By Mike Brunker Projects Team editor
msnbc.com
updated 10/1/2008 9:07:21 AM ET 2008-10-01T13:07:21

Investigators looking into an apparent cheating scam at a leading online poker site have turned over one of their hole cards, identifying a well-known Las Vegas poker player and golf hustler as the “main person responsible for … multiple cheating incidents.”

The Kahnawake Gaming Commission, which oversees Internet gambling operations licensed to operate from Canada’s Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, said in a news release Monday that its investigation had found “clear and convincing evidence” implicating poker pro Russ Hamilton in a long-running cheating scheme on the UltimateBet.com poker site.

Stating that the cheating scheme ran from approximately May 2004 until 2008, the gaming commission said it had turned over its evidence to law enforcement agencies and “intends to fully cooperate in the prosecution of all individuals involved in the UB cheating incidents.”

Las Vegas police could not immediately confirm that information regarding the alleged theft had been received from the Kahnawake Gaming Commission.

Frank Catania, a former New Jersey gambling regulator, who led the commission's investigation, told msnbc.com that Hamilton had been identified by a review of UltimateBet’s records and that his team had not had any contact with him. Msnbc.com, which published an article on the case on Sept. 18, made multiple attempts to reach Hamilton earlier this month without success.

Hamilton is well known in professional poker circles, having won the main event of the World Series of Poker in 1994, earning the $1 million first prize as well as his body weight in silver. All told, Hamilton has won more than $1.5 million in poker tournaments, but has rarely played in recent years, according to the Herndon Mob Poker Database.

The amount of money allegedly stolen from players in the high- and no-limit games on UltimateBet has not been made public, but the KGC news release said that the site has so far returned $6.1 million to players impacted by the cheating. Catania, who is president of Catania Gaming Consultants, declined to put a figure on the theft, but said that the amount repaid so far was less than half of the total.

In addition to identifying Hamilton, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission’s release said that it had fined UltimateBet $1.5 million for failing to adhere to its anti-fraud regulations and had ordered the company to “remove any and all persons deemed as ‘unsuitable’ … from all involvement with the company.”

Catania declined to say whether that referred to any owners of the company, but said that Joseph Norton, a former Kahnawake Mohawk chief who had been publicly identified as the owner of UltimateBet through his company Tokwiro Enterprises, did not have anything to do with the cheating.

“Joe did not have any part of this,” he said. “He just happened to have the wool pulled over his eyes.”

Criminal prosecution of Hamilton would be unique in the short history of Internet gambling, and the Kahnawake Gambling Commission faces a hurdle in persuading Las Vegas authorities to go after Hamilton since online betting — including playing poker — is illegal under Nevada law.

But Catania said he believes authorities will take the case.

“I think that there’s been a crime committed,” Catania said. “If you’ve cheated people and made money … they have to prosecute.”

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