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Gavin Griffin: Poker Questions Asked And Answered

Griffin Sounds Off On Cheaters and the Borgata Tournament Scandal


Gavin GriffinPeople in the poker community often come up to me and ask about whatever is on their mind. Some of these questions are good questions, and some are bad beat stories in disguise. I’ve been through quite a few things in my poker career and I like to help whenever possible, and in this new Card Player series, I’d like to share my experiences and knowledge. Feel free to ask any poker-related question, and I’ll do my best to answer it in the space below.

Question: I don’t know if you’ve been following the mess at the Borgata, but if so, how do you think it should be handled by Borgata and the New Jersey Division Of Gaming Enforcement? — Steve R.

Gavin: Well Steve, I have been following the situation at the Borgata, but for those who haven’t, I’ll try to do a (quick) recap. The Borgata just wrapped up their Winter Poker Open series and it started with a $500+$60 three-starting day unlimited re-entry tournament. On each of these day 1s, the end of day chip leader received $2,000 and the person who was second in chips received $1,000. Sometime during the tournament, staff was made aware that there were some counterfeit chips introduced and by the time they had reached the final 27, staff found it necessary to pause the tournament and get the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement involved. They have since made an arrest and cancelled the tournament. They haven’t reached a conclusion in the investigation as to what to do with the remaining 27 players or the money that is still up for grabs.

Let me preface the rest of the answer to my question with two things. First, I am not an expert on an issue like this in any way, shape, or form. I haven’t read the New Jersey gaming code, I’m not a lawyer and I don’t work for a casino. Second, I think the Borgata should ultimately do whatever the NJDGE tells them to do.

I’ve been following this story since it broke and I feel like I have the facts of the incident as we know them down pretty well. In addition, having read almost the entire 2+2 thread, I know my view on this will be unpopular.

First off, I think everyone who played the tournament should receive their rake back. The players pay an entry fee on each bullet they fire at this tournament. For that entry fee, the Borgata is expected to provide a venue where the players can play, dealers, tables, floor staff, security, cards and chips. Perhaps there are a few other things I’m missing here, but those are the most important and security and chips are the most germane to this discussion. I think the Borgata fell short on providing this service. Many of the dealers, who are the players’ second line of defense against cheating, themselves being the first, were inexperienced and unable to protect the integrity of the game. The floor staff, by all accounts, missed this issue as well and ignored the first few instances of the fake chips being found. Finally, the chips themselves were basic top hat and cane chips with no edge marks and stickers in the middle. In addition, they’ve been in use for several years and for the casino’s regular tournaments. They appear to be incredibly easy to counterfeit and, had our villain been even slightly competent, the deception probably would have gone undetected had he decided not to flush the remaining chips in his hotel room down the toilet. Because they fell short on providing the services they should have, I think the casino should take a little hit on this by refunding everyone’s rake in full. It wouldn’t be incredibly difficult since you are required to have a player’s card to play the tournament and every entry was tracked via these player’s cards. Simply send a check for $60 or whatever multiple of entries each player bought to their address on file.

Secondly, I think the final 27 should each be paid 27th-place money and then the remaining prize pool chopped by chip count. I know ICM (Independent Chip Model) is usually considered the more fair way to chop tournaments but it becomes messy with more than 10 people left so it’s better to just do it with chip counts. Since places 450-28 have been paid out, I don’t see any way to not pay out 27-1.

Finally, though there has been quite a bit of talk about it, I don’t think the Borgata should refund everyone’s money. There are several reasons for this, but I’ll outline two. First, I think setting a precedent that venues need to refund their players in situations like this really opens up a slippery slope. Now people may try to introduce a few chips into a tournament and then when they bust and it’s discovered, attempt to have the tournament refunded. This would eventually result in a cessation of all live tournaments world-wide. Second, the amount of chips introduced to the tournament totaled to less than 1 percent of chips in play. A similar amount could easily have been added in higher denomination chips at color ups. Not only that, but many people are talking about getting busted by the guy because he had put extra chips into play. What if he gambled more with his stack because he had extra chips and the players at his table benefited rather than being hurt by the introduction of these chips? Since everybody had the same likelihood of being at his table and could have been helped or hindered by the addition of these chips, I don’t think full refunds should be issued.

This situation is a real disaster and will hopefully be resolved by the Borgata and NJDGE soon. Whatever the results, I’ll definitely be following the story to its end.

Question: What do you think the poker community should do to combat and punish players that cheat live or online? — Justin T.

Gavin: This is a very tough question and I’ll try not to sound like judge, jury, and executioner after my last answer. I think the first thing we need to do is something that’s been seen on forums and websites over the last few years. Make it clear who is doing the cheating or scamming, how they did it, and make it difficult for them to get access to situations where it’s possible again.

Once the cheats are outed, we as a community should do our best to make them uncomfortable to be around poker. Mention it at their table, tell them they’re not welcome, whatever. If they can be prosecuted, they should be. Finally, we need to push hard to get online poker regulated in more markets throughout the country. What we’ll hopefully see in New Jersey is the cheat tried, convicted, and sent to jail for at least a little while.

In order for something like that to be possible with regards to online poker, the cheat’s actions have to be illegal and they won’t be illegal until there are regulations in place. I would hope that if Russ Hamilton and the Ultimate Bet situation had happened in a regulated in environment, say Nevada today, he would be forced to forfeit the profits from his cheating and spend some time in jail. Only when we have a fully legal and regulated online poker industry with consequences for peoples actions will we see a drop off in these scams.

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almost 8 years ago

I think you're missing the real issue because you aren't answering the right question, which is, "absent of the Borgata's refunding all players their whole buy-in(s), would you play there again?" Why refund only the rake - that makes no sense. When they fail to provide the security you reference, your entire buy-in is on the line, not just the rake piece. Borgata draws huge fields due to their reputation, which has been decimated in my opinion. They have cut staff too much and have to rely on part-time dealers and floors for these massive field tourneys and that makes it easier for all kinds of cheating to occur. They need to up their game and having to refund $2.4M make incentivize them to do just that.


almost 8 years ago

It would be silly to think you should get your buy-in refunded unless the scale of cheating was so massive it impacted the majority of the field, which is clearly not the case.

Why should a guy who busted on Day 1 Level 1 and whose table was never even exposed to the fake chips expect his buy-in back?

You can't have it both ways, prize payouts and refunded buy-ins, pick one or the other. And prize payouts already occurred down to 27 players.

Is the 28th place person who got paid out supposed to now get his buy-in refunded too? I don't think so.

I agree with Rake refunds though.


almost 8 years ago

It is not unreasonable for the Borgata to refund the rake for all players. This is their fault and therefor their responsibility.
If there is anyway way to prove that the final 27 players were not involved in the cheating then the final 27 players should finish out the tournament. They should not be penalized because someone else cheated..