Poker has endured its fair share of controversies and scandals over the decades. Even with all the drama that naturally happens on the felt, some of poker’s biggest scandals took place away from the tables.
Stu Ungar Gets Disqualified from the 1990 WSOP
Stu “The Kid” Ungar is considered one of the greatest poker players in history thanks to winning the 1980 and 1981 WSOP Main Events. However, in 1990 his recreational drug habit ended up getting him into serious trouble right before the start of the Main Event.
Ungar was found in his hotel room deeply intoxicated on drugs by WSOP officials. Despite his fame and poker skills, they disqualified Ungar from the tournament. This controversial incident marked a downward spiral for Ungar. He struggled with substance abuse issues until his untimely death in 1998 at the age of 45.
The Absolute Poker Cheating Scandal Exposed
In 2007, suspicions arose that cheating was taking place on Absolute Poker, a popular online poker site. Some diligent sleuthing by players uncovered that a mysterious high-stakes player going by the name “Potripper” seemed to be able to see his opponents’ hole cards.
After gathering evidence and chatting with Potripper, they realized he was actually an Accounts Manager at Absolute Poker. He had illicitly exploited a backdoor in the site’s software. While this insider cheating had been going on for months, the scam was eventually exposed on poker forums.
Russ Hamilton and the Massive UltimateBet Scandal
A similarly shocking cheating scandal took place on UltimateBet. An infamous superuser named “NioNio” won big money by secretly viewing opponents’ hole cards. This user was later conclusively identified as 1994 WSOP Main Event champion Russ Hamilton.
Hamilton was part owner of UltimateBet, and used his extensive access to the site’s systems to bilk players out of millions of dollars through this elaborate cheating scheme. After denying it vigorously, Hamilton and his accomplices eventually came clean when faced with the extensive evidence. UltimateBet ended up paying out $15 million in refunds to affected players.
Howard Lederer and Full Tilt Poker’s Troubled Demise
When Full Tilt Poker had its gaming license revoked in 2011, it was soon discovered they had been operating a massive Ponzi scheme by misappropriating players’ funds for years. Part-owner Howard Lederer received much of the blame, having taken $42 million in inappropriate payouts as the site’s finances imploded.
Full Tilt eventually reached a settlement deal to pay back players who had money still trapped on the site, but the damage was done. Lederer remains a pariah in poker circles for his role in Full Tilt’s misconduct and downfall.
Mike Postle’s Suspicious Winning Streak on Livestreamed Cash Games
In 2019, poker pro Veronica Brill shined a spotlight on Mike Postle, who was having an incredible winning streak on poker livestreams from Stones Gambling Hall. Brill accused Postle of cheating with a device that displayed opponents’ hole cards.
The ensuing investigation indicated that indeed Postle’s superhuman play looked highly suspicious. Though Postle denied everything, the scandal only grew as others came forward with similar skepticism. Stones fined Postle’s alleged accomplice but he never admitted any guilt in court. The controversy continues to spark debate in poker circles.
Though these scandals make for juicy headlines, everyday poker players should not be too concerned. These advantage-play schemes tend to occur in the highest stakes games or on the business side of operations. For most people playing small stakes poker online or at their local casino, the game remains fair and secure. While controversy may always lurk in poker’s shadows, fans can rest assured the game they know and love still thrives thanks to continued innovation and safeguards.