Professional gamblers are characterized by their ability to make long-term profits from casino games. Therefore, a gambling pro doesn’t have to cheat to gain an edge.
Nevertheless, some pros have turned to the dark side because they’re greedy and want a larger advantage. These same players have disgraced their names and given themselves a permanent black mark in the casino’s eyes.
Keep reading as I discuss 9 professional gamblers who became cheaters in order to boost their profits.
1 – Archie Karas — Card Marking
Archie Karas is famous for the greatest gambling run of all time. The Greek-born gambler took $50 and turned it into a $40 million fortune.
“The Run” was prefaced by Karas losing his bankroll to poker legends Doyle Brunson and Chip Reese. Rather than taking time to recuperate, Karas – with just $50 in his pocket – borrowed $10,000 from a friend and start playing poker again.
He used a combination of poker, pool, and craps to build a $40 million bankroll. Karas became such a successful gambler that nobody wanted to play him in skill-based games any longer.
He was forced tobegin playing house-banked games like craps and baccarat. This led to him losing the entire $40 million fortune and having to start over.
Karas has put together a few more multimillion dollar runs since then. But he appears to have lost his edge and resorted to cheating in recent times.
In 2013, he was arrested for marking cards at San Diego’s Barona Casino. He was found guilty and sentenced to three years of probation.
The troubles haven’t stopped here for Karas, because the Nevada Gaming Commission voted unanimously to add him to their “Black Book.”
The Black Book, formally known as Nevada’s List of Excluded Persons, features a few dozen gamblers who are permanently banned from the Silver State’s casinos.
The Barona Casino incident isn’t the only one in Karas’ gambling career. He’s been arrested for cheating four times since 1998, which convinced the NCG to finally ban him in 2015.
Considering that Vegas features the most casino action in the US Karas has almost been given a professional death sentence.
2 – Russ Hamilton — Online Poker “God Mode”
Russ Hamilton is in the running for the most-disgraced name in gambling. But before cheating high stakes online poker players, he was a reputable player who won the 1994 WSOP Main Event along with $1 million.
His accomplishments earned him a consulting gig with UB Poker. Hamilton’s original job was to recruit famous pros like Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke to represent their brand.
Unfortunately, Hamilton abused his position by using a “god mode” account via the company’s office. God mode allows one to see all of their opponents’ hole cards, thus giving them a huge advantage.
Hamilton used this edge to win over $20 million from high stakes players between the dates of May 2004 and January 2008. Some of the players suspected the cheating and complained to UB Poker, which, in turn, did nothing about the matter.
The Kahnawake Gaming Commission (KGC), which licensed UB, performed their own investigation and discovered that Hamilton did cheat. It was only then when UB refunded $22.1 million to affected players.
Hamilton was further painted guilty when audio recordings featured him admitting that he scammed players. “I did take this money and I’m not trying to make it right, so we’ve got to get that out of the way real quick,” he said.
He also became the subject of a 60 Minutes special in 2008 on history’s biggest online poker scandal. Unfortunately, this special and the KGC’s investigation don’t hold weight with regard to criminal prosecution.
Hamilton has escaped any true punishment for his actions, outside of being ridiculed on poker forums. This is hard to stomach given that he admittedly cheated players out of millions of dollars and refused to repay anything.
3 – Phil Ivey — Edge Sorting
Phil Ivey is one of the greatest poker players of all time, having won $26.2 million in live tournaments and 10 WSOP bracelets. But Ivey’s gambling skills go beyond just poker.
Case in point; he and an accomplice named “Kelly” Sun came up with an incredible scheme that netted them tens of millions of dollars.
Ivey and Sun used a technique called edge sorting in punto banco, which is a baccarat variation. Edge sorting involves spotting flaws on card backs to determine the values before they’re flipped over.
Sun was the master edge sorter who’d spent hours perfecting this technique by looking for flaws in different card decks. Ivey, meanwhile, supplied the large bankroll they needed.
The pair also made special requests to increase their advantage. Here are the main concessions that they asked for:
- The casino can only use a purple Gemaco deck.
- The dealer must speak Mandarin Chinese.
- All cards must be rotated 180 degrees.
The purple Gemaco deck was important because Sun knew it had flaws. She studied this deck enough to know exactly how the flaws related to the card values.
The Mandarin-speaking dealer allowed Sun to make special requests without the English-speaking staff understanding what was going on.
This leads to the cards being rotated 180 degrees, which makes it easier to spot flaws on edges. Sun conveyed to the dealer that Ivey was extremely superstition, and this is why the cards needed to be rotated.
Ivey and Sun had such a big advantage that they made $11 million off Crockfords casino, and another $9.6 million off the Borgata.
Crockfords didn’t pay the players immediately, instead using a bank holiday as an excuse why they had to delay payment. The London casino then reviewed their security footage and felt that Ivey used an unfair technique to win.
