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The vast majority of poker endeavors are valid and trustworthy. Most online poker sites and live tournament organizers pay customers as promised, and players can have confidence in the integrity of a great many people involved in the poker industry as a whole.

But as in any business in which a person invests time and money, customers must do a fair amount of due diligence to ensure that they are dealing with upstanding organizations. Even then, players can become victims of some who simply make bad decisions and have even worse intentions.

As the most recent scandal involving the Players Poker Championship live poker series exemplifies, poker players should keep their eyes and ears open for signs of bad apples.

PPC Falls Apart 

There are numerous live tournament series happening in places like Europe and North America. The Poker Players Championship was one of the newer ones, but after having completed several successful seasons of live events, players had no reason to be suspicious of any wrongdoing.

That all changed in 2016, however. Early signs started appearing when organizers Bryan Oulton and Sandy Swartzbaugh began to fall behind on payments to people like sponsored pros and media. Even so, most of the US-based tournaments throughout the year went on without trouble due to the host casinos overseeing prize pools and promised accommodations. But many of the winning players were promised seats to the annual Aruba tournament, which allowed money to disappear months before players knew it was gone.

Related: 13 Biggest Poker Scandals of the Last Decade

The most recent PPC Aruba World Championship took place in November 2016, and players experienced a number of issues, such as no reimbursement for travel expenses as promised through satellite wins. The other problem came with the top seven players in the tournament expecting payment. In past years, PPC organizers paid only $10K to top finishers and sent the remainder of prize money to avoid conflicts with Aruba laws and airport security limits. But winners in the 2017 event have yet to be paid, including winner Stephen Deutsch, who won $133,687 but only went home with $10K.

Other clues emerged in 2016 as PPC organizers regularly sought new investors for the tour. The last one came from Swartzbaugh two weeks after the conclusion of the latest PPC Aruba event. According to posts on social media and the Two Plus Two forums, Swartzbaugh and Oulton began blocking anyone on social media who inquired about funds or the legitimacy of the PPC, and the two then deleted their Twitter accounts altogether.

Even PPC blogger Mark Hoke was left without payment for months at the end of 2016, as reported by the former Maryland Live tournament director Richard Herbert on Two Plus Two. When he approached Hoke to joke about Oulton and Swartzbaugh going to an NFL game instead of attending a championship PPC event at the casino, Hoke became enraged, yelling that he had not been paid since a time prior to Aruba and was getting no responses from PPC organizers.

Upon these and other revelations, PPC-sponsored pros opened up to the poker public as well. Chris Wallace linked to an attorney working the case, and Ronnie Bardah offered a detailed statement with an apology, though Mark Kroon has yet to make a public statement.

At this point, the PPC organizers are missing with quite a bit of money owed to numerous people, and there is no way to contact them. Even the PPC Poker Tour website is simply a home page that explains, “More details about 2017 coming soon!”

How Can Players Protect Themselves? 

Players who become victims of poker companies like UltimateBet and other fallen online poker sites, as well as companies like the PPC, are usually left with only regret. However, while players had little legal recourse in offshore poker site situations, they may be able to band together in a case against the specific PPC organizers who appear to be US citizens.

There are some ways to exercise more caution with poker entities going forward.

  • Ensure that any poker event located in a casino is guaranteed by the hosting casino. Ask if the casino backs the tournament and accepts responsibility for the prize pools, guarantees, and promised accommodations. Getting that assurance in writing is even better.
  • Ask for opinions from sponsored pros, previous tour winners, and anyone associated with the tour for honest feedback on the events. If there is any hesitation whatsoever, it might be best to find another poker event or location.
  • Beware of any tour requiring a player to front money that they legitimately won. Responsible organizations handle accommodations in advance for the ease of the players.
  • Don’t play online poker on sites based offshore that are not regulated by a government or entity that can hold them accountable.

The bottom line is that poker players must ask questions, obtain proof and assurances in writing, and be on the lookout for warning signs.

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Jennifer Newell

Jennifer has been a freelance writer in the poker industry for a decade. She left a full-time job with the World Poker Tour to tell the stories of poker. She now lives in St. Louis, writes about poker while pursuing other varied interests, and speaks her mind on Twitter… a lot.