Let’s face it, the game of poker has always had an aura of shadiness around it. There’s a reason why Doyle Brunson had guns pulled on him several times while playing poker, after all. Even though poker is not usually associated with violence nowadays, it has become the hunting ground of the scammer.
Poker has a lot of sides to it – it is played around the world and since the launch of the first online poker rooms it has truly become a globally connected phenomenon. Things like backing, money transfers and loans have become commonplace in the ever widening poker community. Tournaments and cash games have become bigger, inflating the amount of money circulating in the poker world.
The conditions are perfect for scammers. With multiple avenues to explore in the poker world and a significant amount of money to be gained, the extent to which scamming has plagued poker is not surprising. With that in mind, here are the top 10 scams that the poker world has seen.
10. The Oldest Poker Scammer
Randolph Smith, also known as Soapy Smith was born in 1860 and was a famous con artist and gangster in his day. While he was involved in numerous illegal activities, his reach also stretched to poker games, where he managed to rob players with the help of law enforcement.
Many of Soapy’s cons took place in Denver, CO, where Smith was very active on the political scene and had a decent amount of power and ties to many corrupt government officials. When Davis Hanson Waite was elected as the new Governor of Colorado, it seemed like things might change for Soapy, but instead, through his numerous connections, Smith got himself commissioned as a deputy sheriff.
At the time, Smith also owned a number of gambling dens where rigged poker games were running around-the-clock. Once elected, Governor Waite ordered the closure of all saloons, gambling dens and similar types of establishments. Not only did this not stop the rigged games, however, it also presented Smith with a great opportunity. Using his deputy sheriff’s position, he conducted raids on his own rigged games and arrested players who had lost big amounts of money. He would then let them go, leaving the victims happy that they had avoided jail time and completely forgetting about the money they’d just lost.
9. Blonde Poker Staking Scam
Any player who has dealt with staking and backing knows that this is the most likely way to get scammed in poker. Usually such scams are small-time, with the majority of them pulled off by degenerates who simply lose the money playing casino games.
One of the most famous examples of this sort of scam occurred in 2010 on a UK poker forum called “Blonde Poker.” A long-time, respected forum member, Neil Blatchly, created a staking thread where he managed to gather a bankroll of £70,000 for sports betting from over 40 investors.
Week after week, Blatchly would post about how well his betting system was going, reporting tens of thousands of pounds in profit. This went on for months until a few people finally started asking him to provide some proof that the bets were actually being made and that all of the money was present. Initially, people who questioned him were ridiculed, but to everyone’s surprise, Neil soon posted that the money was all gone, partly lost in casino games and partially spent on stuff like a vacation in Miami with his whole family.
For months, Neil was simply making up bets to make it seem like things were going fine. He stated that he simply wanted to get the money back before his investors found out that it was gone, which shows how little online reputation can actually mean.
8. The All-Around Scammer
In the case of Neil Blatchly, people invested nearly a hundred thousand pounds in a man that only had an online reputation to back him up, but this next guy is a true all-around scammer. Like many scammers, he had many targets and the poker world was just one of his domains.
Peter Falcone’s resume is stunningly impressive. He scammed numerous people in-and-out of the poker community for sums both small and large. His victims include Betsy Superfon, the creator of the 900 phone sex industry, and Louie Anderson. He became widely known in the poker community after scamming Nolan Dalla, a Senior Writer for the WSOP, out of $37,000.
While the whole story is way too complex to try and summarize here, it is definitely worth the time to read it to get into the mind of one of the most psychopathic scammers the poker world has ever seen.
7. Barcelona Hotel Bugs
Turns out, poker players can be targeted by the most unexpected people in the most unexpected places. This bizarre incident occurred at the 2013 EPT Barcelona and it involved the Art Hotel, where many high stakes pros were staying.
The story was broken by Finnish high-stakes pro, Jens Kyllonen, after a strange incident occurred in the Arts Hotel. His laptop was stolen from his room and later returned, which was strange enough in itself, but it seemed that software was installed on the laptop in the period that it was gone. To make things even stranger, other high stakes pros staying in the Arts Hotel reported the same thing.
