First off, I want to say that as far as I know I’ve only met Joe Sebok once a few years back at the WPBT event at Imperial Palace. He came with Barry Greenstein who was speaking before the tournament and we said “Hi, nice to meet you” or some other rather impersonal exchange.

I want to get that out there because I have no ill-will for the guy. I don’t know him. I have nothing against him.

That said (you knew that part was coming, right?) I did want to address his blog post about being let go from UB/AP. You gotta give the guy credit for being and admitting to being naïve but I think he misses something in his post. He says:

Regarding the current state of AP/UB, I haven’t given up hope that all of you will get your money back. I believe that UB is making many, many efforts to get you that money. You may say, “Well, if there were lies before…” and that’s totally fair, but their is absolutely a segment of that company trying to do the right thing. I dearly hope that they are successful. I have been told by upper management that ongoing discussions have been happening between the DOJ and UB with that being the focus. There is a lot of misinformation being thrown around and it really saddens me that so many have fanned the flames of panic when, in truth, they simply do not know what is going to happen, just like me. UB and their legal team is trying to work creatively to get that money back to players, I have been told. I haven’t been promised that that can happen, but I have been informed that is the goal. This was never going to be a short process though, which leaves so much room for speculation. I am trying to not engage in that, hope, and be patient. It’s not easy.

(emphasis mine)

I emphasized a few points there because they contradict each other. First off, Joe has already admitted that he was too naive in dealing with them in the past. He seems to indicate that he’s learned his lesson but he goes right back to relying on what they’re telling him. If he doesn’t know any more than we do and he’s relying on people telling him that they’re doing this or that then that’s not simply being naive. That’s called denial.

On one hand, I believe that Sebok didn’t know about anything going on in the company. On the other hand, you’re staking your reputation on a company built up of guys who have been caught ripping off players. I don’t expect Daniel Negreanu to go in and do an audit of PokerStars’ books but PokerStars hasn’t had two cheating scandals previously. Anybody who is going to take the job of being a spokesman for UB or Absolute better do some due diligence.

Back in 2009 when Sebok joined on at UB here were some of the things he was saying:

Although heavily involved with PokerRoad, Sebok said UltimateBet started pursuing him several months ago, but he had to make sure things were on the up-and-up with the site. “They told me that they were very interested and initially I was too turned off by the past scandal to even consider it. We kept talking, though, and it quickly became apparent that both Paul Leggett and I were on the same page with wanting to not only to do things completely differently, but also to atone for the way things had been handled in the past. From that point, it was just a matter of getting a few things started to make us both feel comfortable” Sebok said in an interview with Pokernews.com.

Having drawn a line in the sand, Sebok felt there were three hurdles to get over before he could take Leggett seriously. “For me personally, I wanted to get three things accomplished: get the cheating account handles out in the open, open up the access for players to get all their hand histories, and get the actual physical names of the cheaters, besides Russ Hamilton, out in the open. We succeeded in getting two-thirds of that list done and that was enough for me to come on board and continue to work for #3 on that list,” he said.

So it’s a little confusing when he says today:

I was never privy to the deep inner workings of the business. How money was moved around, whether it was held in segregated accounts, etc, was nothing I ever worked on, and to be honest with you, ever thought about before April 15th. I really put a lot of faith in the people I worked with, and the company itself. I really believed that management thought the past was the past and that they wanted to have things be different in the present and the future. I wanted to believe that with all of my heart, and in fact I completely staked my reputation on it.

How can someone be deep inside the company fighting crime like a superhero and not have any insight into the deep inner workings of the business? Wouldn’t that be a prerequisite if someone had been turned off by the scandal and wanted to atone for the way things had been handled in the past?

That has been one of my biggest complaints about UB and AP since the scandals. Neither of them have ever fully stated exactly what they are doing different today that will prevent something like this from ever happening again. That would be my number one priority. I would want to see everyone even remotely involved in the previous scandals gone, a checks and balances in place (internal security that keeps an eye on employees), and internal auditing. And since those would be very positive developments you would expect UB and AP to be shouting them from the rooftops if they actually had put anything even remotely like that in place. The silence is deafening.

And maybe Sebok wasn’t the best person in the world to understand how all of that works but that should be the huge red flag that maybe this isn’t the job for you. If you don’t understand how money moves on and off a site or how people inside the company can game the system hire someone and make it a condition of your endorsement that your guy gives the place a clean bill of health.

I think Daniel Negreanu’s take is dead-on:

Then there is Joe Sebok who signed with the company in the hopes of cleaning things up. I genuinely believe that was his intent. I genuinely believe he thought he could make a difference and clean up that mess of a company. I also don’t personally believe he knew of the Tom’s involvement, but I can’t say that with certainty. I definitely think he was naive in trusting Paul Leggat with his reputation. That’s a lot of faith to put in a man who’s first instinct during the original scandal was to cover it up. Seems like that was a really bad read on his part.

