This article first appeared in Poker Digest magazine.
It was about 15 years ago. I had provided the legendary twice-world champion of poker, Doyle Brunson, with seven consecutive losing football bets. He shook his head in miserable disbelieve, flung a magazine featuring me across his desk, and pointed to where it read, "Mike Caro: The Mad Genius of Poker." Then calmly, in his trademark Texas drawl, he proclaimed, "You’re the dumbest genius I ever met!"
But giving Doyle all those losing football bets doesn’t compare in dumbness to the fiasco that has resulted from my recent exploits with a group of confessed cheaters, the so-called Gambling Cheating Analysts (GCA). First, a little background: I’ve been taking reports on cheating for years, with independent offices for that purpose at two Los Angeles-area casinos. Like many others, I’m proud of the unparalleled inroads our industry had made. Poker at major casinos today is controlled by high-tech surveillance and sophisticated techniques to keep games honest. It wasn’t always that way in "the bad old days" of poker.
About a year and a half ago, two poker cheaters, comprising GCA before it added a third member, came to me with vague accusations and asked if I wanted to listen. One of the original two members has since left CGA and now recants many of the speculative allegations. Anyway, they said they were going to make their allegations about high-level poker cheating public on the Internet, with or without me. They planned to put up a web site, make a video, and begin posting online.
So I listened… and listened
I went to several restaurants and listened to their stories. While they seemed well versed on incidents that happened 20 years ago, I could not detect anything other than speculation (some of it wild) to support their allegations of recent misconduct. And they went on and on. I warned them that they absolutely should not make their accusations against specific people public, because most were just speculative. And I was quite dubious, because much seemed third-hand or worse. I suggested they go to law enforcement, casino management, and to the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
As an alternative to having them post inflammatory and unsupportable allegations on the Internet, I offered to shop them around to selected casino management and to the publisher of a rival poker publication, seeking high-level opinions about the validity – if any – of what they had to say. And I agreed that I would consider conducting an online interview on the rec.gambling.poker (RGP) newsgroup, instead of them posting indiscriminately.
The rules of the proposed interview specified that the cheaters couldn’t name people or events about which they were just speculating. Unfounded public speculation about real people, with real reputations wouldn’t be fair, and they understood that I wouldn’t be a part of that. Nolan Dalla, who joined me and largely drafted the rules for the proposed interview, also insisted that the cheaters would not be allowed to tarnish anyone’s reputation without proof. They got the message; they agreed. They must strict to (1) facts they knew first hand and could prove and (2) exposing methods of cheating they had personally used. Otherwise, we would not complete the interview.
My first two mistakes
My first mistake was posting to RGP in 2000, asking readers whether they thought theirs would be an appropriate forum for such an interview. By doing this, I lent my name to all the unforeseen accusations that would follow.
My second mistake, looking back on it, was making a video tape of my interviews with the cheaters. I considered these to be my personal notes and never allowed anyone to see these extremely poor-quality recordings. But the lead cheater decided to make copies and distribute them without my permission. He had previously pledged to make his own video, and I’m not sure why he chose to distribute one where I challenged so many of his group’s accusations. While it would seem at first that the tape would have less of an impact because I, as interviewer, made no accusations and challenged them repeatedly, it has since become evident that they were just trading on my name for their credibility.
I deeply regret my participation in that. While my intent was to keep them from slandering people, exactly the opposite occurred. They used me as a vehicle to transmit their ill-spirited and often unfounded message. Frankly, in over 20 hours of interviews, I never heard any convincing evidence from them about poker cheating going on right now. Their knowledge base, such as it is, seems to be about things that went on far, far in the past.
Because I came to believe that GCA’s behavior was becoming increasingly bizarre, I decided not to do the online interview. This freed them to make all sorts of charges (many that I know to be ludicrous) – but at least those didn’t have my name associated with them as an interviewer.
We all want to keep games honest
Honest people have asked me to disassociate with GCA. That’s hard to do, because I never associated with them to begin with. My role was always that of an antagonist and fact-finder (not that I found many). But, because I didn’t choreograph the event correctly, some people began to associate GCA’s claims with my own. Let me say this one more time: I never endorsed, supported, or was affiliated with GCA. I think what they’ve done and what they continue to do is reprehensible. You don’t go around accusing people of things when you’re not 100 percent certain – and you definitely don’t do it when you’re 10 percent certain, as I believe has been the case with many of GCA’s shameful public pronouncements. To me, these loose cannons make Joe McCarthy a bush-leaguer.
I should have realized that this group’s "leader" was using my reputation to advance his own. Even though I have repeatedly scolded him publicly for his attacks on many without evidence (some of them close friends of mine who I know to be innocent), and even though he has attacked me publicly, people still get confused about which side I’m on.
So, I’ll tell you. I’m on the side of honest poker and all the honest casino management I’m proud of everyone who has fought for the integrity of our game over the years. I’m on the side of honest players and against cheaters. And I’ll be damned if I’ll let some has-been cheaters with an axe to grind use my name to further their obscene and senseless cause.
I regret – no, I’ll go even further , I apologize – for my part in bringing this ludicrous embarrassment to so many honest industry people that I trust. Many of the casinos under attack are the ones I choose to personally play in, simply because I’m confident about the integrity of the management. GCA has even made posts tarnishing my wife. I have spent much time listening to what GCA has to say, and I can tell you that as cheating analysts who also should be concerned with protecting the innocent, they fail; and as human beings, they suck.
We all want to keep games honest, but this isn’t the way to go about it, and GCA aren’t the guys to do it.