Every time I think I’m tired of hearing about the “Hustler Casino Live” scandal, something new turns up and sucks me back in. Today the needle seems to be swinging in the direction of actual cheating, but it may swing back the other way tomorrow, and honestly, there’s a good chance that we’ll never know for sure.
But the important question for the greater poker world isn’t whether Robbi Jade Lew cheated. It’s whether she could have cheated, and what was done to make sure that the game was secure. And as I pointed out in my last article, it is certainly possible.
Cheating can — and does — happen
Finding out that someone cheated in a poker game isn’t a big surprise. Unfortunately, any time there’s a lot of money at stake, there will be people trying to get more than their fair share of it. In fact, the more money involved, the more thieves we’re likely to find. That means we should probably expect fewer cheats in poker than we see in finance or politics, but more than we would ever find in the world of competitive darts or scrabble, where the money just isn’t big enough to attract a lot of rats.
But, even smaller competitions aren’t immune to having fishy things happen in the heat of competition when money and pride are on the line.
Live streams like the “Hustler Casino Live” broadcast are the perfect environment for cheating. There’s a ton of money at stake, with the biggest winners making hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there are new security issues that don’t exist in a typical game. If the hole card information is available, cheats will be looking for ways to access it.
Most live broadcasts involve tournaments, where the players at the final table can’t be known ahead of time. But these cash games have a predetermined lineup that players may be able to influence. The producers set the lineup and make the decisions, which adds another potential security concern.
Most security problems are human error or corruption
As any security professional will tell you, theft is typically an inside job, and the biggest security problems usually come from the people with access to sensitive information rather than from problems with the hardware, software, or physical barriers.
When someone in charge chooses the players, the dealers, and even the seats, compromising any of those people can make life a lot easier for a potential thief. And they may not even know they are being manipulated.
If a producer can be directly involved in the cheating, then it’s easy for a potential thief. But that isn’t necessary for them to be compromised. Maybe they can just be bribed for a seat in the game. They have no idea it’s going to lead to cheating — they’re just putting a few thousand dollars in their pocket to get someone into a juicy game.
And this behavior isn’t uncommon. There are games in Vegas, California and, I assume, all over, where a seat can be purchased. Want to play a big game with a couple of whales who have hundreds of thousands of dollars to lose? Five grand, or sometimes a percentage of your winnings, will get you a seat in a juicy private game with those whales.
And make no mistake, these broadcast games are much juicier than other games of a similar size. The whales want to be on screen. They may not ever play in games where they can’t expect screen time, so these games draw a soft field that plays for serious money.
When you add in the hole card information that a clever cheat could potentially access, there are few places better for cheating than on a livestream. Certainly, a home game where the house is in on the racket would be better, but other than that, a livestream is a great place for a cheat.
And the producer, or others in charge, doesn’t even have to be compromised. They can be influenced by the cheats in other ways. Maybe you can slide someone a few hundred bucks to vouch for you. Maybe you can convince someone to offer up tickets to a sporting event or a hot date to one of the players when you know you’re next in line. If the money is big enough, the con man will find a way to get next to it.
Few consequences for cheating
Another reason that poker is so ripe for cheating is that the house will rarely press charges. I’m sure it’s happened, but I’ve been around the game a long time, and I don’t know of anyone who has been prosecuted for cheating at a poker table. Russ Hamilton even admitted his part in the Ultimate Bet scandal on video, and he was never charged.
The house just wants the scandal to go away. They don’t want to reveal their security system in court, or even worse, reveal their complete lack of security. They don’t want more people talking about cheating in their casino. They just want it all to go away. So, the downside for a cheat isn’t nearly as big as the upside, at least financially.
Truth be told, the risk of cheating in a home game is probably bigger than cheating in a casino or on a livestream. A person could get seriously hurt cheating in my home game, but not in a casino. Security would keep them safe, even if they were caught red-handed.
On more than one occasion, a player has walked away with the money after a chop agreement in the Rio daily events at the WSOP, and in at least one case, the player requested, and was granted, a security escort to leave with the ill-gotten gains. Can you picture someone trying this at a home game? Not if I’m in the game, I’ll tell you that for sure. A person like that is likely to fall down on their way out of the house and be seriously injured while also losing the money they were trying to steal. Accidents happen.
There’s a perfectly good case to be made for the idea that the best environment for cheating at poker is a live cash game being broadcast using an RFID table. It’s not easy, as my previous article pointed out, but it may be the best, and safest option. The higher profile the game is, and the more money it makes for the house, the less likely the cheat will be prosecuted or even publicly outed. And, the “Hustler Casino Live” game is one of the highest-profile games in the world right now.
The house protects the house
I don’t want to give the wrong impression about cheating in casinos. If you cheat the house, you will go to jail. They don’t tolerate that at all, especially here in Nevada. But cheating other players is almost never prosecuted. If you think the house is there to protect your money, you have no idea how corporations work. The house is there to take your money — as much of it as possible — not to make sure you go home with it. They will offer exactly as much security as is necessary to make the most money because it’s what their shareholders demand.
Most places where these livestreamed games are run have treated them like a typical cash game. The same security, the same environment, but with the extra vulnerability of hole card information. Delayed broadcasts, sound-proof booths, carefully vetted (or not in this case) employees who have access to the information, all help, but it’s clear that they aren’t enough.
With the Mike Postle scandal and now what may very well be cheating in the Hustler Live game, we have seen cheating in some of the highest-profile livestreamed cash games, and we can expect it to continue. These broadcasts bring players and attention to the poker room that hosts them, and that means money.
And money, as it always has, brings out the con artists who will find new and creative ways to claim it for themselves.