Absolute Poker Rigged Keno: Five Months Later with No Compensation and a False Explanation, and How This Relates to Superusers and Joe Sebok

(Update 4/1: AP has repaid customers, but their new explanation leaves a lot to be desired. I recommend reading this post first if you haven’t read it yet, but then see this post for the update.)

Cereus is in the news again, as UB sponsored pro and tweeter extraordinaire Joe Sebok has finally made a 2p2 account to talk about various things. Frankly, reading those threads is just about the most frustrating possible use of one’s time, but for the masochists in the audience, please accept my flower of links: (((1 2 3 4))). ($5 on Stars/FTP to the first person who correctly identifies that reference.)

Basically, what’s going on currently is an argument between Joe and 2p2 in which Joe insists that current Cereus management is clean and 2p2 argues otherwise. (Much of it might actually come down to Joe’s rather lax definition of cleanliness, actually.) Needless to say, the UB/AP superuser scandal is an incredibly big deal. But, it’s so painfully nuanced, complicated, and shrouded in mystery that answering a simple question like “Is Cereus currently run by a bunch of crooks?” is amazingly difficult. So, I’m going to leave the larger scandal to the professionals and sidestep the issue entirely to discuss a much much smaller on-going scandal: Absolute Poker’s rigged keno game and their response. I think that that scandal deserves some more publicity in its own right (and it’s entirely my fault that it has not gotten enough), but I also think it should provide some perspective on the current discussion.

(I think it’s worth noting here that, though this scandal is several orders of magnitude smaller than the superuser scandal, had it happened on any other US-facing network, it would have been huge. The fact that it’s received such disproportionately small attention from the poker community (myself included) is a testament to how jaded we all are when it comes to Cereus.)

AP Rigged Keno…

On October 16, 2010, I was contacted by a 2p2er whose friend liked to play Keno on AP. (I had no clue that AP spread Keno, but it turns out that they have a browser-based casino that spreads all sorts of weird games.) He claimed that his friend had showed him undeniable proof that the “RNG” in this game was actually not random. I thought that that was absurd because of how incredibly stupid one would have to be to write a fake RNG that was noticeably flawed to a casual observer, but it turns out that that’s exactly what happened. Here’s a video demonstration that I made at the time:

I realize that this is a bit strange, and if you’d like a better explanation, please see my original post on 2p2 about it. But, suffice it to say, that AP spread a game with a fake random number  generator. (Incidentally, tt is almost certainly the result of an incompetent or lazy programmer and an incompetent or negligent game security team at AP and not an overtly malicious rigging.) This is pretty terrifying for a company who’s primary purpose is arguably to provide a randomized deck of cards for use in poker, especially when you consider just how blatantly non-random this Keno game was. It also of course means that they’ve wronged their customers and owe them an honest explanation and repayment. (As you’ll see, none of these have come.)

AP’s Initial Response

Here is Absolute’s e-mail response to the situation. It is the only official statement from AP about the issue that I know of:

Thank you for contacting us.

We have recently been made aware of a issue with a Keno game offered to our players. The game affected was the ‘ten play’ option of Traditional Keno.

Keno is provided to us by Betsoft Gaming (BSG), a third party software provider. We are one of several licensees worldwide that offer the BSG casino suite. BSG’s RNG has been fully tested and certified Random by Technical Systems Testing (TST).

Initial findings indicate that there is no issue with the RNG, but rather a flaw specific to the game logic in ‘ten play’ only on Traditional Keno. Betsoft Gaming was contacted upon notice of the flaw, immediately after which, the issue was corrected.

A full investigation is being performed on our end as well as by BSG. We are eager to obtain all details and will share those findings with the gaming community.

Remember that we are here 24/7 in order to provide the best customer service in the poker industry.

If there is anything else we can help you with, please let us know.

It is indeed true that the games appear to be licensed from a company called Betsoft Gaming, but because of Cereus’s love for shell companies, there’s no way to know whether they are actually separate entities. Indeed, AP casino’s web site still says that it is “created by the same team behind Absolute Poker.” And, of course, regardless of who created the games, AP is spreading them, so AP is responsible for them. It is also true that they were certified random by a company called Technical Systems Testing, including explicit mention of the keno game in question (Traditional Keno), but this is obviously evidence that TST is nothing more than a rubber stamp, and not any evidence of due diligence on AP’s part–certainly not evidence of randomness. And, finally, it is also true that the issue was corrected pretty quickly, although shortly after the issue was corrected, the game was taken down anyway. (It’s still not there, though the other forms of keno are.)

