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The Embarrassing Jay ‘WhoJedi’ Newnum Foxwoods Theft and the ‘Poker Media’ Split

foxwoods-logoWe’re back at it today, friends, following a long, long travel weekend for yours truly that ranged from a motel triple-billing(!!!) to finding a bedbug in said motel, and we’ll kick off a great week of FlushDraw stories with a story that’s set the pokerverse all a-flutter: The theft of what’s been reported as $700 from a dealer toke (tips) receptacle at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut by a long-time veteran tournament reporter on the poker scene, Jay Newnum.

(Disclaimer: Newnum, popularly known as “WhoJedi,” has been around the poker world for at least a decade, much as has yours truly, though he’s been largely a tourney reporter while I’ve been more a news/journalism person.  That means our paths have only crossed a couple of times, and we’ve been introduced and have said “Hi” on a few occasions, but I don’t think we’ve ever had a long chat or partied together or whatever.  I think we might be friends on Facebook or LinkedIn or one of those social networks where I rarely visit, but we don’t really know each other that well.  We do have plenty of friends in common throughout the poker world, but all that’s irrelevant to what follows.)

Now the meat of the story: Newnum was outed as being the culprit behind the theft of the approximately $700 by the president of the Foxwoods poker dealer’s union, one Billy Shea.  Shea exposed the theft, performing a public shaming of Newnum, in a series of posts on the Facebook page for Local 2121, the dealer’s union.

Despite the fact that nothing on the Internet is ever set in stone, some stories are a whole lot more believable than others, and this one ranked very high on the “believe it” end of the scale.  It would have been highly unusual for a union official to use a public forum such as this for the outing of a petty thief unless the theft itself was irrefutable, and likely already admitted to by the perpetrator.

And that’s exactly what appears to have happened.  Pokerfuse’s Jeff Walsh, on Friday, published a piece which included evidence from court filings relevant to the case.  Newnum was arrested on December 16th at the casino, and in a process which was likely designed to save him from public embarrassment over the $700 theft — which sort of pales next to the $30 million stolen by Russ Hamilton, Greg Pierson and friends when you get right down to comparisons — pled guilty and was admitted into a form of accelerated rehab for first-time, petty criminals.  (There is some debate over whether the amount qualified the theft as a misdemeanor or a felony, and I’m not an expert in Connecticut law.  What I do know is that $700 is $700, and it came from gratuities that belonged to others.  The theft was despicable, and I will not defend WhoJedi in any way.)

But the story didn’t end as it was supposed to.  The court documents were supposed to have been sealed, and the matter would have been erased from Newnum’s public record, if not for the Facebook posting by Shea.  Newnum was permanently barred from Foxwoods and will probably find it hard to work in other casinos as well, which means he’s going to have to find a new line of work.

What hasn’t been fully explained, however, is exactly why Shea outed Newnum’s theft.  Here’s what Shea posted, and though it’s incomplete, it provides some strong indicators:

After meeting with a lead investigator at Foxwoods it was determined that Mr. Newmun on both Dec. 9th and 14th was observed with similar behavior on these dates consistent to the behavior the day he was caught. Last week he was presented in court and applied for Accelerated Rehabilitation AR for the theft of $700 of dealer toke money. In the State of Ct you are given one free pass in regards to crimes such as this where if you have no prior criminal history you are eligible for the AR Program.

We have requested a review of the film to see if the toke box on both the 9th and 14th is visible on camera to see if indeed money was in the box and either disturbed or taken by Mr. Newmun. If we can find evidence of this behavior we will proceed to contact the State Police again and ask for this case to again be reviewed for the possibility of him being rearrested for this crime.

The program, including accelerated rehab and the sealing of records, may have been meant only for first offenders.  It strongly appears as though Shea and other Foxwoods dealers believe the toke box was also raided by Newnum — described in hearsay in several forums as allegedly having used chopsticks and duct tape to lift currency and/or poker chips from the slot in the box — on the 9th and 14th, days before his Dec. 16th arrest.

Shea has reposted that same info elsewhere, but has declined to offer additional information, just as Newnum himself has gone to ground since news of the arrest broke.  What has been noted in several forums is Newnum commenting on other matters on social media after a brief Dec. 16th-17th hiatus, as if nothing had happened.  I, for one, find this unsurprising, if there was an unofficial deal in place to keep the matter secret as long as Newnum stayed away from the casino property forever after.

Until Shea elaborates on the Dec. 9th and 14th allegations or until an additional report emerges, we’re not likely to know the full story of why Shea and other members of the Foxwoods dealers union decided to take the matter public in this way.  Obviously, if more money was stolen, that’s the biggest part of it, since that would be more money that was stolen from all dealers, a group with whom Newnum, also being employed by Foxwoods, should have a friendly working relationship.

And that leads into the second half of the story.

What was odd about the Newnum story was how quickly several prominent members of the so-called “poker media” jumped up to defend his character.  Prominent media folks such BJ Nemeth and Jess Welman posted what could be perceived as public character defenses of Newnum as a caring, friendly person and hard worker, with a not-very-well-known player and possible friend of Newnum’s named Marie-Lizette Acoba actually attacking Shea’s Facebook post.

