The poker cheating investigation is over. Here's what it uncovered — and questions that remain (2024)

A nearly three-month investigation into one of the most controversial hands of poker ever played has concluded with no findings of wrongdoing against Robbi Jade Lew, who was accused of cheating by one of the game’s most prominent stars.

“That does not mean that no wrongdoing occurred,” said the report, released Wednesday by High Stakes Poker Productions. “It means that the investigation failed to find credible evidence.”

Calling the ordeal a “treacherous process,” Lew said the results were “as I expected.”

“I am obviously now entering another stage of this journey, as there are still loose ends that need to be resolved,” said the former biopharmaceuticals rep from Pacific Palisades. “There will be subsequent commentary and statements issued by my legal team shortly.”

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The saga began Sept. 29, when Lew — a relatively new player to the high-stakes, no-limit scene — won a $269,000 pot against poker pro Garrett Adelstein on an episode of “Hustler Casino Live,” a popular YouTube show that streams from Gardena five days a week.

Lew’s unconventional play in the wild hand, in which she called Adelstein’s huge all-in bet with jack high, immediately led her opponent to suspect foul play. Adelstein later accused her of colluding with at least one other player at the table and with a production employee; Lew has repeatedly denied the allegations.

The poker cheating investigation is over. Here's what it uncovered — and questions that remain (1)

Robbi Jade Lew at Hustler Casino in Gardena in October.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Video of the now-infamous J4 hand (Lew was holding the jack of clubs and the four of hearts) blew up on the internet. Viewed millions of times, the clip sparked raging debates — was Lew part of a cheating ring, or simply a newbie who didn’t know what she was doing and got lucky?

Poker fans obsessively rewatched the footage to dissect her play, body language, clothing, jewelry and water bottle, sharing their “findings” on social media and hours-long podcasts. The frenzied fascination over what happened prompted several poker players to offer bounties totaling $250,000 for anyone who came forward with information (no one did).

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High Stakes Poker Productions, which owns and produces “Hustler Casino Live,” quickly launched its own investigation and hired cybersecurity, private investigation and legal firms to assist. The company said it spent more than $100,000 on the effort.

Wednesday’s extensive report detailed the investigation’s methodology, which included interviews with Lew, other players, and the show’s owners and employees. Investigators reviewed “dozens of hours of video” from “Hustler Casino Live” and from the casino’s interior and exterior security cameras to look for suspicious behavior. They also inspected the card shuffler and dismantled the poker table to see whether its radio frequency identification system had been compromised. RFID technology allows the unique suit and rank of each player’s facedown cards, known as hole cards, to be broadcast to a receiver.

“Upon inspection of the systems, table and network,” the report said, “there was no evidence of tampering, remote access, viruses, rogue hardware installed, or previously installed programs on the machines.”

But cybersecurity firm Bulletproof did find some “critical risks” with the show’s production room setup and broadcast operations. Both have been subject to heavy scrutiny in light of the debacle, with players and viewers criticizing High Stakes Poker Productions for what they perceived as lax protocols that made the stream vulnerable.

“While no direct evidence of cheating was found, Bulletproof found that cheating with the Sept. 29 setup was possible,” the report said.

The poker cheating investigation is over. Here's what it uncovered — and questions that remain (3)

The “Hustler Casino Live” stage. The show has quickly become the No. 1 cash game poker stream on YouTube thanks to its rotating lineup of elite poker pros and outlandish recreational players, and the enormous amounts of money at stake.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Noting that players’ card information “could be seen by anyone in the production room just by turning their head,” the report said several changes had since been made to improve security.

A wall and a door have been installed in the production room, and the door remains locked throughout filming. Now, only one monitor can display hole-card information and it can be viewed only by the show’s director, and employees have to put their electronic devices into signal-blocking bags before entering the room.

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The show is also implementing stricter player rules. Previously, they weren’t allowed to have their cellphones and other electronic devices during filming; now they must also put personal items in signal-blocking bags that are kept away from the poker table. Players are wanded by a metal detector every time they enter the “Hustler Casino Live” stage.

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Despite the additional measures, the report noted that “no security solution or process can completely solve mechanical or electronic game cheating because methods and technology are continually evolving” and said the company would need to be vigilant going forward.

“With those changes,” it said, “security, technology, processes and yearly audits also need to be kept up.”

High Stakes Poker Productions made some low-tech modifications as well, including requiring players to sign a waiver acknowledging that they have no financial investment in anyone else in the game. After the Sept. 29 hand, Lew revealed that she had been given the money to gamble that day by another player at the table, Jacob “Rip” Chavez.

