Undoubtedly the biggest scandal to emerge from this year’s World Series was the saga of Tiffany Michelle. The former Poker News employee became embroiled in a dispute with the site after seemingly backing out of a deal that involved Poker News staking her for the main event. After sporting the Poker News logo for the majority of the tournament, in the latter stages she also donned more prominent Ultimate Bet attire – a decision met with anger by Tony G, the owner of Poker News.
Michelle was the last remaining woman in the main event, and after starting with a promising chip count on Day 7 looked a good bet to make the final table. Having worked for Poker News as both a reporter and presenter she was familiar with the furor of the poker media and was ideally placed to move into the spotlight. Her undoubted aesthetic appeal as well as an intelligent and approachable demeanor made her the most marketable and media friendly face left in the tournament.
The decision to sponsor Tiffany into the main event was made at a Poker News party held at the Bellagio. Jeff Lisandro, a well known cash game pro, convinced Tony G that they should both buy her into the event, splitting the costs $4k/$6k. In return for his larger cut Tony asked that Tiffany wear clothes to promote Poker News and that he should retain full endorsement rights. An agreement was reached and a contract drawn up, a generally unremarkable event.
Tony G, however, is an astute businessman and the fruits of his investment seemed to have come good as Michelle progressed deeper and deeper into the main event, slowly creeping into the spotlight. As agents began to swarm, Tony G took the opportunity to arrange a deal with Party Poker that would see a healthy sponsorship package for Tiffany, as well as solid promotion for Poker News. However things went awry when she arrived for Day 7 with the Ultimate Bet banner blazoned across her hat.
Tony recounted on his blog that he felt betrayed by the lack of consultation between Tiffany and himself. He felt that it was only right that he be party to any sponsorship deal and that she had gone back on a legal and verbal agreement by not involving Poker News in the deal. Tiffany presented her side of the story differently, claiming that she has seen countless Poker News staked players also displaying logos for their chosen online sponsors and that she should not be denied the opportunity to do the same. With that in mind she had chosen Ultimate Bet as they had contacted her early on in the event, before the buzz had fully built, and had promised to deflect pressure away from her so that she could concentrate on her play.
Some have sited personal connection to Ultimate Bet affiliates as a possible motive, but whatever the reason was to choose Ultimate Bet over all the other options, it still turned heads. The companies reputation has come in for fierce criticism following the superuser scandal, first unveiled in May this year. It was discovered that various accounts, linked to the former owners of Ultimate Bet, were able to see other users hole cards whilst playing. By competing at the highest limits they were able to scam fellow players out of countless dollars. A further twist in the scandal, uncovered by investigate reporter Nat Arem, has also rocked the online poker community. One of the known superuser accounts was found to be registered to the address of Russ Hamilton, the 1994 WSOP main event champion and former owner of Ultimate Bet.
Only hours after Michelle bust from the main event in 17th place Poker News released a statement condemning her actions. The press release also claimed that, ostensibly due to the superuser scandal, they would no longer be promoting Ultimate Bet on their site. After discovering that he does not have legal grounds to sue, and for personal reasons, Tony G has decided against legal action.