It’s no surprise that scandals and controversy are prominent in poker given the amount of money involved.
Ever since people started playing poker, the poker industry has endured thousands of scandals involving both industry professionals and world class gamblers. Even though it is hard for most poker players to admit, poker has always had a dainty atmosphere about it.
There are reasons why people like Cyril Mouly and many others had guns and other weapons pulled on them multiple times while playing the wise man’s game, after all.
Loans and money transfers have become a common place in the ever growing poker world. Cash games and tournaments have also become bigger and better with huge amounts of money to be won. Such conditions create a perfect hunting ground for scammers. With that in mind here is a look at the 22 biggest poker scandals and controversies that have rocked the poker world.
1. MSN Messenger Poker Scam
The MSN Messenger scam is a big scam that has been pulled off in recent years involving two very popular names; Patrick Antonius and Johnny Lodden.
When the two were battling each other, a new poker player appeared and was not afraid to play anybody including Antonius and Lodden. After playing the two pros for a while he asked them to communicate with him through MSN messenger. But as it eventually turned out, the man was a hacker and infected their computers with a bug that allowed him see their cards.
Lodden and Antonius lost over $3,000,000 before finding out what was really going on. The hacker was never prosecuted and he has since disappeared.
2. The Sixty Second ATM Scam
Technology has also benefited poker scammers. Given the fact that everything now is connected, poker scammers do not have to be touching the deck to swindle some of the richest, largest and most popular casinos in the world.
In 2012 over fourteen people were charged with stealing over a million dollars from a bank through casino kiosks in California and Nevada. The scammers discovered a loophole in the casinos’ electronic security system which they capitalized on. They took advantage of the 60 second period within which the casinos allowed several unrecorded withdrawals.
Led by Ara Keshishyan, the team opened several checking accounts in different CitiBank locations. Then at different casino kiosks in Las Vegas and California, they would use the sixty second period to withdraw as much as 10 times the amount of money they deposited.
3. Full Tilt Poker’s shortage
This will perhaps go down as one the biggest poker scandals and controversies to ever hit the poker community. After black Friday, a number of allegations were leveled against the once respected online poker site Full Tilt Poker, and as more information came out, it eventually turned out that the poker site was not the well-heeled moneyed machined it claimed to be.
Instead, it was just surviving on a day to day basis with a shortage of over $150 million and was even struggling to cover outgoing withdrawals.
Owners of Full Tilt Poker (including Howard Lederer, Chris ‘Jesus’ Ferguson and Ray Bitar) padded their own bank accounts with money picked from loyal clients, while openly lying to the players and the public that their money was safe and sound.
Ray Bitar eventually pleaded guilty to violating UIGEA regulations and conspiracy to commit both wire and bank fraud, but he avoided jail time because he needed a heart transplant.
While PokerStars has since bought the Full Tilt Poker brand and assisted in returning the money owed to people who were scammed, there are still many players yet to receive any kind of refund of their account balance.
4. Sideline Reporters
Ali Tekintamgac is a poker player who became very popular in poker circles after winning the a WPT Barcelona event in 2011 for $300,000. But some months later, Ali become a target of various cheating accusations at a poker tour in France.
Subsequently, it actually turned out that he was using sideline reporters to get ideas at what his opponents had in their hands. He was caught on camera cheating with one of the fake sideline reporters. He was eventually prosecuted and sentenced to 3 years and 5 months in prison for various offenses including poker cheating, which is very rare.
5. The Oldest Poker Swindler
This is one of the oldest and the biggest poker scandals and controversies in the poker world. Also known as Soapy Smith, Randolph Smith was a very famous gangster and con artist in the 1860’s.
Although initially he was only involved in illicit activities outside the poker world, he eventually ventured into poker games where he robbed gamblers of millions of dollars with help from police officers.
Smith also had gambling dens where rigged games were running 24/7. These cons took place in Denver, where Soapy was very influential and had connections with many corrupt law enforcement agents.
Things even got better for him when he was commissioned as the deputy sheriff in the area. He used his position to raid his own rigged poker games and arrested gamblers who had lost huge amounts of cash. He would then release the later without charges, leaving them happy and glad that they have avoided time behind bars and completely forgetting about the huge amount of money they had lost.
6. The Multi-Accounting Controversy
ZeeJustin and JJProdigy were the first players in the history of online poker to get caught capitalizing on a specific loophole.
This type of loophole would involve the best poker players contacting players who were deep in high-stakes tournaments. They would then buy the account off them and play on their behalf. They would get to keep the winnings.
Players involved in this type of loophole are generally professional players who are much more likely to win tournament than the person they buy the accounts from.
The other side of this type of controversy is multi-accounting, where players would play at the same time on multiple accounts. This allows them to have more information (seeing more of the dealt cards), plus a higher chance of making money with multiple entries.
The story is still controversial as some poker players don’t see anything wrong with the practice while some players are still shocked at how some poker players can defend multi-accounting. You can easily witness this when a poker player is caught flouting online poker regulations like account sharing, ghosting and so on.
