Caesars Palace Sportsbetting Busts: Paul, Darren Phua Detained, Released by ICE
Ultra-high stakes poker players Paul and Darren Phua were briefly detained by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials before being released late yesterday. The pair of Malaysian nationals, both regular participants in the world-famous “Macau games” cash games featuring many of the world’s richest players, spent about 48 hours in ICE custody while attorneys and law officials battled over the pair’s release.
Father Paul (formal name Wei Seng Phua) is alleged to be the head of an illicit sportsbook operation which was being run out of private guest villas at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Son Darren and six others were also charged when the casino resort’s villas were raided by the FBI following weeks of unusual behavior. An ongoing investigation and large amounts of computer equipment seized during a raid indicated that the group — allegedly led by the elder Phua — had been operating an Asia-based betting operation focused primarily on the summer’s FIFA World Cup competition.
The father and son, represented by prominent Las Vegas attorney David Chesnoff, had negotiated a release on $2.5 million bail, pending further developments in the case, with the elder Phua’s private $48 million Gulfstream jet also to be held as surety against a possible flight risk, even though the pair was believed to have surrendered their passports. The $2.5 million in cash for the pair’s bail ($2 million for Paul Phua, and $500,000 for Darren) was quickly supplied by prominent poker pros Andrew Robl and Phil Ivey, two of several of the world’s richest players who have frequently participated in the high-stakes Macau games.
The ICE officials, according to a Las Vegas Review-Journal report yesterday, detained the Phuas on an immigration hold after the original bail agreement was approved by the US district court in Nevada, where the case is scheduled to be tried. Both Paul and Darren Phua, along with the other six people — mostly Malaysian nationals — were charged with two counts related to running an illegal gambling business enterprise. The pair will likely remain at the home of a wealthy Las Vegas physician until the trial begins, a plea deal is reached, or other developments occur in the case.
Of interest in the LVJR report, which was updated repeatedly on Monday, is the report of a filing of an affidavit by high-stakes pro Tom “durrrr” Dwan, another of the world’s most prominent players and another frequent participant in the Macau games featuring the Phuas and others. According to the LVRJ update, the Dwan affidavit questions the tactics of the arresting federal agents.
The Phuas and the others were not arrested immediately upon the execution of the raid of the three Caesars Palace the group occupied, but were instead ordered to stay in the Las Vegas area and arrested after an analysis of seized evidence allegedly confirmed the suspicions and reports that triggered the interest of Caesars officials and FBI agents.
The circumstances preceding the group’s arrest add to the story’s overall curious appeal, since Paul (Wei Seng) Phua was among 22 people arrested in Malaysia just weeks prior to the Caesars Palace-related affair, on similar charges of running an illicit sportsbetting operation. The Malaysian Times reported that the elder Phua was deported from Macau while not detailing the identities or fates of any of the other 21 people reportedly arrested.
Within 48 hours, Phua had boarded his private jet and flown to Las Vegas, where his gambling friends and business associates had already established themselves. It was at that point, around June 22nd, according to the criminal complaint, that the group demanded large quantities of computer equipment and high-speed internet service to the three Caesars guest villas, purportedly to resume the illicit sportsbetting operation.
The criminal complaint, which FlushDraw has obtained, goes on to describe investigators’ belief that over USD $360 million in World Cup sports bets was processed through the group, via several online sites. Among those specifically mentioned were IBCBET, in which Paul Phua himself was alleged to be an owner, and SBOBET, another Asian sportsbetting giant. SBOBET subsequently issued a statement denying any official connection with the Phua group. The complaint also contained allegations that at least some minimal amount of bets were taken from US-based bettors, which contributed to the alleged violations of state and federal gaming laws.
The elder Phua is reported to have a fortune worth several hundred million dollars. A press release issued by the USAO in the wake of the arrests allege that he is a prominent member of the 14K Triad, an Asia-based organized crime group which generates much of its income from illegal gambling activities.
Activities surrounding the other six defendants continue as well. Two of the others are father and son Seng Chen “Richard” Yong, 56, and his son Wai Kin Yong, 22, who were also occasional participants in the celebrated Macau games. The Yongs are being represented by California attorney Michael Pancer. Phil Ivey, who put up funds toward the Phuas’ bail, has also pledged $1 million toward the similar pre-trial release of the Yongs. Richard Yong, who also operates a multi-million-dollar Asian travel business, is also seeking the release of about $2 million in casino chips being held in a private Caesars Palace security box, to be converted and applied to his own bail.
The Yongs, if released, are likely to face similar no-travel and electronic-monitoring restrictions as those believed to be applied to the Phuas. Yet another Macau games participant, Gabe Patgorski, has agreed to house the Yongs at his Vegas home if bail is accepted. Still another participant in the games, poker veteran John Juanda, is among those reportedly providing supportive character testimony to the court.