My Reaction to the 60 Minutes Story Part 3

8 December 2008, Created By: Nolan Dalla
My Reaction to the <i>60 Minutes</i> Story Part 3
Poker industry expert Nolan Dalla sheds light on the recent 60 Minutes piece "The Cheaters" in part 3 of this three-part series.

Editor's note: Bring yourself up to speed with part 1 and part 2 of this series.

About halfway into the segment, the story shifted to Canada. Appropriately, 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft and his film crew traveled to the Kahnawake Indian reserve, which is near Montreal, Quebec. According to the report, the Kahnawake nation houses 60% of the world's online gambling computer networks.

After Kroft noted that the Indian tribe has no experience whatsoever in casino operations or enforcing regulations, Kahnawake Chief Mike Delisle appeared on camera and confirmed everyone's worst perceptions that he's little more than a bagman for the industry.

Perhaps the Chief said some interesting things which unfortunately ended up on the cutting room floor. If so, poor him. And, poor us. But the only purpose he really served was reinforcing the notion that the industry doesn't answer to any real authorities. One wishes he would have declined 60 Minutes' request for an interview. Next time, call in sick, Chief.

Next, Kroft showed us the data center which houses most of online poker's operations. It was described as a "nondescript building" that "used to be a mattress factory." The comment about the building's former purpose was intended to further discredit the industry and its methods of operation.

Scott Seiver
Save the Internet pokers!

Unsatisfied with leaving it at that, the program showed Kroft driving what appeared to be a rental car on the street out in front of the building. "This takes nondescript to an entirely different level," he joked with his Washington Post colleague.

Perhaps 60 Minutes was going for entertainment value here, but this was a real cheap shot. Visit any data center just about anywhere, and you are going to see a "nondescript building."

For the record, I recently entered a very bland looking building located near downtown Las Vegas. It had no windows. There were no signs or services. There was one lone employee on staff. Among its many highly respected occupants was the entire data operation for The Wynn Casino. Memo to Kroft: Data centers are not sexy places.

The Kahnawake Gaming Commission became the subject of the following segment. It's hard to imagine a more negligent governing body than this band of ghosts, who are essentially out of the public eye and are shielded from any oversight or intrusion.

Even the Tribal Chief doesn't have any power over the three nameless souls who constitute the so-called "Commission."

Frank Catania, a former New Jersey's Gaming Enforcement Division official, came on next. He was hired by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission to investigate the online cheating scandal at AP and gradually helped to uncover Russ Hamilton's apparent involvement at Ultimate Bet.

One wishes that 60 Minutes would have used this precious closing minute to cite the issue of legalization inside the U.S. market - which could then provide proper licensing and regulation for this "murky" industry. Instead, sadly, a piling-on effect began, as another scandal was shown, with former poker champ Russ Hamilton being portrayed as a cross between John Dillinger and an Enron executive.

Isaac Baron
Please Jebus, make the bad laws go away.

There's an old saying that you can steal more money with a fountain pen than a gun. Perhaps in today's parlance, that should now be a computer mouse. Of course, Hamilton does himself no favors by keeping mysteriously silent. And (whether guilty or not) he deserves our scrutiny for offering what is perhaps the most abominable lack of a self-defense in recent memory. Even wacky Ted Bundy presented a better case for his own defense, and he got the death penalty.

One of the final scenes of the segment showed Kroft sitting comfortably in his New York office trying to reach Russ Hamilton by telephone. This was a wasted opportunity. For decades, 60 Minutes made its name as a torchbearer of great investigative journalism, by directly confronting the guilty bastards - whether hiding out in parking lots, barging into cluttered offices or thrusting microphones in a suspect's bamboozled face - leaving the hopeless unprepared victim to look idiotic and guilty.

I have nothing against Hamilton, but a guilty pleasure would most certainly have been satisfied to have seen the alleged online poker cheater lumbering across the fairway out on a golf course desperately scurrying away from the 60 Minutes news crew in search of a retreat.

It wouldn't have been worth $20 million - the amount Hamilton and his cohorts reportedly have stolen - in entertainment value to the unfortunate victims. But it would have been poetic justice to see the man suffer some embarrassment.

Seeing those at AB squirm might have provided a similar emotive delight. Again, if CBS could take the time fly off to Costa Rica and Canada, it seems the cheaters working at Absolute Poker could have been spotlighted.

If a top-notch news organization is going to complain that most of the cheaters have not yet been exposed or punished, why then not use the gallows of the national stage on prime-time television to dole out some justice?

The segment finally concludes with a devastating swan song, crooned by Todd Witteles, who was interviewed earlier. If anyone thought the program was reasonably accurate and balanced up to that point, or if anyone believed that the story wasn't going to be as bad as originally feared, Witteles' final devastating sonata was about as appealing as the sound of Yoko Ono's voice to rock fans.

Witteles' comments ended up being the most memorable quote of the entire story. Unfortunately, they were what most viewers will have taken away from the segment.

Witteles said:

The people who did this were very greedy and very blatant. But the scary thing is - there may be other accounts out there like this, even on other sites that are not being done with the same sense of recklessness, and maybe this has been going on at more than Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet. Maybe it's going on at several other places and maybe it's still going on at these sites.

Todd Witteles
In Todd we trust.

Witteles' comments were not only outrageous, they were reprehensible. While anything is certainly possible, to leave millions of viewers hanging now with serious questions about an entire industry, that other sites might possibly be corrupt - without any shred of credible evidence to support this accusation - is beyond ignorant.

No doubt officials at Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars and other top online poker sites must have been screaming at their television screens when they heard that comment. The implication that these entirely legitimate businesses are now doing the same things that rogue employees at two other sites have done was not only unfounded - it was slanderous.

It was an insult to the ownership, management and many hardworking employees entrusted with online security at these companies to be thrown into the same dung pile with the creeps who stole millions of dollars at Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet.

Witteles should have known better than to say what he said. And 60 Minutes should have shown greater balance by cutting out those unwarranted and very damaging remarks. He had already made his point once earlier in the show. It was not necessary to leave millions of viewers with the impression that all of the online poker operators are crooks.

Since the program aired, I have read many comments at various poker forums. Those who believe that 60 Minutes is not a mover and shaker of popular opinion, and ultimately of public policy, display an appalling adolescent understanding of how the government can dictate what happens in all of our lives.

While it's true that 275 million Americans did not watch the show, the fact is - the 25 million or so who did watch are in the most powerful elites of our nation. They are the media. They are lawmakers. They are business leaders. They are thousands of critical staff and support people. They are people who dictate what happens on issues like the UIEGA.

No doubt online poker will survive. It will prosper. Most poker sites were reportedly just as busy the day after the 60 Minutes story as the day before. Incredibly, this included activity at both AbsolutePoker and UltimateBet.

Perhaps this is because poker's real growth and future potential is not inside the U.S. It is elsewhere. Eventually, the time may come when the U.S. is no longer the leading market producing online poker players.

But for those of us stuck in the U.S. market, trapped in a senseless time warp of Big Brother dictating to us that we can't fund our online poker accounts, the 60 Minutes story was annoying.

And for those of us working passionately for online poker's legalization, not just because it's something we want in our lives but more importantly because it's a key front in the endless struggle between the forces of free thought and action versus those who wish to impose their sense of moral superiority on millions of fellow citizens, the story was frustrating. An opportunity was lost. Indeed, last Sunday night our noble task just became a bit tougher.

Nolan Dalla can be reached at:

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