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Jao Poker Pyramid Scheme Comes to an Unhappy End

Logo of Jao Poker

Upstart online poker site Jao Poker appears to have shut down, taking player balances with it. The site had been marketed heavily in the United States by affiliates who were prominent in poker-related social media groups. On Feb. 20, users attempting to run the Jao Poker software saw the following:

Jao Poker Software Loading Message

This unhelpful display was accompanied by a pop-up for those using the Windows operating system:

Jao Error Message

There's no indication on Jao Poker's website that anything is wrong. Curiously, players can still log in and access cashier functions as of Feb. 23, 2018. It may be the case that the firm is attempting to collect a few last-minute deposits from unwary players before pulling the plug entirely. The company's Facebook and Twitter profiles have already disappeared.

Warning Signs

Although some failed poker sites turn from seemingly legitimate to rogue overnight, this wasn't the case with Jao. We've had our eye on this shady entity for a while now, and what we saw left us dismayed. We felt it was our obligation to warn our readers against the unscrupulous Jao Poker, and it looks as though our fears were warranted. Some of the red flags that caught our attention were licensure in Cambodia (not by any means a well-known online gaming regulatory jurisdiction), questionable business tactics like copyright infringement, and rumors of past fraudulent transactions on the part of Jao ownership.

Another aspect of Jao's operations that seemed puzzling was its use of PayPal for deposits and withdrawals. Gambling transactions are against the terms and conditions of this payment service for U.S. individuals and companies. Jao eventually moved away from using PayPal in its cashier, but for a while, it was putting users' funds and even their entire PayPal balances at risk of seizure.

The most troubling element of Jao's setup, however, was its affiliate model. Unlike normal internet poker rooms that open up their affiliate programs free of charge to anyone who wishes to work with them, Jao charged individuals $250 apiece for the privilege of affiliating with the site. In order to just break even, these affiliates then had to recruit enough players to recoup this initial outlay via affiliate commissions. For a site with small traffic numbers at low stakes like Jao, it was virtually impossible for most of these affiliates to sign up enough players to generate sufficient rake to make a profit.

This doesn't mean that the affiliates didn't try though. Many of them spammed their affiliate links in poker forums, chat rooms, Facebook, and other venues. One of the most notorious of these Jao promoters is Tam Nguyen. For months, he has been frequenting popular poker resources across the internet both to entice customers to play at Jao and to attempt to discredit anyone saying anything negative about the room. Here's an example of the anger he directed toward someone claiming to have lost money due to a system glitch:

Tam Nguyen Angry at Customer

The tone of Nguyen's post was especially unwarranted given that he had identified himself, in a number of comments, as a member of the board at Jao. We don't think this is the way reasonable corporate execs ought to comport themselves when dealing with a customer.

The entire Jao house of cards seemed to finally be wobbling near the beginning of February. Players reported cashout delays, like this individual did on twoplustwo:

Report on Twoplustwo About Jao Poker Withdrawal Delays

Or this other complaint filed here at Professional Rakeback:

Jao payout complaint filed with Professional Rakeback

Finally, on Feb. 20, users were unable to log on to the site. There was a lot of speculation about what was happening, but nobody was given any information by Jao.

Al Spath Duped?

It wasn't just the inexperienced or naive who were drawn to the disreputable Jao Poker. Veteran poker player, writer, and coach Al Spath was also an affiliate for the dishonest site. His YouTube channel contains dozens of videos of him streaming from Jao Poker. In his column in Ante Up Magazine, Spath was even promoting his Jao referral code:

Al Spath Magazine Article

Al Spath's Column in Ante Up Magazine, January 2018

Interestingly, the last video Al produced at Jao Poker for YouTube was in November 2017. He has since switched over to another small site, 64spades. Near the beginning of February, Al posted on Facebook urging readers to move from Jao over to his new favorite site:

Al Spath's FB Message Concerning Jao and 64spades

Did Al have inside information that convinced him that the Jao's days were numbered? Was he able to score a better deal with 64spades? Could this just be a coincidence? Whatever the story behind Al's decisions, they raise a number of troubling questions. Hopefully, Al Spath will clarify the relationship between himself and Jao Poker in the coming days.

Tam Nguyen Weighs In

As soon as it became apparent that there was something wrong with Jao Poker, Tam Nguyen issued the following statement:

Tam Nguyen's Response to the Jao Poker Downtime

So now Tam is just a “promoter and game ambassador”! What happened to being a member of the board, which is what he said he was just a few months ago? It looks like Mr. Nguyen is endeavoring to distance himself from the whole Jao debacle and preemptively protect himself from being pursued by angry depositors whose money is gone.

We do agree with one sentence from Tam's post: “There are many other sites to promote and play on.” We indeed feel that there are other, and better, poker rooms for our readers to play at. For a list of them, check out our guide to the best legal online poker sites.

Despite Tam Nguyen basically saying, “gg,” to Jao Poker on Feb. 20, he made another post the following day in which he wrote: “Jao poker is still live, Site is just down for maintenance.” In an amazing follow-up video that he recorded, Nguyen claimed that one of the reasons for the maintenance was to implement security features to protect Jao from fraud. We suspect that the principals at Jao are very well-acquainted with how fraud works – very well-acquainted indeed. We'll see if this “maintenance” turns out to be permanent, like it did with the defunct Full Flush Poker.

Tam Nguyen has assured customers that Jao balances are safe and withdrawals will be processed like normal, but we remain skeptical. If Jao Poker screws you over and steals your money, get in touch with Professional Rakeback. We'll try to find you a new home and a way for you to earn your lost funds back through additional bonuses, rakeback, etc. where applicable.

This also applies to IBOs. If you managed to become a successful IBO at a sham site like Jao Poker, imagine what you could do with a little guidance from Professional Rakeback and a sub-affiliate set up at a legitimate poker room!