Two Million Chips: Six Months After
On August 10th, Jamie Gold won the 2006 World Series of Poker main event. Mr. Gold soon had issues collecting his $12 million in winnings, but those problems were recently resolved out of court. There was, however, another contentious issue involving the WSOP's main event; the introduction of over 2 million chips to the total number of chips in play. If you have not read our previous four-part series on how extra chips made their way into Day Seven of the main event, here is a link to those articles.
It has now been a full six months since the WSOP chip incident occurred. And there hasn't been a day since September 8th, when our series of articles first posted, that we haven't been asked: "What really happened?" "Did we miss your follow-up article?" "Who got those extra chips?" "What was done about it?"
While we were able to gather additional information about the extra chips since the release of our articles, we have chosen not to disclose it until now, for reasons that will become clear. We still don't have all the answers, nor can we responsibly share all of the pieces of information we have obtained. But we do know why Harrah's has not been able to comment up until now. And we do know a lot more about who did and didn't receive the extra chips.
Why so long?
From the very beginning we have attempted to approach this issue with a sense of journalistic responsibility, which simply means we have tried to report only the facts and clearly identify when we were offering various interpretations of the available information. Since our initial articles, it has been our goal to personally contact as many of the players, floor staff, and management as possible; a task made more time consuming as players and temporary floor personnel moved on to other events and venues. We also have been in contact with several divisions of the Nevada Gaming Commission. We have attempted to vet and corroborate our sources. We have also continued to protect "off the record" material and the identities of anonymous sources.
We also wanted to give Harrah's ample time to conduct their investigation, which they committed to undertake soon after the original '2 million questions' articles posted. Towards the end of September we were told that Harrah's investigation had been completed. We also were told that the findings of that investigation would be released within the first two weeks of October. This did not occur but by early December we understood why.
Why Hasn't Harrah's Said Anything?
Why has Harrah's not commented on the Two Million Chip incident? Well first of all they did. If you have watched the ESPN broadcast of the final table of the main event, about 7 minutes in you heard Lon McEachern say:
"If you're really quick with math, you might notice that there are more than two million extra chips in play. That may be due to a miscount during the color-up of chips so now... a little over 90 million chips at the final table."
To get out in front of the issue, this little drop-in line was debated and rewritten a dozen times for the ESPN broadcast of the final table. And as Harrah's investigation was coming to a close, there were a number of sources that said Harrah's confirmed that the extra chips were introduced during the 5K chip color up as our original articles surmised.
While we believe it was Harrah's intention to publicly release their investigation upon completion, the Nevada Gaming Commission had other ideas. When Harrah's turned over their investigation to the NGC, they were told they could not comment while the NGC conducted its own investigation. The NGC's criminal investigation has just recently concluded and it is expected that their enforcement review should be complete within the next week. Harrah's will be able to comment on the two million chips at that time.
The Nevada Gaming Commission
We can now report to you the following regarding the NGC's inquiry. An NGC Enforcement officer informed us that the criminal portion of the investigation is complete and when the report is released, it will say that no criminal prosecution is warranted for 'lack of evidence.' This means that as far as the NGC is concerned they could not find that anyone, staff or player, was involved in any collusive actions regarding the additional of two million chips to the main event. We should point out for accuracy's sake that the final chip count for the main event was over by 2.41 million.
The NGC had several reasons to be concerned. First, at least two WSOP staffers had been disciplined, given a day off without pay, for improperly moving players to the ESPN feature table in the early days of the main event. For instance, might this have been done as a result of a gratuity or bribe paid by someone to the floor staff? If these floor staffers were also involved in the mistakes made during the now infamous color-up then the NGC should be concerned. Also, by the time the investigation was begun, Richard Lee, the 6th place finisher in the main event, had been arrested in San Antonio for alleged bookmaking. The NGC needed to sort all of this out and wanted to interview a number of individuals; many of whom were under no legal obligation to speak with them. Players could simply refuse to talk with the Nevada investigators and, in addition, players were difficult to locate; we know, we tried to find all 21 of them. Most of the floor staff involved were only temporary employees of Harrah's and holders of Nevada Gaming credentials for only the WSOP; again individuals with little motivation to cooperate with investigators or reporters.
Why and How would fraud, cheating or collusion occur?
