This week’s public release of two series of e-mails, exposing online-poker-hating activist James Thackston as a jilted would-be software entrepreneur on a years-long revenge trip to damage companies that wouldn’t purchase his software products or theories, marks the exposing of a new low point in the efforts of self-described gambling opponents to stop the advance of regulated internet poker in United States.
The twin releases, published by Poker Players Alliance Vice President of Player Relations Rich Muny, shows that Thackston tried repeatedly to sell his online-security concept to multiple online gaming firms, even though those same firms, among the market leaders in the United States and Europe, already had their own systems in place.
It was only after Thackston’s strange, perhaps extortionate offers were repeatedly rebuffed that he finally switched tactics, attempting to publicly destroy the very industry he sought to contract with – essentially because they wouldn’t buy his goods. (Indeed, Muny used the word “extortion” when revealing some of the e-mails, which he received from their original recipients.) That included reaching a deal with a self-important, far-right political pundit named Cheri Jacobus, who in concert with Thackston has spent more than half a year spreading falsehoods about the supposed vulnerabilities of online poker to massive-scale money laundering.
Those theories never made sense, and they’ve been widely debunked elsewhere by this author and others. Still, the latest revelations by the PPA’s Muny show that Thackston himself knew that the whole project – available at the false-named UndetectableLaundering.com – was a lie all along.
Now that Thackston’s own online persona is being unraveled as a lie as well, it’s interesting to step back in time, reassemble the pieces, and wave a good-bye to a charlatan who appears to be exiting, stage right.
Is this the face of James Thackston? This image was attached to the profile of an account on the stock-tip site Seeking Alpha that Thackston has used to trash-talk the stock price prospects of US companies interested in online gambling ventures, including Caesars Entertainment, Boyd Gaming and Scientific Games.
The Birth of Thackston’s Online Poker Interests
James Thackston’s interest in online poker goes back to at least 2005, according to information gleaned from his various online ports of call. Thackston’s not a poker player himself, but rather a software engineer, who claimed to have looked over the shoulder of another person playing online poker and had a flash of satori, instantly realizing that such sites were massively vulnerable to huge amounts of fraud, collusion and money laundering,
Of course, as a programmer, he knew that he had the answers that a multi-billion dollar industry with dozens of major European sites didn’t, despite each having poured tens of millions into programming and security. This doesn’t mean that online poker and gambling sites have never suffered fraud or collusion or been used to launder money on some scale, but the larger and more regulated the site, the more these inherent risks have been mitigated over time.
Thackston, however, appears to have set out to have built a better mousetrap, simply in the belief that no one else in the world knew what they were doing. Among the information published by the PPA’s Muny is the revelation that Thackston attempted to market his home-grown internet security software to Harrah’s (now Caesars Entertainment), in the hopes that Harrah’s, one of the leading pro-internet US casino firms in the period before the UIGEA’s late-2006 stalled internet gambling initiatives for five years, would buy his warez.
According to the e-mails released by Muny, Thackston attempted to sell his software to Harrah’s (and perhaps other companies as well) throughout 2007 – this after the 2006 UIGEA enactment… which would have put it on the back burner anyway.
Harrah’s, led by well-known execs Jan Jones and Gary Loveman, wanted none of Thackston or his iSAFE – which is wholly unsurprising, since besides having no existing need at that moment, they’d have had a large handful of established firms and proven products from which to prove.
Thackston apparently figured that the sites owed him for his work anyway, whether they wanted his software of not. Here’s the takeaway from one of the e-mails, to Jan Jones on New Year’s Day of 2008:
“For the past 3 years, I have sought investment money from the internet poker industry to operate an internet payment processing company and to support the eSAFE legislation from that corporate entity. The most prominent targeted investors were Lyle Berman, Howard Lederer (Full Tilt), and Mitch Garber (Party Gaming).
“Because I failed to raise the necessary investment, I have shut down the eSAFE project as well as the company that supported it.
“Due to severe financial stress and with great anguish, I have been forced to take actions detrimental to the internet poker cause.”
Thackston then went on to insinuate that he was close to accepting a government contract, perhaps becoming a sooper-sekrit agent in the US government’s war on offshore gambling sites. That war was legitimate; Thackston’s claims to be part of it, probably not so much. As he continued:
“Recently, I turned over my internet poker research material to Government security and law enforcement representatives. Be assured that they had never seen anything like what I gave them.
“I am considering taking a contract with the Government to assist US security agencies in shutting down internet poker websites. In such capacity, I may participate in security discussions with representatives of the UK, EU, and other governments.
“I will be in Las Vegas from January 9-11 for meetings related to the shut down of eSAFE.
“I can meet with you during this time. Thursday, January 10th is best since I can adjust my other meetings around your schedule.
“Please be aware that while I can explain some things in more detail, I am barred by the US Code from disclosing classified information.
“Specifically, information about the research material is off limits to anyone not having the appropriate clearance and need to know.
“Finally, please understand that my intentions have always been to help the industry and never to harm Harrah's or any other gaming company.
“Poverty has forced me to seek a new path.”
If only all would-be government contractors were so noble of purpose and pure of intent. Anyhow, it appears that he never did get the secret government contract, either, and by 2010 he was resorting to attacking the offshore, largely-European giants themselves. In another e-mail exchange, separately released by Muny this past week, Thackston is shown contacting Michael Waxman of the now-defunct Safe and Secure Internet Gambling Initiative (SSIGI).
