During the late 1990s, a group of students at the University of Montana were bonding as fraternity brothers in Sigma Alpha Epilson.
Included in this group were Scott Tom, Brent Beckley, Garin Gustafson, Pete Barovich, Shane Blackford, and Oscar Hilt Tatum IV. These were the young men who would go on to be involved in the creation Absolute Poker.
Scott Tom and Garin Gustafson were already keen poker players and it’s believed they were watching the fledgling online gambling industry develop with interest. Seeing what the early sites had to offer, they believed they could do better.
Together with their friends they decided to create their own poker site, Absolute Poker.
Their initial success was probably well beyond their wildest dreams as the site began to make serious money.
Scott and Phil Tom
Scott Tom is generally considered to have been the driving force behind the launch of Absolute Poker. Along with the others, he moved to the gambling friendly region of Costa Rica, and it was there that their new company was formed.
According to a number of reports his father, Phil Tom, a portfolio manager by trade, provided some of the required financial backing.
Scott, who was managing the company, and his friends are said to have lived a wild life of luxury as Absolute Poker was an initial success.
It’s also believed that his plan was to take the company public and stage an Initial Price Offering.
However, in 2006 the legal landscape for online poker was changing and allegedly these plans were shelved and Scott instead sold the company to Tokwiro Enterprises.
In 2007, Absolute Poker was hit by a cheating scandal. The poker playing community had begun to suspect that all was not right as the poker site and a number of amateur sleuths started to investigate what was going on.
Eventually it was discovered that at least one account at the site was able to view the whole cards of other players, and this account had been used to cheat unsuspecting players out of millions of dollars.
The unofficial investigations that had taken place managed to link this rogue account to Scott Tom. After a subsequent investigation by Absolute Poker it was announced that Tom had not been involved in the cheating, although the poker community remained skeptical.
The site had previously put out a statement that Tom had not been working at the site for over a year, but it was discovered that he been involved in day to day operations during the cheating scandal.
Following a formal investigation by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, it was announced that Absolute Poker as a corporate entity wasn’t directly responsible for the cheating and had not benefited from it.
No individuals were named as being specifically responsible for the cheating, although speculation continued that Scott Tom was behind it. There were also rumors that it was in fact a friend of his, A.J. Green.
During the cheating scandal Phil Tom defended his son in many interviews, claiming that his son was being unfairly accused. He also had to deny rumors that surfaced in 2008, suggesting that he had been indicted, along with his son, for his involvement in the cheating scandal.
His son was actually indicted later, in 2011, on charges including bank fraud and money laundering. These charges were related to the operations of Absolute Poker in serving US players.
Scott Tom, to date, hasn’t answered these charges. He’s believed to currently reside in Anitigua, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation considers him “at large”.
Another of the Absolute Poker founders, Brent Beckley, was also indicted at the same time as Scott Tom. In December 2011 he pleaded guilty to criminal charges that included conspiracy to commit bank fraud and wire fraud.
He admitted that Absolute Poker had disguised banking transactions to facilitate their operation as a gambling site.
In July 2012 Beckley was given a 14 month prison sentence. It’s believed this relatively light sentence was due to his cooperation with the authorities.
He was released in 2013 after serving around 10 months in prison, and now lives in Toronto, Canada.
Straight Flush by Ben Mezrich
In 2013, author Ben Mezrich released his latest book, Straight Flush : The True Story of Six College Friends Who Dealt Their Way to a Billion Dollar Poker Empire and How It All Came Crashing Down.
In this book he tells the tale about Absolute Poker and its founders. The author has received some criticism for not telling the whole story, particularly in relation to the cheating scandal.