Top Stories of 2023, #10: High-Stakes Player Allegedly Cheated Private Game Out of Millions
2023 was not the year of poker cheating scandals that 2022 proved to be with multiple high-stakes pros being accused of cheating and the infamous Garrett-Robbi hand on Hustler Casino Live. However, the year ended with a scandal involving private games, marked cards and millions of dollars.
Earlier this month, HCL regulars Nikhil "Nik Airball" Arcot and Wesley Fei accused Tony Mars (who has also appeared on HCL) of cheating a Southern California private game out of millions, allegations that Mars later denied.
The California private game cheating scandal is PokerNews' tenth biggest story of 2023. The scandal was the subject of a recent episode of the PokerNews Podcast, which is available to listen to below:
Marked Cards In California Private Game
The cheating accusations came to light on Dec. 3 when Nik Airball tweeted that "someone who I thought was a close friend of mine cheating me out of $1m in a series of poker games." In a follow-up tweet, he identified Mars as the accused cheater and alleged he "brought a mechanic dealer and special cards that are 'see through' with special contacts."
Wesley shared with PokerNews additional details about the alleged cheating in private $25/$50 and $50/$100 games in Yorba Linda and other parts of Southern California between March and October. According to Wesley, Mars offered to bring his own deck and brought two players to the game who left up a few million, while Mars himself walked away up $1.6 million.
"We asked Mars, 'why did you ask to bring the deck?'" Wesley told PokerNews. "After a game we found a cheating deck. The deck is a very good cheating deck that you can't find. But we went to a very dark room and we used a blue light and then you can see the numbers on the back of the deck."
Wesley confronted Mars over the phone and text and said the accused cheater admitted the deck was marked when confronted with the evidence.
"Mars said, 'maybe you're losing and you don't want to pay so you're changing the deck,'" Wesley said of an interaction with Mars. "If we are cheating, how can we lose?"
Wesley further alleged that others were involved in Mars' cheating ring, including French pro Arnaud Mattern, who dealt under the name "Mike," and Shane Hennen, a convicted felon from Pennsylvania who apparently used the name "Bruce." Mattern denied any involvement in a post on the Two Plus Two forum.
"I Didn't Bring Any Cards Anywhere"
Soon after being accused of cheating, Mars denied the allegations that he brought a special UV-marked deck to decipher face-down cards.
"I'm writing this statement to set the record straight on some false accusations that personally damaged my reputation," Mars wrote in a statement to PokerNews. "I have won and lost huge amounts numerous times in my poker career, but I have never cheated in a game, and I have always paid when I lost."
Mars said he "didn't bring any cards anywhere" and went on the offensive by attacking Wesley's reputation, calling him "close to broke" and saying he "lies to everyone to portray a certain image."
"He's trying to poison the mind of anybody that will listen," Mars said. "All of these are confirmed facts, and not baseless accusations."
Both players agreed that marked cards had been spotted in a private game they both regularly played in, but Mars denied having anything to do with the marked deck.
Threats Of Violence During Phone Call
More details about the alleged cheating emerged from a phone call between Wesley and Mars after the allegations were made. The less-than-friendly chat, obtained by PokerNews, included threats of "blood shed" and harm to Wesley's mother.
"Its not about how to discuss, just that I dont understand. Theres no need to escalate this any further. You because I cant control it now. I cant control the boss anymore. Tonight, Ill come back and meet you to discuss the remaining issues," Mars said in Mandarin during the call.
"I don't care about this matter anymore, whether this call is recorded or not," Mars said. "This matter is now about you losing, you winning, whether I cheated or not, whether I admitted it or not. I really don't care anymore. I don't want this matter to escalate further."
The conversation can be heard below:
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