Adnan Mohammad, the PPPoker Club Scheme, and the Slow- or No-Play Blowup
In the poker-discussion news in recent days is the seeming blowup of an underground online-poker club, one of many utilizing made-for-privacy “club poker” software designed to facilitate underground games. The club’s primary owner, or “agent”, Adnan Mohammad, has been accused of slow-playing withdrawals made by some of his club’s winning-est players due to seeming lack of funds. Mohammad, who self-promotes as “NYPokerKing”, has also been accused of running the underground club as a Ponzi-styled scheme, having made small payments against the requested withdrawals while waiting for more players to deposit.
This in turn means that Mohammad or other agents/promoters of the club have allegedly failed to segregate depositors funds, the equivalent of banking an ever-rolling home poker game and running off to spend a part of the bank. A handful of aggrieved players have accused Mohammad, who has roughly a quarter million dollars in recorded live-tournament winnings, of failing to pay out at least $84,000 in requested withdrawals by his club’s players. Two other co-promoters of the club, Floridian Pete Burrell and Californian Courtney Hamilton, have also been assailed for continuing to promote the club in the face of months of slow-pay/no-pay allegations.
Let’s jump away from the lede, for the moment, to serve up some background on the club-poker concept. While our most experienced readers likely know all about such clubs, the situation needs a deeper explanation. That in turn leads to the realization that such club-poker schemes are a genuinely bad idea. What appears to be happening with Mohammad’s troubled club is inevitable within the structure that these shaggy clubs operate.
It’s a recurring cycle, in a manner of thinking. By their very nature, these club-poker operations and schemes are designed to be underground and unregulated. They emerged in China and the Pacific Rim a few years ago, and such games were at the core of the Chinese poker-app ban and related crackdown earlier this year. Nonetheless, the concept continues to operate widely, spreading to other jurisdictions, including the US.
How club-poker schemes operate
The club-poker concept, as it’s most commonly seen, utilizes some form of play-for-free online poker software in which the chips or coins being used serve as proxies for real money exchanged outside the actual constructs of the online game. The software creator derives income from selling the in-game chips to “agents” (game operators) who promote the actual games on a club-by-club basis. The games are raked in a manner that slowly siphons the chips in play out of the club’s collective ecosystem, while winners cash out their chips through an arrangement involving both the agent of the private club and the software operator, which typical provides access to third-party payment processors for the agents’ and players’ use.
The whole setup, of course, is designed as a workaround of sorts for players in jurisdictions where online poker is officially banned. The idea behind this club approach is to erect a wall between the software provider and the actual real-money play. By using the in-game chips as a proxy and making the agents responsible for collecting and processing their club players’ deposits, the software provider attempts to create plausible deniability that the software is actually being used for underground gambling enabled via the internet. Yet of course it’s a shuck, just as with many other forms of “free” gambling found on the internet.
PPPoker, which dates back to 2015 and is one of the most prominent suppliers of English-language, club-based software, figures into the Adnan Mohammad situation. Marketed by AceKing Tech Limited and based in the loosely-regulated British Overseas Territory of Anguilla, an island in the eastern Caribbean, the PPPoker entity provides the software itself. A nominally separate entity, PokerClub.ag, is the front for the needed deposit/withdrawal mechanisms that support the sale of the virtual chips and the off-site exchange, via the clubs’ agents, of real-money transactions.
How many of these unregulated, invitation-only online poker clubs exist? Hundreds for sure, if one accounts for all game suppliers and all languages around the globe. Yet all these clubs are only as viable as their weakest links, and that’s the club agents who recruit players and who should, if acting as a bank with integrity, keep those club deposits in reserve, even if it’s in an envelope under the mattress.
Unfortunately — and this is truly the weakness of the entire underground, online-club scheme — the very nature of the club appeals largely to the most degen of poker players and gamblers, those who are willing to assume the largest amounts of risk. Or, in the case of the agents, those likely to be among those least trustworthy of holding other people’s money.
The lowest common denominator
Such is the case with Mohammad, whose background is just a minefield of red flags. The New York-based Mohammed, a frequent player at East Coast events, was convicted in early 2012 on a felony count of grand larceny. Mohammad was sentenced to five years’ probation, 50 hours of community service, and ordered to pay back $23,700. Forum-discussion chatter alleged that the theft was from Mohammad’s own father, though FD hasn’t been able to obtain the original NY State complaint as of yet and cannot affirm that part of the claim.