The hotel’s staff members were less than helpful when players reported the incidents. They couldn’t produce critical security camera footage and were trying to downplay the situation when confronted about the incidents. Eventually an investigation by PokerStars’ security team led nowhere, but it seemed more than likely that many high stakes pros were on the brink of losing a lot of money if the scam went through as planned.
6. The Airport Scammer
The most recent case of a truly degenerate scammer that got a lot of attention in the poker world involved Michael Borovetz. Unlike some of the stories already mentioned, Borovetz did not try to pull off any cunning scams by installing malicious software or scamming his backers.
Ever since graduating from Penn State University, Borovetz had been losing all his money at the Pai Gow tables. To fuel his addiction, he hustled money wherever he could, including taking numerous loans from people in the poker community which he never paid back.
HIs story went viral in the poker community when a forum user named, “Gzesh,” posted about his encounter with Borovetz at the McCarran airport in Las Vegas. Borovezt approached him with a long, suspicious story about being in Vegas for a job interview and needing $300 in cash, which he promised to pay back double. Gzesh shared his story with the poker community, after which Borovetz came out himself and admitted to scamming people for over 20 years to fuel his gambling addiction.
5. Fake Sideline Bloggers
Ali Tekintamgac became known in the poker world in 2010 after he won WPT Barcelona for over $300,000. Just a few months later, he became the target of cheating allegations at the Patrouche Poker Tour in France.
Eventually, it turned out that Tekintamgac was using fake sideline reporters who were able to get a peek at his opponents’ hands and communicate them to Tekintamgac. This was a rare occasion when the cheating was actually caught on camera and it can be seen in the video below at the 27-second mark.
What’s even more impressive is that Tekintamgac was eventually sentenced to three years and five months in prison for numerous counts of cheating in poker games, which is rare occurrence.
4. Infrared Lenses Scam
Another instance of a poker cheater who got caught and sentenced took place in Cannes in 2013.
The scam was a cunning one. The Italian man used invisible ink, which he gave to two casino employees to mark the decks. He then purchased a set of infrared contact lenses from China, which he used to count the marked cards.
The guy managed to win over 70,000 euros in a casino Hold’em game before he was finally caught. Unfortunately for him, that is just shy of the 100,000 euro fine that he was given by the court, along with a two year prison sentence.
3. Phil Ivey’s Shady Hot Streaks
There are two things that we can all agree on. First, Phil Ivey is the best poker player in the world. Second, Baccarat and Craps are not supposed to be beatable in the long run. So, how did Phil Ivey take down two casinos for over $10 million each while playing high stakes Craps and Baccarat?
Ivey’s first $10 million payday came about in London, where he allegedly used a deck with a manufacturing error that allowed him to read the cards in a high stakes game of Punto Banco. Virtually the same story happened two years later in a game of Baccarat in Atlantic City at the Borgata.
Both cases are now being fought over in court. If the courts side with the casinos, then this might very well be one of the biggest casino scams pulled off in the modern era.
2. MSN Messenger Scam
One of the most successful online poker scams ever pulled off involved two big names in poker – Johnny Lodden and Patrick Antonius. When both of them were playing the highest online cash games, a new player appeared on the scene and was not shy about playing anyone.
After playing Antonius and Lodden for a while, he asked them to contact him via MSN Messenger. As it turned out, the guy was a clever hacker and managed to infect both PC’s with malware that allowed him to see his opponents’ cards.
Eventually, Antonius lost close to $500,000 before figuring out that something was wrong while Lodden went even further, losing over $2 million. No charges were ever brought fourth and the hacker has since simply disappeared.
1. World Champ Turned Superuser
No scandal in the history of poker has had as profound an effect as the Ultimate Bet superuser scandal. The revelation that 1994 WSOP Main Event champion, Russ Hamilton, was behind it was even more shocking. To top it off, the amount of money stolen from players was between $16 and $18 million by Hamilton’s own admission.
Just like most other scams, neither Russ Hamilton nor any of the Ultimate Bet executives were ever charged with any crimes, mostly because online poker is a legal grey area.