Absolute Poker Situation: Q&A with Nat Arem, Part 2
In Part 1 of our two-part Q&A session with Nat Arem regarding the Absolute Poker hole-card scandal, Arem detailed the basics of how the cheating occurred. In this concluding Part 2, Arem discusses some of the people rumored to be involved, the current scene at Absolute Poker, and the steps the company is taking to move forward. Again, PokerNews states that Arem by no means represents the opinions of the poker world as a whole, nor should his views and opinions in any way be construed as being those of PokerNews. The questions are again a combination of those asked by PokerNews, those constructed by Arem himself, and those that were submitted to AP or to Arem by others.
PokerNews: You mentioned seven player accounts (listed in Part 1) that were implicated in the insider cheating scandal. Were there any other as-yet-unnamed accounts involved?
Nat Arem: During a phone conversation with someone high up in the process, I was told that two unmentioned accounts were discovered by AP. At this point, I think the person may have been referring to the two accounts that the cheating accounts chip dumped to, despite the fact that those accounts were mentioned many times throughout the investigation. I have not seen evidence of additional accounts nor has AP paid any people back that I know of for unmentioned accounts.
PN: Did you clear any accounts of wrong-doing during your trip to Costa Rica?
NA: Yes. During the course of the investigation, two accounts were mentioned consistently as being possible cheating accounts. Those accounts were MCBILL and OSCAR133. I was able to examine hand histories of the events where MCBILL and OSCAR133 achieved success and can state conclusively that no "insider cheating" occurred in connection with those two accounts. In my opinion, these two accounts were publicly and wrongly accused.
PN: One name that popped up in postings concerning the story is that of Marvin Ardon. Who is Mr. Ardon and what is his connection to the scandal?
NA: Marvin is the AP support agent who sent out the file. I initially tried to keep his name quiet, but then he started posting publicly about his role in sending out the file. I think the extent of his connection was just being the person who e-mailed out the file; I don't think he was involved in any cheating. On a sidenote, he lost his job – although I think AP was justified in firing him because of the privacy violations that occurred. [Editor's Note: The "privacy violations" refer to the inclusion of e-mail addresses of table watchers within the Excel file that was accidentally sent out. Absolute quickly issued payments of $500 to each customer whose e-mail address was included in the file, by way of apology, once the file's contents had been verified.]
PN: A number of conspiracy theorists have offered that the Excel file containing information critical to uncovering the cheating must have been sent out intentionally. Is this the case?
NA: It's certainly possible. Marvin told me explicitly that it was a mistake and not intentional. Someone else told me that they thought he did it on purpose, but I was not able to get more info out of that person and I don't find them to be credible, so I am currently of the belief that it was a mistake.
PN: Another name widely reported as being involved in this scandal is that of AJ Green. Who is AJ Green?
NA: AJ Green used to go by the name Allen Grimard. He's from Canada and has a technical background as far as I can tell. He has worked at AP and another site that has had offices close to AP's offices in Costa Rica for a number of years.
PokerNews: Did you learn anything new about this issue while you were in Costa Rica?
NA: People within the company have told me that AJ Green confessed, and while in Costa Rica, I viewed what I believed to be his written statement while in the AP offices. I cannot reveal the content of this statement due to the NDA (non-disclosure agreement) that I signed. The names on the document were blacked out for my eyes.
PN: To the best of your knowledge, is AJ Green the "high-ranking consultant" referred to in the October 24th release?
NA: Yes, I think so. Absolute Poker would not confirm that officially for me, but many people let his name slip here and there. In addition, someone who was formerly heavily involved in the company confirmed that he is the one who was named as a "high-ranking consultant."
PN: Another person frequently mentioned in connection with the AP scandal is Scott Tom. Who is Scott Tom?
NA: Scott Tom is the main founder of Absolute Poker. He came up with the idea and got the initial funding and brought on friends to help him. He's been an integral member of the AP organization from the start and has continued to be as recently as this past summer. I'm not personally sure of his current involvement.
PN: Further to the Green question earlier, Is it true that there has been no public acknowledgment or release of information by Absolute Poker or its official representatives connecting either Green or Tom to the scandal?
NA: That's correct.
PN: Were you involved in or aware of the release to poker forums of an unofficial statement on October 24th, from an unnamed representative of Absolute Poker, that attributed the insider cheating affair to a single, "high-ranking consultant" involved with Absolute Poker?
NA: On Oct 24th I received an email from a Montreal-based law firm with the statement attached. It said that it was being issued by Absolute Poker, so I considered it to be an official statement even if they didn't send it out to media organizations on their own.