So, that’s what’s true in the e-mail. What’s not true in the e-mail is their explanation that this was merely a flaw in the game logic of the ‘ten play’ feature. It is demonstrably false, based on the evidence that myself and Thomas Bakker had already made public before AP made that statement. It was in fact a flaw in the “R”NG. Here’s some of the evidence that their explanation is a lie:

Again, this video was made public on 2p2 together with initial report BEFORE Absolute Poker decided to provide an explanation that directly contradicts what happens in this video. That’s not the only piece of evidence that I have that shows that their official explanation is a lie, but it’s sufficient for my purposes. (I’m being intentionally terse in my explanation both because the long-winded version is pretty boring and because, on the off chance that AP decides to respond to this ever again, I don’t want to make it easier for them to come up with less stupid lie the second time around.) I cannot conceive of any possible way that AP could have looked into this and somehow mistakenly thought the flaw was with the ’10 play’ feature and not the “R”NG. In other words, this is a lie and not a mistake.

The lie is quite convenient for them, of course. It means that they don’t have to admit purchasing (or creating) software with a fake RNG, but rather have to admit to the slightly lesser mistake of purchasing (or creating) software that had a slightly obscure (though still unaccpetable) error in it. It also follows Cereus’s general pattern during the superuser scandal of only admitting to exactly what was publicly proven, although in this case they made the mistake of misunderstanding the public evidence. Probably more importantly, it means that they only need to commit to paying back people who used the ’10 play’ feature.

Speaking of compensation, in spite of the fact that the e-mail admits that AP was spreading a rigged game (though they certainly use different terminology), the e-mail seems to leave that part out. In fact, the only mention of compensation that I know of has come from informal discussion from Joe Sebok. He tweeted a few days after this became public that people would “obv” be repaid.

No Compensation

(The cliffs of what follows is that Cereus has yet to repay anybody or to take back their lie. But, since Joe Sebok plays a big role in this part of the story and he’s currently in the news, I’m going to be a bit thorough about his part in the saga. If you don’t care much about Joe, you might want to just skip ahead to the last section, entitled “Relevance to the Superuser Scandal and the Current Conversation.”)

Fast forward two months to December 22st, and I’ve still heard nothing from AP nor has my account been credited. I’m owed some trivial amount on the order of $20 (since I only played $0.10 a spin to look into this), but I assumed the fact that the guy who made this public hadn’t been repaid his $20 means that the various people who played this game for much larger sums of money had also not been compensated. That seems pretty ridiculous since all they need to do is go through people’s transaction logs and repay the money that they lost in their rigged keno game.

Since Joe was the only person at Cereus to mention compensation, I bugged him about it on twitter. He didn’t respond until I bugged him again on the afternoon of NYE. His response was to repeatedly ask me to e-mail him so he could look into my account (I’m not interested in my $20; I’m interested in why nobody’s been repaid) and to claim that people had already been repaid. I gave in and e-mailed him, and he said he’d have security e-mail me back. (Here’s the full twitter conversation for those who are interested. It’s extremely boring: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7)

Fast forward again to January 12 (now almost 4 months after), and I still haven’t heard anything. So, I e-mail Joe telling him that nobody’s contacting me, and I got the following e-mail from Joe:

Hey man-
Got into it internally and it turns out that they are in the process of getting BSG (the company that runs the casino) to pull date, issue a statement, and then UB is going to refund the losses back to the customers (yourself), which I believe is less than 30k in total.

I mistakenly thought that they already had, but they haven’t finished it up quite yet.  I was told should be done within about a week, which I am hoping actually happens that quickly, so be looking for that…



To paraphrase: “Oops, my bad. Sorry for publicly saying that we’d repaid people like we were supposed to when we actually still haven’t. Turns out we haven’t done that because it’s taken us three months to figure out what happened. Conveniently, it’s going to be done in a week, though!”

I asked him him if I could mention the conversation on twitter feed to let people know that it was not yet resolved, and he agreed. So, I posted “@joesebok says was misinformed. Nobody’s been paid back for rigged AP Keno. Hoping for payments within a week. Official story still a lie.” This resulted in an angry back-and-forth on twitter, including the following e-mail:

friend, the casino wasn’t “rigged”.  do you really think we are just making millions off of rigging our casino?  even after all of the trouble and issues from the past, all you guys still think that we are actively cheating people?  come on, it just doesn’t make sense.  put our whole business in jeopardy when we make plenty of money just with our games being legit?

it’s all good.  I don’t know what to say.  I feel that you feel the way you do about ub and I understand that.  I guess I just shouldn’t put myself into a situation where I can be publically quoted with things I didn’t say. serves me right for attempting to help I suppose.

it’s all good though.

