Southern California Cardroom At The Center Of Massive Poker Cheating Allegations

Written By Steven Schult on October 18, 2022 - Last Updated on October 31, 2022
California Poker Cheating

A novice poker player made a crazy call with jack-high in a $270,000 pot during a live-streamed poker game in Los Angeles. The loser of the hand, an established poker pro, is claiming there was foul play involved.

Hustler Casino in Gardena, a Southern California cardroom, hosts a popular poker stream called Hustler Casino Live. The stream typically runs five nights a week and features some of the biggest cash games in the Los Angeles area.

Two weeks ago, the show put together one of the most highly anticipated lineups in recent memory. Producers put together a no-limit hold ’em cash game with blinds of $100-$200, a mandatory $400 straddle and a $400 ante posted by the player in the big blind. The minimum buy-in was $50,000.

The sheer stakes of the game attracted some wealthy non-professional poker players, as well as some of the game’s best.

The game’s lineup

Here is a look at the seating arrangement and buy-ins for the eight players in the game. Producers of the stream allow some players to use pseudonyms or just their first name. Those players usually do this as a safety precaution. With so much money on the table, it’s better to stay at least slightly anonymous.

Seat Name Buy-In
1Robbi Jade Lew $100,000
2Andy "Stacks Poker" $200,000
3Mike "X" $50,000
4Phil Ivey $300,000
7Eric Persson$583,000
8Garrett Adelstein $800,000

Here’s a quick rundown of the players at the table.

Phil Ivey is one of the greatest poker players ever. He owns 10 World Series of Poker bracelets, but maybe more notably is a regular in the world’s biggest cash games. In other words, the stakes are nothing new to him.

Andy “Stacks Poker” and Garrett Adelstein are regulars on high-stakes live-streamed games in Los Angeles. Neither play many tournaments but are considered some of the best players in Southern California.

Eric Persson is an experienced poker player, but not a professional. Persson is nicknamed “Casino Eric” because he owns Maverick Gaming, a company that operates casinos and cardrooms in Washington, Nevada and Colorado.

The rest of the players at the table are amateurs with varying degrees of experience. Robbi Jade Lew is the most inexperienced of the bunch. In interviews since the stream, she said she had only been playing poker for about a year.

Robbi Jade Lew calls Garrett Adelstein with jack-high, and madness ensues

Ok, let’s get to the good part. About 90 minutes into the stream, Adelstein convinces the table to do a round of straddles. For one orbit, the stakes of the game doubled to $100-$200-$400-$800.

When Lew was in the $800 straddle, Adelstein was in the $400 blind. Lew was sitting with $135,000, and Adelstein still had more than $800,000.

Adelstein raised $3,000 with 8-7 of clubs and Lew called with J-4 offsuit with the jack of clubs. The flop was 10-10-9 with two clubs. Adelstein flopped a straight flush draw and Lew flopped nothing but backdoor draws.

Adelstein bet $2,500 and Lew called. The turn was the 3 of hearts and this is where things get interesting. Adelstein bet $10,000 and Lew raised to $20,000. Adelstein went all in for Lew’s remaining $109,000.

She called and they decided to run the river card twice. This means that the pot was split and the winner of each river would get one-half. She won both boards and scooped the entire pot worth about $270,000.

Here’s the hand so you can watch the madness for yourself:

Adelstein launches cheating accusations

During the hand, you can hear commentator and professional poker player Bart Hanson describe the unusual action. For most players, J-4 offsuit isn’t a hand played at all, let alone for someone’s entire stack.

Additionally, he elaborates on Adelstein’s unique reaction to losing the pot. The California poker pro is normally jovial and congratulatory when he loses a pot. However, in this instance, he was visibly perturbed at showdown.

There was some adversarial table talk between Lew and Adelstein before Hanson added context with commentary.

“I’ll just say it,” said Hanson. “Garrett thinks this hand was not straight in some way. There’s no doubt about it. This is the most disturbed I’ve ever seen Garrett look at the table.”

Adelstein plays another few hands before standing up and walking away from the table. Another few hands go by before Lew gets up as well. Both players were speaking with executive producer Ryan Feldman.

Adelstein said he believed he was cheated during the hand. At the end of the discussion, Lew gave Adelstein the $135,000 back. Adelstein returned to the table, immediately racked up his chips, and left.

After the stream ended, Adelstein released two tweets that included six screenshots explaining why he believed she cheated. In those screenshots, he said the refund was Lew’s tacit admission of guilt.

Adelstein’s thoughts

Before we dive into why Adelstein believes he was cheated, we need to make a very important distinction. How an amateur thinks through a hand is much different than that of a professional.

This matters more for the court of public opinion than for distinguishing whether or not there was cheating. The hand in question went completely viral and was picked up by mainstream outlets such as CBS’ “Inside Edition” and the Los Angeles Times.

As a result, several non-poker players are weighing in. Many of those non-players believe she is innocent. They believe she read him for nothing and that jack-high was good. What’s the problem here?

The problem is that calling with jack-high in this spot is an objectively bad play. Adelstein dives into this aspect in one of the screenshots in his tweet.

