Greed and Ultimate Bet: How the Bad Guys Won
THE WEEKLY SHUFFLE, 2011-05-08, by OzoneLast week was a rough one for any U.S. poker players holding out hope that they might one day be reunited with their money on UB or Absolute Poker ("UB"). On Wednesday, an MSNBC article reported that a UB debt holder is filing for bankruptcy in Norway after being informed by Blanca Games, owners of UB, that they have, "no cash on hand and no prospects for any cash flow for the foreseeable future."
In other words, UB is broke. Or at least that's what they want their debt-holders to think.
A day later, in an attempt to squash the panic that arose from news that they laid off 95% of their staff and told a debt-holder they have no cash, Blanca Games issued a press release confirming that they terminated their relationship with the Norwegian debt-holder but claiming that the news has no negative impact on the company. Additionally, they announced an increase in maximum weekly withdraw limits for non-U.S. players to $500, or $1,000 for Visa withdraws, from the previous level of $250.
What appears to be happening at UB is this (note that this is merely speculation, it's impossible to know exactly what's going on inside the company): they have some cash, but not much. Whatever cash they have is quite possibly less than the amount they owe to their U.S. customers and/or debt holders. And its certainly not enough to battle the DOJ and pay any subsequent fines. They are trying to use what little cash they have to raise more cash.
Use the money salvaged from purging their obligation to a major debt-holder to increase cashout limits for their non-U.S. customers to establish some pittance of reassurance that maybe, just maybe, money really is safe at UB. Use this reassurance to continue grabbing cash from the non-U.S. customers still foolish enough to play at their site. And if there is a god, maybe, just maybe, they will work their way out of this one day by raising enough funds to reimburse U.S. customers while continuing to service non-U.S. clients.
This plan will not work. UB is a house of cards and the only people who believe otherwise are paid shills. Taking a look at the long, slow train-wreck that is UB, there are some lessons to be learned. How is it that a few years after a widely publicized scandal that the company is still in business and able to continue lying to and scamming online poker players? How has UB survived to continue giving poker a bad name?
The answer? Greed.
There are plenty of people with blood on their hands for having helped keep UB afloat in the wake of a massive cheating scandal. Rather than doing their part to ensure the company was cast into oblivion, many people exchanged their values for dollars by shilling and apologizing for a company that should have died a swift death in 2008.
Let's put a spotlight on some of these people.
Poker Media (Affiliates/Advertisers)
Countless poker media outlets, many of which reported extensively on the superuser scandal, have generated handsome revenue by running ads for UB. These media outlets have a responsibility to their readers and the game of poker. They do, after all, profit handsomely by producing poker content. It's in their best interests to do what they can to create a positive, lasting image of poker in the minds of their readers.
When poker media platforms do things like run a UB ad next to a sentence in which they state it's a "gloomy outlook at best" that U.S. players get their money back from UB, it makes the game look like a joke. And almost all major poker news organizations are guilty of this crime. PokerNews.com, Bluff Magazine, PokerNewsDaily.com, CardPlayer.com, and dozens more have all generated fantastic revenue from sending their readers to a poker room that any active observer would be forced to conclude is not trustworthy.
None of these media outlets chose to say "no thanks" to the money UB was waving at them by instead choosing to advertise exclusively for honest poker organizations. They could have even made this decision public and thereby increased the value of their reputation and integrity.
Every single one of UB's current sponsored pros signed with the site after the company scammed their peers out of millions of dollars by using an unauthorized software code that allowed insiders to see all of their opponents' hole cards. These people didn't care. Dollar signs and a chance at having their picture on the side of a bus blinded their sense of decency or loyalty to a game that enriched their lives immensely.
Prahlad Friedman's willingness to represent UB is laughable. The man should write a book titled, "How to Crater Your Public Image in Extraordinary Fashion". Friedman was one of the principal victims of the cheating scandal at UB from 2005-2007. He was scammed out of millions at high stakes tables and eventually turned around and agreed to endorse the same organization that cheated him.
