Call it damage control. Call it good P.R. Or simply call it a case of good timing.
Whatever the case, UltimateBet's signing of two high-profile poker pros -- Eric "Rizen" Lynch and Cliff "JohnnyBax" Josephy -- in the immediate aftermath of a troublesome cheating scandal had a stirring affect on the poker community, prompting the popular pros to try and immediately defuse any questions about a lack of ethics.
"I realize that this decision is not without controversy and assure everyone that it is a decision I did not take lightly," Lynch wrote Wednesday on his blog at www.rizenpoker.com, just one day after his partnership with UB was announced. "The most important reason for me personally (I cannot speak for the other pros) is that I believe in my relationship with Ultimate Bet that their management is committed to creating the premier place to play poker online. I believe that the new management 'gets it' and that my input and feedback will be listened to and used to improve the site."Meanwhile, Josephy added on the Poker Fives poker forums: "I have always enjoyed playing at UltimateBet. The interface and the structure are 2nd to none. It is my belief that management is committed to doing the right things on a going forward basis. Thus, I have decided to support them. I will do all I can to ensure the players really like the improved UB."
Last week, UltimateBet's owner, Tokwiro Enterprises ENRG, admitted that its security had been breached by former employees and accounts with access to opponents' hole cards were used to cheat in high-stakes games.
The company announced that "certain player accounts did in fact have an unfair advantage" and that "the individuals responsible were found to have worked for the previous ownership of UltimateBet prior to the sale of the business to Tokwiro in October 2006." In addition, Tokwiro said that it eliminated the "software hole" that allowed hole cards to be seen and was going to institute new procedures to "prevent, detect and investigate unfair play and fraud."
Lynch went on to say in his blog that he saw no "red flags" as he researched whether or not he wanted to be associated with UB.
"I obviously cannot reveal the details of conversations that I've had with people both internal and external to the company, but I can say that I did more detailed research on this decision than I have any other business related decision in my life," Lynch wrote.
"I talked with and interviewed people both in and out of the company (the people I used outside of the company were contacts that deal with that management team on a regular basis for various reason whose opinions I both highly respect and believed to be unbiased) and not a single word I heard raised a red flag to me."
"If I had ANY doubts in my mind that going forward that the management team at Ultimate Bet did not have security as a top priority and that they had the ability to execute those security improvements in the future we wouldn't be having this conversation because I would not have signed with them."
In 2007, Lynch cashed five times at the World Series of Poker and made two final tables, winning over $163,000. His online successes are well documented. Last December, he finished first in Event #5 of UltimateBet's Online Championship (UBOC), securing $57,875. On May 1, Lynch won $10,400 after capturing UltimateBet's $40,000 Guaranteed Sniper tournament.
"We're extremely impressed with Rizen's talent both at the online poker tables and at land-based tournaments," said Annie Duke, UltimateBet's Cardroom Consultant, of Lynch, who also announced on his blog that a "significant portion" of his proceeds from Ultimate Bet would go to charity. "But we're most impressed with the integrity and strong values he shares with Josephy."
Josephy, a WSOP Bracelet winner and New York native, joined UB's list of Star Players just one week before Lynch and took his place at the online poker room alongside other pros like Shawn Rice, Scott Ian, Mark "P0ker H0" Kroon and Gary "Debo34" DeBernardi. Josephy won his bracelet at the 2005 WSOP, Event #8. His most lucrative win, however, came in September of 2006 at the UltimateBet Aruba Poker Classic, where a second place finish earned him nearly half a million dollars.
"A Star Player is one who has an undisputed high level of skill, lots of integrity, and is well respected in the world of online poker," Duke added. "One look at his impressive record reveals that JohnnyBax epitomizes a Star Player and is the perfect addition to our roster of respected and talented poker players."