Online poker in the U.S., despite regulations against it, has grown in lockstep with cable programs devoted to poker. A new investigation by the Washington Post and the CBS show 60 Minutes revealed how two online sites were hacked, resulting in the scamming of millions of dollars in poker winnings.

I've written before about the many reasons that online gaming is a bad deal. The sites are located God-knows-where. The cards are not cards, but lines of code, subject to manipulation by a hacker or site operator; there is no guarantee the game is on the up and up. Your money flows through the books of people of unknown trustworthiness, funding who knows what kind of programs.

The WP/CBS investigation focused on two sites in particular, AbsolutePoker and UltimateBet. In both cases, criminals had managed to gain access to the betting software, so, as they played hands of poker, they knew what cards their opponents were holding. As you can imagine, this advantage resulted in millions of dollars in winnings. Only the greed of the winners, who won at a rate statistically impossible, tipped off the companies that their security had been compromised.

While at least some of the losers were compensated, these results reinforce my cynicism. How many other cheats are there who haven't been caught, who shrewdly lose often enough to keep from violating the laws of probability?

Add these troubles to the very real risk that, playing from home, a gambler's self-destructive addiction can go unrecognized by friends and family until too late.

If you love poker, do yourself a favor. Call up a few friends and host a live game. Internet poker is a sucker bet.

View 60 Minutes report


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