He felt he’d been misquoted, so I took the tweet down. I now regret not doing more to keep this issue in the spotlight. Joe successfully portrayed himself as a victim, and I stupidly felt that I’d wronged him and dropped the issue with my tail between my legs.

[slider title=”(For those who are interested: My e-mailed response.)”]I don’t want to be unfair to you. It’s cool that you’re bothering with
this, and you obv have no responsibility to do so.

I don’t think it was intentionally rigged. I think that someone was
incredibly lazy and wrote up a really really half-assed method of
randomizing the game that effectively made it rigged. I think that the
fact that someone working with AP was comfortable doing that and that
nobody at AP caught this themselves reflects very very poorly on AP’s
efforts to run fair games. The fact that it takes so long for them to
pay back a tiny amount of money that they cost their customers through
their own laziness and incompetence shows further laziness and
incompetence. The fact that the statement that they released about the
flaw is untrue–It doesn’t even explain what I made public–further
shows that the people working there either completely don’t understand
what happened or are comfortable lying about it.

I understand if you object to the specific use of the word rigged
because you might think that that implies intent to steal money from
customers, and I agree that that isn’t the case. I don’t really know
any other word to describe a casino game that functioned differently
than expected in a way that screwed over customers, though, and I
don’t really think that a large company that consistently makes
mistakes that hurt its customers is entitled to nitpick about words
used to describe those mistakes.

The only news that I wanted to get across is that you’ve acknowledged
that you were misinformed when you said that people had been paid
back, that you’ve been told that people will be paid back in the next
week but you’re not holding your breath, and that Cereus’s official
statement about the incident is provably false. Obviously, I’m really
wordy and very unskilled at writing things in 140 characters or less.
I don’t want to write something that you think is unfair, so I’m
perfectly open to a suggestion for how to do that.


Still Waiting….

It’s now March 24, and five months have passed since I made this public. The official story is still a blatant lie, nobody from AP has contacted me (besides one of their sponsored pros), and nobody has been paid back. The last contact that I’ve had about this was an e-mail from Joe on March 16: “still waiting on this.  sigh.  not sure what the deal is.”

I’ve decided to make this public because it sorta really is a big deal. Joe says that Cereus owes less than $30k, but $30k is a lot of money and Joe has absolutely no credibility on this issue at all. (He admits repeatedly in our e-mail communication that he doesn’t understand it.)

Relevance to the Superuser Scandal and the Current Conversation

Again, were this keno debacle to have happened on any other network, it would’ve been a huge scandal. So, it’s a big deal in its own right, though it’s easy to write off both because we’re all tired of hearing about stuff that Cereus does and because Cereus is so goddam skilled at ignoring things until they go away. It’s also pretty low on the list of things that Cereus has screwed up royally.

But, it also serves as a very very simple case study into how Cereus and Joe Sebok behave, which I think is quite relevant to the current discussion. Here’s a summary of what happened to clarify:

  1. AP spreads a blatantly rigged keno game. (This was almost certainly due to incompetence, laziness, and negligence and not outright fraud.)
  2. Joe Sebok makes a public statement saying that people will be repaid and calling this fact obvious, presumably implying that this is exactly what everyone should expect from Cereus.
  3. AP blames another company for the mistake and blatantly lies about the extent of it. They make no mention of repayment.
  4. Two months pass without any contact or repayment.
  5. Joe Sebok responds to my public nagging by playing down the issue, claiming that people have been repaid, and asking me to talk in private.
  6. Private discussions reveal that people have not been repaid.
  7. Sebok repeatedly says that he’ll have somebody contact me or that repayment is coming, but nothing ever materializes.
  8. When I try to make a piece of the private discussion (which I did not want to be private) public, he portrays himself as the victim.
  9. Three more months pass with no further official statement and no compensation.

I think that this story mirrors Cereus and Sebok’s behavior regarding the superuser scandal to a remarkable degree. It is indeed an instance of Cereus being completely incompetent and lying about player security, and it directly contradicts Joe’s repeated statements that the current management is on the up-and-up (besides, of course, their admitted “mistake” of attempting to cover up a multimillion dollar theft…).