The Borgata did pay Ivey after he beat them out of $9.6 million in four high stakes punto banco sessions. But they later sued and got the money back.
Judges in both cases felt that Ivey walked a line between cheating and using legitimate advantage play. In the end, they felt that he and Sun leaned more towards cheaters than advantage gamblers.
Ivey and Sun are the only gamblers on this list who don’t deserve any legal consequences. But they suffered financial consequences when the judges decided that their special requests constituted mild cheating.
4 – Justin Bonomo — Multi-Accounting
Justin Bonomois currently the biggest live tournament winner in history. He has $42.9 million in winnings, which is more than any player in history.
But Bonomo’s career got off to a rough start when he was caught cheating at PartyPoker in 2006. They discovered that Bonomo had six different accounts, sometimes entering all of them in a single tournament.
This is a clear violation of online poker rules when considering that one can see multiple sets of hole cards if their accounts are on the same table.
PartyPoker confiscated more than $100,000 from Bonomo and banned all of his accounts from their site. They used the money to refund players affected by his actions.
He was also banned on PokerStars due to the fallout from his multi-accounting scandal. Bonomo, who had a good deal of success up to this point, quickly became synonymous with cheating.
Many gamblers who turn to cheating never repair their reputation. But Bonomo is different because he spent years clearing his name by playing clean poker.
Bonomo has especially managed to get hot in recent times. He’s won over $25 million in 2018 and has taken the top spot in all-time live tournament winnings.
5 – Mark Teltscher — Multi-Accounting
Mark Teltscher is the subject of another infamous multi-accounting scandal. He won the 2007 PokerStars WCOOP Main Event, only to later be uncovered as a cheater.
The story began when his sister, Natalie Teltscher, won the WCOOP Main Event under the name “TheVoid.” She supposedly battled through 2,998 players to capture the $1.39 million top prize.
Some players began complaining that Mark — a poker pro — was playing under Natalie’s account. PokerStars launched an investigation and discovered that Mark had been multi-accounting under several screen names, including TheVoid.
They revoked Mark and Natalie’s $1.39 million payout and moved everybody up one spot on the final leaderboard. Former PokerStars pro Vanessa Rousso was one player who benefited, rising from third to second and earning more than $700,000.
Natalie Teltscher launched a lawsuit against PokerStars on grounds that she won the tournament on her own. However, she later admitted to having somebody (likely Mark) play for her and win the event.
Natalie later withdrew her lawsuit after realizing that having another person play on her account is a clear violation of internet poker rules.
6 – Leo Fernandez & Veronica Dabul — Dice Sliding
Argentine gamblers Leo Fernandez and Veronica “La Princesa” Dabul both carved out successful poker careers for themselves. But they decided to go off the rails and begin cheating craps games in 2011.
The pair used a craps cheating technique known as “dice sliding.” This method involves sliding dice down the felt, rather than rolling them, to produce desired numbers.
Of course, dice sliding is extremely difficult to use without the dealer or surveillance catching it. This is why either Dabul or Fernandez would distract the dealer while the other slid the dice.
Their teamwork resulted in over a $700,000 profit at the Wynn Las Vegas. During one particular session, they won $140,000 on just seven rolls (slides).
Fernandez and Dabul used an elaborate plot so that they weren’t associated with each other. First off, they checked into the Wynn properties on different dates.
Fernandez began staying at the Wynn on June 3, while Dabul checked into the connected Encore on June 12. They also avoided playing with each other during every single session.
The Wynn was still able to piece together their plot despite the elaborate scheme. The casino then had both gamblers arrested and sued them to recover the money.
As you may know, a legitimate craps toss is supposed to hit the back wall so that it tumbles randomly. Players can get away with an occasional roll where they don’t hit the back wall, so long as they’re making an effort to do so.
However, it’s decidedly illegal to slide dice down the felt. Many casinos now use “speed bumps” on tables to cause sliding dice to tumble and produce random results.
Going back to the perpetrators, Fernandez holds a high reputation in the gambling community despite this incident. He’s currently sponsored by PokerStars and continues cashing in live tournaments.
Dabul, a former member of Team PokerStars, hasn’t been seen on the poker tables much since then.
7 – Men “The Master” Nguyen — (Alleged) Chip Dumping & Chip Theft
Men Nguyen has had an incredible poker career that’s seen him win seven WSOP gold bracelets and $10,995,181 in live tournament winnings. But while Nguyen has very respectable poker skills, he’s far from a respected player.
Nguyen is known as one of the biggest angle shooters in poker, bending any rules he can to gain an advantage. Some players even allege that he’s gone beyond angle shooting and outright cheats.
Bonomo claims that L.A. Commerce Casino staff once entered Nguyen’s hotel room during a tournament break after a fire alarm went off. They discovered a suitcase full of chips that Nguyen and his “horses” (players he stakes) stole from the tournament tables.
He’s also been accused of making his horses dump chips to him during live tournaments. This is a big advantage when considering that he can artificially increase his chip stack from players who are supposed to be his opponents.
