History of UltimateBet (UB)
Ultimate Bet is an online poker room that runs off the Cereus Poker Network, along with its sister site, Absolute poker (AP). See here for more on the history of Absolute poker The site was founded in 2001 and acquired by its current owners Tokwiro Enterprises ENRG several years later. The site was involved in a highly publicized cheating scandal that started in 2005 and led to far reaching consequences for the Ultimate Bet. The website is now being rebranded into the name “UB.com”.
The Early Years of Ultimate Bet
As stated, Ultimate Bet was founded in 2001. Before the introduction of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act in the United States in 2006, the parent company of Ultimate Bet, known as Ecxapsa Software, traded on the London Stock Exchange and was particularly active in global markets.
Ecxapsa was incorporated in British Columbia in April 2004 and capitalized on $393 million when it went public in London.
In an August, 2006 earnings announcement, Excapsa said that it had a 20 year license agreement with the owner of Ultimate Bet, eWorld Holdings Ltd. (Antigua).
After the Bush administration passed the UIGEA, Ecxapsa Software announced that it was selling its assets, including Ultimate Bet poker room, to a private company. The group subsequently de-listed from the stock exchange, and Ultimate Bet was acquired by Tokwiro Enterprises.
Tokwiro is a private group, owned by Joseph Tokwiro Norton and based in the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, close to Montreal, Canada.
Rumors of a Cheating Scandal Brewing
In January 2008, an account at UB was showed to have impossibly high win rates, leading to the beginning of rumors that something fishy was happening at the online poker room. Statistics revealed that out of his last 14 sessions, NioNio won 13 of them and was up $135,000. His one losing session set him back a ridiculous $2,000. The statistics also showed that the player had won the games at a rate of 114 big blinds for each 100 hands out of 8000 hands in total. “As a base of comparison, the absolute best players in the world strive to win 15 bb/100,” noted one analyst.
By May 2008, players on poker forums and message boards were openly complaining about the obvious cheating scandal going on at Ultimate Bet. It was revealed that several fishy accounts were operating at the site, and Ultimate Bet was expected to make a statement on the affair. Unfortunately, the poker room did not react immediately, leading to growing frustration among poker customers.
Ultimate Bet Finally Reacts to Scandal
At the end of May 2008, Ultimate Bet finally reacted to the growing calls for an investigation into the scandal, and admitted that several accounts had managed to cheat on the site. An official press statement said that accounts belonging to “NioNio, Sleepless, NoPaddles, nvtease, flatbroke33, ilike2win, UtakeIt2, FlipFlop2, erick456, WhackMe44, RockStarLA, stoned2nite, monizzle, FireNTexas, HeadKase01, LetsPatttty, NYMobser, and WhoWhereWhen” were all involved in the cheating and further investigations were required. The site confirmed that cheating had taken place between March 2006 and December 2007 and started making $6.1 million in refunds.
Whistleblower Exposes Truth
One month later, a whistleblower, keen on bringing the cheats to justice, leaked a screen shot of Ultimate Bet’s management system, showing information about the NioNio account and a management cashier account. There was no denying, through the information received, that the cheaters had been receiving seed money from an account traced back as a management account.
Amateur sleuths on poker forums began their own investigations into the matter, and finally determined that Russ Hamilton, who may have been an owner of the site, stood at a pivotal point of the cheating scandal.
Ultimate Bet management decided to come out with another statement, this time dating back the cheating scandal prior to the March 2006 date previously given. “We have also confirmed that the cheating dates back further then we initially believed. We can now confirm that the cheating began in January 2005, long before Tokwiro Enterprises ENRG acquired UltimateBet from the previous ownership,” said the site.
In a separate poker forum debate, the Chief Executive Officer of Ultimate Bet, Paul Leggett explained by the cheaters evaded the group’s anti-fraud technology by “setting up these accounts so they appeared as VIP poker professionals. Because these players had this kind of status, they were able to get fast withdrawals and basically bypass our security.”
