60 Minutes to air online poker piece

Player at computer

It has been months since Nolan Dalla first broke the news for PokerListings that 60 Minutes was working on a piece about online gambling and the Absolute Poker cheating scandal. Now that piece is finally set to air on the program on Sunday at 7 p.m. ET, according to CBS.

CBS posted a preview of the 60 Minutes news story this week online with the title "How Online Gamblers Unmasked Cheaters."

According to the preview, 60 Minutes and the Washington Post collaborated on a four-month investigation into the cheating allegations and the online gambling industry to produce the piece which "reveals how online poker players suspecting cheating were forced to successfully ferret out the cheaters themselves."

The incident the news organizations looked into was the cheating scandal at Absolute Poker. The poker site came under the microscope in the latter part of 2007, when allegations surfaced online that someone at the poker site seemed to have an unfair advantage while playing.

The cheating was discovered when a player requested a hand history from a tournament and was somehow given the hand history for everyone during the entire tournament.

When analyzed, the history showed that a certain player had made the correct decision on every hand he played, which would be statistically improbable.

Todd Witteles was one of the online players who played a key detective role in the incident according to 60 Minutes.  His suspicions were aroused when he was losing too much money to the same person.

"He was raising, just really, really bad hands against very good hands. He seemed to play crazy," Witteles says in the 60 Minutes preview video. "It seemed like he was giving his money away. Except the only thing was, he wasn't losing. He was playing in a style that was sure to lose, but he was killing the game day after day."

It turns out players' suspicions were correct. A player on the inside at Absolute Poker had breached the security system to be able to see everyone's hole cards while he played. This went on for six weeks.

Initially Absolute Poker said an internal investigation had revealed nothing wrong, but the information surfacing from online players made the poker site take another look.

The Kahnawake Gaming Commission, where the poker site is licensed and regulated, also launched an investigation into the matter.

The KGC report confirmed in January 2008 what Absolute Poker's own investigation had found, that an employee had breached the security system and played unfairly on the poker site for approximately six weeks. There was no evidence to show that the poker site itself had sanctioned, initiated or benefited from the unfair play.

Absolute Poker was, however, found to have failed to contact the KGC within 24 hours after becoming aware that cheating activities had occurred. The poker site was fined and will be subject to random audits for the next two years.

When Nolan Dalla broke the news about 60 Minutes covering the incident, he said, "In some ways, mass exposure of this creep on 60 Minutes would be absolute justice. A few months spent suffering in Guantanamo would be even more ideal. Trouble is, the casual uninformed viewer of such a segment is not going to differentiate between creeps like him and the millions of honest and decent online poker players worldwide who enjoy playing poker in their own homes.

Nolan Dalla
Nolan Dalla worries online poker will be portrayed in a bad light.

"Indeed, I fear the target is not going to be the creep, or Absolute Poker (which deserves scrutiny) - but rather the entire online poker industry."

Dalla went on to say he's worried the industry in general will be portrayed as a slimy, unregulated, corrupt band of outlaws operating outside the boundaries of the law or justice.

"Never mind that many online sites are publicly traded companies with top-flight managers and personnel, and are strictly regulated within their host countries," he says. "Perception and reality are two completely different things."

It doesn't help that since then, Absolute Poker's sister site UltimateBet has also come under scrutiny for similar cheating allegations.

In the UltimateBet case, the KGC concluded that former WSOP Main Event winner Russell Hamilton, who was formerly a part of the poker site's affiliate program, was the main person responsible for the cheating incidents.

Many people in the poker industry see these incidents as proof that the United States needs to regulate the industry rather than trying to ban it. After the UltimateBet news came out, Alfonse D'Amato, Poker Players Alliance chairman, released a statement condemning the cheating but pointing out the need for better regulation.

"The recent cheating scandals underscore the need for U.S. licensing and regulation of online poker to help protect consumers. While even the most highly regulated industries are susceptible to fraud and abuse, regulation does provide assurances that when consumers are harmed they have recourse," D'Amato said.

"Further, it is abundantly clear that regulation will also address other consumer concerns by successfully providing ways to bar access by children to gambling Web sites and providing the necessary services for problem gamblers."

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