Poker Gambling Law

Brandon Steven Hit With Seven-Figure Forfeiture in Kansas Underground-Poker Case

Kansas’s all-time leading poker-tournament money winner, Brandon Steven, has pled guilty to a single charge connected with the operation of a prominent underground poker game in Kansas’s capital city of Wichita. Steven pled guilty this week to a single charge of being an accessory after the fact to the unlawful transmission of wagering information, in connection to the game, which ran for over four years from early 2013 to 2017.

In pleading guilty to the single misdemeanor charge, Steven will be placed on probation for three years and has already paid a fine of $1,095,000, representing profits from the game. Steven was found guilty of hiding ledgers, both handwritten and computerized, relating to the operation of the long-running game on behalf of the room’s on-site manager, Daven “Smoke” Flax. Flax pled guilty in January 2018 to other charges connected to the game’s operation.

Steven, a prominent Wichita-area businessman, was one of five people targeted by wiretaps obtained by authorities investigating the underground game, which included many prominent Kansas businessmen and several Wichita-area law enforcement officers, some of whom were later charged with obstruction after outing a suspected undercover detective who wrangled an invite to the secret games, which were raked and therefore illegal under Kansas law.

Steven’s plea deal forestalls the possibility that he would serve any jail time in connection with the case, as he could have faced up to a year in prison on the charge to which he pled guilty. The forfeiture of the nearly $1.1 million that was described as profits derived from the game also implies — but does not state with certainty — that Steven was one of the game’s hidden owners in addition to any possible participation.

Though named as one of the five initial subjects of the wiretaps, early reports specified that Steven was not charged at first. That appears to have happened only after the investigation was underway and authorities discovered the records and funds that had been transferred to Steven for safekeeping, though the charge or charges against Steven received little publicity until the plea deal announced on Tuesday.

The high-rolling Steven has earned almost $3.2 million in live poker tournaments from 2006 to 2017, including three separate scores of more than $600,000. Steven’s largest single payday, $648,000, came in October 2016 in a $50,000 buy-in high roller event at the Aria.

Steven was also well known in Kansas gambling circles for attempting to help create a casino project for a property planned for Kansas’s southeast corner, near its joint border with Oklahoma and Missouri, not far from Joplin, MO. That project failed to win Kansas legislators’ approval, and down the road and just over the Oklahoma border, the Downstream Casino Resort now occupies the same immediate area. It’s of course unlikely in the wake of this plea deal that a casino project including Steven as a backer could ever win formal regulatory approval.

Steven will serve 200 hours of community service in addition to the fine and probation, and assuming good behavior, he can file later to have the probation period cut in half, to 18 months. In accepting the plea deal, presiding US federal Magistrate Judge Gwynne Birzer stated, “I do believe that the sentence is sufficient.” Judge Birzer also said that Steven “exercise[d] proper remorse” and did “understand the consequences” of his actions.

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