The article about Internet poker misstated the amount won by a player using the name Potripper in a 2007 tournament. The winnings totaled $10,000, not $428,520.
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Cheating Scandals Raise New Questions about Honesty, Security of Internet Gambling
"I was as surprised as anyone else," said Michael Delisle, the current grand chief of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake. He added that he had not spoken with Norton about the cheating. "I have had no opportunity," he said in an interview, "and honestly I don't think it's any of my business."
The Kahnawake collect millions in fees each year by licensing Internet gambling companies and hosting the Web sites on servers inside a high-tech building converted from a mattress factory. Recently, they took a 40 percent stake in another Internet server firm on the Isle of Man, in the Irish Sea. They collect more than $1 million a year from that investment, which aims to expand and protect their Internet gambling footprint.
Norton, a former ironworker, purchased AbsolutePoker and UltimateBet in 2006 and folded them into a newly created holding company, Tokwiro Enterprises ENRG. The company says it is "properly registered as a proprietorship in Canada." He declined repeated requests to be interviewed for this article, but has denied he knew about the cheating. Managers at AbsolutePoker and UltimateBet also declined interviews, as did the Kahnawake's licensing and regulatory body, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission.
In January, the commission fined Norton's company $500,000 for the AbsolutePoker scandal. But the apparent victory by the player-detectives quickly soured when the Kahnawake declined to name the cheater or turn his name over to prosecutors.
In September, the panel slapped UltimateBet with a $1.5 million fine. But it stopped short of following through on a recommendation by an outside investigator to suspend or close the site.
The three-member commission largely operates in secret, and it would not disclose the size of its staff. It outsources background checks to a security firm in Horsham, Pa., and uses a small company in Australia to audit its licensee's software. It called on Frank Catania, former head of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, to investigate UltimateBet and reopen the AbsolutePoker probe.
In an interview, Catania said there was no comparison between New Jersey and the Kahnawake when it came to oversight. "I don't think they have -- they don't have the staff, first of all," he said. "With the New Jersey Gaming Commission, I had about 400 people there. I had CPAs. I had our big budget."
'I Quickly Got Slammed'
AbsolutePoker's origins are sketchy. Records and interviews point to a poker aficionado named Scott Tom, who attended the University of Montana in the late 1990s. After graduating, Tom and several partners headed to Costa Rica and started the business.
A number of online gambling sites already existed. But it was not until a few years later that Internet poker exploded. The impetus was a former Tennessee accountant and aptly named player, Chris Moneymaker. In 2003, Moneymaker came from nowhere to win the main event at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. His $2.5 million victory was televised on ESPN and is widely credited with igniting a worldwide surge.
"When I am being glib, I refer to it as the Moneymaker effect," said David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
Soon, scores of sites began popping up in Antigua, Costa Rica, Malta, the Isle of Man and other exotic locations. The Kahnawake alone license 450 sites run by 60 permit holders. By 2007, Internet gambling sites had revenue of $18.4 billion, up from $5.9 billion in 2003, according to Christiansen Capital Advisors, a New York firm that tracks online gambling.
Thousands of those players found their way to AbsolutePoker, which boasts on its Web site that it has handled more than 300 million hands since it started accepting bets and that at its peak accounted for as much as 5 percent of the multibillion-dollar online poker market.