Top 10 Stories in the World of Gambling and Sports Betting - 2023

Written by:
Jagajeet Chiba
Published on:
Dec/28/2023

It's that time of year.  The gambling industry's top news and watchdog site Gambling911.com looks back on 2023 and we review the top stories of the year.

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(2024 Top Story?) - Massive Probe of Gambling Executives in Vegas Tied to Southern CA Bookie

The final chapter of this story is yet to be written but the Nevada Current, Daily Mail and other news outlets confirmed federal law enforcement agents from California continue investigating allegations that current and former Las Vegas hotel employees used casino assets to pay gambling debts and provided confidential customer data to an illegal gambling ring that operated for almost two decades.

Depending on what the end results might be, this could prove to be among the biggest stories of 2024, assuming it doesn't land as a dud.

(2024 Top Story?) - Fines, Fines and More Fines

They keep adding up

You can't make this up.  Thanks Niall Ó Gribín for the tip.

10. Poker Player Admits He Lied About Having Cancer to Play in WSOP Main Event as Cheating Scandals Become the Norm

You'd think he'd realize people would catch on once his under one year to live cancer diagnosis came and went.   To make matters worse, suspicions only intensified when Rob Mercer was seen hamming it up on social media, looking very much the picture of good health.

Here is how it all went down.  Poker pros raised between $30,000 to $50,000 to fulfill the "dying" wish of a poker pro.  Rob Mercer wanted to participate in this year's World Series of Poker main event after claiming he only had a year to live.  Mercer would go on to set up a GoFundMe account.  Pros even got him a suite at the famed Bellagio Hotel.

Those poker pros who helped get him to the WSOP began asking for proof of his diagnosis.

Mercer would go on to tell the Las Vegas Review Journal it was all one big lie.

"What I did was wrong," Mercer told the Las Vegas Review Journal.

“I did lie about having colon cancer. I don’t have colon cancer. I used that to cover my situation,” Mercer said. “What I did was wrong. I shouldn’t have told people I have colon cancer. I did that just as a spur-of-the-moment thing when someone asked me what kind of cancer I had.

“I’m sorry for not being honest about what my situation was. If I would have done that from Day One, who knows what would have happened.”

Lying that you have cancer is pretty low but outright cheating in games truly took center stage in 2023.  All parties are presumed guilty until proven innocent in the world of poker....but, yes, these are still just allegations for now. 

Martin Kabrhel, a high-stakes professional poker player from the Czech Republic, was accused of cheating by at least two prominent competitors in the WSOP $250,000 buy-in Super High Roller No-Limit Hold’em event. This prompted an investigation.

HCL regulars Nikhil "Nik Airball" Arcot and Wesley Fei accused Tony Mars (who has also appeared on HCL) of cheating a Southern California private game out of millions, allegations that Mars later denied.

From PokerNews:

The cheating accusations came to light on Dec. 3 when Nik Airball tweeted that "someone who I thought was a close friend of mine cheating me out of $1m in a series of poker games." In a follow-up tweet, he identified Mars as the accused cheater and alleged he "brought a mechanic dealer and special cards that are 'see through' with special contacts."

9. Casumo Abruptly Locks Affiliates Out of Their Accounts

We pretty much quadrupled our LinkedIN network after this story went to press.  Nearly everyone who is anyone in the world of online gambling affiliates began following Gambling911.

We quickly learned that those so-called "lifetime affiliate deals" are about as good as a Yugo lifetime service contract (for those of you old enough to remember).

Oh, and this won't be the last.  It simply serves as a glimpse of what is yet to come.

This fall, conveniently the week after the big SIGMA Malta affiliate conference, a number of affiliates began reporting they could no longer log into their accounts. Some said they received a message "Account Suspended".

Here is the email that went out to a large number of affiliates:

Dear Affiliate,

We are writing to inform you of an important development regarding your Casumo Affiliate Account.