He was a loyal spokesperson, too, vigorously taking up the cause of returning UB to its good old days. He explained his willingness to endorse UB by telling anyone who would listen that cheating was a normal and natural part of poker. He was so blinded by the money that he sold out his principles and lovingly tried to convince people to support the same company that had robbed him.
Eric Baldwin, on the heels of an extraordinary 2009 in which he won Card Player Magazine Player of the Year honors, also decided to sign with UB. Evidently, Baldwin did not stop to think how his new-found success and fame in the poker world made him a role model for hundreds, if not thousands of aspiring players hoping to duplicate his success. More than $1.5 million in tournament cashes in 2009 was not enough for Baldwin. He needed more. And so he agreed to become a UB sponsored pro and bear their logo at all tournament and TV appearances.
There's also Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke. The fact that they parted ways with UB in December does not take them off the hook. As two of the most visible poker pros in the world, each of them remained totally mum after the superuser scandal while continuing to cash their UB shill checks. Either one of them could have dealt UB a massive blow by saying that they could not in good conscience continue to represent an illegitimate criminal organization. Each of them have more than enough wealth to absorb the costs of any lawsuit they might have encountered from publicly turning their backs on their sponsor. Make no mistake about it: Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke each have countless hundreds of thousands of dollars in their bank accounts for dawning their UB patches on television appearances after the superuser scandal.
Finally, there is Joe Sebok who used his status as the step-son of Barry Greenstein as a springboard to poker notoriety. Sebok carefully constructed for himself an image as a voice of the game. He helped build PokerRoad.com from the ground up. He parlayed that exposure into a gig as cohost of the television program Poker2Nite. Then, in a controversial September 2009 move, Sebok announced he signed with UB and in doing so promised to, "work vigilantly to make sure that all of the facts continue to come out regarding the past scandal." Unlike Hellmuth or Duke or anyone else, Sebok publicly positioned himself to be a watchdog and make changes within UB.
Nearly two years after that promise, Sebok has done nothing in the way of helping the company repair the damage they created from the cheating scandal. He has accomplished the opposite of what he claimed he would do. He has created more lies, displaced blame, made it impossible to get accurate info, and has even resorted to blackmailing to defend the criminals giving him his handsome allowance. He is either willfully ignorant or extremely dumb. Take your pick.
Sebok parlayed his high-profile status in the poker world and one million followers on Twitter to drive countless aspiring new players to UB. As a direct result of putting their faith in Sebok, many of these players have money on UB that they will never see again. Sebok would do well to offer an apology for throwing these players and their money under the bus in the pursuit of greed. He could go a long way in repairing his image by offering up the sum of the money he's acquired through his loathsome shilling for UB, rumored by some to be $30,000 every month, to reimburse players he led to a criminal organization.
The bad guys won. UB got caught with their pants down in front of the whole poker world but persevered on the backs of others' greed. They blatantly cheated players out of millions, lied to the poker world about having restructured management, and somehow, absurdly, survived. They lived to scam and victimize another day because the poker world was willing to champion them for one simple reason: greed.
Hundreds of people consisting of sponsored pros and advertisers threw the poker world under the bus in exchange for more money, a nicer house, more cars, more vacations, a bigger bank account, etc. These luxuries were paid for with money stolen from online poker players by an illegitimate criminal organization. Each and every person who earned a dime advertising for UB since 2008 has done the poker world a great disservice. Sebok turned the value of his reputation into the value of his deal with UB. Friedman turned his hippie values into the value of his deal with UB. Card Player Magazine, Bluff Magazine, PokerNews.com, PokerNewsDaily.com, and countless other media outlets sold out the integrity of the poker industry for the value of ad dollars.
The dump trucks of money blinded these people.
Poker has to fight for every shred of legitimate status it enjoys. All over the world, the game is battling to be recognized and treated as the great, skill-based activity that it is. The people who helped keep UB afloat have lent considerable credibility to the perception that poker is shady and illegitimate. They have sold out the betterment of the poker world for their own personal gain.
A special thanks to Shane Schleger for his help in editing this piece.
The Weekly Shuffle is our Sunday column with our observations and commentary on the poker world. Have an idea for an article? Leave a suggestion on the feedback page.
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