(In other news, Life as a HU SnG Pro is about half-way done. I wanted to post it today, but this took precedence. This upcoming week is going to be pretty crazy for me, but I’ll try to squeeze it in while I procrastinate or something… If you’d like to read more of my posts, you can follow my RSS feed or follow me on that twitter thing.)


  1. Keep up the great work Noah.

  2. Andrew Cormack

    The brass neck a piece of scum – harsh words but my opinion given that he takes a lot of money to cover up the activities of thieves – like Joe Sebok exhibits by going onto reputable sites such as 2+2 to shill for aforementioned thieves is astounding.

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  8. “Please accept this flower” Airplane, right?

    • Noah Stephens-Davidowitz

      Nope. It’s a reference to some random line from an obscure book that I love. I doubt anyone will get it, but I was just curious to see if anyone would.

  9. Reference is to J.D. Salinger, I’m guessing, who offers a bouquet of blooming parentheses in Seymour: An Introduction.

    Great work, btw.

    • Noah Stephens-Davidowitz

      Sick! You’re awesome! Please e-mail your stars or FTP info to noahsd (at) gmail (dot) com.

      I think the actual quote is “Please accept from me this unpretentious bouquet of very early-blooming parentheses: (((()))).”

  10. I never thought I would be defending Joe Sebok (and by extension, Cereus). I can understand why Joe bristled at your categorization of the keno game as “rigged”. Everything else you had in that tweet was factual. However, “rigged” implies that the game was fixed for the personal gain of someone — but you even admit that it seems to be more likely to be incompetence. And in your email to Joe, you even state more or less what I’m saying here.

    Instead of rigged, why not just the simple word “broken”?

    • Noah Stephens-Davidowitz

      I address that in the post.

      The game wasn’t just broken. It was a casino game that claimed to be random, wasn’t actually random, and as a result it was impossible (or maybe just ridiculously unlikely) for the player to win. I acknowledge that the word rigged has some connotations that don’t apply here, but I don’t know another word to describe it. I even asked Joe for an alternative word, and he didn’t have a suggestion. “Broken” certainly doesn’t clarify.

      Regardless, I’d be way more interested in reconsidering my wording if they made any attempt at all to handle this correctly.

  11. | Poker Online Gratis - pingback on March 28, 2011 at 11:07 am
  12. Petri Pollanen

    Did you ever run the simultaneous play while picking different numbers? It seems as if the software “randomly” decides whether or not you are going to win and then decides which numbers it’s going to pull out (taking into consideration the numbers you’ve chosen). And the only conceivable reason for doing this would be to eliminate/reduce the probability of large payouts; if you’re running a fair game, why not just generate the board randomly? It’s not like it’s a difficult programming task.

    • Noah Stephens-Davidowitz

      Hi Petri,
      That’s one possible explanation of what they screwed up based on the evidence that I presented.

      I have other evidence that narrows down the number of possibilities, but given AP’s willingness to lie about this, I’d rather withhold that evidence right now. Suffice it to say that their current explanation is clearly a lie based on what I’ve shown (and, indeed, based on what I’d already shown before they made their only statement on the issue..). If they ever decide to confess to this lie and provide a new explanation (or, more likely, claim to have accidentally said something that wasn’t true), I’ll post here or on 2p2 about whether or not their new explanation matches the evidence that I have, and of course if it doesn’t I’ll explain why.

      More important than all that, though, is the fact that I have an exam tomorrow. Quit posting such good comments so that I can study :P.

  13. Another great blog post, Noah. I am really excited to see your PLO variance analysis. I don’t think it will be good news for PLO grinders :). As a quick note, I hope you separate deep PLO from shallow stacked PLO. IME, there is a significant difference in SDs between the two.

  14. Missing coverage of Betsoft Keno scandal : Infinite Edge Gaming - pingback on March 30, 2011 at 8:02 am
  15. Catching up on my blogs and just read this. Great work and great writeup!

  16. Well of course they’re scumabags. ALL of their games are unregulated and rigged for maximum profit. the owners of these websites like UB and Tilt should be hunted and shot down like dogs along with their family members so that future generations of scumabags like them can’t cheat future generations of poker players/online gamblers out of billions of dollars. simple as that. until it happens, they will keep rigging their games.

  17. Absolute poker had a pretty poor rep for many many years – I am surprised that people kept playing with them after the big scandal in 07. Sure enough, they all lost their money in the end!

  18. (I think it’s worth noting here that, though this scandal is several orders of magnitude smaller than the superuser scandal, had it happened on any other US-facing network, it would have been huge.