The poker world’s progression from shady pursuit into respected, regulated sport is something that would benefit all players. The game has certainly come a long way in recent years, but the link between poker and gambling debt clings to its reputation like rusting manacles, leaving a stain upon the game we know and love.
If poker is ever to be accepted as a sport by the wider world, it must leave these issues behind. But with untrustworthy names still active in the game and new stories about old debts cropping up all the time, can poker ever truly be a clean, respectable sport?
The first 6 months of 2019 seems to show that the way is still long:
Daniel Negreanu down eight figures in bad debts but refuses to give names
A little over a month ago, Daniel Negreanu posted a tweet which laid bare the shocking amount of bad debt a successful player can be owed during their career as a poker pro. The fact he has publicly spoken about the situation is perhaps a sign that he is giving those who owe him money a verbal warning of sorts. Just to underline his point, Negreanu then posted a tweeted poll asking his followers whether the names of those who owe him money should be made public. 51% voted for debts in which players had been dishonest with him over repayments to be made public. As yet though, Negreanu has not given any names.
Many people in poker owe me money. Some did it letting me know they didn’t know when they could pay, others acted dishonestly and lied about their situation to get money from me.
Should I make these debts public?
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) June 21, 2019
Players owing Negreanu money is certainly not surprising given that loaning money is common in poker circles, but the figure he speaks of is shocking. When someone asked if the amount, he was owed was in the seven-figure vicinity, the Canadian star responded on Twitter with: “closer to eight figures”.
Patrik Antonius reveals bad debt he is owed
Negreanu is not the only big-name player to be down huge amounts of money in loans, as Patrik Antonius also revealed what is owed to him in an interview with pokerisivut.com earlier this year. The Finnish pro responded to a question about the total amount others owe him with: “sad, but the sum is eight”. Whether this is $8,000,000 or eight-figures, it is still an astonishing amount and in the same region as the number given by Negreanu.
Some have been calling Antonius’ judgement into question however, as he also revealed that he had given a $700,000 loan to Robert Alexander, a tech entrepreneur fond of high stakes gambling in casinos. Antonius added that: “he never paid me back”. Alexander was arrested on charges of securities fraud and wire fraud earlier this year and claimed to be broke back in 2006 when he was involved in divorce proceedings.
Eli Elezra finds himself in debt outing storm during promotional Q&A session
Eli Elezra’s “Ask me anything” thread on poker forum 2+2 in January this year started innocuously enough. Some questions were fielded about general aspects of his poker life before a question appeared relating to a rumour about him owing Shaun Deeb and many others a lot of money. Elezra’s brief reply ended with the words “I always pay my debts”.
The Q&A session may have been an event designed to promote his autobiography called “Pulling the Trigger”, but Elezra was probably left wishing he had kept the safety on and deleted that final comment before posting. It quickly triggered a response from former high stakes pro Cole South who claimed he had lent Elezra $100,000 in 2010 and had only been repaid $60,000 of that sum. He added that Elezra had been ignoring his messages.
Elezra posted some carefully worded responses and the matter appeared to have been amicably settled with South posting that the two had spoken and agreed a way forward. Within a week however, another post was made, apparently by Abe Mosseri. It claimed that Elezra owed over $800,000 but was initially dismissed by moderators as not being a post by Mosseri. A short time later however, another post appeared which was soon confirmed to be Mosseri, saying that Elezra owed him $853,000. It was suggested that the initial post may have been Mosseri’s girlfriend.
Nevertheless, Elezra admitted to knowing of the $853,000 debt which had originally been $1,000,000 when loaned to him 9 years earlier. Elezra claimed that he had lost a lot of personal wealth in the global financial crisis and borrowed to continue playing at the stakes he was accustomed to. He claimed the loss of sponsorship money when Full Tilt closed also impacted his ability to pay the money back, and that he had lost what was loaned while playing high stakes PLO on Full Tilt back in 2011 and 2012.
According to Elezra, Mosseri’s girlfriend had struck him across the face in a casino once and made threats against himself and his family, saying that Mosseri’s debt had been sold to her father who she described as “a mobster”. Elezra claims he sent a message to Mosseri saying he had been threatened and may go to the authorities, which it appears, prompted Mosseri to publicly air Elezra’s debt with him on 2+2.
David “Chino” Rheem’s damaged reputation and a PCA win
For many years now, the name of David “Chino” Rheem has been associated with unpaid debts by many. Whether this label is fair or not, there are certainly threads on 2+2 which have many stories of players being “scammed” or of Rheem owing multiple debts to many people. In January 2019 Rheem won the Pokerstars Caribbean Adventure Main Event for $1,567,100 and many questioned the way he was applauded as a great champion rather than the issue of his alleged debts being raised.
Stories such as Rheem’s PCA win also raise questions about how players with tarnished reputations and publicly aired alleged debts can play big buy in events and remain part of the poker world. The answer could of course be that, those owed money know their only chance of repayment is to see the person who owes them collect a big score. For that reason, they then back them. In Rheem’s case, rumours have circulated suggesting Michael Mizrachi may have collected a portion of his PCA winnings, but this remains unsubstantiated, with Mizrachi have made no comment.
2019 has seen the issue of debts in poker being made more public, whether through allegations against individuals or stars of the game admitting the totals of what they are owed. The fact that many of these stories date back to a time when poker was booming could perhaps supply the answer as to how these situations occurred. People may have borrowed based on the assumption that the good times of poker would continue to flow, only to find themselves in trouble when everything collapsed around Black Friday.
The increasingly open discussions about poker debt in 2019 may in fact be the catalyst for the game cleaning up this problem, with some players being open about numbers and others even being open about identities. This encourages debt resolution and reminds those new to the poker world that they should take great care whenever considering loaning money.
It also serves as a reminder that having some sort of legally binding document in place rather than simply operating on trust is a sensible way forward. After all, the worst decisions made in a poker player’s career are not always made while sat at the table.
Article by Craig Bradshaw