As part of our commitment to maintaining a mutually beneficial partnership, we regularly review the activity and performance of our affiliate accounts in line with the terms and conditions of our affiliate program.

As stipulated in our official affiliate terms and conditions:

"In the event that the Affiliate fails to refer New Registering Customers during any consecutive three (3) month period, Casumo reserves the right, at its sole and absolute discretion, to (i) suspend or terminate the Affiliate account OR (ii) reduce Affiliate’s Commission rate to a flat rate of no more than 10% of Net Revenue until such time that the Affiliate introduces a total of six (6) New Customers within a six (6) month period at which point (effective upon Your referral of the sixth New Customer) Your Commission rate will revert to the standard Commission rates as set out in Clause 19 of these Terms and Conditions."

Upon recent review, it has come to our attention that your affiliate account has not referred any new customer registrations for a consecutive period of three months.
In light of this, and after careful consideration, the decision has been made to close your affiliate account and cease any further commissions.

Please know that this decision was not taken lightly and is in line with our policy to ensure the vitality and effectiveness of our affiliate program.

Affiliate managers had left the company a month early.

8. The Rise of Kick and Its Embrace of Gambling

Ever since streaming platform Twitch decided to mostly stop allowing promotion of gambling, competing streaming platform filled the void.....and boy did they ever.

Big name streamer xQc jumped ship to play exclusively on Kick as part of a 2-year, $100m contract with the streaming service.  Yeah that'll do it.

Nick “Nickmercs” Kolcheff confirmed he signed an eight-figure contract with the Twitch rival. Gambling promos are ‘part of the contract', according to the Call of Duty streamer.

7. ESPN Gets Into Sports Betting....And So Too Does Florida

ESPN - and by default parent company Disney - finally entered the sports betting arena just months after rival Fox Sports got out.

Looking into our crystal ball we see this decision coming back to bite ESPN in the ass, especially being that they are not the entity controlling this sports betting app.  That honor goes to Penn National.  In the brief time this app was previously branded as Barstool Sportsbook, there were voided bets due to software glitches, a high profile firing of a Barstool Sports personality and states scrutinizing the company for every little thing that came out of founder Dave Portnoy's mouth.

Also we come to find out that sports betting no longer has to be done in one's head in the Sunshine State.  Through a controversial compact, the Seminoles can "finally" operate their sportsbook app free of any competition.  "Finally" is in quotes as legal challenges to stop them continues into 2024. 

6. Doyle Brunson Dies

The amazing poker legend and long time friend of the Gambling911.com website, Doyle Brunson, passed away at the age of 89.

His poker site DoylesRoom, which would go on to become ACR Poker, to this day remains Gambling911.com's longest running sponsor (19 years now).

Doyle's death brought everyone in the poker world together to offer their condolences. 

Doyle Brunson will be missed by all.

5. DraftKings, FanDuel Crash the PrizePicks, Fantasy Underdog Party

One of the biggest laugh out loud jokes in the industry is that Daily Fantasy Sports "pick'em" contests like those offered by PrizePicks and Fantasy Underdog are not sports betting.  They are.

In the end, who really cares?

Well, DraftKings and FanDuel do, but of course.  That's because they have to pay huge licensing fees and taxes whereas the likes of PrizePicks and Fantasy Underdog do not.  Can you figure out who the smart one's are?

We're old enough to remember when DraftKings and FanDuel were coming under fire from regulators and Attorney Generals (i.e. New York).  Now these sites have made it their mission to get fellow DFS sites booted from various states.

Social casino sites were also coming under fire by some regulators, notably Michigan.  Online behemoth Chumba Casino was forced to exit that state in recent months.

4. Trump's Weight Bet a Hefty Win for Under Bettors...But Nobody is a Loser in the End

BetOnline's odds on former US President Donald Trump weight at the time of his booking in a Fulton County prison topped the headlines on the Drudge Report and web traffic was through the roof.

