Poker Crime and Punishment 2015: Who Walked, Who Talked, and Who Got Locked Up

5 min read

Poker crime seems to go with the game like chips, a few stogies, and a pack of cards. From its historical inception, crime has always followed poker around like a lovesick puppy looking for a pat on the head. And plenty of pats, or maybe we should say patdowns, have ensued through the ages.

David Chesnoff Paul Phua charges dropped 2015
David Chesnoff, criminal defense attorney to the stars (including previously to celebutante Paris Hilton) managed to get FBI evidence tossed and saw his client Paul Phua walk, or should we say fly, away in 2015. (Image: AP)

And 2015 was no exception to this pattern. We saw clever, not-so-clever, and downright stupid folks at work trying to beat the law, the game, or both. Who got away with it and who didn’t? Follow along as we take a walk down our 2015 Walk of Shame for poker players.


The Iipay Nation Santa Ysabel, a go-it-alone tribal gaming operator in the Sunshine State, decided it was going to launch its own online poker and bingo sites, whether the State of California chose to legalize the games or not.

The nation argued that it was its sovereign right to do so on its own tribal lands. California and the federal government disagreed, and the tribe is now facing a nasty joint lawsuit.

Then there were some shady unknown cyber criminals who stepped up distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) this year on online poker sites. DDoS attackers flood the bandwidth of an Internet site with thousands of requests per second, rendering it temporarily nonoperational, and then demand ransoms to reinstate normal service.

Many attacks occurred on the offshore US-facing markets this year, but the regulated market of New Jersey was also attacked, for the first time in its short history. The DGE and the FBI are investigating.

Little Black Book

Meanwhile, legendary gambler and poker player Archie Karas finally received his comeuppance after employing too many dubious practices at the blackjack tables in Nevada.

Karas, who is famous for turning $50 into $40 million during a gambling spree in 1993, has been found guilty of numerous infractions against casinos since he first came to the attention of the Nevada Gaming Commission back in 1988, mostly relating to advantage play or downright cheating at the blackjack tables.

Following the most recent incident, which resulted, briefly, in his incarceration, the commission has thrown the book at Karas, or rather, put his name in it. This is its infamous “black book,” a list of individuals excluded from all of Nevada’s casinos for offenses against the casino industry, which encompasses everything from fellow cheaters to more vicious and infamous gangsters, such as Tony “The Ant” Spilotro.

One Flew Over the FBI’s Entrapment Nest

Malaysian poker player Paul Phua (who also made our “Most Compelling Poker Personalities” spotlight for 2015) was in a tight spot as the new year dawned, as you would be too had you been arrested for allegedly masterminding a multimillion-dollar World Cup betting ring from three luxury villas at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

Worse still, his alleged accomplices had all plead guilty and were looking at massive fines, probation, and a ban from returning to America for a good long time, if ever again. But Phua wouldn’t budge. Despite the apparently damning evidence, he was not guilty, he insisted. So how was he going to get out of this one?

Well, how about if a clever lawyer got every single piece of that “damning” evidence tossed out of court, crushing the FBI’s case as if said attorney were a trash compactor?

Legendary Las Vegas defense attorney David Chesnoff complained that the FBI’s methods in gathering that evidence was a violation of his client’s constitutional rights. FBI agents had first demanded that Caesars staff cut off the wireless Internet to the villas, before posing as repair technicians to gain access, which, the judge agreed, amounted to an illegal search.

A highly relieved Phua wasn’t about to wait around for an apology from the feds. He quietly got out of Dodge and flew back to Malaysia on his private jet.

Men Behaving Suspiciously

Valeriu Coca was also accused of cheating this year, at the WSOP $10,000 Heads-Up Championship, although a subsequent three-month investigation by the WSOP and the Nevada Gaming Commission found no such evidence, thereby exonerating the Moldovan.

Many of his opponents, however, reported feeling “super-used” by the player and were unnerved by his uncanny ability to play perfectly against them, as well as his suspicious mannerisms, suspicious lines, and suspicious glasses.

We guess some people just come across suspiciously.

One man who we can confidently call a poker cheat, however, is the hapless Christian Lusardi. You may remember the North Carolinian was arrested for introducing bogus chips into the Borgata Winter Open in 2014.

He became the prime suspect in the case when he was caught flushing hundreds of fake chips down the toilet of the nearby Harrah’s resort.

In October of 2015, Lusardi was sentenced to five years for fraud and rigging a public contest. We are guessing he won’t be flush for quite a while now.

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