Every year, the staff at PokerNews votes and compiles its Top 10 Stories of the Year. On Monday, the list debuted with #10, Phil Ivey, Masa Kagawa, Justin Smith, and Others Face Legal Trouble and one story has been released each day since, counting down the list towards No. 1. Today marks the halfway point of the list with the No. 5 story of the year.
The top stories of any year are often infamous, and that was no different in 2013 as some of poker’s most high-profile names found themselves between a rock and a hard place. Specifically we're referring to four former World Series of Poker Main Event champions — Greg Raymer, Jerry Yang, Jamie Gold, and Joe Cada.
Without a doubt the most shocking story of the year was the arrest of 2004 WSOP champ Greg Raymer back in March. According to ABC WTVD, Raymer was busted in a prostitution sting at a hotel in Wake Forest, N.C. The station and many poker media outlets (PokerNews included) originally reported that Raymer was involved in a "male prostitution sting," but it was later clarified that “male” was not part of the equation.
According to the Wake Forest Police Department, Raymer was “one of six men who responded to an advertisement posted by undercover police on a website often used by prostitutes.”
The other men arrested in the sting according to wral.com were Kevin Scott Konarzewski, Barrett Lee Bennett, Christopher Burell Shella, Robert Hancock and Gerald Barham. Bond for Raymer and the rest of the men was set at $1,000, and Raymer’s attorney, Wade M. Smith, released the following statement on behalf of his client:
"Mr. Raymer is very sorry for this lapse in judgment. He regrets deeply the pain he has caused his family, friends and fans. Mr. Raymer is grateful for the many expressions of support he has received."
It was an unfortunate situation, but Raymer handled it about as best he could. He accepted responsibility, apologized, and continued to play on the poker circuit. The original astonishment soon wore off and the poker community moved on. Then, in October, the charges against Raymer were dropped after he completed 75 hours of community service at a local non-profit and underwent a mental health assessment.
Another champ that found himself in hot water back in March was Jerry Yang, who took down the Main Event back in 2007 for $8.25 million. The IRS had seized his Corum championship bracelet, among other items, and planned to have them auctioned off after “nonpayment of internal revenue taxes due from Taxpayer.”
Yang had a $571,894.54 tax lien against him after failing to pay proper taxes on his winnings, and he spoke with Mark Hoke about the predicament.
“I did pay my state taxes, over $900,000. Unfortunately, I’m not going to blame anybody but myself, but I encountered people that I thought I could trust and would give me good advice, but unfortunately some of the people that I hired or got on my team were advising me in the wrong way, if you will,” Yang explained in the interview. “So I did make some mistakes, and what made the matter worse was that in April of 2008, when it was time to pay the federal tax, there was a financial crisis with the Bank of America, and that’s where I put my money in. Unfortunately, all my funds were locked away, were frozen if you will, and so I wasn’t able to pay my federal taxes on time. Due to penalties the amount that I owed at that point, after I paid everything, I owed roughly between $150,000-$170,000 due to penalties and things like that. That’s why I owe the IRS a little bit more than that today. That is basically the story. Again, I don’t have anybody to blame but myself.”
He went on to add: “I have not been smart with my money, that’s my problem. I helped my parents, I helped my relatives, people coming out of the woods and asking for a handout, being Jerry Yang and because of my background, I was very poor... I think that’s my problem right there, I need to learn from this experience, I need to be strong and to be smart with my money, and not giving it away like leaves falling from a tree. I think that’s the first mistake that I made. I should have paid my taxes before I donated the 10%, that’s what I should have done. So there were a lot of mistakes on the way that I made, and again I don’t blame anybody but myself.”
PokerNews has attempted to learn the fate of Yang’s bracelet, but repeated attempts to reach Yang and the Sacramento IRS office have gone unreturned.
Likewise, 2006 WSOP Main Event champ Jamie Gold saw his bracelet up for auction on Heritage Auctions, known as “The World’s Largest Collectibles Auctioneer.” The bracelet received nine bids and eventually sold for $65,725 to an anonymous buyer.
Everyone was wondering why Gold was selling a piece of poker history, but according to Gold it wasn’t his choice. PokerNews confirmed with Noah Fleisher, the Director of Public Relations for Heritage Auctions, that this was indeed the case. "Not much I can say other than that the current owner, who wants to remain anonymous, brought it to us for consignment," Fleisher said. "It is not Mr. Gold auctioning it, but he obviously sold it to someone, for some reason, at an earlier point, but I do not known any details beyond that."
Finally, there was 2009 WSOP Main Event champion Joe Cada, who voluntarily closed down his poker-themed sports bar located in his hometown of Sterling Heights, Michigan. The business was being investigated for selling liquor without a license.
According to the Malcomb Daily, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission and the Sterling Heights Police Department were investigating Cada's Sports Bar and Grill, an establishment that was opened in 2011 by Cada and his father, Jerry.
The report claims that Cada’s Sports Bar & Grill initially applied for a liquor license transfer in October 2011, but the application was later amended in the summer of 2012. According to LCC records, the file was being “held for further commission consideration” as of last September. It wasn’t particularly scandalous as it was common knowledge that Cada wasn’t heavily involved in operating the bar, but some still consider it a bad mark against the pro.
Whether they like it or not, Main Event champions serve as poker ambassadors and they’re under the microscope more than most. Sometimes their misgivings can be overlooked and forgiven (as is the case with the aforementioned players), but once in awhile they prove career breaking (i.e. Russ Hamilton and Chris Ferguson). Here’s hoping 2014 is WSOP drama free.
PokerNews Top 10 Stories of 2013:
- #6, Controversial "First Card Off the Deck" Rule
- #7, World Series of Poker Circuit Grinders Dominate
- #8, The Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open $10 Million Guarantee
- #9, Canada Crushing at the WSOP
- #10, Ivey, Kagawa, Smith, and Others Face Legal Trouble
Stay tuned for more of the Top 10 Stories of the Year right here on PokerNews.