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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Poker Stories: The Jackpot They Wouldn't Pay

About ten years ago, I was at the Orleans in Las Vegas to play a very popular weekly Friday night tournament. The Orleans had a big poker room, but so many people showed up for the tournament that they had to spread tables up a large hallway to accommodate everyone. There were also a lot of cash games being played in the poker room, with every table full and long waiting lists.

At the time, when there was a bad beat at one of the cash games, every one in the poker room (except tournament players) shared in the jackpot, which was somewhere around $250,000. The bulk of it went to the two players involved in the bad beat hand, but pieces of it went to everybody.

On the night in question, while I was still in the tournament, there was a giant roar from the other end of the poker room. The jackpot had been hit in a small-stakes game, and it took less than five seconds for word to spread across the room amid whoops of joy.

Whenever a casino has to pay off a jackpot, the floor supervisors have to verify it, and then notify surveillance, which looks at the video to make sure nothing untoward took place. This can take up to an hour, as they are scrupulous about ensuring that no cheating has occurred. Meanwhile, play resumed, with a noticeable buzz of excitement in the air.

It took 90 minutes before a casino shift manager came to the poker room with the bad news -- there would be no payout. Surveillance had seen something hinky. He refused to tell the crowd what it was, just that something (or someone) was wrong. I thought there would be a riot, but after several minutes of shouting, and some people leaving, things again calmed down and play resumed, albeit with a lot of complaining at every table.

The next day, I was in a $2/5 game at Bellagio and recognized one of the other players as a dealer from the night before at Orleans. I asked him what the story was with the unpaid bad beat jackpot. He said that he was told that the woman who was dealing at that table had not cut the cards between shuffling and dispersing them to the players. That's a major no-no, which might mean she had brought in a cold deck -- one where the cards were pre-arranged in a certain order -- that she'd kept hidden until the appropriate moment. On top of that, it turned out that one of the players at the table, not coincidentally the person who would have won the largest share of the jackpot, was that dealer's boyfriend.

In other words, it was all a setup, foiled by the eye in the sky. Both of the suspects had been escorted from the room by security, and the reason the casino shift manager hadn't told the players the reason the jackpot payout had been cancelled was they were worried someone might go after the culprits.

As for me, I cashed in the tournament and made a few bucks. But all those players in the Orleans poker room got was a bad beat story to tell.