California Online Poker Pro Forfeits Over $90,000 for Geolocation-Evading New Jersey Play

This week, amid its bi-monthly release of director’s actions and orders, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement announced an order of enforcement involving the first known instance of an online poker player successfully evading geolocation protections to play on at least three different regulated sites. Under the terms of the agreement, California resident Vinh Dao agreed to forfeit more than $90,000 illicitly won on two of the sites, operated by Atlantic City’s Borgata casino and Caesar Interactive Entertainment’s (CIE) WSOP.com.

Under the terms of the DGE’s forfeiture order, the Borgata and CIE agreed to forfeit the vast majority of $92,613.94 that had long been frozen in accounts belonging to Vinh at BorgataCasino.com and WSOP.com. Together, the Borgata and CIE turned over $90,113.94 in funds that had been frozen for some time. That consisted of $79,539.24 from Dao’s account at BorgataCasino.com (which may have been transferred over at some point from BorgataPoker.com) and $10,574.70 from Dao’s New Jersey WSOP.com account.

An additional $2,500, consisting of $2,000 from the Borgata and $500 from CIE, was returned to Dao as a nominal payment for Dao’s long-term cooperation after his illicit play was discovered back in 2014, only a few months after the first of New Jersey’s regulated online-poker sites came online for real-money play.

A separate stipulation of settlement, seemingly not published by the DGE itself but published or scraped by another entity, shows that the $2,500 was ordered returned to Dao from the two sites via Dao’s New Jersey-based counsel, Guy S. Michael. The stipulation shows that the final settlement was reached in mid-January, although not announced by New Jersey’s DGE until this week.

The settlement terms also show that Dao controlled an online-poker account on a third regulated New Jersey site, NJpartypoker.com. However, Dao’s partypoker account held only a single penny, which was rolled into one of the other existing balances to simplify the settlement proceedings.

Many details about what occurred involving Dao’s illicit New Jersey play remain omitted from the public records. Dao’s illegal remote play from California was discovered in February of 2014 by both the Borgata and partypoker sites, and both sites froze Dao’s accounts immediately upon discovery. When Dao’s account at WSOP.com in New Jersey was discovered was not disclosed, though it was likely soon after the others.

Also undisclosed is why the time from the discovery of the illegal play to the ultimate settlement of the matter took nearly five years to to resolve. The matter was brought into New Jersey’s court system on behalf of the DGE by New Jersey’s Attorney General office, and the settlement was signed by Deputy New Jersey Attorney General Charles F. Kimmel. However, the case does not show up in online court-records databases, suggesting that the case was kept under seal until resolved.

Dao’s cooperation from 2014 until the settlement was reached almost certainly involved his disclosure of how he was able to evade detection by geolocation protocols for at least a few months. One possible scenario is that he traveled to New Jersey to establish the accounts, perhaps dedicating computers and online connections to the sites via friends or relatives in New Jersey, and then ghosted via one (or perhaps multiple) machines and connections to baffle the location trackers. However, his solution worked only temporarily.

It’s also unclear precisely who Dao is. Neither the director’s ruling nor the settlement situation identify Dao’s city of residence in California, and nearly two dozen people named Vinh Dao live in the state. There is also no one named “Vinh Dao” in prominent poker tournament results databases, suggesting that Dao played online exclusively or nearly so. There is a “Vinh Dao” associated with a small handful of online-poker training lessons that can be found online, and in the bio attached to one of these videos, the author claims a computer-industry background. Again, whether this is the same player remains uncertain, and an absolute connection is not being claimed here.

One unfortunate aspect is that the roughly $90,000 “theoretically won” by Dao goes to the state, and not to the players back in 2013-14 that lost funds to an illicit player at the tables. In that respect, and in some manners similar to the resolution of the Christian Lusardi counterfeit-chip saga also involving the Borgata, New Jersey has been unwilling to order the deep hand-history-crunching necessary to refund the impacted players, even if some pro-rated scheme would have to be devised. The funds “theoretically won” by Dao were most certainly lost by other players, and they’re the ones who’ve long since paid for this settlement.

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