When you log onto an online poker site, you’re doing so with the intention of playing fair games. However, you may occasionally worry that you’re getting scammed.
Perhaps the worst feared scam of all involves playing a rigged game. Nothing in online poker is more rigged than a game where somebody else can see your hole cards.
Unsavory individuals have used special software to see opponent’s cards. Dubbed “superusers,” these players use their position at a poker site to cheat customers.
I’m going to cover three online poker rooms that have featured insider-cheating scandals. I’ll also cover more on superusers if you’re new to this concept.
What Is a Superuser?
Contrary to what some poker players may believe, the term superuser isn’t exclusive to real money online poker. Instead, it denotes an administrator who has access to a computer system’s root account.
The root account grants complete access to a system. It allows superusers to write files on a system, act as any user, install/remove software, and upgrade the operating system.
Any company, from Amazon to BMW, needs to completely trust the administrators. An online poker room must confide in superusers to not play on the site.
For example, account that has a 90% VPIP and wins 30bb per hour is almost assuredly superusing. Nobody profitably sees this many flops or wins 30bb each hour.
Players don’t need to rely on ridiculous stats in every instance. They can also check out a suspected cheater’s hand histories (if accessible). A player who rarely or never calls with a worse hand presents another superuser case.
What Online Poker Sites Have Had Superuser Scandals?
Luckily, the internet poker world hasn’t featured many superuser cases. No such instance has been discovered within over a decade.
But certain individuals have been superusers on three poker sites in the past. Below, you can see the famous and not-so-famous culprits.
1 – UltimateBet Poker
UltimateBet Poker was the hot spot before the fall of high-stakes online poker. Famed pros like Patrik Antonius, Brad Booth, Prahlad Friedman, and Mike Matusow played the UB nosebleeds daily.
However, the site’s reputation began unraveling in 2008. Multiple players reported suspicious behavior from an account called “NioNio.”
UltimateBet initially tried keeping the incident under wraps and claimed that nothing was awry. They became exposed, though, when an anonymous company insider emailed NioNio’s hand histories to one of the victims.
The poker community now had proof of the fraud. UltimateBet released a follow-up statement claiming that cheating occurred from January 2005 to December 2007.
Their licensing authority, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission (KGC), conducted another investigation. They discovered that the cheating actually spanned from May 2004 to January 2008.
The KGC also found that Russ Hamilton was primarily responsible for the cheating. He used the NioNio account, among others, to bilk high-stakes players out of millions.
A KGC report estimates that Hamilton won a combined $22.1 million with a superuser account. However, the actual figure could even be higher. The licensing body fined UltimateBet $1.5 million and required them to repay the affected victims.
Via leaked audiotapes, evidence reveals that Hamilton was the main perpetrator. But Greg Pierson, a key figurehead behind the site, was also outed on the tapes.
Pierson discussed scenarios for how they could undergo damage control and refund as few players as possible. That said, UltimateBet was crooked from the top down.
2 – Absolute Poker
Scott Tom, via an investment from his father, Phil, launched Absolute Poker in 2003. He and his University of Montana fraternity brothers ran the site.
Absolute made big profits during the poker boom. However, they became the first official superuser case in 2007.
Players on poker forums began sharing hand histories with each other and claiming that they’d been cheated. Everything led back to an account called “POTRIPPER.” This account won at an astronomically high rate. Much like NioNio, it also made the right decision in every instance.
Faced with insurmountable evidence, Absolute Poker admitted that a “trusted consultant” cheated via a superuser account. They repaid $1.6 million to affected players along with a $500,000 fine to the KGC.
Interestingly enough, Absolute Poker would purchase UltimateBet (later “UB) and form the Cereus Network. Cereus closed shortly after Black Friday (April 15, 2011) while owing players an estimated $45 million.
Poker news outlets suggested that Tom could’ve been behind the POTRIPPER account. However, nothing concrete linked him to the cheating.
3 – Pitbull Poker
Pitbull Poker never attained the same prominence as Absolute or UB Poker. As a result, their superuser scandal is less notable.
However, Pitbull may have been even more corrupt than either site. Running from 2004 to 2009, this operation featured poor site security, bad customer service, and even stole players’ money.
Not surprisingly, they also feature a superuser incident. A forum user named “Chesterboy” complained that Pitbull Poker cheated him. He felt that the site’s games were rigged and asked for his hand histories. Pitbull Poker only released 1,000 hand histories and banned Chesterboy when he demanded more.
Other players came forth with accusations to help initiate a community wide investigation. They collectively outed three suspected superuser account and found instances of “pot shaving” and “stack shaving.”
The former refers to when a small portion of the pot disappears along with rake collected from hands. Stack shaving is when part of a player’s chip stack disappears between hands.
Accusers claimed that anywhere from $0.02 to $0.25 would disappear from a pot or their chip stack. These amounts are small, but not small enough to where they totally evaded players’ watchful eyes.
Pitbull Poker admitted that “errors” had occurred with regard to stack shaving. They promised that affected players would be reimbursed.
However, the site refused to admit that superusing occurred on their site. Just like with the UltimateBet and Absolute controversies, players produced hand histories that indicated superuser activity.
One forum user even claimed that they could see one hole card from another player. They alleged that Pitbull was running faulty software. Meanwhile, Pitbull Poker merely fielded complaints and did little to rectify the situation. In September 2009, they shut down without repaying players.
Suspicious workers went to the site’s Costa Rican office at night. They discovered the owners loading up computer equipment then vanishing into the night.
Do You Still Need to Worry About Superusers?
The three known superuser incidents covered above all occurred in 2008 or before. These scandals happened in unregulated markets at a time when online poker was still in its earlier stages.
Today, poker sites are more diligent about obtaining third-party auditing. They hire testing labs to review their software and ensure that it’s up to code. In turn, testing labs offer certification that the poker sites are indeed running fair-and-random games.
Of course, some poker rooms don’t seek third-party certification. They may not even obtain licensing either.
Absolute, Pitbull, and UltimateBet never truly recovered from their scandals. Pitbull, which already had low traffic to begin with, lost their remaining player pool after the superuser allegations.
Of course, a corrupt administrator could still super use. However, no such occurrences have happened within recent years.
Every company with a computer system feature superusers. These administrators are entrusted with sensitive information and abilities.
Unfortunately, some online poker administrators have abused their privileges. They’ve used their access to see opponents’ hole cards and make a killing.
Russ Hamilton is the only known person to get caught superusing. The KGC found Hamilton to be the primary culprit behind cheating UB players out of $22 million.
Speculation suggests that Scott Tom was behind the Absolute Poker superuser debacle. However, the former Absolute owner has never been undeniably linked to the cheating.
No names have ever been mentioned in connection with Pitbull Poker’s superusing. The site itself failed to confirm anything on the matter either.
Hopefully, all such superuser incidents are behind us. Poker sites and licensing jurisdictions are more diligent about third-party testing than ever before.
Of course, nothing rules out the possibility that a rogue insider could cheat again. But the chances of another superuser occurrence are lower than before.