Cereus Poker Network

2008
2011
Out of Business
All deposits lost
Kahnawake Gaming Commission
Player funds were stolen and used for operations.

Cereus was a poker network with the worst reputation in online poker history. It combined the two sleaziest poker sites; Absolute Poker and UltimateBet. Both sites had individual insider cheating scandals as well as numerous issues behind the scenes with management. Players were not fully reimbursed with all funds that were lost in the cheating scandals. Those that were paid received money from player deposits. This was a contributing factor in the network’s failure.

Cereus and two of its officers were indicted on Black Friday, which is April 15, 2011. The site collapsed not long after that. Player losses were at least $45 million. Investors lost everything.

The U.S. Justice Department opened up a claims process for victims of the Absolute Poker and UltimateBet scams. Affected players may go to Absolutepokerclaims.com to file a claim.

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History of Cereus Poker Network

Absolute Poker acquired UltimateBet shortly after the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act went into effect in 2006.  UltimateBet was a part of a publicly traded company.  It needed to go private so it merged with Absolute Poker.  The two brands operated as separate sites for two years.  Each had a handful of skins that were disposed of before the Absolute Poker and UltimateBet player pools could be merged.

The Cereus Poker Network launched in November 2008.  There was much fanfare behind it.  It created the third largest U.S.-facing online poker site behind only PokerStars and Full Tilt.  Many players ignored the two insider cheating scandals.  High rakeback percentages and constant reload bonuses gave some players amnesia about the past crimes committed by the two sites.  The good games also helped.  That’s because many serious players stayed away, leaving more fish than usual at Cereus Poker Network when compared to competing poker sites.

The cheating wasn’t the only issue at Cereus Poker.  A company called Blanca Games acquired Cereus Poker Network in August 2010.  This was nothing short of a shell game.  The insiders, several involved with the insider cheating at Cereus in one way or another, remained in control of the company.

A new entity was created after the UIGEA to insulate U.S. investors.  It was called Madeira Fjord.  A $250 million loan was setup that would pay these investors 12 percent in annual interest.  Dividend payments ceased in 2009, well before Cereus went out of business.  These investors were never paid again.  Much of this was withheld from the public until after Black Friday.

Cereus Poker Network stopped paying affiliates at the start of 2011.  This was the first public sign of financial problems.  On April 15, 2011, Cereus and two officers in the company were indicted for illegal gambling.  This date is known as Black Friday.

Cereus immediately stopped accepting new deposits from U.S. players but allowed them to keep playing with existing funds.  All pending cashouts were reversed.  Players in the U.S. were never paid again.  Those outside the U.S. received a handful of cashouts under $1,000.

As it became obvious players would never get paid, Cereus became deserted.  The site pulled the plug in October 2011.

Brent Beckley was one of the two Cereus executives indicted on Black Friday.  Beckley pleaded guilty to charges related to processing payments for Cereus in 2012 and served 10 months in prison.  Scott Tom was also indicted.  He returned to the U.S. in 2017 to face the charges.

Lessons Learned From Cereus Poker Network Closure

The biggest lesson to learn from the failure of Cereus is to not play at a poker site that has an insider cheating scandal, much less two of them.  Players seemed to have shrugged this off through greed.  Cereus Poker Network offered big rakeback deals and constant bonuses to help make players forget about its past.  It also pulled off a sham takeover to hide who was really behind the company.  Cereus Poker changed bonus and rakeback terms retroactively on a regular basis.  That is not a sign of a stable business. There were so many warning signs, yet players managed to lose at least $45 million anyway.

What Cereus Poker Network Was Like

Cereus Network used the poker software that was originally developed for Absolute Poker.  UltimateBet tables were skinned like its original software but the engine belonged to Absolute Poker.  This disappointed some players because UltimateBet’s software was faster and offered some additional games that included Pineapple, something not found at any other site.

The Absolute Poker software was better than it was in its early days but was not exceptional by any means.  It was buggy and did not have the features one would find at more modern poker sites.

Cereus Poker was the tenth largest poker site in the world.  It was the third largest to accept Americans.  The network peaked over 3,000 cash game players many days, according to historical data from PokerScout.