By this time, as described by Muny in a separate Facebook post, Thackston’s pressure was ever closer to being “extortionate,” though what crosses the line into illegal activity is beyond this report’s scope. A choice Thackston excerpts:
“... We have developed a comprehensive solution to these problems and can show how poker website operators can generate new revenues of between $500 million to $1.8 billion, guarantee the integrity of their online tables, and create the regulatory conditions necessary for opening the US market.
“The posting of the first part of the source code is currently scheduled to occur on Monday, July 26th, 2010.
“In addition, we have obtained access to a database of player email addresses.
“In the interest of alerting players to the cheating threat, we will soon distribute both the video links and software source code to the database.
“We would like the opportunity to discuss this comprehensive solution with your European supporters who are compliant with US gambling and financial laws before we release the software source code or send the email messages.
“If I receive a favorable response before the 26th, we will suspend all distribution.”
In other words, “buy my/our software, or we will begin a multi-pronged attack.”
Waxman forwarded it on to Clive Hawkswood of the Remote Gambling Association, a collective lobbying group for many of the Euro gaming giants that Thackston was targeting with his shakedown. Hawkswood responded, in part:
“Unfortunately, and hopefully this was not the intent, your e mail employs some of the language that the industry has previously come across in what would generally be described as attempts to extort money.
“Given your concern about money laundering threats we are sure you would share our attempts to combat all possible criminal avenues. We have therefore passed your e mail on to our own legal advisers, to the regulators in all of the jurisdictions you mention (if there is a weakness in the regulations it is vital that they are aware of it), and to a number of related law enforcement bodies.
“Given what you say there is no doubt that you will want to share your information with them, and we assume it is probably an offence to withhold such information from the police, so if you could let us have your full contact details we would be happy to forward them. …”
There’s no evidence that Thackston ever took his info to any authorities other than those he’d previously been in touch with regarding his early claims, meaning his local FBI office where his supposed advisor contract as alluded to earlier to Harrah’s didn’t seem to be in effect. In any event, in 2010 as in 2007 and at other points in time, Thackston got no money.
The False Moral Superiority
Since 2010, Thackston has reinvented himself as an anti-online gambling crusader, a very odd position for someone who clearly wanted to profit so richly from the business. It’s also clear that this “extortionate” theme, as described by Muny, was a part of Thackston’s long-term plans.
In early 2010, several months before his attempted RGA/SSIGI shakedown, Thackston started up an attack site called PoliticsOfPoker.com, on which he assembled a list of anti-online gambling news reports, as can be seen by the following image (rescued via the Internet Wayback Machine):
Screen grab from Thackston’s now-lapsed PoliticsOfPoker.com site showing both Thackston’s growing anti-online gambling work and his unrelated nod to his crusade against drugs, another Thackston political theme later expanded upon and weirdly commingled at UndetectableLaundering.com.
However, it also appears that Thackston envisioned PoP as the internet outlet for the “source code” he planned to leak to the world. Check out this page, also rescued from the IWM archives:
Screen grab showing what might have been the location on James Thackston’s PoliticsOfPoker.com site. Did Thackston abandon the plan (and the site) after receiving pushback from RGA head Clive Hawkswood?
Perhaps the mention of the word “extort” by Hawkswood changed Thackston’s plans, for he soon stopped updating the site and let the domain lapse. It was eventually picked up by the PPA, just a month ago, in a humorous slapback at the longtime poker foe.
Thackston has gone on to pillory online poker sites, joining forces with more traditional anti-gambling activists such as Earl L. Grinols and James Kindt, who at least appear to have reached their anti-gambling stances from a personal beliefs basis, not out of revenge for failure to make a sale.
Thackston even combined with Grinols to author a controversial op-ed published by the Tampa Bay Times last November. In “Online Gambling is a Strategic National Threat,” Thackston and Grinols carried the ridiculous fear-mongering to unbelievable, false extremes, and it remains to be seen if the TBT will issue a public retraction or update in the wake of the latest Thackston revelations.
Much of the information in that story was designed to correlate with Thackston’s current smear domain, “UndetectableLaundering.com,” which actually combines all of Thackston’s ridiculous money-laundering scenarios with another of his favorite causes, the war on drugs. One needs only look at the names of the players in Thackston’s made-up money laundering fantasies to see the extreme depths to which he’s sunk. It’s made all the more craven by the new knowledge that this stuff is being done purely for money, not for idealistic belief.
And of course, by his own early words, Thackston’s “undetectable laundering” isn’t really undetectable, or else his own proposed software system wouldn’t work by definition.
The Disappearing Act Begins
Since the publication of the shakedown e-mails, Thackston has been MIA on the internet. The same goes for self-promoted (but small-scale) political pundit Cheri Jacobus, who was apparently retained by Thackston last November in an attempt to generate money and fame for the both of them. Jacobus is as hateful and far-right as political experts come, in these unfortunate days of American made-for-media politics, being cut from the same hateful Tea Party cloth as the reviled Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity, two more well-known demagogues who Jacobus clearly models herself after.
Yet after months of haranguing and baiting the online-poker world, Jacobus, like Thackston himself, has strangely gone silent on the topic. Or not so strangely. It’s possible that the pair’s efforts were part of a different for-profit ploy, an attempt to tap the deep pockets of Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson, whose Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling has targeted the same group of pro-online poker US interests.
If that was the goal – and Jacobus herself confirmed being in touch with “Sheldon’s people” on Twitter last year – then the end result is likely to be the same. James Thackston isn’t going to get anyone else’s money, any time soon.