Probably if you plan to set up an illegal sports betting ring, doing it on the property of a major Las Vegas casino with their own sports book is not your best idea ever. But that reality seems to have eluded high-stakes poker player Paul Phua, who has been arrested along with an illegal World Cup gambling ring operating out of three luxury suites in Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip.
The FBI broke up the operation at the high-roller suites last week, where the gang of seven men and one woman had been running what the Gambling Control Board described as a kind of high-tech “wire room,” where illegal World Cup bets were being monitored by computers remotely linked to others computers overseas.
The poker world knows Paul Phua, 50, as high-stakes poker player, a “wealthy Asian businessman” and a prominent figure in the fabled Macau big game; he is ranked #1 on the Hendon Mob’s Macau All-Time Money List. Three months ago he came sixth in the EPT Grand Final High Roller Event in Monte Carlo and in 2012 he played in the Big One for One Drop tournament. However, according to the FBI, he is Wei Seng Phua, a high-ranking member of the 14K Triad organized criminal group.
The “Wire Room”
The court heard Phua had been arrested in Macau in mid-June and charged with operating an illegal gambling business there. After being released on bail, it seems he hot-tailed it over to Las Vegas to continue running the operation remotely.
Caesars became suspicious when Phua, or one of his associates, insisted that the casino install an unusual amount of technical equipment in the suites, enough to support eight digital subscriber lines on top the normal WiFi access. Employees observed computer monitors that were hooked up to what looked like a sportsbook, and next to the computer stations, there were three large screen televisions, tuned into World Cup soccer games.
(We will pause so you can observe smirk time now).
Acting on a tip-off from Caesars, undercover law enforcement agents monitored activity in the suites throughout the month. They raided the suites on July 9, seizing gambling records, computer equipment and other evidence.
All eight defendants appeared in court on Monday and were charged with at least one count of the illegal transmission of wagering information and of operating an illegal gambling business. Paul Phua’s Las Vegas lawyer, David Chesnoff, denied the link to organized crime and said that Phua would fight the charges.
“This is a very sophisticated, intelligent individual who wants to defend himself,” said Chesnoff.
$2 Million Bail for Phua
US Magistrate Judge Bill Hoffman set the bail for Paul Phua at $2 million, along with his $48 million private jet as collateral. Phua’s son Darren Phua, 22, also allegedly a member of the gang, was ordered to post $500,000 bail. Both defendants were ordered to be electronically monitored and to stay on home detention in the custody of a local doctor who had befriended Phua senior through the poker community. According to Chesnoff, several poker players, including Andrew Robl, were rallying around to help post Phua’s bail, with Robl apparently prepared to pay $1.5 million.
Among the group was another poker player, Malaysian national Seng Chen Yong, 56. In April 2012, Yong placed fourth in the Asian Poker Tour Manila for $ 439,379, coincidently a year before Phua also placed fourth in the same tournament. Yong and his son Wai Kin Yong were both detained as flight risks.
An ongoing investigation is being conducted by the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Nevada Gaming Control Board. If found guilty, the defendants could face up to five years in prison. Not to mention the wrath of the Triad.