CBS Exposé, Cereus Launch Share Headlines

26 November 2008

UltimateBet and Absolute Poker, the disgraced online poker operators, on Tuesday launched a new, joint poker network called Cereus -- the same day, coincidentally, that CBS News announced “60 Minutes” would broadcast its anticipated exposé of cheating scandals at both sites.

The Cereus network was first teased in July by Paul Legget, chief operating officer of Tokwiro Enterprises ENRG, though whatever excitment the release engendered was followed by more than three months of silence.

"I am so excited to announce the launch of our new poker network Cereus," Mr. Legget said in July's press release. "This is a huge landmark for our company and online poker."

Tokwiro and another privately held company, Blast Off Ltd., are thought to, one, have an ownership interest in both sites, and, two, be controlled by Joseph T. Norton, the former grand chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake. Both sites, furthermore, are licensed by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission.

Frank Catania Sr., a former New Jersey gaming regulator that, on behalf of the commission, is conducting an investigation into the cheating at both sites, told IGamingNews that the Cereus network's launch was delayed in part by the software auditing process.

Gaming Associates, an independent I-gaming auditing company also under contract with the commission, "had to go in, test it (Cereus platform) and say it was okay to switch over to it," Mr. Catania said.

That Mr. Catania was commissioned to commence his investigation just days after Mr. Legget's July announcement is also thought to have delayed the launch.

Looking back, the commission's investigation into Absolute Poker, undertaken by Gaming Associates, wrapped up in January; but a final decision on the UltimateBet investigation, which is being undertaken by both Mr. Catania and Gaming Associates, is pending.

So far, the commission said Tokwiro Enterprises has repaid at least $6.1 million to affected UltimateBet players, although, at the behest of the commission, the company agreed to disburse a further $15 million earlier this month.

With regard to the Cereus launch, it is unclear what entity at Blast Off -- Cereus' listed owner and operator, according to -- developed the software.

Regardless, the Cereus platform "is the result of several modifications and security enhancements which were applied to the Absolute Poker software as a result of the commission's directives in January '08," Chuck Barnett, a member of the board of supervisors for Mohawk Internet Technologies, told IGN in an e-mail.

"As the commission is satisfied that the integrity of the system has been verified, and that all required security measures have been implemented, approval to implement the deployment of Cereus at Ultimate Bet has been granted," said Mr. Barnett, who, at times, liaises with the press on behalf of the commission.

CBS News, meanwhile, is set to run its exposé of the cheating scandals this Sunday at 7 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. Steve Kroft, a correspondent with "60 Minutes," and Gilbert Gaul, a reporter with the Washington Post, spent four months investigating the story, according to a press release from CBS.

It was a well-organized group of players who found that UltimateBet and Absolute Poker software had been manipulated to allow certain users -- including Russ Hamilton, a World Series of Poker main event winner and former owner of UltimateBet -- to view opponents' hole cards.

Mr. Legget did not return an e-mail and a phone call this morning seeking comment for this article, and Mr. Norton did not return an e-mail.

Chris Krafcik is the editor of IGamingNews. He lives in St. Louis, Mo.