PN: Were any other people directly involved in the cheating scandal?
NA: Despite weeks of effort, I have not been able to find evidence of direct involvement by anyone else at AP.
PN: How long was the delay between the initial uncovering of highly suspect play, and the acknowledgment by Absolute Poker that something illicit had occurred? Was the period of time reasonable, or are there other explanations for what happened?
NA: In my opinion, it was a long time. Several high-limit players first accused AP of having a superuser account months ago. It took AP around a month to come around and if it wasn't for the Excel file e-mail to Marco [Johnson], they probably never would have come around.
The period of time certainly was not reasonable, in my opinion. A site should address concerns like this quickly, effectively and accurately. Until Oct 18th, the site was deceitful, slow and evasive. Since getting rid of the high-ranking "consultant" on Oct 18th, AP has been pretty quick for the most part. They got out refunds to customers very fast. The audit has been a little slower, but, personally, I'm glad they're doing a longer and more thorough audit. I'd feel pretty uncomfortable if the audit came back clean after a two day investigation.
PN: How is the company reacting in the wake of the scandal going public?
NA: I was pretty impressed with what I was told. I did not actually see much being done. However, the reason that my visit was more "talk" than "action" is because the company has been busy paying people back, answering auditor questions, trying to follow the forums, dealing with the PR nightmare, etc. It will take months to start to see the improvements that I was promised. I am told that the company wants to be on the leading edge of game security even beyond the standard RNG and hole-card security. Some areas discussed include collusion and multi-accounting. The new Director of Operations promised me that he will bring much more poker expertise into the company either via hires or consultants. Whether any of these things happen is yet to be seen, but I was impressed with the statements I was given about how the company plans on improving itself.
PN: Were funds seized from the cheating accounts? If so, is there any way of knowing how much was seized?
NA: Yes, there were funds seized. I believe that a large percentage of the funds acquired through the initial cheating were frozen before they could leave the site.
PN: You mentioned that the software vulnerability that allowed this cheating situation to occur has been closed. Are additional precautions being put into place to prevent the creation of a similar vulnerability in the future?
NA: Well, that's what I've been told. I believe that it has been closed.
In terms of precautionary measures, I assume the KGC will address how sites should handle software changes. In addition, sites should have internal controls in place that force multiple and unrelated people to sign off on changes so one or two people cannot strongly influence such a process.
PN: What is the role of the Kahnawake Gaming Commission [KGC] in all this?
NA: They license many sites. They also appear to control the Mohawk Internet Technologies hosting facility near Montreal. In addition, they officially hired and are paying for the Gaming Associates audit of AP.
PN: How did you perceive the rank-and-file employees of Absolute Poker to be in dealing with the cheating scandal? Was there anger, embarrassment, eagerness to correct the situation?
NA: I didn't talk to too many of them on the trip. The office is set up in such a manner that it's hard to randomly just talk to lower-level employees. The ones that I talked to outside of the office seem to either think the whole thing is funny or they're just indifferent. Life goes on for the Tico (Costa Rica) employees because as long as they still have their job and they're getting paid, I don't think they care. I don't really blame them for that attitude.
PN: There have been reports based on e-mails purportedly sent from Absolute Poker support that AP retains only the most recent two months of hand-history files. Can you offer insight on the truth of these reports?
NA: I've been told that two months is inaccurate. In actuality, Absolute Poker keeps two months of hand histories in its live database – in other words, the one that interacts with its currently-running games. However, for technical reasons, once databases get too large, they become unwieldy and slow. Therefore, Absolute Poker clears out hand histories from its live database every so often for performance reasons. This policy, I believe, is relatively standard.
In AP's case, they have such backups going back to August of 2006. AP management thinks they might be able to find hand histories from prior to August of 2006 on backup tapes somewhere, but I do not think they have found them yet. Also, I believe the significance of August 2006 is that Absolute made a technology switch and the old histories were not carried over automatically.
One interesting sidenote is that the KGC requires gaming records to be stored for five years at a minimum, so if AP cannot produce hand histories from prior to 2006 and before, then they could face a fine or sanctions of some kind if the KGC chooses to take such action. In my personal opinion, such action seems unlikely, but I do expect Absolute Poker to be more careful about data management in the future.
PN: Has Absolute Poker made commitments to doing permanent archiving of all real-money hands played on the site in the future?
NA: I don't think they have officially, but privately the new Director of Operations confirmed to me that AP will never delete another real-money hand history.