(Update: Both BJ and Jess have disclaimed that their words were actually character defenses.  So I’ll note that here, and in Jess’s case, I’ve probably read between the lines too much and attributed her attacks on the 2+2 forum posters who assailed Newnum as being an implied defense of Jay.  I do think her Twitter and Facebook posts were probably unwise in the heat of the moment, and despite the “common knowledge” (to quote someone mentioned in this story) that there’s a lot of wasted noise in what passes for a 2+2 thread, there was an important theme being asked there: How does the poker media react when one of their own does something rotten?

BJ — who I know very well and am friends with — has posted several times in that prominent thread over at 2+2, where the Newnum story has been the latest tale du jour of poker-world foulness.  As usually happens in these weird tales, they change over time, and as I just foreshadowed, the 2+2 thread has morphed into a series of accusations aimed at the “poker media” over soft-peddling or underreporting a story that’s bad news about one of their own.

Folks such as Nemeth, Jennifer Newell and Earl “USRaider” Burton responded in the thread with piles of generalized balderdash, none of which really made the poker media look any better.  Nemeth and Newell went off on tangents about the poker-media world not being a place where writers are allowed to write difficult stories that don’t put dollars into their bosses’ pockets.   Not all of them have made all of these arguments, but there’s a general theme to that effect among the comments posted in that very active thread.

There’s a speck of truth to it, but not too much.  It’s very much a core dishonesty, a looking at what poker writers do through a filtered, somewhat self-serving lens.  Folks such as BJ and Jen have chosen for themselves the type of work and writing they do, and I kind of chuckle at their comments, knowing that their descriptions of what “poker media” is and does is more an insulation and defense of their own particular jobs… as they chose to view them.  No more and no less.  No one’s putting a gun to their heads and forcing them to accept those paychecks.

To the contrary, it’s possible to write difficult poker stories.  It might not pay the greatest, but it is rewarding in its own way, and those of that do write the tougher stories do it because we choose to.  In addition to myself, I can name several others who do it without regard of whether they’ll get invited to the next cool poker party at the next major tournament.

That isn’t to say that folks such as BJ and Jen don’t have a role within “poker media,” but to see suggestions that theirs is the only role poker media plays — or should play — is laughable.  For the record, I like BJ Nemeth a lot and I’ve known him for years.  We have done each other numerous professional favors, and I would wholeheartedly recommend him for certain types of poker work.  But if I was looking for a writer of “serious” poker news stories, BJ is about the last person in all of the poker world who I’d seek out.  It’s not what he does, he’d be lousy at it, and to his credit, he doesn’t pretend otherwise.

I thought it was a bit tunnel-visioned of him to have entered that thread in the manner that he did, but BJ is BJ; he’s literally walked away from poker gigs to do things on behalf of friends, things that don’t make sense to onlookers.

Moving on.  Is the larger accusation true?  Has the “poker media” turned away from the WhoJedi theft story?  I think that the major sites have done so, but the accusations launched at a handful of writers are more accurately launched at the owners of the major poker sites, who have little business calling themselves news outlets.  CardPlayer and PokerNews are the foremost examples of this, actively choosing not to cover various tough stories over the years unless absolutely forced to, and so you likely won’t see any mention of this WhoJedi tale there unless there’s an angle they can exploit to personally skewer a business competitor.

That’s the bad, dishonest side of what passes for poker reporting, which as you can see isn’t really reporting at all.   Most of the major sites are very bad, and they’re bad for reasons a lot of poker readers just aren’t savvy enough to comprehend.  It’s a tough poker world out there.

I mentioned PN specifically, and I have no fear in doing so.  I can tell my readers with utmost sincerity that one of the reasons I would never again work for PN is that I consider my readers to be my bosses, and I consider it my responsibility as an honest media writer to tell them everything, both the good and the bad, to the best of my ability.  Whereas, at PN, readers have always been viewed as a commodity to be exploited through signups and affiliate promotions.  Telling them the truth was very much secondary, which is a good part of why I’m gone from there… and good riddance.

And that brings us back to WhoJedi, the poker media, and our jobs as writers about poker in general.  I’ve always believed that poker writers have to be a notch or two better behaved within the poker world than poker players and poker business people at large.  Only by adhering to higher principles and demonstrating a little extra honesty and integrity can any poker writer or media person demand the respect and time of readers.  If you don’t get that, you shouldn’t write.

That’s what makes the WhoJedi tale so disappointing.  Like Chris Barnes, the Bluff writer who sold his account deep in an online Sunday major, or those jackals who passed signals at that Partouche event a couple years ago, WhoJedi has gone and shit his own virtual bed, that being the poker world from which he reports.  That in turn leads to disproportionate responses and the flinging of second- and third-level accusations far beyond the actual theft of $700, a pretty small story.

And so it goes.  Do I feel particular sorry for Newnum?  Not at all.  The actions seem preconceived, and whatever fallout comes from this is sure to be much greater than the actual punishment.  Numerous posters and writers are trying to figure out why he did what he did, and I’m not going there: I haven’t the slightest idea.  All I know is that by all accounts, he did do it, it was exceedingly stupid, he was caught, and now he’ll be suffering the consequences for a long time.

Maybe we can all learn something from it.

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