Year in Review: Dark day for poker in Mexico

LAPT Nuevo Vallarta would become one of the few tounaments to be outright canceled.

This is the 12th and final article in a 12-part series taking a month-by-month look at what happened with poker in 2008.


Tran crushes Premier League III

J.C. Tran opened up the month of December by cruising past some world-class competition en route to a win in the Premier League III. The California pro started the final-table action by eliminating WSOP Main Event champ Peter Eastgate, which opened the floodgates for Roland De Wolfe, Tom Dwan and Juha Helppi to hit the rails.

Tran then mopped up Tony G to put his first trip to Europe in the books with style.

"This is brilliant and I am so happy," said Tran. "I have been feeling good all week and it is amazing to win this event. Until this week I had never played in Europe before - I really couldn't ask for more! Perhaps I should move here! I would like to thank everyone who has made my trip to London such a wonderful experience."

LAPT Nuevo Vallarta

A funny thing happened on the way to Day 2 of the first-ever high-stakes poker tournament held in Mexico: the local authorities shut the tourney down.

Eighty-nine players remained in the field in Nuevo Vallarta when the Mexican government rescinded the LAPT's gaming license after observing the tournament for 10 hours on the first day of play.

The prize pool was distributed among the remaining players according to chip count; when the other 153 players who had already been knocked out received word that they would not be compensated, a large group of players nearly began a riot. The situation was only brought under control once three police cars arrived on the scene.

A few days after the tournament was shut down, PokerStars announced that the 89 players who still had chips at the end of play would be given a $50,000 freeroll on the site. The nine players who made the freeroll final table would then be flown to Vina del Mar, Chile, to play on a televised final table before the next LAPT event on the schedule.

EPT Prague

Italy got its first EPT winner in the Czech Republic in December, but it wasn't anyone poker fans might have expected. Unknown Salvatore Bonavena took down the win in Prague, earning €774,000 for outlasting a field of 570 players - including countrymen Dario Minieri and Massimo Di Ciccio.

"It was a dream for me, like most poker players have I think," Bonavena told PokerListings. "I didn't actually know that I was the first Italian EPT Champion. It still hasn't sunk in that it has happened ... at the moment it still feels like a dream!"

WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic

Despite his seventh-place finish at the WSOP Main Event in November, David "Chino" Rheem won't be disappearing off the radar anytime soon. That's thanks to his big win at Bellagio in December, in which he took home $2.2 million for his win over a field of 497 runners in the Five Diamond World Poker Classic. His final-table competition included the likes of Hoyt Corkins, Steve Sung and Amnon Filippi.

"It feels real, real good," Rheem said in his post-match interview. "You know, after the Main Event I was, not disappointed, just heartbroken. This is just validation for me personally."

Chino's performances at Bellagio and the Rio were rewarded in short order. Just days after Rheem's win he signed on with the so-called Poker Pack - J.C. Tran, Nam Le and Quinn Do - to represent the Asian Poker Tour. 

WSOP Circuit Harrah's AC

Brent Roberts claimed his first WSOP Circuit title at Harrah's Atlantic City in December, coming out on top of 178 others to walk away with $280,940. Roberts let opponent Kyle Bowker do most of the heavy lifting before sending the Canuck home in third place, and then finished off Phillip Reed in heads-up play to lay claim to the title.

"I'll probably feel much better tomorrow when I've gotten some sleep, but it was a fun tournament," Roberts said in his interview. "This is a pretty soft tournament. No one ever really put pressure on me. It's pretty ridiculous, but that's how it goes. People here just don't know how to play that well." 


PokerStars launches Russian Poker Tour

Seemingly bent on world domination, PokerStars announced in December its sponsorship of yet another poker tour in an emerging market. The new Russian Poker Tour hoped to build on the success of several young Russian players in the last year or so, including WSOP Main Event and WSOP Europe final-table appearances by Ivan Demidov.

Only two stops, St. Petersburg and Moscow, were announced on the initial schedule to be played in January and February 2009. However, both events featured substantial buy-in, with the St. Petersburg stop at $5,000 and the Moscow tourney weighing in at $10,000. 

UltimateBet faces more software problems

After moving to its new CEREUS platform in part to do away with its old scandalous image, UltimateBet once again found itself in a PR mess when a software glitch caused Phil Hellmuth to be awarded a pot he should not have won.

The Poker Brat was playing $200/$400 No-Limit Hold'em on the site when he was shipped a pot that should have been won by his opponent, DOUBLEBALLER, who held trip kings. After an investigation, Tokwiro Enterprises - the parent company of UltimateBet - issued a statement.

"We were able to reproduce the error on our testing systems by forcing a hand to disconnect its winning player at the precise millisecond the hand in question was awarding the pot and simultaneously flushing the 'player's state' data. Had the disconnection happened literally a millisecond sooner or later, the error would not have transpired," said Paul Leggett, COO of Tokwiro.

"While enhancing the software to prevent this malfunction from occurring again, we introduced a new defect that caused 36 hands to award incorrect payouts. All [affected] players have been reimbursed for these hands as well." 

Legal issues

Kentucky online gambling case

The legal drama between the state of Kentucky and offshore gambling providers continued to evolve in December.

UltimateBet and Absolute Poker, both of which were among the 141 offshore gambling providers named in the state of Kentucky's lawsuit, announced early in December that they would no longer allow residents of Kentucky to play poker on their sites.

Tokwiro Enterprises, the parent company of both rooms, implemented an IP block that would allow existing customers to log in and withdraw funds but otherwise be unable to access the rooms' poker games.

"We have taken this action in order to ensure that the vast number of our customers, who do not reside in Kentucky, continue to have access to our sites and to enjoy playing online poker without disruption or inconvenience," said Paul Leggett, Tokwiro chief operating officer.

In the middle of the month a three-judge panel in Louisville, Ky. held a hearing on the appeal filed by iMEGA and the Interactive Gaming Council against the state of Kentucky over its attempt to seize the domain names of 141 offshore gambling operators. The hearing focused on a number of issues that were left unaddressed in the lower court ruling that authorized the state to lay claim to the domain names.

The three-judge panel was expected to deliver its verdict sometime in January 2009.

Party founder makes DoJ deal

In UIGEA news, PartyGaming founder Anurag Dikshit struck a deal with the United States Department of Justice in mid-December. He agreed to pay $300 million to the DoJ, as well as to enter a guilty plea that might draw him as much as two years in prison. The deal drew fire from industry advocates like the Remote Gambling Association.

"These events show that the outgoing U.S. administration and the Department of Justice have shown a total disrespect for the legal rights of European online gaming companies and those associated with them and a complete disregard for U.S. international commitments under GATS," said Clive Hawkswood, RGA chief executive.

Although this is the final article in PokerListings' Year in Review, be sure to tune in tomorrow to see Jason Kirk's predictions for the poker industry in 2009.

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