4 Betting Scandals That Shook the World

Playing fair is a noble endeavor, but what if you lose? You get nothing. Nada. Zip. Bupkis. Most folks accept this as all part of the game; you pays your money, you takes your chance. Not these crooks. These cheats all sought to guarantee a pay-out, and they woulda gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for those meddling kids. Or, ya know, their own greed. Unsurprisingly, their actions angered a lot of people and left others astounded anyone could be so brazenly dishonest.
A man hiding a playing card in his sleeve.
Published on: 10 June 2019

Cards, Baseball & Video Games

Whether it’s stacking the deck to ensure you get the best hand or accepting a bribe to throw a game, there are no limits to the fraudulent means of rigging the odds. There are even a number of methods that many have believed over the years can be used to cheat at slot games. What follows are the most egregious examples of cheating you will ever come across, episodes that amaze and infuriate in equal measure.

High Society Shenanigans

In 1891, England was scandalized by a trial involving the heir to the throne, Prince Edward. His friend, Sir William Gordon-Cumming, had been accused of cheating at a game of baccarat the year before and, in response, filed a writ for slander. As a result, the Prince had to provide evidence as a witness – the second time he had been compelled to appear in court, having previously testified in the Mordaunt divorce case of 1871. The atmosphere around the Royal Court of Justice was frenetic, with people feverishly buying up tickets to see the historic event. The media had a field day, and there was a sense that the whole of Britain was glued to the proceedings.

Everyone agreed that, in September 1890, Sir William and the Prince had been present at Tranby Croft and taken part in two nights of baccarat, with the former winning a substantial sum during their stay. However, how he did so was in dispute. Other players were convinced that Gordon-Cumming had been adding chips to his stake after the cards were revealed, in direct contravention of the rules. When confronted, he tried to deny that he had done anything of the sort but was forced by his irate opponents to make a promise swearing never to play cards again. He did so to avoid a public scandal, but in the event the ‘Tranby Croft affair’ leaked anyway so, in order to defend his honor, Sir William sued those who had initially accused him.

He failed. At the end of a controversial case mired by claims that the judge was biased against him, Sir William Gordon-Cumming lost and was immediately ostracized by polite society. The following morning he was dismissed from the army, although he married his rich young American fiancé that same day so clearly every cloud has a silver lining.

Say It Ain’t So, Joe

Forget Lance Armstrong. The single greatest scandal in American sporting history occurred when the national pastime was rocked by revelations that the land’s best baseball team had conspired to lose the 1919 World Series. The Chicago White Sox had enjoyed an incredible regular season, and were odds-on favorites to brush aside the Cincinnati Reds in the best-of-nine showdown. To the astonishment of everyone invested in the outcome, the Reds were victorious, winning the head-to-head with a game to spare.

It transpired that eight of the White Sox had accepted payment from notorious gangster Arnold Rothstein in exchange for ‘going easy’ during the Series. Murmurs to this effect had swirled around bookmakers before even the first pitch, as a flood of bets came in backing Cincinnati, and rumors reached some of the reporters covering the games that ‘the fix was in’. The poor performance of Chicago’s hitherto heroic players caused these suspicions to reach a crescendo by the time the championship was finally clinched.

A grand jury convened to investigate the affair, and under the pressure pitcher Eddie ‘Knuckles’ Cicotte admitted to his involvement. The rest of the conspirators fell like dominoes, and the entire match-fixing enterprise became clear for all to see. None of the players went to prison, but the eight who would become known as the ‘Black Sox’ were permanently banned from baseball and would never become Hall of Famers. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was given the task of cleaning up baseball and became the first ever Commissioner of the sport.

The Black Sox sent such shockwaves around America that many fans simply walked away from baseball, considering the sport irretrievably tarnished and its innocence lost forever. This was perfectly represented by the heartbroken fans of star player ‘Shoeless Joe’ Jackson, who would chant at their former hero as the scandal unraveled, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!”

The Omniscient Poker Player

Russ Hamilton was one of the great card sharks. He even won the 1994 World Series of Poker and pocketed a cool 1 million dollars in the process. From there, he moved into the expanding market of online gambling, becoming a consultant for UltimateBet – one of the biggest and most successful internet poker companies. On the surface, it looked like he had taken to his new responsibilities like a duck to water; Hamilton used his table contacts to bring in prominent poker players to promote the brand, and his work contributed to the platform gaining unprecedented popularity.

However, rumblings began to be felt. UltimateBet’s members became suspicious of what is termed a ‘superuser’ – an opponent able to see their cards, thereby having an almost unbeatable advantage in play. Some of the site’s data was leaked and got into the hands of an eminent expert of mathematics, whose examination of the files strongly supported the allegations of the aggrieved members. The data showed the ‘superuser’ playing unfeasibly well; folding every single time an opponent had a good hand, betting heavily whenever the circumstances were reversed.

Finally, in 2008, it came to light that Russ Hamilton, among others employed by UltimateBet, had been secretly scamming the clients. He used at least four different accounts to participate in games as if he had ‘God mode’ enabled. With the cooperation of the company’s former owners, Hamilton swindled more than 20 million dollars out of the website’s members from 2004 onwards. One of his co-conspirators even caught him on tape admitting to his actions.

More than a decade later, the resultant court cases continue to drag on. The platform was discontinued in 2012, and large reparations were paid to players who were cheated out of their rightful winnings. On the bright side, this betting scandal led to a heightened awareness of the risks involved in online gambling, as well as the institution and enforcement of tighter regulations in the market.

Sullied Stars of eSports

You would have to have been living under a rock the last couple of years to have missed the exploding popularity of competitive computer gaming. Better known as eSports, this arena of battle sees the very best gamers on the planet go head-to-head in a variety of tournaments and, as with any challenging human endeavor, these contests are attracting greater and greater gambling interest. Given that this is primarily appealing to younger demographics, you can expect to hear a lot more about eSports in the future.

Alas, even here we find betting scandals bringing the whole enterprise into disrepute. In South Korea, probably the most devoted market in global eSports, a few famous players were arrested under suspicion of throwing games. Among their number was Lee ‘Life’ Seung-Hyun who, it was alleged, accepted more than 70 million won ($60,000) in 2015 for his part in match-fixing. Only 19 years old, ‘Life’ was already a beloved presence in the eSports scene, adding to the sense of shock. Another gamer outed as a cheat was the appropriately-named Bung Woo Yong, otherwise known as ‘Bbyong’, who received 27 million won ($23,000) in January of 2016.

The whole affair had a similar effect on the world of eSports to that the Black Sox had on baseball, and the numbers of those implicated line up too; eight were arrested, though unlike the ball players of 1919 they will receive prison sentences. South Korea’s eSports debacle came hot on the heels of another gaming scandal, this one affecting the Counter Strike community in the United States, so it is becoming abundantly clear that the industry needs to clean house ASAP.

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