Between the flawed Modiano cards, the Valeriu Coca card-marking allegations and various smaller gripes and scandals, it’s been a bad public relations year for the World Series of Poker. The last thing the series needed at this point was for there to be allegations of cheating the Main Event, but that’s exactly what happened over the weekend.

Jessica Dawley posted a video to Twitter on Friday night, which had been shot by someone railing her husband in the Main Event. The video shows what Dawley said she felt was cheating going on between the dealer and another player at the husband’s table. The video has since been taken down at the request of WSOP officials, who are investigating the incident, but what it shows is as follows.

When the video begins, the hand in question has already reached the river. The camerawoman’s husband, who is sitting next to the dealer, has put out a bet and his opponent – who has been identified as a regular at the local 5/10 cash games – is in the tank, deciding whether or not to call. The dealer, seemingly bored, is fiddling around with the mucked cards. He adjusts his watch once, then puts his hand down on the muck again, picks up the entire pile and adjusts his watch a second time, lifting up the pack of cards in the process fully exposing the bottom card, which happens to be the Ace of Diamonds. In a second, follow-up video, the opponent then makes the call and wins the pot.

There are three possible explanations for what we see in the video: that the dealer is simply bored and behaving carelessly; that the dealer flashed the card deliberately but made the decision unilaterally for whatever reason; or that it was a case of deliberate and pre-arranged cheating between the dealer and the player.

According to reports in the 2+2 thread on the subject, the dealer has been relieved of his duties (although he only had one more shift scheduled at the WSOP in any event) and the accused player has been cleared of wrongdoing by WSOP officials. So, the third possibility has been ruled out by the WSOP, at any rate, although given how dissatisfied many in the community are with the fruitless investigation of Valeriu Coca, it’s likely that not everyone will accept this verdict.

The case for cheating

The opinions of people who’ve watched the video are split close to 50/50 on whether the card was flashed deliberately or accidentally. Those who feel it was deliberate point to several details of the video as evidence:

  • That in playing around with the muck prior to flashing the Ace, he seems to be lifting the corners of some of the cards, perhaps to flash a few of them more subtly, or to make sure the relevant card – the Ace – is on the bottom.
  • That prior to flashing the card, he looks around as if scanning the room to make sure no one is watching him carefully.
  • That immediately after flashing the card, he mixes up the mucked cards so that the Ace is probably no longer on the bottom.
  • That his body language reads as self-conscious and deliberate throughout.

The case for carelessness

Those who feel it must be accidental likewise make some good points to support that view:

  • That if the player and dealer were in cahoots, there’d be no need to flash the card. By arranging a system of signals, the two could exchange the same information but with much lower probability of being caught.
  • That the card is flashed so blatantly that it’s actually rather surprising that no one at the table noticed; you would assume there’d be some attempt to be subtle if it was done deliberately.
  • That the dealer looks at the camera at one point, and thus presumably knows he’s being filmed; surely he would not do anything quite this blatant if that were the case.
  • That if the dealer had the card manipulation skills necessary in order to ensure the Ace was on the bottom of the muck, and wanted to benefit a specific player, he could do so in much larger ways than simply revealing one mucked card on the river.

The dealer’s version

Forums user “Mcbrag” claims to be a Las Vegas dealer as well and says that he knows the dealer in question. He says that the dealer had been pulling 90 hour weeks dealing at another casino and at the WSOP and was exhausted at the time. Apparently he was due to be replaced, but the dealer replacing him was late, and this was why he was checking his watch and fidgeting, and that he didn’t even realize he’d exposed a card until hearing about the video.

What’s both interesting and terrible about this story is that both possibilities partly make sense and partly don’t. It seems like an awfully huge mistake for a professional dealer to be making, even exhausted; even just playing with the muck in the first place is an atrocious habit. It’s also extremely convenient if the bottom card just happened to be an Ace. On the other hand, there’s no way the dealer and the player could have arranged to be at the same table – they could have had a plan in place just in case they happened to find themselves together by chance, but it would require a lot of luck for the player to happen to find himself in a position on the river where a critical card happened to be in the muck.

Personally, I’ve gone back and forth, but at the time of writing this, am leaning towards it being an accident. Chances are, though, that we’ll never really know what happened, unless the details of the hand itself come out and it turns out that the Ace of Diamonds was largely irrelevant. What is sure is that the WSOP has some damage control to do, and the dealer in question won’t likely be invited back to next year’s series. His other employers may have some questions for him as well.

Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.