The prize pool for the remaining 21 players in the main event was just under $38 million. We think that answers the question of "Why". For the "How" let us remind you of the procedure for the color-up. Prior to the color-up break time (5 or more minutes), which is followed by a tournament break (15 minutes) the floor staff may and often does begin to color-up many of the chips to be removed from play. Then the floor selects one player at each table to begin "buying up" the small denominations chips from the table. This way the big color-up is done with only one player and the other players are only involved in the race-off for the odd chips. The odd chips in this case, coloring up from 5K to 10K, means players either had one 5K chip or none. Here is the critical point, the floor selects which player at each table will "buy up" the chips. So if there was collusion, all the floor had to do was pick their "cohort in crime" to buy up the chips and then when all the players had gone on break, give your "partner in crime" more chips then they deserved. This potentially criminal activity is what the NGC and Harrah's were concerned about and have found "no evidence" of.
Status of the NGC Investigation
As we have learned from personnel at both the Investigative and Enforcement Divisions of the NGC, the criminal portion investigation is over and no criminal action will be taken. The enforcement aspect of the investigation has not been completed, although we are told it is very close to concluding. Basically, the NGC will tell Harrah's what, if any, punishment, warnings, or new procedures are forthcoming stemming from the Two Million Chip mistake. When this information is given to Harrah's, we believe and are confident that the WSOP officials will make a public statement and we are hopeful that this will include the disclosure of the evidence (security tapes) to some third party individuals who will verify the facts around the mishandled 5K chip color-up. However, Harrah's is under no legal obligation to do this. We believe, based on our interactions with various WSOP officials, that they fully intend to get this all behind them prior to the beginning of the 2007 Series and the only way to do that is with a complete disclosure and explanation.
Who might have gotten the Two Million Chips?
One might think that when the most prestigious of all poker tournaments got down to three tables, the official media provider would have at least one person reporting on each table. Sadly, this was not the case for the 2006 WSOP main event. Without the ability to view the surveillance tapes, we have drawn a number of conclusions about who may or may not have received the extra chips based on the available chip count data, player interviews, sources, and available ESPN footage
From the beginning of play on August 8th, when the main event recommenced with 27 players remaining, it took about an hour and a half to get to the now infamous color-up and break. We looked at and compared all of the media reports from nine different sources to try and track the chip stacks of each of the players. After the color-up break we did the same and located the smallest reported time gap for each player's chip stack. Our goal was to discover if there was any indication of who may or may not have gotten extra chips at the 5K color-up. At the time of this color-up there were 21 players remaining in the main event.
Here are three facts we now believe to be true:
1) Neither Jamie Gold nor Allen Cunningham was a recipient of extra chips in the color up process. Many people speculated that because Gold and Cunningham were the chip leaders that they were the likely candidates for buying up the other 5K chips at their table, but this was not the case. Gold and Cunningham were colored up separately, prior to the official color-up, using the new 100K "mint and chocolate" colored chips Neither of these players were the designated player at their table to buy-up the 5K chips and therefore they had no opportunity to be the beneficiaries of color-up error which occurred when the wrong number of 5K chips were exchanged for 25K chips.
2) Kevin O'Donnell was one of the players to receive extra chips. He was incorrectly colored-up and received 1 million extra chips. Our chip stack analysis shows good data for Kevin shortly before the color-up break and shortly after; there is a 1.05 million chip increase that is not accounted for. We spoke to Kevin, he and all the other players were away from the table during the color-up. He had no idea that he could have been one of the stacks incorrectly colored-up and was shocked that he might have been. Kevin busted out of the tournament in 21st place to Allen Cunningham less that 30 minutes after the mistake was made. We have several independent sources that agree Kevin O'Donnell was one of two players given extra chips. Every piece of evidence points to Kevin having absolutely no knowledge of the events and no idea this had even occurred.
3) The second player we believe Harrah's will name is not the second player we have identified through our "track back" chip counts. In fact, we can find no evidence that the second name could possibly have been the player to buy up the 5K chips at his table, as he was one of the short stacks. We are not at this time releasing the "second name" nor the name of the player our research shows may be the other recipient. We believe some form of limited viewing of the surveillance tapes will put this matter to rest. We will, of course, report this information as soon as it becomes "officially" available.
It is our hope that we will be writing the final article in this series very shortly and we also believe that it will be written with the full cooperation of Harrah's and WSOP officials.