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Pennsylvania's SugarHouse Casino Fined $32.5K for Doug Polk Flip

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SugarHouse Casino has been fined $32,500 due to an incident regarding a “flip” occurring after filming for a “Poker Night in America” episode on March 19, 2017 at the Pennsylvania gambling venue. Doug “WCGRider” Polk was playing in a cash game and agreed with real estate CEO Jeremy Kaufman to wager $42,000 on the result of a single hand of poker dealt out to the final street.

SugarHouse Casino Was Fined $32,500

More About the Hand

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The TV series “Poker Night in America” sees prominent names in the world of poker face off in high-stakes cash games across the United States. It was after filming had ended, during a cash game session at the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia, that the events in question occurred.

As the action was winding down and players were cashing in their chips, Doug Polk and Jeremy Kaufman agreed to a flip. They both put up $42,000 for the best five-card hand in ten-card stud poker. As is normally the case with these kinds of flips, there is no strategy or betting action during the actual hand. Rather, each participant would get ten cards apiece with the whole enchilada going to the highest five-card hand. It's basically a lottery.

After some of the cards were dealt, Polk led with aces up and three unturned cads remaining. Kaufman had eights up with two unturned cards. A buyout was then negotiated between the players. Kaufman shipped over $25,000 to Polk although Jeremy would have made a straight with his last two cards and won the hand.

What Did They Do Wrong?

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The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) has not approved ten-card stud poker for real money play in the state's casinos. The game seemed innocent, but the Board considered it a violation of gaming regulations. This meant the hosting establishment was subject to punishment.

Even still, it's possible that nothing would have happened and the entire incident would have been forgotten. However, the action was recorded by Shaun Deeb and posted on Polk's YouTube channel. This gave it much wider exposure than it otherwise would have had and possibly led to the PGCB taking notice. You can watch the events unfold below:



 

Beyond appearing on YouTube, the incident was also captured by the casino's security cameras. This footage was reviewed by the PGCB while making its decision.

But Wait; There's More

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In an unrelated incident, the regulators also became aware of a game of Open Face Chinese in which five hands were played by a couple of players for high stakes on Nov. 14, 2017. After a dealer alerted a supervisor as to what was going on, the game was halted in the middle of the fifth hand.

Open Face Chinese poker is not in the list of permitted games for PA casinos. When rendering its verdict against SugarHouse, the PGCB considered both the OFC hands and the flip transacted between Polk and Kaufman.

Fallout

Explosion

During a public meeting on March 6, 2019, the PGCB approved of a consent agreement reached with the SugarHouse Casino. SugarHouse will pay a civil penalty in the amount of $30,000 as well as $2,500 to cover the costs of the investigation. Additionally, the casino will have to enhance its training procedures for poker dealers, including having them sign a document stating that they understand that they can only deal games approved by the Board.

Several of the dealers who were involved in offering the illicit games have been disciplined. Meanwhile, two poker supervisors have resigned from their positions with SugarHouse Casino.

Community Reactions

Crowd of People

This news was greeted with incredulity in the poker community. Flips are not considered anything out of the ordinary in Las Vegas, one of the biggest gambling and tourist destinations in the world. Therefore, many were left puzzled by the actions taken by the PGCB against SugarHouse. Many felt that a simple warning would have sufficed especially given the fact that it was not the stated policy of the casino to spread unauthorized games but rather the consequence of poor judgment on the part of dealers and supervisors.

Of course, it's very seldom that any government agency declines to grab some cash for itself when it can make a convincing case for doing so. This Reddit user echoes the thoughts of many on the subject:

Redditor Is Suspicious of Government Motives

Doug Polk for his part expressed sorrow that his gambling led to the fine and, even worse, people possibly losing their jobs:

Doug Polk Apologizes for the SugarHouse Incident

Most have accepted Doug's assertions that he wasn't trying to circumvent the rules and that he was just attempting to liven up the game with a bit of fun. The general consensus is that it was the casino's responsibility to ensure that the rules were being followed, not the responsibility of the players.

Indeed, there's some unhappiness at the fact that dealers were disciplined at all. The following post sums up this line of thinking:

Commentator Questions Disciplining Dealers for House's Mistake

Not SugarHouse's First Time at the Rodeo

Legal Tome

SugarHouse Casino has fallen afoul of the Gaming Control Board quite a few times in the past. In October 2018, SugarHouse had to pay $95,000 for errors involving its automated shuffling machines, which led to decks being improperly shuffled and sometimes containing the wrong number of cards. Before this, in April 2017, the casino was fined $30,000 for lapses in security protocols involving camera malfunctions.

SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaSugarHouse Casino, One of 12 PA Casinos

Now, it's nothing unusual for the PGCB to penalize casinos; there are frequent judgments against other PA gaming establishments too. Yet, we detect a pattern of specifically SugarHouse's employees appearing to make mistakes when doing their jobs, which is the exact same thing that transpired in the events we're discussing today. It seems clear that management needs to address this issue through improved training for personnel and perhaps stricter hiring requirements.

Reasons for the Ruling

Gears in a Head

Most observers have stated that the PGCB was too harsh in this instance. Yet, it some ways it's perfectly understandable that the state wishes to be a bit conservative in its gambling endeavors.

Unlike in Nevada and other gaming meccas, casino wagering isn't a mainstay of the Pennsylvania economy, and it has only been around since 2004. Until the authorities become more comfortable with and gain more experience in the field, they likely wish to prevent all manner of difficult situations from arising by exercising caution whenever possible.

For instance, what would the PGCB do if players convince a casino employee to deal a “home game” type of poker, like Follow the Queen or Roll Your Own, and then there's a dispute about the rules? The Nevada casinos and Gambling Control Board may have guidelines as to how to handle this, but Pennsylvania's nascent casino industry could be thrown for a loop.

Looking Forward

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We expect that gaming interests in the Keystone State will almost assuredly encounter further friction between what customers want and what the state allows. This could potentially be a stumbling block as well for state-licensed online poker and casino sites, which are expected to appear later this year under the provisions of an online gaming bill that was signed into law in October 2017.

One thing that could hamper PA online poker significantly is the Department of Justice's January reevaluation of the Wire Act, which declared that i-gaming cannot cross state lines. This puts the future of interstate traffic sharing compacts in jeopardy and so threatens to throttle PA-licensed internet poker before it even gets off the ground. Pennsylvania has mandated that all companies seeking licensure for online real money games must document how this Wire Act reinterpretation will affect their businesses.

Offshore Sites Beckon

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For those who are frustrated at the long delay for regulated PA internet poker and the limited types of card games permitted at offline casinos in the state, there are always offshore poker site to play at. These operators are comfortably outside the jurisdiction of both the state government in Harrisburg and that of the United States as a whole. There's nothing criminalizing the act of gaming at these sites for the individual customer either.

For a rundown of the best online poker rooms for Pennsylvanians, click here. Or for info pertaining to the country as a whole, check out our USA offshore poker guide.