“Jc4h on ThTc9c3h has very little equity vs the overwhelming majority of my semi-bluffing hands, let alone all my made hands which have her dead,” wrote Adelstein. “Ambitious 3-bet semi bluff all in hands for me like Ac Xc or even a hand as weak as QJ have J4o drawing nearly dead. Comparing this situation to a wild J high river call down spot where say the board is AKQss23 have absolutely nothing in common with this situation.”

But how would she have cheated?

The problem with cheating accusations is that there is usually very little proof to back them up. Concrete evidence is hard to come by. Any other situation would require a large sample of hands that indicate the accused has a high degree of accuracy with their river decisions.

For example, the last time the poker world was embroiled in a major cheating scandal was also in California at Stones Gambling Hall in the Sacramento area. Over the course of 18 months, Mike Postle won more than $250,000 in a live-streamed $2-$5 game. During that span, his accuracy on the river when he should bluff raise, fold, or call was extremely high.

While no concrete evidence was found, the consensus is that Postle cheated somehow. Many prominent figures in the poker world believed there was no way somebody could be that accurate without foul play involved. Stones no longer streams a poker game.

In this scenario, there isn’t a large sample to draw from. But the incredibly unorthodox nature of the hand led to Adelstein speculating on how she was cheating.

“I’m well aware the scariest/easiest way for someone to cheat a livestream is to have a device hidden that simply vibrates to indicate you have the best hand,” wrote Adelstein in his tweet. “I’m sure the plan was to minraise the turn and win the hand on the river when I don’t improve. But that all changed when I read her for extremely weak on the turn and made an unorthodox play by raising all in. At that point she would know she still has the best hand if she had such a device. And her lack of more in-depth poker knowledge made it so she didn’t understand calling there would always be a dead giveaway she was cheating.”

Cheating theories

Unlike the Postle scandal, this one has many well-known poker players divided. Some think she cheated, while there are plenty that believes she was innocent.

The arguments for innocence are simple. They generally fall into one of two camps. She misread her hand and thought she turned a pair, or was an amateur who just thought she was being bluffed and called it off with jack-high.

However, it’s hard to believe Lew misread her hand. At showdown, she was not shocked to see her hand was jack-high and not a pair. Furthermore, she double-checked her cards multiple times on the turn before calling.

To make matters worse, Lew has changed her story multiple times in interviews following the hand. It doesn’t necessarily mean she cheated, but it makes those undecided more likely to listen to the cheating theories.

A signaling device

This is one of the most common theories. Lew had a device on her that would either signal she had the best hand or would have the best hand by the river.

The problem with these theories is that Hustler Casino Live doesn’t allow phones at the table. But there was a screenshot of the broadcast making its way around Twitter that showed a thick rectangular object in her pants. It appeared to be the same shape of a cell phone.

When confronted on Twitter, she said the object was simply her hip.

The other issue with this theory is that Lew would still need someone involved in the production that could relay her real-time information. If you thought things were weird already, strap in.

Production member caught stealing $15,000

Hustler Live Casino producers Ryan Feldman and Nick Vertucci announced they would conduct an in-depth, transparent investigation about the night in question. Furthermore, they said that a third party would scrutinize the security of their streams.

In one of the first announcements regarding the investigation, HCL said they found one of its employees stealing $15,000 off Lew’s chip stack after the game concluded.

The employee was Bryan Sagbigsal, a 24-year-old employee that has a prior criminal record. Sagbigsal is also an alleged problem gambler that was seen playing and losing in high-stakes cash games at Hustler Casino.

Sagbigsal was seen by many as the smoking gun. The link between the control room and Lew’s crazy call. Many poker pros were weighing in on the development that this was probably Sagbigsal taking his cut. Especially since Lew already gave the money back to Adelstein.

The news raised more questions than answers. Especially when Lew said she would not be pressing criminal charges against Sagbigsal.

How would she not notice $15,000 missing from her stack at the night’s end? And why would she not press charges against someone who stole from her? Has Sagbigsal stolen from players’ stacks during other streams?

Recently, Lew said that due to the mounting pressure to press charges, she would change her stance and file them with the local authorities. But that has yet to be confirmed.

An unclaimed $250,000 bounty

While all of these developments were being released, a couple of very wealthy poker players offered a bounty for someone to come forward with information. Haralabos Voulgaris, a former professional gambler and executive with the Dallas Mavericks, and Bill Perkins, a professional trader, combined to put a $250,000 reward up for grabs.

The two said if anyone came forward with information about how cheating took place, the money was theirs. A 24-year-old problem gambler with a criminal record would surely jump at the chance to get that cash, right?

Nobody took the money.

When will there be a verdict?

A verdict? Probably never. The investigation will probably not resolve the issue as a court case would.

In all likelihood, the investigation will reveal a few ways that Lew could’ve possibly cheated. But if nobody will take $250,000 to confess, it’s unlikely it will reveal anything concrete either way.

Vertucci and Feldman both said that the investigation would be a long process. It will be months before anything comprehensive is released.

Photo by Shutterstock
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Steven Schult

Steve serves as managing editor for PlayCA and a handful of other sites across Catena Media. The New York native is a veteran of the gambling world. He started covering high-stakes tournaments in 2009 for some of poker's most prominent media outlets before adding the broader US gaming market to his beat in 2018.

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