The only problem with these allegations is that they’ve yet to be proven. Instead, Nguyen is merely a suspected cheater who’s been called out by various pros.
Due to the fact that he’s never been found guilty of anything, Nguyen is still welcome to participate in live tournaments across the world.
Men Nguyen might actually be a remarkable story if it weren’t for all the cheating allegations and angle shooting. He escaped communist Vietnam in 1978 and made it to the US under political asylum.
From here, he started playing in local poker rooms and was really bad in the beginning. He earned the nickname “Money Machine” because he lost so much money.
He’s also tutored a number of other Vietnamese players, including David Pham, Mihn Nguyen, and wife Van Nguyen. One of his students gave him the nickname “The Master” thanks to his poker teaching abilities.
Unfortunately, all of the angle shooting incidents and alleged cheating has given Men Nguyen a bad name.
8 – Jose “Girah” Macedo — God Mode, Chip Dumping, Multi-Accounting
Jose “Girah” Macedo received a lot of buzz in 2010 over his perceived poker abilities. The teenage Portuguese player was so impressive that he earned a sponsorship deal from Lock Poker and backing from pros Dan Cates and Haseeb Qureshi.
Rather than using these opportunities to further his career, the “Portuguese Poker Prodigy” abused his reputation and cheated fellow players.
It all started when he convinced poker friends to play a supposed fish named “sauron1989.” Macedo would then sweat these players via Skype under the guise that he’d provide them with helpful suggestions.
Contrary to what Macedo told these players, sauron1989 actually turned out to be a really tough opponent. In fact, this screen name seemed a little too good.
These players began to suspect that Macedo was somehow scamming them. Their suspicions grew upon discovering that sauron1989 would log off right before Girah logged on to begin playing.
The players eventually discovered that Macedo was behind the account and had been using Skype to see their hole cards. He was essentially pulling off a different version of Hamilton’s god mode scheme.
What’s bad is that this isn’t the only scandal Girah is guilty off. Qureshi colluded with Macedo to help him win the Lock Poker BLUFF Challenge. Qureshi dumped over $100,000 to Girah in April 2011, allowing him to shoot up the standings and claim the largest prize.
He was also found to be multi-accounting by playing on Qureshi’s accounts. Given that he participated in god mode, multi-accounting, and chip dumping scandals, it’s hard to tell if Macedo was truly ever a prodigy.
9 – Brian Hastings, Brian Townsend & Cole South — Sharing Hand Histories
In 2009, Viktor “Isildur1” Blom took the online poker world by storm when he won over $6 million against the world’s best players.
But his quick rise would come to a screeching halt when he lost $4.2 million against Brian Hastings on December 8, 2009. This remains the biggest loss by any player in internet poker history.
At first glance, it merely appears that Hastings succeeded where everybody else failed – and to a great degree. But controversy erupted when it was discovered that he borrowed hand history information from fellow pros Cole South and Brian Townsend.
The trio shared 30,000 hands that had been played against Isidlur1 and concocted a strategy to beat the Swedish phenomenon. The main problem here is that Hastings received access to hand histories from games that he didn’t participate in.
This in itself is not completely against online poker rules. After all, some sites have allowed, or still allow, players to use software programs that datamine opponents. The result is that one can gain access to an opponent’s tendencies without observing this player’s tendencies in person.
But what Hastings, Townsend, and South did was against Full Tilt’s terms and conditions. Here’s a summary of what Full Tilt’s rules stated on sharing and histories:
“Full Tilt Poker defines an unfair advantage as a user accessing or compiling information on other players beyond that which the user has personally observed through his or her own game play.”
Despite the clear violation of the rules, Hastings was allowed to keep the money. Townsend is the only one who received any punishment, having his Full Tilt Red Pro status revoked for 30 days.
Outside of Hamilton’s god mode usage and Macedo’s multiple violations, this is perhaps the most unpunished cheating scandal in gambling history.
Professional gamblers are best off when they use their edge to make long-term profits. But the players on this list have overreached by trying to cheat casino games and win more.
Phil Ivey and Kelly Sun are the only gamblers on this list who didn’t maliciously cheat. But judges felt that they went too far in their edge sorting plot, causing them to lose out on $20 million.
Some players are known as cheaters based on hearsay and accusations. Men “The Master” Nguyen falls into this category, because he’s largely believed to be a cheater, despite the lack of hard evidence.
Other gamblers have no problem blatantly cheating in an effort to earn more money. Archie Karas, Jose Macedo, Russ Hamilton, Mark Teltscher, Leo Fernandez, and Veronica Dabul were all clearly caught in their scams.
The cost of being caught is steep, including legal consequences and a major blow to one’s reputation. Some gamblers, including Hamilton and Macedo, left the games they played after becoming disgraces.
You can see that cheating just isn’t worth it in the long run. That being said, try winning games with your skill and avoid the temptation to cheat in any way.