Paul Phua and his son Darren want to get back to playing poker, but in order to do so, they’ll need to convince a judge to lift a ban that is currently keeping the two Malaysian men out of US land casinos.
The Phuas, who have long had connections to the world of high-stakes poker, want to be able to play poker and enjoy other casino activities while they await their trial on charges that they helped run an illegal sports betting ring out of a Caesars Palace villa last summer in Las Vegas.
The request was first made in court papers filed by defense lawyers David Chesnoff and Thomas Goldstein last month.
According to their attorneys, the Phuas have complied with the conditions of their pre-trial release since their arrests in July, and are hoping to be granted more freedom while they await their day in court. The Phuas would not only like to play poker, but also want to be able to attend shows, shop, and dine in the many casinos in Las Vegas.
Prosecutors Say Ban is Justified
However, a response this week by US Attorney Kimberly Frayn made it clear that prosecutors aren’t interested in letting the defendants back into casinos anytime soon. Given the nature of the charges against them, Frayn wrote, the poker ban is an entirely appropriate measure
“The defendants are not lawfully present in the United States,” Frayn wrote. “They are charged with crimes connected to unlawful gaming activities, which they conducted clandestinely on casino premises and which were furthered through associations made and maintained through poker gambling salons located within the casino.”
But defense lawyers fired back on Tuesday, pointing out that nothing the Phuas are accused of has anything to do with poker. Given that there is significant security and oversight at licensed casinos, they say, there would be little harm or danger from allowing the Phuas to enjoy themselves while await their trial.
Paul and Darren Phua are well known in high-stakes poker circles, having played in the biggest games in both Macau and Las Vegas. Professional poker players such as Phil Ivey, Tom “durrrr” Dwan and Andrew Robl have contributed time and money to their defense since their arrests last summer.
The Phuas are facing charges that they helped run a World Cup betting ring last summer from a Caesars Palace villa. Originally, there were eight defendants charged in the case; however, five have already entered guilty pleas, while another has had the charges against him dropped.
The Phuas’ defense team alleges that FBI agents used illegal tactics to gather evidence against them, and that the case should be thrown out as a result.
Letter from Malaysian Official Sparks Controversy
The request for access to poker tables wasn’t the only recent twist in the sports betting case.
Earlier this week, a letter from Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi that defended Paul Phua and denied that he was a member of the 14K Triad was withdrawn by defense lawyers after some Malaysian officials objected to its use.
In Malaysia, the letter raised questions over Hamidi’s relationship with Phua, with some saying the missive brought up significant questions about the links between government officials and underworld figures in the country. At least one minister even questioned the authenticity of the letter based on the poor grammar displayed in the text.