“The undisclosed financial relationship between Ms. Lew and Mr. Chavez creates the appearance of collusion between the two players,” the report said. “Such conduct is widely considered unethical in the poker community and is prohibited in ‘Hustler Casino Live’ games.”

There’s no way to 100% prove that nothing happened. But I think a lot of people will be satisfied by this and see that we did everything we could to try to figure this out. We are ready to move on.

— Ryan Feldman, co-owner of High Stakes Poker Productions

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Although the show’s investigation has come to an end, one big piece of the scandal is still unresolved.

A week after the Adelstein-Lew hand, High Stakes Poker Productions announced that a video review showed Bryan Sagbigsal — a production employee who was in the control room on Sept. 29 — removing $15,000 in chips from Lew’s stack after filming had ended that day.

Lew initially declined to file a police report but changed her mind after the poker community accused the two of colluding. Gardena Police Department officers attempted to arrest Sagbigsal on Oct. 26 in Long Beach but were unable to find him.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office filed charges against Sagbigsal on Nov. 22. An arrest warrant has been issued for the 25-year-old, who faces two counts of grand theft; a spokesman said Wednesday that Sagbigsal was not in custody.

In the investigation report, High Stakes Poker Productions said it interviewed Sagbigsal about the alleged theft before firing him.

“He said he acted on his own out of financial desperation and repeatedly denied that he was involved in cheating or that he collaborated with any players,” the report said, adding that investigators “were not able to identify any prior relationship between Ms. Lew and Mr. Sagbigsal.”

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Gardena Police Department officers spent Wednesday looking for Bryan Sagbigsal, 24, but were unable to find him.

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High Stakes Poker Productions said it had not done a background check on Sagbigsal before hiring him and was thus unaware that he had a prior criminal record. In the future, the company said it would “pay a professional agency to search databases” for criminal records of job applicants and “perform periodic financial and credit checks” on its employees.

On Wednesday afternoon, Adelstein tweeted that he was “heartened” to learn of the show’s new safety measures.

“Security vulnerabilities are THE existential threat facing the poker livestreams we all love,” he wrote, “and thus these updates are a win for everyone in our industry.” Reached by phone, Adelstein, who has said he is conducting his own investigation, declined to provide further comment on the report.

“Hustler Casino Live” first aired Aug. 3, 2021, and soon became the No. 1 cash game poker stream on YouTube, thanks to its rotating lineup of elite poker pros and outlandish recreational players, and the enormous amounts of money at stake — some pots have exceeded half a million dollars. It now has more than 200,000 subscribers.

Prior to the disputed hand, Adelstein, one of the top cash players in the world, was the face of “Hustler Casino Live.” A former contestant on “Survivor” who lives in Manhattan Beach, he was featured heavily on the poker show and his image is plastered on digital billboards outside the casino.

The poker cheating investigation is over. Here's what it uncovered — and questions that remain (6)

Garrett Adelstein in his Manhattan Beach home in October. He has not returned to “Hustler Casino Live” since the Sept. 29 hand.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

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Neither Adelstein nor Lew has played on “Hustler Casino Live” since Sept. 29. On Wednesday afternoon, “Hustler Casino Live” said on Twitter: “Now that the investigation has concluded, we want to address the numerous inquiries about Garrett and his future on the show. Simply put, HCL is open to having @GManPoker back.”

Adelstein responded a few minutes later, tweeting: “I’ve surprised myself with the peace I’ve felt being away from all things poker in recent months. But if/when I do decide to play again, I’m open to playing on HCL.”

Phil Galfond, a professional poker player from Las Vegas, said another cheating scandal was bound to crop up in the future — an inevitability “in any industry that involves big amounts of money.”

Despite the drama of the last several weeks, Galfond said “it’s not entirely clear to me that this was bad for poker.”

“It reached so far outside of the poker world and got more people interested in poker,” he said. “When you add to that the fact that Hustler and other streams are taking security more seriously now, I think it’s one of those things where we actually grew from the experience.”

“Hustler Casino Live” executives said they’re now focused on looking ahead and learning from the ordeal.

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“It will always be a mystery to a degree because, as I’ve said all along, there’s no way to 100% prove that nothing happened,” co-owner and show director Ryan Feldman said. “But I think a lot of people will be satisfied by this and see that we did everything we could to try to figure this out. We are ready to move on.”

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The poker cheating investigation is over. Here's what it uncovered — and questions that remain (2024)
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