BetOnline avoided any unnecessary controversy after it became pretty evident that Trump likely was not weighed but simply wrote down a number (215 lbs) that even the most hardened MAGA supporters we spoke to got a good chuckle out of.

BetOnline's number was 265.5 but shot up the hours ahead of booking when news of the betting option became widely known across the globe.

BetOnline opted to pay the UNDERS and refund the OVERS.

Not many people seem to care who's going to become next President of the United States, at least not yet.  For now it's all things Trump that caught the attention of gamblers.  In addition to his weight prop, indictment betting was YUGE for BetOnline, and Gambling911.com.

3. BetMGM Refuses to Pay Teacher and the Impact of Influencers Doing the Job of Media Sites

This was the top story of the year (and perhaps the most trafficked in our entire existence online) here at Gambling911.com.  It was the talk of the DC/Virginia area, literally as a popular morning drive program chose to cover it (in between airing commercials for the offending site). 

In the end, this is a story about media companies choosing to get into bed with affiliates and sportsbooks.  Few outlets in the gaming industry chose to cover the story as not to ruffle the feathers of BetMGM.

To their credit, a few sites that are understood to work with BetMGM did cover the story and should be commended (Action Network for one).  Others did not.  We're looking at you ESPN

There was still ample coverage and Gambling911 alerted the Virginia Lottery to the matter so that BetMGM ultimately caved and paid the special ed teacher.

What really made this a huge story is how social media influences showed how they could make a sports gambling scandal go viral and, in so doing, force the hand of a corporate behemoth. 

2. Hell Hack at MGM and Caesars

MGM fell victim to a massive cyber attack affecting most of its properties throughout the US that lasted well over a week.  The attack affected room key access, slot machines and ATMs, among other things. Basically, it brought the company to its knees. Communications weaknesses made even bigger headlines than the attack itself at times.

We later learned that Caesars was targeted as well.  They reportedly opted to pay the ransom.

In the end it appeared that customer information such as social security and passport numbers did get compromised. 

Both companies suggested investing in a good identity monitoring service.

1. Betting Scandals Rock the World of Sports

From college football to the NFL to college baseball and closing the year with a massive betting scandal hitting Italian football, this was the top story of 2023 in the world of sports betting. 

Sandro Tonali had just signed a £52m contract prior to being ensnared in a gambling probe by Italian authorities.  A total of 38 players were believed to be named as part of the expansive probe.

Both Iowa universities were hit hard by gambling scandals involving players across a wide number of sports programs.

The Detroit Lions in the NFL had to suspend players for betting from team facilities.  Those found to have bet on NFL games were kicked to the curb completely.

Perhaps no story topped the headlines when it came to insider gambling scandals than that which upended college baseball.

In the end a security camera captured it all. Inside info of the Alabama Crimson Tide's Luke Holman being scratched resulted in the following exchange and Ohio gambling regulators prohibiting books in the Buckeye State from taking wagers on Tide baseball.

On April 28, Bert Eugene Neff Jr. walked into the BetMGM Sportsbook at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati in possession of a large amount of cash.  Three people familiar with the investigation told Sports Illustrated that Neff wanted to bet more than $100,000 on a college baseball game that night.

Surveillance cameras at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati indicated that Neff Jr. was in communication with Alabama head coach Brad Bohannon, who has since been fired.

Neff's bets drew suspicion in that virtually nobody was wagering on this game and his attempted wagers on the Tigers far exceeded the sportsbook’s established house limit on college baseball.

It was at this point that Neff admitted he had "insider information".   And the cameras caught an exchange between Neff and Bohannon as well.

2022 is hardly going out with a whimper as the Italy football betting scandal has yet to reach a final outcome.  Players continue to be harassed by fans claiming they caused them to loser their bets. 

Something tells us this is all just the tip of the iceberg.

- Jagajeet Chiba, Gambling911.com

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