The Annie Duke & Phil Hellmuth Statements: Technically True, Intellectually Dishonest
Former UB spokesplayers Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke wasted little time last week in issuing public statements attempting to distance themselves from the conspiracy recently made public in connection to the long-term cheating of players at UltimateBet, which occurred from 2003-07.
The cheating and subsequent attempted cover-up, orchestrated by primary cheat Russ Hamilton and including, at a minimum, UB founder and CEO Greg Pierson and corporate attorneys Daniel Friedberg and Sanford Millar, remains one of the blackest episodes in online poker history. Hamilton secretly recorded at least two lengthy meetings himself, with the tapes released recently by Travis Makar, Hamilton’s private security expert.
Arguing that the sins of Hellmuth and Duke are on the same level as those of Hamilton, Pierson, Friedberg and the other cheats is silly — you won’t find that statement here. Russ Hamilton, Greg Pierson, Daniel Pierson and at least four others rank at 10 out of 10 on the corruption scale. Those people need to be in jail and have their assets and personal wealth stripped from them… and you’ll notice that none of these people are out there protesting their innocence.
Meanwhile, Hellmuth and Duke — neither of whom participated in the actual cheating — are out there trying to spin themselves away from the criminal activity and its stink. They’d like their followers to believe that their involvement should be a 0 out of 10 on the old corruption scale.
However, it’s not that simple.
It’s bad enough that the Hellmuth and Duke, via their celebrity, played a direct role in convincing tens of thousand of players to deposit money at UltimateBet. And maybe the $23 million in cheating officially acknowledged by UltimateBet is all there was, though convincing evidence exists that the real amount cheated was significantly higher.
What that doesn’t even begin to address is the $55 million or thereabouts that remains owed to customers of UB who were left adrift after the site folded following the Black Friday indictments. Those players didn’t sign up because Tiffany Michele wore UB gear; they deposited because of Hellmuth and Duke, above all others.
Even if that was all there was to it, the statements by Hellmuth and Duke ignore that responsibility.
The truth, however, is much, much worse. Hellmuth and Duke weren’t just site reps, they were owners. Hellmuth was one of Ultimatebet’s founding investors and Duke arrived on the scene soon after, taking such an ingrained role with the site that she moved to Portland, Oregon for two years to work with programmers on developing the site’s appearance and feel.
Both of them made millions from their ownership of UltimateBet, and continue to receive similar benefits from the ongoing business operations of related online-security firm iovation, which was spun out from UB-related activities in the middle of last decade.
In other words, they had millions of reasons to take a less-than-active role in denouncing the UB cheating as they should have years ago, millions of reasons not to step away from a company that was provably and obviously foul.
These latest statements, they’re just cheap shucks.
It’s pathetic to see Duke and Hellmuth supporters out there continuing to shill. Statements such as, “Everyone got paid back,” and, “They were just paid to wear the gear,” are so stupid and lazy and self-deluding that the people making them really ought to just shut up. The evidence of Hellmuth’s and Duke’s deeper responsibilities is widespread, obvious, and has existed for years. Yet fans of anything are rarely known for their objective capabilities.
Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke aren’t guilty of cheating or conspiracy in connection with what happened at UltimateBet. But by the same measure, they’re not deserving of adulation, either.
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Phil Hellmuth statement:
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.
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Statement from Annie Duke:
Listening to the leaked audio that describes an elaborate attempt by some of UltimateBet.com’s founders, including Russ Hamilton and Greg Pierson, to cover up cheating reminds me once again how much I regret having been associated with the people that were involved in this conspiracy. The release of this audio has spurred accusations and I want to make it clear that I have never used a tool on a delay or otherwise that gave me or anyone else access to hole cards for use during real money play nor was I aware that such a tool existed until the scandal broke.
Knowing what I know today, I would have never encouraged anyone to play on the UltimateBet.com site under that management. I’m horrified at the lengths to which these people went to try to cover up their actions, and I am very sorry that I ever agreed to work with them. I remain very upset that people were cheated and that, partly because of the actions of the people on this tape, it took far too long to pay back the $23 million that was owed to the victims, and that hand history information was never fully provided to the public.