7. WPT winner Vadim Trincher
Many poker players were surprised when WPT winner Vadim Trincher was sentenced to 5 years in jail for organizing a large scale money laundering and racketeering operation with links to the Russian mob. Trincher was arrested in 2013 along with other well-known professional poker gambling, many of whom were part of a high stakes sports betting and poker game syndicate that has ties to the illegal operation.
8. Paul Phua’s Illegal World Cup Betting
Speaking of betting and poker game syndicates, Malaysian businessman and poker player Paul Phua was arrested along with several other people and charged with operating an unauthorized World Cup Betting program at Caesars Palace. They were nailed when FBI officers showed up as repairmen so as to gain entrance into the suites and gather evidence.
9. The Great Cyril “The Frenchman” Mouly
In 2009 when Cyril Mouly appeared on the poker scene, he was a well-respected player across the world. But it later turned out that he was an international con artist and was on the run from Interpol, for defrauding several businessmen for over €15 million.
He was also at the center of a memorable TwoPlusTwo internet meme, after an poster tried to identify a mysterious new arrival at a high stake table, with an inadvertently amusing sketch (below). While on trial, he was attacked alongside his driver outside his apartment in Paris, where the driver was killed but Mouly survived.
10. Blonde Poker Staking Scam
Any experienced poker player who has dealt with backing and staking will tell you that it is one of the easiest ways to get swindled in poker. Such scams tend to be small-time, with most of them being carried out by degenerates who easily lose the cash playing other games.
One famous instance took place on a United Kingdom forum known as ‘Blonde Poker’ in 2010. One of the forum members, Neil Blatchley developed a staking thread where he gathered a bankroll of over £70,000 for betting from over 40 different people.
Blatchley went on to post about how well his sports betting system was going every week, reporting thousands of pounds in returns. This went on for quite some time until some people started asking questions about his system. They wanted proof that what he was posting was actually true. Initially anyone who questioned his posts was mocked, but to everybody’s surprise Blatchley soon admitted that everything was gone, partially spent on a vacation in Miami and partly lost in casino stakes.
11. Borgata Cheating Scandal
Welcoming 2016 was the Borgata scandal, where Lusadi Christian introduced his own chips at the Winter Open Big Stack NLH tournament. The event was canceled as soon as Lusadi’s fake chips were discovered and everything eventually came to light when he was caught trying to flush chips worth $2.7 million down the toilet in his hotel room.
12. Jay “WhoJedi” Newnum
At around the same time, the poker world was shocked when Jay “WhoJedi” Newnum was also caught at it. Jay “WhoJedi” Newnum a well-respected and liked poker photographer and reporter was caught making off with chips at Foxwoods. He used coated and sticky sticks to take out $700 worth of chips from dealer’s toke box in the tournament. He has since left the poker industry.
13. Antonio Esfandiari’s Public Urination
The poker world was shocked when it was revealed that well-known professional poker player and a former One-Drop champion Antonio Esfandiari was disqualified from a poker event in the Caribbean.
What was even more astonishing was the reason for the disqualification – he urinated into a water bottle while at the table. The 3-time WSOP winner tried to be discreet but the strong smell from the bottle tipped off attenders and other players.
So what would make a high stakes player like Antonio commit such an abominable act? A $50,000 bet with a fellow famed poker Bill Perkins. He had agreed to lunge anywhere he went at the tournament and by the time he made day 2, he could barely walk. Fortunately for Esfandiari, the casino decided not ban him from the area and he continued to lunge and ultimately won the bet. He donated the money from the bet to charity as an apology.
14. Scandal Rocks Poker Night in America
Another scandal to rock the poker industry involves Poker Night in America. A former poker levied a number of allegations against several people involved in production of the popular American poker TV show including WSOP Director Nolan Dalla.
The player, Dr. Jaclynn Moskow claimed that everything happened when she was invited to participate in a taping of the show back in 2014 at a casino in Pittsburgh. What seemed like a great opportunity for the doctor turned out to be a nightmare where she claims she was forced to put up with anti-Semitic views, sexual harassment and other unprofessional behaviors.
Dr. Moskow posted about her horrifying experience in a 4,000 word blog post. Some major allegations were against Nolan Dalla, an adviser to the show, and the show host Chris Hanson. Moscow claimed that Hanson told her that one of the main aspects that was making the show great was the fact that there were no Jews in its production team.
Her claims shocked not only the poker community but the entire world at large. She also claims that it was at some point insinuated that the only reason she was part of the team was because Nolan had feelings for her.
15. The Cutter Gang
In 2011, the Cutter gang cheated their way to millions of dollars at a baccarat table. The gang was able to maneuver through the checks and balances by accepting the regular offer to cut the deck when the dealer shuffled cards.
One of the members would then move one specific card along the deck while carefully separating the other cards before putting it back on the deck. One of the players also had a tiny camera in his cuff-links which allowed him to see card values easily. The player with the camera would then move to give information to another member of the group. The gang would easily return with big wins every time.
They were eventually discovered and detained at the Cosmopolitan casino in Las Vegas when they suspiciously raked in over a million dollars, but were released later after law enforcement agencies found no tangible evidence of the accusations leveled against them by the casino.
