Phil Hellmuth

Phil Hellmuth Issues UltimateBet Statement: “I Made a Horrible Read”

ScreenHunter_05 May. 12 20.02

Phil Hellmuth pimping the UB gear in happier days (Source: PhilHellmuth.com)

Breaking news this fine Sunday, interrupting our planned schedule of posts.  Phil Hellmuth, via his agent Brian Balsbaugh of Poker Royalty, has issued a statement regarding Hellmuth’s long-term involvement with UltimateBet, the scandal-racked site for which Hellmuth served as the leading spokesman for over a decade.

The statement by Hellmuth was issued in response to the release on Friday by Travis Makar of secret recordings made by Russ Hamilton, of meetings between Hamilton and other UltimateBet execs discussing the insider cheating at that site.

On one of the recordings, Hamilton and the others discuss the nature of the cheating — which was led by Hamilton itself — how to minimize or hide the impact of the cheating, and what they were going to do about Hellmuth, who wasn’t involved in the actual cheating.

Here’s the statement, in its entirety, which was first published by Kevin Mathers on 2+2 this morning:

I’ve made a living off of reading people at the poker table and in the business world. Trusting my gut has allowed me to be at the top of my profession and develop a lifetime of friends and great experiences.

Unfortunately, I made a horrible read regarding my relationship with the founders of the now defunct online poker site Ultimate Bet.

I trusted their team and believed in their ability to run a first class website and business. Most importantly, I allowed them to convince me that they were honest and forthright. I’ve never been more wrong about anything in my life.

When I became aware of the cheating scandal, I immediately insisted that everyone be paid back and whoever was responsible be banished from the company. At the time, I was led to believe that if I left UB right away the business would be impacted and then less likely to pay it’s obligations to the victims. As such, I made the decision to believe the leaders of UB and stayed on in the hopes that they would make right to anyone cheated.

Listening to the recently released audio tapes of the UB founders has brought this situation back into the forefront of my thoughts. To hear them discussing this situation and actively deciding to keep me in the dark disgusts and infuriates me. They lied to me about their activities and I made a big mistake in trusting them for way too long.

I should have said something about this long ago, but until I heard the voices on the tapes myself I never really knew how wrong and misled I really was. I empathize deeply with the players who were taken advantage of through UB. Whether it is this or Black Friday, too many of my fellow poker players have lost confidence and their financial savings simply by playing the game they love. I hope that in the near future we have a strong, regulated online poker environment in the US so that we can all get back to playing the game we love. In the meantime, I want to pass along my support to everyone affected negatively through UB and my apologies for my initial support of people who didn’t deserve anyone’s trust in the first place.

I’m really torn on this statement, and find it difficult to hold my objectivity when discussing it.  Despite Hellmuth’s massively outsized ego, he’s not generally regarded as a cheater.  As someone who’s deeply investigated the UB scandal, I can report on sources who’ve told me a similar story, that the cheaters and liars at UB constructed a bubble around Hellmuth, knowing full well he wouldn’t take part in the cheating.

The flip side of that is the realization that this statement has been made about four years too late. Hellmuth remained virtually silent on the UB cheating for years, and by his own admission in the statement above, allowed his own famous persona to be used in marketing the site and attempting to restore it to a position of prominence.

The statement is also far, far short of being honest when it comes to describing Hellmuth’s true role at UltimateBet. He wasn’t just a spokesman, kids; he owned pieces of both UB and and iovation, the online security firm also led by Greg Pierson that was spun off from UltimateBet. All the people on that tape are people who also helped make Hellmuth a ton of money.

I was posting in a forum over at Todd Witteles’ small PokerFraudAlert site last week, talking about the Lock Poker situation, when a classic quote by Upton Sinclair came to mind:

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

That applies to many people in poker. To those at Lock Poker, who brought it to mind for me, to people like Joe Sebok and Annie Duke, and most particularly, to Phil Hellmuth. Hellmuth isn’t a cheater, but he willfully deluded himself for years about the nature of the very people that he surrounded himself with and called his best friends — Russ Hamilton, Greg Pierson and Daniel Friedberg, along with Sanford Millar, the fourth participant in the most damning of the released recordings.

They helped make Hellmuth rich; the flip side of that is that Hellmuth needs to accept some secondary responsibility for all the poker neophytes he helped toss onto the UB pyre.  “I made a horrible read” doesn’t quite cut it, for me.

That is all.

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