I personally think it was a foolish mistake to ever get involved with those crooks, regardless of the price, but that wasn’t my decision to make. It’s hard to come back from touting a company through twitter and other social mediums, that in the end, likely won’t make good on paying the players back. At this point, why would they pay the players back? The site is going under, so paying the players in the hopes of more good will would be useless. It would be the “right thing to do,” but I don’t that matters much to them. If you had money on UB/AP come to terms with the fact that it’s gone forever, and in the case of a miracle, think of it as free money. That’s sad to say, but you don’t really have many other options at this point it doesn’t seem like.

In the end, Sebok’s mouth wrote checks that his knowledge of the online poker industry couldn’t cash. He also demonstrated a lack of business accumen and gullibility that should preclude him from ever taking on a similar role for any poker room ever again. I could be wrong but I believe the guy when he says he didn’t know anything. But that is part of the problem. I believe he had no idea what was going on while being a mouthpiece for the site and staking his personal reputation on people who had already demonstrated their ability to run cons.

Now his credibility in the industry is right up (or down) there with Ultimate Bet. If they eventually pay players off some people might be willing to at least forgive though they might not necessarily forget (and if US players were somehow allowed to play on UB again they should be rushed immediately to the mental ward). Same will probably hold true for Sebok. If UB pays people will still remember him for being gullible and naive but some of their bitterness might be diluted with the fact that everything worked out in the end.

On the other hand, if UB and Absolute skip town on the money Sebok is toxic waste in the poker industry. The other pros let go the other day Maria Ho, Tiffany Michelle, etc, etc never claimed they were going to clean up UB so they escape from all of this as mere casualties of war who couldn’t sign with a better room. Somebody put some money in front of them and asked them to wear a patch and they did it. The only exception to that might be Prahlad Friedman who now comes in just behind Sebok in terms of damage done. For Friedman, this was like finding out your girlfriend is cheating on you, breaking up with her, taking her back, and finding out she’s still cheating on you.

As Daniel said in his article, this is all of our fault. By not demanding better we got what we have today. It’s the apathy of the industry and the players that let UB and AP survive their cheating scandals. It’s lax gaming regulators who let them keep a license that helped get us to where we are today. If there’s any silver lining in all of this is that maybe after players lose some money they’ll start demanding regulation in the US to make sure that this never happens again.

Ship It Holla Ballas!

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About Author

Bill Rini has been working in the online poker industry since 2004. He was a product manager for poker at Full Tilt and was the poker room manager at PartyPoker. Currently, Bill is the Head of Online Poker for WSOP.   Bill has been blogging about online poker since 2003 and is considered one of the leading authorities on the online poker industry.   "I like What Bill Rini said in his blog" - Doyle Brunson   "In other news, we had Bill Rini write an absolutely home run blog." Daniel Negreanu   "Industry insider Bill Rini has one of the most popular blogs in poker, with thousands of subscribers and fans regularly coming back for his universally respected insight into the industry" - Barry Carter (News editor for PokerStrategy, Co-Author: The Mental Game of Poker)

(8) Readers Comments

  1. Will Sebok give the money UB paid him back to the players? Say, in 1000 dollar chunks, first come first serve, until it is all used up.

    That might be the only way any part of his reputation is salvaged.

  2. I kind of feel sorry for Sebok because my impression is that he’s just naive and gullible and maybe not all that bright. Otherwise, not a bad person.

    Friedman, on the other hand…. Alan is mystified by his behavior in the Lisandro business, but anyone who railbirded Friedman back in the days when he was multitabling 25/50 NLH on UB will tell you that accusing his opponents of cheating and finding other ways to abuse them in the chat was not uncommon Friedman fare. The guy has a long fuse, but he has a fuse.

  3. I can’t believe anyone trusted them after the first scandal, it is a shame Joe attached his name to them though, as you say, his credibility is probably shot for good. Even if poker in the US moves forward I doubt any new/future company would touch him.

  4. Pingback: The state of ... hell, I don't know.

  5. @Barry: LOL Yes. Having said that . . .

  6. Your ‘that said’ line near the start made me think of this

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pgd2w0SQEYI

  7. @Alan: I thought that verbiage was pretty standard in all licensing. I think the difference is that other bills left it to the licensing authority to come up with that rule and that bill explicitly stated it.

  8. Your observation that JS is in denial is spot on. I would say that Joe Sebok is in deep denial. As for the “crooks” at UB/AP, you have to give those frat boys (as well as Paul Leggett) credit for being very clever judges of character. If Seebs had not been gullible and naive, do you think they would have hired him in the first place? Scott Tom and his brother-in-law knew exactly what they were looking for when they seduced young Sebok. What is more difficult to understand is how Prahlad Friedman could have been so stupid, but I was mystified by his behavior in that WSOP incident with Jeffrey Lisandro, so go figure.

    For those who may have read Senator Robert Menendez’s bill to legalize internet poker introduced back in 2009, (i.e. S.1597), there was quite a bit of verbiage stipulating that all proposed executives and officers with day-to-day operating authority – as well as major shareholders and persons with a significant equity interest in the proposed operating entity – must submit to background criminal checks (presumably conducted by agents of the FBI) as a condition of the licensing application process. This verbiage was no doubt inserted into the proposed legislation with full knowledge of what was going on at UB/AP.