However, the audio recordings and the data dump from Travis Makar and others also make it completely clear who the perpetrators of the UltimateBet.com cheating were, and that I was not involved in their scheme in any way. For those who have not taken the time to listen to the full audio, at one point Russ Hamilton mischaracterizes my legitimate role as a commentator as he tries to concoct a cover story for his scheme. I can only assume that he is referring to the several times that I commentated on tournaments in which a delayed broadcast was provided to the public, as this was the only delay that I was ever aware of.
In the audio Dan Friedberg says, “I think for the public, it just has to be former consultant to the company, ah, took advantage of a server flaw by hacking into the client…” (This can be heard at 47:01 on the audio). Then Russ Hamilton adds, “And what you could also say is that the tool was originally set for a 15 minute delay and he [Makar] hacked it to a, uh, yeah, to a real time…” (47:29 on the audio). Then Russ continues, ‘Annie Duke used it on a 15 minute delay quite a few times.’ (47:41 on the audio). It is clear that they are trying to concoct a story to cover up what they did by suggesting that a third party hacked a legitimate delayed broadcast tool to create a cheating tool.
The facts are that during commentary, what I saw as the hands were being played wasexactly what every other spectator of the table was able to see. I and other co-commentators were providing commentary as we watched live play, and the broadcast of our comments was delayed as is standard practice to avoid affecting play. The screen that I saw was captured and streamed onto the internet along with my commentary so anyone who tuned into the broadcast saw exactly the same screen that I saw. The broadcast delay was designed to protect the integrity of the game by making sure that the hands my co-commentators and I were commenting on would be finished BEFORE our commentary was broadcast on the Internet. The existence of the delay was made public during the broadcasts. And we were never shown any non-public hole card information, during or after hands. Delayed commentary on tournaments was and still is standard practice for semi-live broadcasts of events, including the World Series of Poker Main Event.
At a separate point on the tape Dan Friedberg and Russ Hamilton discuss Houston Curtis’ account on UltimateBet.com. (This can be heard beginning at 59:55 on the audio). Dan says ‘we don’t want to come and ever mention that name [h_curtis], obviously’ and Russ adds (at 1:00:11): ‘you can’t, ‘cause a lot of people know him, that’s his name, Hellmuth knows him, Annie knows him, and they know the name on the screen.’
Russ is saying they can’t include Houston’s name on any cheating accounts list provided to the public, because I know Houston. Russ knew that if I heard that cheating had been detected on that account that I would have immediately called Houston to ask him what had happened. Russ also knew that Houston would have then told me that the only other person who had access to the login for this account was Russ himself and that would have opened Russ up to suspicion. This highlights the fact that I was unaware of Russ’s involvement in the cheating and that they were actively trying to hide it from me.
These tapes make it clear that the perpetrators went to great lengths to lie, concoct multiple stories and conspire to cover-up their cheating. They tried to minimize their exposure in part by pawning off responsibility to Absolute Poker, the new owners. Absolute Poker did eventually, through an arduous audit process, working closely with the KGC, refund more than $23 million to players who were affected by the cheating. I stand by my decision at the time the scandal broke to try to work with Absolute to help facilitate that process.
Statement from Co-Commentator JohnVorhaus:
I worked alongside Annie Duke doing play-by-play and color commentary on UltimateBetonline poker tournaments during the mid-2000s. The use of a delay function during those broadcasts was for the express purpose of ensuring that our commentary didn’t inadvertently give information to the tournament players and had no connection whatsoever with the so-called ‘super-user scandal.’ Those who attempt to tar Annie with this brush are saying, essentially, ‘Person A used a hammer to build a treehouse, then Person B used a similar hammer to bludgeon a victim; therefore, Person A is guilty.’ The logic of this doesn’t hold up to the merest application of common sense.
Statement from Joanne Priam:
I am the former Pro Relations Manager for UB and was part of the team that helped organize the commentating of online tournaments. Annie agreed to participate as a commentator only if we could ensure that there was enough of a small delay in the broadcast so that we could avoid any live commentating affecting players’ behavior in the event they were listening. After it was confirmed the delay was feasible she agreed to commentate. It is my understanding that during the tournament, Annie was isolated in a recording studio with only a screen in which to report on and that she did not have access to a computer in which to log on to UB, view hole cards or interact in any way with players. I am disgusted by the actions of the criminals that cheated people out of millions of dollars, and wish they could be thrown in jail, but I can assure you that during the few times that Annie Duke was commentating it was impossible for her to do anything more than view a screen and commentate as requested.