16. The Complete Scammer: Peter Falcone
Also joining the list of the biggest poker scandals and controversies ever is the complete scammer Peter Falcone.
In Neil Blatchly’s case, unsuspecting people invested over seventy five thousand pounds in a person that only had an online reputation to support him, but Peter Falcone was a real complete poker scammer. Unlike many scammers who only have one target, Peter had several targets and the poker community was just one of his many ventures.
Falcone’s resume was remarkably good. He swindled various unsuspecting individuals both in and out of the poker world for both large and small amounts. Some of his victims include Louie Anderson and Betsy Superfon the founder of 900 Phone Sex. The poker world came to know him when he swindled Nolan Dalla for over $37,000. He was one of the most prolific scammers the world has ever seen.
17. The Contact Lens Scandal
In 2011, Les Princes Casino was duped for over $64,000 in a well architected scheme by 4 men. The scammers, 3 Italians and a Frenchman, used high tech contact lenses and invisible ink marking to pull off the scam.
In one specific session, the French used the invisible ink to make a line on the ace and king cards. The Italians on the other hand used the lenses see the different symbols on the cards. Unfortunately, their big wins were suspicious and police were called upon. The men were arrested and accordingly jailed.
18. The Hotel Bugs Controversy in Barcelona
This horrifying incident took place at the EPT event in 2013 in Barcelona at the Art Hotel. It is where most high stakes players were residing at the time.
The story was brought to light by a Finnish high stake player known as Jens Kyllonen, after a strange thing happened in his hotel room. He claimed his laptop was stolen by unknown people and then returned some hours later. It was as if a bug was installed on the device during the time that it was stolen.
Other high stakes pros residing at the hotel also reported the same. The hotel’s security team could not produce any security footage of the different incidents nor give out a good explanation for the incidents. They were simply trying to whitewash everything when asked about the situation.
Ultimately their queries plus a PokerStars investigation were unfruitful, as nothing tangible came out of it. Nonetheless it was evident that most high stake pokers at risk of losing huge amounts of money in the scam.
19. Phil Ivey’s Shady Creativity
Every experienced poker player will agree that first, Craps and Baccarat are not beatable in the long term and second, Phil Ivey is one of the best pokers in world. So how did he beat 2 different casinos for over ten million dollars while playing high stakes Baccarat and Craps?
His first $10 million win came about in England, where he used a deck with an error which allowed him to easily read cards in a high stakes game. The same thing also happened about 2 years later in a Baccarat game in Atlantic City. The cases are now in court and if the courts side with the casinos, this might turn out to be one of the biggest controversies that has ever graced the gambling world.
20. Phuong Quoc Truong Gang
Also known as ‘Pai Gow John’, Phuong Quoc Truong, took time to traverse the US and managed to assemble a team of dealers and card counters to cheat for him.
To pull off the scam, the dealer would give players the illusion of shuffling the cards, when in reality he would just put the different corners together and the deck would produce a shuffling noise.
In the meantime one of the players on the deck would pretend to smoke while whispering the required information about dealt cards to a member outside the casino through a microchip in his sleeve. The player would then be given instructions and he would place his hands or fingers in specific way to show something. This directed other players on the deck to bet in a certain way.
They managed to steal over $7 million from different casinos across the United States before they were eventually caught. They were discovered via security surveillance footage and were accordingly arrested. Most of them pleaded guilty and are now serving time in jail. Phuong had to give up a Porsche and two of his homes.
21. The Rosselli Brothers Scandal
The Rosselli Brothers made over $37 million dollars in span of 5 years (between 1995 and 2000).They raked casinos in Puerto Rico, New Jersey and Nevada using an identity theft scheme.
They also had a hacker who looked for people with different noticeable habits. Using the stolen identities, the group opened bank accounts with $50,000 and in return they got easy access to credit systems of different casinos.
The scam went on for over 5 years before the FBI figured out what was really happening in the year 2000. But the brothers were already dead by then!
22. World Champion Turned Superuser
Closing the list of the biggest poker scandals and controversies is the Ultimate Bet scandal.
Even though many poker players sensed that there was something wrong at Absolute Poker during the peak of the poker boom in 2011, it had to take a wrongly sent history log to finally prove these suspicions right. There was insider scamming at an online poker room!
No scam in the entire history of poker had a bigger impact on poker than the Ultimate Bet super-user scandal. The fact that Russ Hamilton, the 1994 WSOP champion, was behind everything was even more horrifying.
In addition, the amount stolen from innocent poker players was also mind boggling. According to Hamilton’s own admission, they had scammed between $16 and $18 million. Before the scam was unearthed, anyone who tried to mention that the online poker was compromised was quickly brushed off and branded as a conspiracy theorist or simply a bad poker player.
As it eventually turned out, these speculations should have been investigated and the sites themselves were employing people to dismiss such posters in different poker forums. The scam completely changed the way the world viewed online poker. But like most major poker scandals, Hamilton was never charged, most likely because online poker is a very grey area (legally speaking).