Thoughts on Sneak Preview of “Ultimatebeat: Too Much to Lose” (Documentary About the UltimateBet Poker Scandal)
Last night I joined a select group of Las Vegas poker players who were invited to preview a rough cut of the explosive film documentary called Ultimatebeat: Too Much to Lose.
The film gets its title from some wordplay on the Ultimatebet scandal, which rocked the industry at the tail end of the poker boom. According to investigators, the unsuspecting high-stakes poker playing victims were defrauded out of tens of millions of dollars.
So, where did all that money go and who got away with the crimes?
That’s what Ultimatebeat: Too Much to Lose seeks to answer, in painstaking detail.
The documentary is a one-man crusade led by Scott Bell. This marks his first foray into film making. Bell, who lives in Denver, played poker professionally for some time. He was a major contributor to various online poker forums, including TwoPlusTwo.com, which gradually broke every wretched detail of the scandal over a number of years (other sites and their contributors too, deserve much of the credit). Since then, Bell has spent the greater part of the last three years getting those involved — both the bandits and their victims — to speak openly on film about the fraud and subsequent cover up. As one might expect, his findings aren’t pretty.
Few were willing to sit down and be interviewed — no great surprise. Nonetheless, during a round-table type discussion that took place during a pause in the film, Bell revealed startling news that some of those directly involved (and admittedly guilty of the fraud) provided key details about what actually happened, how the money was moved around and divided among the culprits, and most important — who committed the most egregious crimes of all. Many of these off-the-record conversations became the road map for the buried treasure of truth.
Among those who appear in the film are Brad Booth, Mike Fosco, Michael Josem, Mason Malmuth, Steven McLoughlin, Todd Witteles, and several others who will be familiar to those who have followed the scandal. Each voice brings a unique perspective to the story and its gradual evolution. It’s as though each carries small piece of a complex puzzle and by putting them all together on film, we begin to see a clearer picture of what really happened.
Up to this point, the devil without a disguise has been Russ Hamilton, probably best known at the 1994 world poker champion. He’s been accused of being the ringmaster of several player user accounts which were set up with what’s been called “God Mode” technology. This enabled Hamilton and his confederates the ability to see all the hole cars of their opponents essentially rendering the game a farce and making them unbeatable. At one point during the ordeal, high-stakes pro Patrik Antonius who was one of the many victims is alleged to have said he’d never play at Ultimatebet again, after losing $500,000 in what he initially believed was an unconscionable run of “bad luck.” Another well-known pro Prahlad Friedman, lost over a million.
According to the film’s many revelations, Guy Laliberte (co-founder and CEO of Cirque du Soliel) lost a great deal more than that. In fact, it’s asserted he suffered the greatest losses in the history of online poker — not because of his skills or lack thereof, but because he was flat out cheated at Ultimatebet. While cheating fellow poker players is despicable enough, there’s something even more malicious about stealing from someone like Laliberte.
All these bombshells create what amounts to a nuclear bomb, and the radioactive fallout associated with these allegations could tarnish several names that are instantly recognizable to anyone that follows poker. Some of those names come out better than others. And, not everything you have been led to believe up to this point is true. With respect to the film and the tenacious work Scott Bell has done bringing these discoveries to light, I’ll refrain from going into specifics about who comes out clean or dirty. You’ll just have to wait and see the film for yourselves.
That said, Greg Pierson, now the CEO of Iovation comes out looking like Al Capone. What makes the disclosure and depths of Pierson’s involvement so relevant now, is that he’s ironically in charge of an online security company. After you pick your jaw up off the floor, read more about Pierson here in his article posted at SLATE.
To his credit, Bell attempts to remain unbiased about the subject matter and those involved. While it’s pretty clear lots of money was stolen, the film doesn’t preach or moralize. In the manner one might expect from PBS’ Frontline, Bell simply roles out the interviews and the damning paper trail and lets the chips fall where they may, so to speak. This approach serves him well and adds to the credibility of the effort.
The film does contain many flaws and annoyances. It’s unlikely to appeal to anyone outside of poker and may even be too highly-detailed to maintain the attention of a generation of viewers who want their daily news in what amounts to a Twitter post. Currently at 110-minutes, it’s way too long. For the small number of viewers who want every single detail, this movie will satisfy. But to most, it’s just too cumbersome to plow through the flow of such a complicated web. For commercial purposes, my advice would be to shorten this film to about an hour. If Frontline could encapsulate the 2008 banking crisis and bailout into 53 minutes, then Ultimatebeat should be able to do the same with this subject matter.
Although it still needs considerable work and could use a few more insider faces and voices, Ultimatebeat: Too Much to Lose deserves to be seen for no other reason that we must know the names of the guilty. As one person in the film says, “Lives were ruined, marriages broke up, people were totally wiped out.”
And now, with online poker likely to make a comeback, we should never forget what they did and who they were.