Winners Call Poker Tourney a Ponzi Scheme

ROCKVILLE, Md. (CN) — A Ponzi scheme run by a company that hosts a yearly poker tournament in Aruba owes four of the tournament’s top six finishers most of their combined $235,000 in winnings, the gamblers claim in a RICO lawsuit.

Lead plaintiff Stephen Deutsch, who won the 2016 Players Poker Championship, claims that tournament officials paid him only $10,000 of the $133,687 he won.

He claims this happened because the defendants did not follow standard industry practice of separating entry fees, which the tournament keeps, and buy-ins, which are set aside as winnings.

Deutsch et al. say the Players Poker Championship has been doing this for years, using buy-ins from one tournament to pay top finishers or vendors from the tournament held the year before, in a Ponzi-style scheme that has left the tournament broke.

“This pattern and practice created a situation where PPC [the Players Poker Championship] was constantly utilizing funds from one creditor to pay another creditor and/or enrich itself and its members, with such creditors often coming in the involuntary form of vendors to whom payment was due for services rendered or players entitled to funds earned in poker tournaments,” the complaint states.

Deutsch and three others sued Players Poker Championship, two other companies and the two men who run them, all of the same address in Pompano Beach, Fla., and Maryland Live! Casino, of Baltimore, on Jan. 4 in Montgomery County Court.

Michael Lerner, John Ott and Joan Sandoval, who finished fourth ($48,126), fifth ($32,085) and sixth ($21,390) respectively in 2016, also want their prize money.

In their 35-page, 13-count lawsuit, they say the tournament told them their money was delayed coming in from Aruba, then tried to get them to accept a portion of the tournament’s “free cash flow” in the future.

They say the tournament scrubbed all information from its website after receiving a litigation hold letter, and that no 2017 event is planned.

The current version of the website, checked Tuesday morning, consists of a single page and displays no information beyond the tournament’s logo and the words “more details about 2017 coming soon!”

A message left with a number from an archived version of the site was not returned.

The poker players together seek more than $1.8 million in damages for fraud, conversion, racketeering, negligent representation, negligence, aiding and abetting, unjust enrichment, and fraudulent conveyance.

They are represented by Maurice VerStandig, of Potomac.

The defendants are Players Poker Championship LLC, Bryan P. Oulton and his company Beachside Consulting Group LLC, Thomas “Sandy” Swartzbaugh and his company PPC Handling Services LLC, all of North Federal Highway in Pompano Beach, and PPE Casino Resorts Maryland LLC dba Maryland Live! Casino.

Several professional poker websites, checked Tuesday morning, report that Oulton’s and Swartzbaugh’s whereabouts are unknown.

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