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Professional poker player and 2018 World Series of Poker bracelet winner Gal Yifrach stands to lose much more than his money on the felt.
Yifrach is facing two felony charges in California based on allegations of running an illegal gambling business from 2018 to 2022. The maximum penalty between the two charges amounts to 25 years in federal prison.
A federal indictment filed earlier this month was obtained by The Daily Beast. In it, the United States District Court Eastern District of California charges Yifrach with one felony count of conducting an illegal gambling business and one felony count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. The indictment also names three other defendants, including poker pro Nick Shkolnik.
Aside from some strong finishes at the WSOP, Yifrach is best known for his frequent appearances in live-streamed high-stakes poker cash games in Southern California, such as Live at the Bike and Hustler Casino Live. Unfortunately for Yifrach, if convicted, he’ll probably be better known for these alleged crimes.
The indictment alleges that the defendants conducted, managed, supervised and directed an illegal gambling business. This involved “supplying, operating, and maintaining video slot machines and devices.”
It further claims that Yifrach and his associates, acting at Yifrach’s direction, “collected the cash proceeds of their illegal gambling business from various locations in the Eastern District of California, and they transported those cash proceeds to other locations in California.”
After taking money from bettors, Yifrach and his associates allegedly cleaned the money by completing transactions designed to “avoid a transaction reporting requirement under Federal law.”
The indictment states that the defendants went about this in several different ways. One method allegedly involved exchanging revenue from the illegal gambling business for casino chips at a “casino in Bell Gardens, California.”
Despite that anonymized description, it’s not hard to speculate about which venue it might be. There is, after all, only one casino in Bell Gardens, which a curious reader can easily find on Google.
The indictment alleges that Yifrach completed his laundering by exchanging the casino chips for checks, then depositing those to his bank account.
Authorities say they first caught wind of Yifrach’s illegal activities via a tip. They subsequently began monitoring his communications, which revealed plans to conceal the source of the ill-gotten funds.
In one specific text exchange, Yifrach allegedly told another defendant that they needed to “consult with someone about cleansing the cash.”
That defendant then allegedly responded by saying “it would be best to continue registering as an employee of a company and giving checks for cash.”
The indictment goes on to cite several other messages and exchanges with similar plotting.
The illegal gambling operation charge is serious enough, but the conspiracy to commit money laundering charge is even more so. The latter charge, on its own, comes with a potential maximum sentence of 20 years.
California card rooms have been the source of numerous scandals in recent years. These rooms offer “played-banked” games only. California law prohibits the type of operation in which a house plays against the players, except in the case of tribal casinos.
That doesn’t mean these played-banked rooms aren’t regulated by the state. It does seem to make them easy targets for money laundering, however. There has been a string of such incidents in recent years.
San Bruno’s Artichoke Joe’s Casino knows all too well how much of a problem this can be. Just last year, the California Department of Justice levied a $5.3 million fine against the establishment for misleading gaming regulators. In that case, the card room eventually agreed to pay the fine after it initially failed to report an investigation by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
Aside from money laundering, California card rooms have been a frequent source of cheating allegations, some arising out of live-streamed play.
It’s not unheard of for poker rooms themselves to deceive or mislead. However, the most frequent cheating allegations are directed at players.
Most recent of these was a high-profile case emerging from another Los Angeles area card room. During a Hustler Casino livestream, viewers caught a player ironically known as Skillsrocks (real name: Julio Cedillo) seeming to peek at the hole cards of his table neighbor in a high-stakes no-limit game. Internet sleuths also accuse him of signaling to a friend at the same table.
The casino ultimately banned Cedillo.
Of course, the most well-known cheating scandal in recent years is the one involving infamous alleged scammer Mike Postle.
Postle has never been convicted of any wrongdoing. He is nonetheless almost universally decried by the poker community for alleged cheating. This took place during live-streamed cash game sessions at the Stones Gambling Hall in Citrus Heights, California in 2019. Back then, he went on an inexplicable “heater,” making improbable plays that began to raise suspicion.
Stones’ livestream commentator Veronica Brill made the first public case against Postle. She accused him of somehow intercepting his opponents’ hole cards. After dissecting many of the hands Postle played, others joined Brill in believing that Postle cheated in those games. Some suspected that he was receiving information from an accomplice in the broadcast booth.
Postle continues to maintain his innocence, but recent events and legal woes haven’t improved his image or reputation.
A federal judge dismissed the initial class action lawsuit filed against Postle by two dozen players. Things might have ended well for him there, but he decided to press the issue with a defamation suit of his own. Last April, Postle waved the white flag and dropped the suit. He did so after Poker Fraud Alert owner Todd Witteles had elected to file an anti-SLAPP motion. As a result, Postle was on the hook for large legal fees.
Unfortunately for everyone, Postle didn’t have the money to pay.
In January, after filing for bankruptcy, Postle finally reached a confidential settlement with Brill and Witteles. The settlement, while surely unceremonious for those who’ve long followed the scandal, may provide some closure to “Postlegate.”