Top poker players speak out for indicted online gambling suspects

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 August, 2014, 5:49am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 9:27am

Some of the biggest names in the poker world have lined up in support of Asian gambling kingpin Paul Phua Wei-seng and his associates, who are accused of operating an illegal soccer gambling ring in Las Vegas.

According to Nevada court documents seen by the Sunday Morning Post, a host of top poker stars - including Phil Ivey and Andrew Robl - have paid bail costs and have expressed solidarity with the detained men.

A Las Vegas grand jury last week indicted Phua, 50, his son Darren Phua Wai-kit, 22, fellow Macau junket operator Richard Yong Seng-chen, 56, his son Yong Wai-kin, 22, and four others, for allegedly running an illegal international betting scheme worth billions of Hong Kong dollars during the soccer World Cup.

Their lawyers have vowed to fight the charges in court.

Ivey, considered by some to be the best all-around poker player in the world, put up US$500,000 for Phua's release, documents deposited with the court show. The remaining US$1.5 million was funded by Robl, a 27-year-old professional player originally from Michigan.

Ivey also contributed US$500,000 each for Phua's son and Yong and his son, court documents show.

At a court hearing to determine bail conditions for the two Yongs on Thursday, Ivey, a 10-time World Series of Poker champion, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he had "the utmost respect and trust for them".

Meanwhile, five-time World Series of Poker champion John Juanda described the elder Yong as "a man of honour and high integrity" in a letter to the court.

Yong is a "kind-hearted family man loved by everyone around him", said Juanda, adding that he had known the Malaysian for five years.

After the court hearing, Yong and his son were released on bail alongside Tang Hui, 44, a Hongkonger facing the same charges.

Tang was released after posting a US$1.5 million bond and a guarantee by celebrity poker player Tom Dwan that he would stay in his Las Vegas home.

Dwan was with Phua, Yong and their two sons when they were arrested on July 13 by FBI agents, according to an affidavit filed by him.

The Post could not reach Ivey, Robl, Juanda and Dwan for immediate comment.

Phua and Yong are prominent figures in "high-roller" poker circles around the world from Macau to Monte Carlo. Phua is said to be a leading figure behind the online betting website IBCBet, based in the Philippines.

A month before his arrest in Las Vegas, Phua was arrested by police in Macau on charges of promoting illegal gambling and criminal association. He left the territory shortly after being released on bail.

US police and prosecutors said Phua was a "high-ranking member of the 14k triad", an allegation that his lawyers staunchly deny.