How Online Gamblers Unmasked Cheaters

<b>60 Minutes/Washington Post</b> Joint Investigation Questions Honesty, Security Of Gambling Sites

CBS All Access
This video is available on CBS All Access
Serge Ravitch, another lawyer-turned-poker pro, began using a software program called "Poker Tracker" to review thousands of old hands.

"What I saw did not make any sense," he remembers. "This account was simply winning too much money for the type of game that he was playing. And he was doing it by never having the worst hand. When the other person was bluffing, he would always go all in. When the other person had some kind of made hand, he would always fold."

Ravitch says it was like he knew what everybody's cards were.

"If you can see everybody's cards in poker, you could be the worst poker player in the world, up against the best poker player in the world, and you're gonna beat him just about every time," Witteles says.

Soon, the Internet poker forums, chat rooms and blogs were atwitter with fresh reports about suspect players. And when Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet failed to respond to complaints, the online poker community undertook its own investigation.

"We knew for sure there was cheating going on. We just didn't know who was responsible yet," Witteles says.

The most likely explanation seemed to be that someone had gotten access to an administrative or security account at Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet that would have allowed them to see all of the cards in the game as they were being played.

"Somebody with access to a server, a computer server that would give that information to them in real time?" Kroft asks.

"Yes," Ravitch says.

"So either a really good hacker or somebody on the inside?" Kroft asks.

"Exactly," he replies.

In late 2007, the poker sleuths got lucky. When one of the players requested the hand histories of a suspected cheater known as "Potripper," someone at Absolute Poker inadvertently sent them an Excel spreadsheet with 65,000 lines of data that include all of the cards that had been played in thousands of games against hundreds of Potripper's opponents.

It allowed Michael Josem to recreate some of the hands, as the cheater would have seen them, in and turn them into a video that he posted online, along with a statistical analysis of the cheater's win rate.

"We have here a whole lot of people in the middle, which is pretty normal, they lose a little, they win a bit. A few people got lucky for a bit, a few people were losing a lot of money. Right up here, in the very top right hand corner, we have the cheater," he explains. "We did the mathematical analysis to find that they were winning at about 15 standard deviations above the mean, which is approximately equivalent to winning a one-in-a-million jackpot six consecutive times."

"Now, this sort of stuff just doesn't happen in the real world," he adds.

But more importantly, the Excel spreadsheet also listed the user account and the IP address of the suspected cheater, which the sleuths traced to the computer modem of an Absolute Poker employee.

The company, which is headquartered in a shopping mall in Costa Rica, was finally forced to acknowledge that a former employee had cracked their software code and cheated online players by looking at their cards.

But what really made the victims angry was that Absolute Poker cut a deal with the cheater to protect his identity, in exchange for a full confession of how he did it.

"Here, these people stole millions of dollars from their customers, from their best customers, from the high-limit players of the site, and in the official report released about what happened, not only did nobody get into any kind of legal trouble, their names weren't even publicized," Witteles says.