Many of the games at Cereus Poker were No Limit Texas Hold’em.  There were also many non-Hold’em games that included Fixed Limit Hold’em, Pot Limit Omaha, Pot Limit Omaha Hi/Lo and Seven Card Stud Hi/Lo.  This is because they employed props that generated action at these tables.

Cereus was one of the first sites to spread blackjack within the software.  This led to massive player losses, including from some props, and refused to permit players to self-exclude from blackjack.

Black Friday destroyed the Cereus player pool.  American players could no longer deposit.  The U.S. was the largest market for Cereus.  The player count at Cereus dwindled to zero in the months after Black Friday.

Where Are Cereus Components Today?

The Cereus Poker Network software was never used again after the network failed.  It is not likely to be trusted after the employees used it to steal from players.

Scandals Involving Cereus Poker Network

Cereus Poker was the most scandal-plagued network in online poker history.  There were two separate insider cheating scandals before Absolute Poker and UltimateBet merged player pools.  People connected with the sites used a software exploit to see the hole cards of other players at the table.

Each site was involved with one of those.  The people behind the one at Absolute Poker cheating scandal operated Cereus and the software used to do it powered the network.

Cereus Poker Network went to great lengths to make it appear that the cheaters left the company.  An empty shell known as Blanca Games acquired Cereus.  This turned out to be a sham transaction.  Scott Tom, widely believed to be the man behind the insider cheating at Absolute Poker, continued to operate Cereus.  In the end, the site owed players at least $45 million.  Much of that was spent repaying cheating victims.  The remainder of it was used for operations or stolen by company employees.

Online poker was not the only way Cereus stole from players.  The site offered a rigged keno game.  This was discovered shortly before Cereus Poker Network went under after Black Friday.

Player Impact

All money belonging to Cereus players was lost.  The amount owed was somewhere in the $45 million to $50 million range.

The two closest related failed sites to Cereus Poker Network are Absolute Poker and UltimateBet.  That is because both were skins on the network.  Another related filed site was Victory Poker.  The site was on the Cake Poker Network.  It was going to move to Cereus Poker Network.  Black Friday foiled those plans and saved players at Victory Poker from getting caught up in the scam at Cereus.

Related Failed Sites

Cereus Timeline

  • 2006
    UltimateBet sold to Absolute Poker.
  • 2007
    Madeira Fjord created as a firewall for U.S. investors.
  • 2007
    Absolute Poker and UltimateBet cheating scandals exposed.
  • 2008
    UltimateBet and Absolute Poker merge player pools creating Cereus.
  • 2008
    Kahnawake Gaming Commission fines Cereus Poker Network $500,000 for cheating scandal.
  • 2009
    Madeira Fjord investors stop receiving dividends.
  • 2010
    Shell game involving Blanca Games acquisition reported.
  • 2010
    Rigged keno game exposed.
  • 2011
    Black Friday occurs, all cashouts canceled.
  • 2011
    Cereus Poker Network closes permanently.
888 Poker Review
  • Large player traffic
  • Above average quality of games
  • Social, recreational player focused
You can read more in our 888 Poker Review
BetOnline Poker Review
  • Third largest U.S. facing poker room with growing traffic.
  • Excellent and consistent payment processing.
  • Relatively juicy games.
You can read more in our BetOnline Review

Cereus FAQ

When did Absolute Poker acquire UltimateBet?

UltimateBet was sold to Absolute Poker in November 2006.

When did Absolute Poker and UltimateBet merge player pools?

Absolute Poker and UltimateBet merged player pools in November 2008. This created Cereus.

What software did Cereus use?

Cereus used Absolute Poker’s software.

What was Madeira Fjord?

Madeira Fjord was a company that was created to insulate U.S. investors from law enforcement. A fake $250 million loan was created that paid investors 12 percent interest.  These payments stopped in 2009.

What was Blanca Games?

Blanca Games was a shell company that acquired Cereus through a transaction that was used to try to hide the actual owners and operators of the network.

How much did Cereus owe players when it failed?

Cereus owed at least $45 million to players when it failed.

Why did Cereus fail?

Cereus used player funds to reimburse cheating victims.  It also used these deposits to operate the company.  It seems likely insiders ran off with some of it when the company failed.