Joe Sebok's recent signing with UltimateBet has been a hot topic on poker forums across the Internet. PokerNews decided to look at both sides of the argument as to whether Sebok's signing will be a good thing or a bad thing for both him and UB.
Michael Friedman: Joe Sebok's signing with UB is a good thing.
Sebok's deal gives poker players a "person on the inside" who will stick up for them when it comes to players’ rights and platform security.
Sebok has earned his wings in poker by being one of the leading faces for the industry thanks to his role at PokerRoad.com. In essence, his standing as "one of the good guys" within the poker community is a big reason his hiring will have an affect as he brings a reputation of loyalty and trustworthiness to UltimateBet that is desperately needed. Having avoided jumping on the sponsorship bandwagon early on, he earned respect from both the media and players for not having sold himself to the highest bidder despite numerous opportunities to do so. For players frustrated with having no representation at UB, which is one the reason players left the site besides the cheating scandal, Sebok's move marks the beginning of a new relationship between players and the gaming site that will, one hopes, benefit players on the site and the industry as a whole by helping to move the UB team in the right direction.
Sebok will also continue to be a part of the media while being a sponsored player. Although this may not seem like a big deal, having Sebok on both sides of the poker business is good for the industry. Sebok has signed a deal with UB, PokerRoad has not, and he still has the ability to use that forum to help improve the game. Granted, although he is now taking a salary from UB, nothing Sebok has done in the past suggests that he will try to manipulate his position of political power within the game to help shill for UB. In fact, Sebok has proven repeatedly that he can't be bought and as a result, his integrity as a member of the media is without question, so it's a huge gain for the industry when someone of his stature gets to play a hands-on role within a company like UB. One hopes that he will be able to follow his gut instinct and that he will remain on the front lines of the industry.
Many poker players would have avoided the UB scandal (and the site), but Sebok has willingly put himself on the firing line despite being blasted in several forums for doing so. One thing that we have learned by working with him in the media is that Sebok is a tireless fighter who has done nothing but good for the game. I have faith in his past actions and his mellow personality because he has given the poker community little reason to doubt him. Granted, Sebok's signing positions him for a fall if things go south with UB, but I would like to believe he has thought this through and is prepared for possible ramifications of his deal. In other words, Seebs knew what he was doing and knew he was going to catch a lot of hell for making this decision, but he believes he can make a difference. The more poker pros who have the balls to try and make a difference, the better off the game will be.
Nicole Gordon: This is a move that could cost Sebok all the credibility he’s strived so hard to build.
Every player, dealer, media rep, journalist, publicist, and gaming exec in the poker industry is here for one reason and one reason only—to make money. No one plays this game out of the pure goodness of their heart or a thirst for healthy competition alone. We grind it out at the tables to make money. Online poker sites collect a rake to make money. Journalists write stories and host podcasts and live-blog tournaments above all else - to make money. If Joe Sebok took a sponsorship deal with Ultimate Bet purely as a moneymaking venture, it would be difficult to find a reason to fault him for it. Buy-ins and travel expenses add up quickly. Start-up companies like PokerRoad don’t fund themselves. And the economy isn’t going to get better anytime soon. Clearly, whatever package Ultimate Bet offered Sebok had to be so far above and beyond what other sites have approached him about in the past for Sebok to take such a huge personal risk in accepting the deal. Clearly we’re not talking about $35 an hour and 100% rakeback here. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary and buy-ins.
If Sebok’s decision was about the money (and a lot of it had to be about the money), why not just come out and say that? Why instead frame the deal as part of a noble quest to become an Ulitmate Bet watchdog and out the cheaters? If anything, Sebok should have signed with UB only on the condition that they would (a) release the hand histories players have been demanding for months now and (b) release the names of the 31 individuals determined to be connected with the cheating scheme. That sort of ultimatum, if anything, would have shown just how willing UB was to cooperate with Sebok, as well as the community of online players he hopes to represent.
On UB’s part, signing Sebok has to be the best idea they have come up with in some time. With his role in the media, his presence on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter (860,000 followers and counting), and his all-around good guy persona, Sebok is the perfect face to put on a site that is still trying to emerge from the largest scandal ever to hit the industry. He’s someone who has been openly and vocally critical of UB in the past, is generally thought of as honest and trustworthy, and carries a lot of weight in the community. What UB has really bought here in signing Sebok is his reputation—something he stands to lose if he can’t achieve the goals he’s set for himself in this endeavor.
As for reaching those goals, it’s never an easy thing when an individual goes up against a corporation that is clearly hiding something. I think it’s no question that Sebok truly believes that in this new role he will be able to make positive changes at UB. It’s just a question of if he’ll actually be able to accomplish anything on his agenda. Even today, in a post on his personal blog titled “Process for Release of UB Hand Histories,” Sebok told players to e-mail UB security and they’d receive a spreadsheet of files. However, posts are already appearing on poker forums from players who simply received a form letter in response.
Though we do need to give Sebok some time in his pursuit, it seems like nothing has changed over at UB. Players who were cheated are still being stonewalled when it comes to their hand histories. The corporate/ownership structure of the site is still extremely vague, and UB is still hiding behind legalese when it comes to releasing the 31 names behind the superuser accounts. No one will be 100% satisfied with UB until (a) all the names are released (b) all the money is returned, and (c) Russ Hamilton and his co-conspirators are in jail. People were robbed. As of yet, no one has paid for it. And Joe Sebok is staking his own credibility on a company whose owners and employees stole from their customers. Probably not a wise move.