Forum Files: The Scum Report

Alex Weldon : November 16th, 2015

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Poker is a predatory game by nature; as much fun as it can be, no one who’s any good at it ever forgets that it’s ultimately about taking as much money as you can from people who are likewise trying to take yours. Unfortunately, that means that the poker world attracts a lot of people with a less-than-sterling sense of ethics, and also tends, at times, to bring out the worst in us, even those who are mostly decent people away from the felt.

Poker forums can themselves sometimes be showcases of low-level unpleasantness, but they also serve a useful function in providing a place for people to bring larger and more harmful cases of bad behavior to light, and give the members of the poker community the information they need to keep themselves safe from the worst offenders. In this week’s Forum Files, we’re taking a look at four such stories, some recent, some going back a little ways.

Ultimate Bet: where are they now?
Thread: UB Scam? What ended up happening?

No discussion of scamming in poker could fail to include Ultimate Bet. 2005 is of course ancient history in internet terms, but the subject of that infamous site still comes up on a regular basis, largely because there was never any real resolution for the players who lost their balances, nor consequences for most of those involved. Most recently, it was raised by forums user UgotMERKED, who has apparently been out of touch for a while, but lost a five-figure sum as a result of the site’s collapse and so was hoping there’d been some movement on the issue.

Unfortunately, while the Full Tilt brand was still seen as valuable enough post-Black Friday for PokerStars to decide to purchase it and make good on its debts to players, no one would want to touch the Ultimate Bet name with a ten-foot pole, given the way Russ Hamilton and others were caught blatantly cheating the site’s own users. As a result, the answer is that no, no one who had money on Ultimate Bet ever got any of it back, nor will they in future.

As for legal consequences for the guilty parties, most of the site’s former owners, including Scott Tom are now apparently holed up in Panama, out of reach of US authorities. An interesting account of everything that’s known about Ultimate Bet and the people involved is given by Scott Bell, aka “ElevenGrover,” starting at Post #37. Bell knows what he’s talking about too, as the creator of an investigative documentary about the site, called “Ultimate Beat,” which was released in 2013.

Paul Phua walks free
Thread: Paul Phua and seven others arrested for illegal World Cup bets at Caesars

You may not have heard of Paul Phua, but he’s both one of the wealthiest men in China and one of the biggest players in the world of illegal international gambling, as well as a probable associate of and possible high-ranking member of the Hong Kong criminal group known as the 14K triad. A former Macau baccarat high-roller, he was introduced to poker shortly before its rise to popularity at that offshore gambling destination. He’s now a frequent attendee of super high-roller poker tournaments, and apparently a friend of Phil Ivey, who even contributed $2.5 million for his bail when he was arrested in the US last year.

It was this arrest at the Palazzo hotel on July 13, 2014 which brought Phua to the attention of the forums community; that thread has just now been resurrected due to the publication of a lengthy article on ESPN’s website detailing the circumstances of his arrest and its outcome. Phua was accused of running an illegal sports betting operation out of his villa at Caesars casino in Las Vegas, after having been banned from Macau for doing so there. In both cases, however, Phua has managed to avoid legal consequences, through allegedly bribing authorities in the Macau case, and on a technicality in the US federal case; the FBI’s raid was ultimately deemed unconstitutional, and thus although all the necessary evidence was there to secure a probable conviction, Phua walked free.

Of course, whether one sees Phua as a scumbag, a hero, or something in between depends largely on one’s stance on governmental intervention in gambling, and opinion of those who circumvent the law. One way or another, though, he’s certainly not a popular man with international law enforcement, and someone that one feels likely to see in the news again sometime soon.

Tony Chau convicted of illegal gambling activities
Thread: Vegas betting expert sentenced for illegal gambling operation

At the other extreme, Tony Chau is a small-time hustler who had the book thrown at him for his misdeeds in the eyes of the law. Chau was in the business of selling sports-betting “tips” to gullible gamblers; as well as giving them advice of dubious worth through his now-defunct site sportsbettingchamp.com, he would direct the gamblers to illegal offshore sportsbook websites, based on Costa Rica and Panama. These would, in turn, give him a kickback for whatever money his customers/victims lost at those sites.

As reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal and brought to our attention by the PokerFraudAlert.com forums, Chau pled guilty to running an illegal gambling operation and hiding money from the IRS. He received 18 months in prison, 200 hours of community service, three years probation, and approximately $2 million in financial penalties.

A different kind of scum
Thread: Poker player Alex Donato threatens to cause me harm in Prague

Romanian player Luciana Manolea took to the forums to call out another player by the name of Alex Donato for allegedly threatening her through Facebook after she resisted his pushy advances. Donato seems to be exclusively a cash game player, as he has no Hendon Mob entry. The two had played together in Malta, and Donato had acted friendly towards her and even offered her some advice at the end of their session, pointing out a tell that he felt he’d picked up on her. Having gotten her name, he proceeded to add her as a friend on Facebook. She accepted his request, but then says he began messaging her with “incredible frequency.”

What happened next seems completely insane from a man’s perspective, but from what I understand is an all-too-common experience for women on the internet; put off by the amount of time he expected her to spend talking to him, Manolea first began to respond less frequently to him and eventually unfriended – but did not block – him. When he noticed that she’d done so, he sent her a series of increasingly aggressive messages that can be seen in the forums thread. The longer she ignored him, the more threatening his messages became, ultimately culminating in a series of racist slurs about her Roma background and a promise to stalk her and do her unspecified harm if she attends the EPT stop in Prague.

Surprisingly, Donato himself (or someone claiming to be him) actually showed up in the forums thread to defend himself. He comes off as possibly mentally ill and unable to understand why threats of physical violence are out of proportion with the perceived rudeness of a woman deciding to ignore him after making a nuisance of himself. His attitude proved a bridge too far for even the ordinarily misogynistic forums community, with most posters telling him that he should apologize and never contact her again. Unfortunately, most of them also see Donato as merely a lone nutjob rather than as a more-extreme-than-normal example of endemic male entitlement, but at least the victim blaming – although present – has been kept to a minimum.

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