network by the name of “sauron1989” and insisted that he live sweat their play via Skype. When his friends went to play sauron, he played masterfully and after a while they realized that he was playing “too well.”
They later discovered that sauron1989 would log out just before Girah logged on. This all but confirmed their suspicions that Macado was scamming them and using Skype as his own form of a superuser account.
Macado later admitted to his deed, apologized and said he would pay players back with interest. A year after being declared as a poker prodigy, he left the poker world.
Of course, this isn’t the only scandal involving Girah. He was also part of a highly publicized chip dumping scandal with Haseeb “DogisHead” Qureshi. Qureshi dumped over $100,000 to Girah back in April 2011, allowing Girah to win the Lock Poker BLUFF Challenge.
Girah also was guilty of multi-accounting after playing on accounts owned by Qureshi. At one point, Dan “Jungleman12” Cates admitted to logging on and playing as Girah. Between chip dumping, multi-accounting and cheating, one has to wonder how much real ability that Girah really had to start with.
In 2014, it was reported that Girah had started a cleaning service in the U.K. Hopefully he has truly cleaned up his act.
Christian Lusardi Introduces Counterfeit Chips into 2014 Borgata Poker Winter Open
Back in January 2014, the opening event of the 2014 Borgata Poker Winter Open was suspended and subsequently cancelled after the discovery of counterfeit chips. The event had a $2 million guarantee and a top prize of $372,123.
Christian Lusardi was ultimately identified as the culprit. After busting out of the event, Lusardi got nervous and tried to dispose of his remaining counterfeit chips by flushing them down a toilet. He had over 500 chips in his room totaling over 2 million. His attempts to get rid of those chips clogged up the plumbing of Harrah’s Casino Hotel and led to his quick arrest.
Lusardi was sentenced in October 2015 to five years in prison. He must also pay restitution of $463,540 to the Borgata and $9,455 to Harrahs. Chances are they won’t ever see a dime of it because he owes over $1.1 million in restitution for a different conviction from running an international DVD bootleg operation.
Jamie Gold Stiffs Back $6 Million
In 2006, Jamie Gold won the largest World Series of Poker Main Event in history for $12 million. Prior to the Main Event, Gold had signed a contract with Bodog.com Entertainment to find celebrities to play in the event. Gold partnered with Crispin Leyser for this job and in exchange for services rendered, Gold was to receive his entry into the Main Event and split his winnings.
Gold went on to win the Main Event in epic fashion but when it came time for him to settle up with Leyser, he decided to keep the $12 million for himself. Leyser later would sue Gold and was able to successfully block Gold from receiving $6 million of his winnings while the matter played out in court.
Gold and Leyser would settle their matter in early 2007. This settlement came after a U.S. Circuit Court judge refused to block the restraining order against the $6 million because he felt that Leyser was likely to prevail in the case.
Greg Raymer Busted in Prostitution Bust
Back in March 2013, 2004 WSOP Main Event Champion Greg Raymer was arrested as part of a prostitution sting in Wake Forest, NC. Raymer and others had responded to an ad on a popular site used by prostitutes and was charged with solicitation. Charges were later dropped against Raymer after he agreed to perform 75 hours of community service and go to counseling.
While poker players have been charged with, and actually committed, worse crimes in the past, this story received added attention because of the way it was originally portrayed. When the story was originally reported, Raymer was said to have been part of a “male prostitution” bust, making it seem that Raymer had taken up a side-gig from poker. That wasn’t the case and later reports corrected this error.
Jonathan Epstein Makes 2011 WSOP Ladies Event Final Table
In 2011, Jonathan Epstein made history but in a way poker historians would love to have erased from the record books. He made the final table of the Ladies World Championship at the World Series of Poker.
Epstein entered the final table and was mercilessly booed and catcalled by the women and railbirds in attendance and cheered when he busted out in 9th place. Even the WSOP official calling the action at the final table joined in the taunting.
WSOP official took quick action to try and prevent such a scenario from ever happening again. Starting in 2012, the Ladies World Championship became a $10,000 buy-in with a “discount” of $9,000 to female players.
Isildur1 Suffers Massive Loss After Players Share Data Mined Hands
The mysterious Isildur1 (later revealed to be Viktor Blom) exploded on the high stakes online poker scene in late 2009 when he ran up over $6 million in earnings. His swings after that time were epic, including a $4.2 million loss to Brian Hastings on December 8, 2009. This was the single greatest single day loss by a player and the single greatest single day win by a player in online poker history.
It was later discovered that Brian Hastings, Brian Townsend and Cole South had worked together to devise a strategy against Isildur1. They data mined over 30,000 of his hands and that information ultimately led to Isildur1’s massive loss.
This stirred tremendous controversy over the use of data mining of player hands and Townsend actually had his Full Tilt Red Pro status suspended for 30 days following the incident. Data mining has remained an issue among online poker players and many sites are now taking steps to limit data mining. Unfortunately, those steps won help Isildur1 recover his $4.2 million lost.
TheVOid Disqualified After Winning 2007 WCOOP Main Event
In 2007, TheVOid defeated 2,998 players to win the WCOOP Main Event title and $1.37 million. The account was owned by Natalie Teltscher, the sister of pro Mark Teltscher. Some players complained that it was Mark that was playing and not Natalie and PokerStars began in investigation.
It was later determined that Mark had been multi-accounting on PokerStars under several alias, including TheVOid. They subsequently disqualified TheVOid and everyone moved up one space in payouts. This included Vanessa Rousso who moved up from third to runner-up, earning over $700k.
Natalie Teltscher later tried to sue PokerStars over the disqualification but she later admitted that she had “an agent” play under her account for her. This still put her in violation of PokerStars’ TOS and she withdrew her lawsuit.
Epic Poker League
In 2011, the Epic Poker League was formed to become the “PGA of Professional Poker.” Players earned membership cards based on their live tournament history. Other players could win their way into playing EPL events by finishing in the top 9 of the Pro-Am event held at each stop prior to the Main Event. The first season was to have four event stops leading up to a $1 million freeroll.
Federated Sport + Gaming was the company responsible for operating the Epic Poker League. Plans for the league began prior to Black Friday and the fallout from Black Friday really hindered the league’s ability to advertise and make money. As a result, the league only held three of their four scheduled events prior to filing for bankruptcy.
The company was later liquidated and sold to Pinnacle Entertainment. As the primary faces of the company, Annie Duke and former WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack were largely blamed for the failing of the Epic Poker League. Both have since moved on from poker. Pollack is currently serving as a special advisor for the San Diego Chargers and Duke is running her own company promoting Decision Science.