Old UltimateBet Connections Resurface in California Pala-Ivey-Ryan Deal
Here’s one of those interesting, out-of-left-field stories: California’s Pala Tribe of Mission Indians has partnered with prominent poker pro Phil Ivey and a management/software consortium led by former Excapsa (UltimateBet) and PartyGaming CEO James Ryan for a software deal eyeing a future regulated California online-poker market.
News of the deal, first reported at pokerfuse but unconfirmed to date at the Pala website, has the Pala nation working on the deal for several months. The Palas, one of several California Mission tribal nations that have been at the forefront of California tribes’ push toward regulation, have their own land-based casino at Pala, south of Temecula, CA.
I was alerted to the deal via Twitter last night, along with the curious connections including Ivey and Ryan, the controversial former CEO at two different online sites with a long and colorful US-facing history — and in the case of UltimateBet, with online poker’s largest-ever cheating scandal done under his watch.
Occasional FlushDraw contributor John Meheffey was one of the first writers to explore some of the curious connections in this deal, in a recent piece over at USPoker. While there has been some comment about Ivey signing on as the Pala frontman, that’s pretty much to be expected: Ivey will represent just about anything, good or bad, that’s willing to spend the money to sign him.
It’s the James Ryan connection where things get interesting. The deal with the Palas has Ryan bringing on a firm called RealTime Edge Software. RealTime Edge is a firm founded by former UltimateBet/Excapsa programmer Uri Kozai, who played an important role at UB during that site’s scandal years.
It was Kozai’s algorithm that was used to create a formula for refunding cheated UB players, using a system that very likely under-refunded cheated players by some unknown percentage. The actual amount of cheating that Kozai calculated was redacted from the related Canadian court documents.
Even more interesting is that Kozai has been alleged to possess a complete, pre-merger copy of the UB customer database, including player records that were possibly deleted later on in an attempt to cover up the full extent of the cheating. Kozai has steadfastly refused to come forward with his knowledge of how the UB cheating took place.
One thing is for sure, however, and that’s that Kozai has enjoyed a warm relationship with Ryan, the former CEO, for years. RealTime Edge’s software has been used in the past to power the ClubWPT subscription site, among others, but it dates to the old UB code. A copy of that code, not needed any longer after UB was merged into Absolute Poker, was taken in some form from UB and moved over to Kozai’s firm by Ryan and Russ Hamilton in a deal that former Excapsa shareholders allege violated Excapsa’s ownership rights.
Ryan’s coziness with Hamilton and the other UB cheaters and his own complicity in covering up several different elements of the site’s years-long cheating are why he’s unlikely to pass serious regulatory vetting, although whether or not that would occur in a California online-poker universe where the state’s tribal nations are pulling all the strings (as they steadfastly desire) is anyone’s guess.
Ryan, though, may have been jettisoned from his most recent role as bwin.party co-CEO precisely because his checkered past could pose a serious threat to bwin.party’s hopes to be approved in US states authorizing online poker.
And then there’s the rest of the story surrounding Kozai and RealTime Edge. As Doug “dougmanct” Mandeville first discovered by reverse-engineering various client executables from both the old Excapsa (UB) and ClubWPT, chunks of the same code were used in both, including a key section of code that included the secret call to “God Mode” as used in the cheating at UltimateBet by Russ Hamilton.
The initial post by Mandeville at DonkDown Poker that revealed the connection is currently lost somewhere in the fevered machinations of Micon the Icon’s Bitcoin-addled brain, but Mandeville subsequently posted a YouTube video showing the links, and that’s still available.
I’d also contacted early UB programmer Jack Bates about the legacy connections between UB and ClubWPT via Kozai’s firm, which also included another, intermediate offering called Spotlight Poker. Bates, who at one point was wrongly and grossly alleged to be a part of the UB cheating, had a good chuckle at the haphazard way in which Kozai had cobbled the old UB code forward for future use.
Wrote Bates to me at that time, “The fact that the PDB file (one of the ClubWPT executables) exists in a public download area, with the referenced binaries, is evidence of complete and utter incompetence. Dougmanct really found a gem, here.”
Are the same UltimateBet crooks and cheaters and incompetent types may be back again, in the new deal with the Palas?
Only time will tell.