Poker Cheating Allegations Highlight Ineffectiveness Of California Gaming Regulators

Written By Steven Schult on October 25, 2022 - Last Updated on October 31, 2022
California regulators poker cheating

The cheating allegations from a live-streamed poker game at Hustler Casino in Los Angeles captured mainstream attention.

It had all the makings of a good soap opera. The situation included high-stakes gambling, possible corruption, and drama between the participants.

However, when Robbi Jade Lew committed her $135,000-stack to the pot with jack-high and no draw against Garrett Adelstein, it raised a bigger question than, “did she cheat?”

Instead, the question becomes, “what do California gaming regulators do to ensure that live-streamed poker games are safe?”

A brief recap of the situation

Hustler Casino Live is a production company that streams high-stakes poker games from the Hustler Casino. At the end of September, the company aired an incredibly high-stakes stream from the Southern California casino.

The game was $100-$200 no-limit hold’em with a mandatory $400 straddle and a $400 ante posted by the player in the big blind. The minimum buy-in was $50,000, but seven of the eight players in the game bought in for more than that. When cards first got in the air, there was $2.26 million on that table.

The infamous hand happened about 90 minutes into the stream. Adelstein made a big semi-bluff on the turn with an open-ended straight draw that got picked off by Lew’s jack-high. Adelstein missed his draws and lost the pot.

The California pro left the game and accused Lew of cheating. Following the accusations, Lew gave the six-figure sum back to Adelstein. The Hustler Casino Live staff announced they would investigate the hand and any possible security leaks in its production.

During the investigation, it was revealed one of the employees stole $15,000 off Lew’s stack after the stream concluded. The employee, Bryan Sagbigsal, was a 24-year-old with a criminal history and an alleged gambling problem. It was also revealed that he had access to the hole cards and was making $40,000 annually in one of the country’s most expensive cities.

Many poker content creators believed this was the smoking gun. The working theory was that his theft was payment for conveying real-time information from the control room.

But any evidence of a conspiracy between Sagbigsal and Lew has not been found. Additionally, two wealthy poker players offered a $250,000 bounty for any information that could prove one. The bounty was never collected.

Hustler Casino Live says regulators OK’d continuing its operations

About a week after the operators released information about theft from that night. Hustler Casino Live tweeted another update.

On Oct. 12, the company tweeted that the California Bureau of Gambling Control contacted it regarding the allegations.  The statement said that they were approved to continue streaming after speaking with regulators about operations.

The post came shortly after several prominent poker players called for the stream to pause operations until security measures could be upgraded, and possibly until the completion of the investigation.

Hustler Casino Live probably tweeted the statement to calm any fears. But it just raised more questions from those following the story.

How involved is the California Bureau of Gambling Control in the investigation? Did they approve the setup before the show started a few years ago?

HCL retracts initial statment

The following day, producers Nick Vertucci and Ryan Feldman cleared up any confusion in another tweet from the Hustler Casino Live account.

“High Stakes Poker Productions (Nick and Ryan) have no direct contact with anyone at the Bureau of Gambling Control (BGC). Hustler Casino is in regular contact with their Field Rep. Their Field Rep is aware that an investigation is on-going. The BGC does not give advice on how to operate a business. We are sorry if there was any confusion.”

In a follow-up, Hustler Casino Live retracted its original statement.

What do California regulators require of poker streams?

Not much. Possibly nothing.

Despite using the host casino’s name, the poker streams aren’t owned by the casino. Instead, these streams are owned and operated by private companies.

The two most popular poker streams are in Los Angeles – Live at the Bike and Hustler Casino Live. Live at the Bike is owned and operated by Bally’s but is filmed in a studio at the Bicycle Casino. Hustler Casino Live is owned by High Stakes Productions, a private company launched by Vertucci and Feldman.

In its statement, High Stakes Poker Productions acknowledged that the BCG “does not give advice on how to operate a business.”

In other words, regulators won’t tell streams what to do. California regulators made it clear they will not be involved in these operations. They will only be involved in the casino’s operations.

PlayCA reached out to Feldman for comment on California regulations, but he did not respond at the time of publishing.

Poker’s recent cheating accusations come from California live streams

Based on their stance, it’s no surprise that the last major cheating scandal came from another California poker stream.

In late-2019, a small California cardroom outside Sacramento began streaming poker games on its social media channels. Stones Gambling Hall was the home of Stones Live Poker.

Unlike Hustler Casino live, Stones streamed mostly small to mid-stakes games. Outside of just a few games, the blinds were usually $1-$3 or $2-$5.

Over the course of about 18 months, Mike Postle won roughly $250,000, an outrageous sum to win given the stakes.

Eventually, one of the stream’s commentators, Veronica Brill, said she believed Postle was cheating. There were just too many instances of Postle making an unorthodox play that worked out.

Furthermore, details were released about Postle’s friendship with Justin Kuraitis. Kuraitis was Stones’ tournament director and the operator of the stream.

He was the only one with access to hole cards and there were several plausible ways for Kuraitis to relay real-time information. Additionally, Postle was constantly looking at his phone during hands.

What did regulators do about the situation? Nothing. They didn’t even investigate the matter, let alone fine or fire anyone. On the other hand, Postle disappeared from mainstream poker.

How do California poker streams differ from those in Nevada?

The Nevada Gaming Control Board is one of the toughest regulatory bodies in the country. The state is home to some of the most prestigious poker tournaments of the year. That’s in addition to the poker content produced by PokerGO at their studio on the Las Vegas Strip.

While there isn’t a daily livestream like in Los Angeles, there are plenty of opportunities for cheating. Yet there hasn’t been a single accusation of impropriety during these broadcasts.

Why is that? Because the NGCB has very strict rules around poker streams. Unlike its counterparts in California, the board forces those involved to have a gaming license.

In an Oct. 10 tweet, Jess Welman, former editor of, briefly explained the compliance process.

PokerGO operates those World Series of Poker broadcasts alluded to by Welman. Therefore, PokerGO must follow the rules of the NGCB as well.

Matt Berkey, a high-stakes poker pro and host of the popular poker podcast “OnlyFriends,” said he spoke with a representative of PokerGO regarding their security features.

Berkey says their setup is “as secure as you can imagine.”

Rundown of PokerGO security features

The main point of failure in the stream will be the control room. Employees in the control room are the only ones with access to real-time information.

PokerGO’s control room is actually two separate rooms. The staff locks both and has security cameras surrounding the area. Moreover, employees need a key fob to access the areas.

The key fobs keep a record of who entered the rooms and when. The surrounding cameras can verify these logs.

Only the director, executive producer, sound engineers and the owner of the production company, Mori Eskandani, have access to the main control room.

The second room houses the server. The server room is also locked, and even fewer people can access it. Only Eskandani and the IT staff are allowed near the server.

Additionally, the commentary booth is separate from the control room. Since most poker streams run on a short delay, the commentators aren’t seeing the hole cards in real-time. Therefore, they can’t be a point of failure for game integrity.

Berkey points out flaws with Hustler Casino Live

Berkey was close to the middle ground regarding the issue of “Did Robbi cheat?” However, Berkey spotted a few flaws in the Hustler Casino Live broadcast setup.

Following Hustler Casino Live’s statement about communicating with regulators, Berkey tweeted a list of possible leaks.

Poker world piles on the California regulatory board

Berkey wasn’t the only one who took issue with the lack of action from the California government. Based on other tweets from players, it appears there isn’t much faith in those running the Golden State.

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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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