Monday, June 13, 2016

Are Poker Tournaments Safe From Cheating--By Tournament Directors and Poker Room managers?

The Flamingos would be ashamed!
When it comes to cheating in poker tournaments, the first things that come to many minds are collusion play, soft play and chip dumping.

But what about poker tournament cheating orchestrated by those charged with running the tournaments—mainly tournament directors and supervisors? Are the players safe from them?

Well, until recently I hadn’t heard of anything done wrong by tournament directors and supervisors that was serious enough to warranting this article. But that changed last August when someone noticed something—in fact several things—that were amiss at the largest Texas Hold’em poker tournament in the history Miami’s Hialeah poker room, which is adjacent to the famed thoroughbread racetrack.

That someone was longtime Florida poker tournament pro T.J. Shulman, who has over the years racked up nearly a million bucks in tournament prize money. At first the Hialeah Texas hold’em tournament seemed to be running well like it should be. But then Shulman noticed some disturbing things.

First, certain players were chatting up supervisors in order to receive preferential seating. Then he noticed that managers were handling the cash without receipts. If that were not enough, Shulman calculated that the listed prize money payouts were too low in correspondence with the entrance fees. Shulman brought these faults to the attention of the Hialeah poker room manager, and when he mentioned that the prize pool was short by $50,000, the manager told him to take a walk if he didn’t like the way the tournament was being run.

Take a walk is what Shulman did—right to the Florida Division of Parimutuel Wagering. The Division launched an investigation and found Shulman’s complaints to be valid—and then some. In addition to Shulman’s claims, it was discovered that there was shoddy video surveillance (most likely to protect the crooked supervisors), and that some supervisors were pocketing cash—alas the $50,000 shortage of prize money for the players.

Shulman said that these supervisors said they were going to take the pocketed cash to the poker room cage later (Yeah, sure).

The Parimutuel Division did not believe them either. They noted a dirty tournament and as a result of their investigation, Nelson Costa, the Hialeah poker manger, resigned, and three of his assistant managers were fired.

No arrests are expected, however.

But despite that, Shulman noted other important improprieties at the Hialeah poker room. He said that some players were allowed by the staff to bypass the entry fees—as long as they kicked back a percentage of their winnings to the supervisors involved. One player reportedly said that he got only 20% of his winnings while the supervisors reaped the other 80%.

Then there were questions regarding the poker room’s jackpots, mainly whether all the cash meant for funding the jackpots ever got to the winners. It appears that lots of it got into the dirty supervisors’ pockets instead.

In a formal complaint against key employees of the Hialeah poker room, the State of Florida noted that receipts were not issued to players entering tournaments, surveillance coverage was lacking throughout the tournament areas and the areas where cash was handled, and that Costa, the room’s manager, was running the game in a very shady manner--to the extent that he kept large amounts of cash in his office rather than where it was supposed to be kept—in the casino cage under the lock and key of the vault.

My take: Wow, this is really a black eye for such a historic place in American gambling!