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Player Circumvents NJ Online Poker Geolocation, Fined $90K by DGE

New Jersey Small Map

The online gambling world of today seems to be more a game of cat and mouse than of slots and poker. Everywhere you look, regulators are engaged in a ceaseless quest to maintain control and exert supremacy over those poor souls whom a private business might refer to as their customers but governments prefer to think of as revenue-enhancement opportunities.

Not surprisingly, the latest episode in this long-running soap opera comes to us from the state of New Jersey where the local Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) discovered in 2014 that a non-Garden Stater, California's Vinh Dao, had won more than $92,000 by illegally participating in a series of online games. These poker games were hosted under the benevolent auspices of the DGE, whose rules do not allow out-of-state players to participate unless they are physically present inside the borders of the state.

This abrupt geographical limitation seems to be an odd way of utilizing the worldwide reach of the internet, but hey, the rules are the rules. Especially for tourists. While the defendant was accused of illegal play, his real crime undoubtedly arose from his ability to successfully spoof New Jersey's Super-Duper Geolocation Protocols into thinking he was parked at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike rather than watching the surf roll in as he drove up the PCH.

Despite the incident in question occurring half a decade ago, a final disposition of the case was only reached in February of this year.

The Department of Gaming Enforcement Caught a Player Circumventing Geolocation Rules


Pages of a Document

Under the terms of an agreement reached by the DGE and Dao’s attorney in January 2019, he will be allowed to keep $2,500 of the money in his NJ-licensed online gaming accounts but will have to forfeit the remainder, a sum amounting to $90,113.94, to the Division.

The sites at which Dao held real money balances are:

The forfeited monies will be split up among problem gambling resources and a fund for senior citizens and disabled people.

Logos of Borgata,, and PartyPokerThe Three Sites That Vinh Dao Played at Illegally

Questions Abound

Question Mark: Red

This case has dragged on for five long years, since the individual’s illicit play was discovered in February 2014, while all of the funds in dispute remained frozen. The big question in all this is: Why did it take so long to hammer out a settlement of what seems a rather cut-and-dried case of rule breaking? Yet even this inquiry does not penetrate to the real heart of the matter.

It appears that the New Jersey authorities are very anxious, shall we say, for the details of the case to remain as obscured and unnoticed as possible. One has to wonder if their real motive is actually to inflict a well-deserved rap on the scofflaw's knuckles and provide a stinging deterrent to others. Or did this take more than five years to reach resolution for some other reason than what a casual reader of the news might typically suppose?

Even the identity of the man who perpetrated this outrage upon the bureaucracy in Trenton has been kept tantalizingly vague. Some dude from California? Where in California? There are dozens of people in the state with the name “Vinh Dao,” so it’s practically impossible to positively ID the perpetrator with the scantly info that was publicly released. It’s even feasible that the name is a made-up pseudonym, designed to give the authorities a placeholder to use in official documents without actually corresponding to the identity of any real-life person.

Who is this Dao? Where are the mugshot and vital statistics of the perpetrator? Not even the most generic of information is included in the announcement of resolution. How old is he? Is it even certain that he is a he? Does he have any record of similar behavior in the past or stand accused of similar offenses yet to be dealt with?

A Deal With the Devil?

Exclamation Mark in Circle

As if all this wasn't strange enough, the story is just getting started. Despite being accused of winning $92,000 illegally, the alleged perpetrator was ultimately allowed by the New Jersey authorities to retain a portion of his illegal winnings to the tune of $2,500. Now this may not seem like a lot, but it appears to represent a new paradigm in crime fighting.

It appears to us that what the DGE wanted out of Vinh Dao was some indication of how he managed to spoof their foolproof geolocation confirmation system. After all, what else but this hotly desired information could have led to the proceedings dragging on for so long? For this, they eventually elected to pay him the aforementioned sum as a "reward" for his "cooperation."

But it also appears that wasn't his only payout. After all, his mugshot appears to be non-existent, his identity has been carefully fogged to the point of anonymity, AND he gets $2,500 on top of that. The old saw is that crime doesn't pay, but in this case, it has at least covered his expenses and left him at liberty to try out various other schemes at his leisure.

Indeed, it seems as though he’s not barred from gambling in New Jersey in the future. There’s no “Vinh Dao” listed in an Exclusion List maintained by the Division of Gaming Enforcement.

Of course, it would have been an even better deal for Dao had he been permitted to collected the bulk of the $92,000 he won. Maybe next time.

Legitimate Customers Left Out in the Cold

Unhappy Smiley Face

In any event, the New Jersey DGE seems overwhelmingly disinterested in obtaining justice for the true victims of Vinh Dao’s prowess with a computer keyboard and a mouse. He won approximately $92,000 – which means that other fully legitimate players left an equal sum on the table when they got up from the game. They have, in effect, been robbed by Vinh Dao via his illegitimate participation in a contest reserved for the exclusive use of New Jersey residents and visitors.

Logos of the New Jersey AG and DGEThe Division of Gaming Enforcement, Part of the Office of the Attorney General of New Jersey
It's Tasked With Keeping the Gaming Industry Honest and Protecting the Public

Once the DGE stepped in to "protect" them, they got robbed a second time when the Department decided to keep the money for its own purposes and leave the innocent other contestants with nothing. In essence, the DGE made out like bandits, the actual bandit made out like a bandit, and the ordinary customers got to go home with empty pockets. Nor did they even get the small pleasure of seeing Dao’s face on the nightly news.

Geolocation Plagued With Technical Issues?

Computers With an X

Now, it seems highly likely that Vinh Dao's unstated commitment under the settlement was to reveal how he managed to evade the online sites’ safeguards. In return for which, he has been given de facto membership in the witness protection program and a small honorarium for helping them out. But the curious thing is that this took five years to arrange, and the New Jersey authorities remain disturbingly vague about how he accomplished his feat.

Why would they be doing this? The answer is simple. Despite their claims to the contrary, it appears that their vulnerability is systemic and irreparable, not just a minor bug that has long since been patched.

It’s completely understandable that there were problems with geolocation tech back in early 2014, just a few months after the New Jersey market opened up to legalized internet gaming. However, there are signs that these types of errors have been tougher to stamp out than anyone had anticipated as evidenced by the fine PokerStars received for its inadequacies in this department as recently as 2017.

Five years after Dao’s shenanigans were detected, the DGE is not releasing any actionable details about how he did it – probably because it is still possible for someone else to do it if they know how. Perhaps that is how the mysterious man from California was able to get a nice little bonus from the DGE once he was caught. Apparently, he always keeps an ace up his sleeve.

Offshore Poker Rooms Exist

Poker Chips and Cards

Of course, the entire geolocation situation can be avoided entirely by heading to an international online poker site that transacts in the United States. These operators are beyond the reach of the Department of Gaming Enforcement, and the authorities in New Jersey and elsewhere in the country have no effective jurisdiction over them.

Although several of these firms have voluntarily elected to exit the NJ gaming market, there yet remain some of them that are glad to welcome New Jerseyites through their virtual doors. For a rundown of your internet poker options as a Garden Stater, check out our guide to NJ poker online.

Those in the rest of the country, especially states without regulated online gambling, also have quite a broad palette of reputable online gaming sites to choose from. For more on this topic, consult our USA offshore poker page.