Kahnawake Gaming Commission Steps In
As Tokwiro embarked on its own investigations into the affair, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission appointed the former New Jersey gaming official, Frank Catania, to look into the issue of the cheating scandal. In September 2008, Catania confirmed that cheating had taken place over several years and suggested that Ultimate Bet’s license be suspended.
Although the suspension recommendation was rejected by the Gaming Commission, Ultimate Bet was nevertheless fined $1.5 million and given a couple of more months to issue refunds valued at millions of dollars.
The Kahnawake Gaming Commission announced, too, that there was very convincing evidence that Russ Hamilton, 1994 World Series of Poker main event champion, was behind the scandal. Hamilton had served as a consultant at Ultimate Bet, recruiting prominent players such as Phil Hellmuth, to promote the site. The Gaming Commission stated that between May 2004 and January 2008, Hamilton was the person responsible for the cheating scandal and benefitted from the millions of dollars lost by unsuspecting players.
Multi Million Dollar Claim
In September 2008, msnbc reported that a massive $75 million claim had been made against Excapsa Software, the previous owners of Ultimate Bet by Tokwiro Enterprises on accounts of fraud. In November of the same year, an Ontario Superior Court of Justice endorsed a settlement to the tune of $15 million. The company was ordered to pay the money to Blast Off Ltd, the Tokwiro subsidiary that had originally acquired the poker room. The money was used to refund players who were affected by the scandal.
“We are pleased that we have finally agreed to a settlement with the previous owners of UltimateBet, and we are happy to announce the completion of the final refunds to players,” said Ultimate Bet CEO, Paul Leggett after the ruling. “Together with our regulatory body, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, we have fought long and hard to hold those responsible accountable for the fraud, to refund players, and to ensure this can never happen again. Now that the main perpetrator has been named, the settlement with the previous owners is behind us, and players have received refunds, it should now be apparent that Tokwiro had no involvement in this cheating and that we have fought to correct it with every tool at our disposal.”
Ultimate Bet also stated that it reserved the right to pursue further legal action against any groups or individuals who were thought to have cheated its customers.
To date, Ross Hamilton has not been charged and he apparently resides at the Tournament Players Club in Las Vegas.
60 Minutes Investigation
In November 2008, CBS’s 60 Minutes investigative show examined the two cheating scandals that rocked Ultimate Bet and its sister site Absolute Poker. The program interviewed a number of people who were involved in the discovery of the scandals, bringing the story into mainstream view.
Ultimate Bet, keen to put the entire episode behind it, turned its attention to massive marketing efforts. In November 2008, Ultimate Bet joined with Absolute Poker to form the Cereus Poker Network, run by Tokwiro Enterprises. Today, this network is considered one of the world’s ten largest online. A common platform was developed to provide both sites with more features, larger tournaments with more players and higher guarantees. The new platform was the result of the culmination of 12 months of development and Cereus is licensed and regulated by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission.
One of the best ways to establish a new image for itself was for Ultimate Bet to concentrate on its massive tournament schedule. The site hosts, on an annual basis, the hugely popular live poker event, the Aruba Poker Classic. This tournament was a World Poker Tour event for the first four seasons of the show.
The site also runs non stop action online, ranging from single table cash poker action for $1 buy ins to huge $200K guarantees each Sunday.
A number of top professionals form part of Team UB to act as ambassadors and mouthpieces for the site. These include legendary female poker player, Annie Duke, as well as Joe Sebok, and Phil Hellmuth. The pros make regular appearances on the site and allow Ultimate Bet players to tackle them head on during games and tournaments.
Ultimate Bet is making significant progress in the online poker world, showing its determination to create an image that goes way beyond the cheating scandal that rocked its history. Clever marketing, big prizes and top poker players who serve as its ambassadors ensure that Ultimate Bet continues to strive forward in an increasingly competitive industry.