However, that wasn’t Adnan Mohammad’s first brush with the courts. In June of 2010, Mohammad was sued by Rapid Cash, Inc. over the alleged theft of at least $90,000. According to the civil complaint, Rapid Cash entered into an agreement with Mohammad and his sole proprietorship, General Bancorp, Inc. (GBC), involving the placement and “vaulting” service of ATMs in and around New York City. It’s not clear whether Mohammad, identified in the case as “Adnan Mohammed”, owned or leased the ATMs, but he was involved in their placement and service.
Things didn’t go well, in particular with regards to one ATM described in the complaint as Terminal #TX006168. Fast Cash continually stocked the ATM with its stash of $20 bills, and the ATM was programmed so that each bill vended was recorded as a twenty and debited against the ATM user’s account.
Then this, from the complaint, and note that this was the allegation only:
Between July 2008 and October 2009, Mohammed, without authorization and without notifying Plaintiff, periodically accessed Terminal #TX006168’s computer, and improperly and fraudulently reprogrammed the machine to dispense cash as if it were stocked with five-dollar ($5) bills, rather than twenty-dollar bills. …
After accessing Terminal #TX006168’s computer and reprogramming it, Defendants (meaning Mohammad and his company) withdrew cash from the machine, with the effect of such withdrawals being that Defendants would receive far more money than was withdrawn from their bank, because the computer in the automatic teller machine was stocked with $20 dollar bills, but was programmed by Defendants to calculate withdrawals as if it were stocked by $5 bills. …
After each alteration and withdrawal of cash as set forth above, Mohammad changed the computer’s settings back to the original settings, i.e., he would reprogram the ATM’s computer to again operate and process transactions based on the proper $20 denominations dispensed. Furthermore, in an effort to conceal his activities, Mohammad deleted the computer log.
In October of 2009, Mohammad sold off whatever terminals he owned or leased, and at that point, though not detailed in a step-by-step manner in the original complaint, the nature of the alleged theft and fraud involving Terminal #TX006168 was uncovered. Surely it involved the discovery of the deleted logs and then an audit of all activity conducted through that ATM, likely reconstructed from a whopping load of users’ bank statements.
But here’s the thing. Mohammad denied the claims, and just three weeks later, Fast Cash dropped the case, though without prejudice, meaning they could re-file it at any time. Whether the lawsuit was dismissed outright or whether some form of settlement was reached is not indicated within the publicly available documents.
There’s also no doubt that Mohammad and Mohammed are one and the same. Mohammad lists his General Bancorp experience on his “Adnan Mo” LinkedIn page, and multiple spellings or misspellings of his name abound on the web. One can find “Adnan”, “Adnann”, “Adnem”, “Mohammad”, “Mohammed”, “Mo” and others, all on sites or listings connected to the erstwhile NYPokerKing. As to why so many name-spelling variations exist (and seem to be intentional) is up to the reader to interpret.
Mohammad had also been accused of multiple poker- and gambling-world scams, most relatively petty and in the range of hundreds or a few thousand dollars, even before he launched his PPPoker private group late in 2017. Predictably, Mohammad’s new poker club was only in operation for a few months, until April 2018, when the first slow-pay and Ponzi allegations were launched by pro player Chase Bianchi.
Unwise decisions all around
Who knows why anyone would continue to give Adnan Mohammad money, for gambling or anything else. (Sliding over to op-ed mode for a sentence, I wouldn’t trust this guy with a plugged nickel in a lucite block.) However, while Mohammad could face some heat from legal officials over running this illicit online gambling club, he’s likely not going to face formal complaints from his aggrieved victims. Despite the disclaimer that most of these players were nuts to begin with for dealing with someone with Mohammad’s track record, the withheld funds seem to be gambling winnings rather than initial deposits. Such illicit gambling winnings are generally unrecoverable via civil lawsuit, so there’s that.
The whole episode stands as a blatant exhibit as to why playing on these virtual private clubs is a bad idea. This case shows the obvious risks involved with operators who appear less than honorable. Other problems include the unpoliced games; the software itself might be honest, but collusion between players at the tables likely runs rampant… simply because there’s no way, nor responsibility forced upon the operators, to check.
Gambling jones or not, just say no.