Questions of Integrity Raised as Host Site ACR Wanted to Wager on the Tice/Perkins Heads-Up Match

  • An employee of host site Americas Cardroom asked about betting on the Tice/Perkins match
  • Concerned about the breach of integrity, Matt Berkey published a private conversation on Twitter
  • ACR CEO Phil Nagy addressed the issue on Twitch in a streamed phone call with Tice and Perkins
  • Perkins and Tice are happy to continue their match on ACR
Poker chips stacked on a laptop keyboard
Controversy swirled around the heads-up match between Landon Tice and Bill Perkins on Americas Cardroom when it was revealed than an ACR employee expressed interest on betting on the contest. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Conflict of interest 

The Landon Tice versus Bill Perkins heads-up match is underway, but last Friday a story surfaced which raised the issue of integrity on the part of host site Americas Cardroom (ACR). 

ACR’s Head of Sponsorship Melanie Moser asked about betting on the challenge

As per the group thread messages published by Matt Berkey on Friday, Andre Hengchua was first to sound the alarm after ACR’s Head of Sponsorship Melanie Moser asked about betting on the challenge. 

Needless to say, any person working for ACR placing a bet on the match is a worrying conflict of interest, a fact initially lost in translation. 

Heads-up fever

Rising poker star Landon Tice and hedge fund manager Bill Perkins agreed terms on their 20,000 hand, $200/$400 No Limit Hold‘em match back at the start of the year when heads-up interest was at fever pitch thanks to Doug Polk’s victory over Daniel Negreanu. Since then, the trend of high profile heads-up matches has continued. 

In March, Fedor Holz defeated Viktor Malinowski in an exhibition-type match on GGPoker. Phil Hellmuth completed a hat trick of victories over Antonio Esfandiari on PokerGo’s High Stakes Duel, a feat he hopes to repeat later this month versus Daniel Negreanu. Meanwhile, Dan Smith has been battling live against high stakes beast and Perkins’ coach, MJ Gonzales. 

Unlike those other matches, a handicap is built into the Tice/Perkins match. Perkins gets nine big blinds for every hundred hands played over the course of the match. That means victory is not enough for the young grinder. Assuming the match goes the full 20,000 hands, he must win more than $720,000 to claim victory in the challenge. 

Despite the handicap, there has been plenty of betting interest in Tice. In fact, he wants to bet more on himself, action which was quickly snapped up by Perkins, of all people: 

Berkey goes public

Betting between the players, the coaches, and the spectators is, of course, fair game. What isn’t kosher is anybody wagering who could feasibly receive inside information. So when ACR’s representatives expressed an interest in getting money down on the contest, it threw a grenade into the mix. 

Desperate to protect the integrity of the match, Tice’s backer Matt Berkey quickly came to the conclusion that full transparency was necessary. He published his “HUNL Challenge” group conversation:

There was backlash from some quarters toward Berkey who, in his haste, had inadvertently doxxed ACR boss Phil Nagy, releasing his phone number. Berkey corrected the error as soon as he realized it and others involved jumped to his defense. 

Benefit of the doubt 

Once the messages were out, the poker community weighed in. One person pointed to the unfortunate precedent of Russ Hamilton and the “POTRIPPER” account on UltimateBet:  

While it is perhaps hard to fathom that a site or its staff would do something that unscrupulous, a point made by Phil Nagy himself who asked for some “benefit of the doubt,” the point is there cannot be a whiff of impropriety. There has to be “brutal objectivity,” as Hengchua put it. 

After all, it is not just the notion of an account being “god-moded” or “doom-switched.” It is the fact that ACR has all the hands and with all those hands, they can generate statistics on player tendencies, information that could then be put into a simulation to figure out which player is likely to win and by how much. 

Admittedly, the number of hands played so far is a small sample size, so the degree of accuracy of that data is questionable. It remains, though, that the public is not privy to that knowledge and that knowledge could be used to exploit the betting market. 

A breach of integrity 

In the message thread, Berkey seemed to get frustrated by how ACR wasn’t seeing the seriousness of what had just happened.

the fact that an operator is not impartial is a MASSIVE breach of integrity”

“It’s not like there’s full disclosure in online security and the fact that an operator is not impartial is a MASSIVE breach of integrity,” he said. 

After Berkey went public, a tilted Phil Nagy took to his “JustSomeFish72” Twitch account to explain his side, first making it clear that the match cannot be “rigged.” He also made it clear that this private chat was published without his knowledge or consent and said that people who do that “just don’t have much integrity.” 

A furious Nagy called Berkey “an asshole” and said that his read on the situation was that he had “bet too much, is scared and is looking for a way out later on.” 

Hiccup or kerfuffle?

This was no doubt an unwanted distraction for the two competitors, but to their credit they joined Nagy on his stream to help restore some faith in the process. 

Perkins said that ACR has been “extremely helpful” in setting up the match and that he is “not concerned with the integrity of the site,” but he was also very clear that he sees it as an obvious “conflict of interest” if ACR or its representatives were to bet on the match. He also defended the actions taken by Berkey, calling him “a soldier of integrity.”

Keeping it short but sweet, Landon Tice agreed with Perkins, calling it a hiccup on Twitter:

Nagy’s tone noticeably changed after Perkins gave his perspective, possibly realizing that mistakes had been made. He wrapped up by saying that he would not be making or taking any bets and that “poker needs to be as transparent as possible because there is a lot of skepticism out there.”

Perkins took to Twitter right after the call, drawing a line under the incident:

Let’s play some cards

It is often the cover-up rather than the event that causes trouble. Credit to Hengchua and Berkey for immediately realizing that and credit to everyone else for being transparent. 

A moment of naivety on the part of Nagy and his team presented the players, backers, and all involved with a problem, one which could only feasibly be rectified the way that it was.

Speaking exclusively to VegasSlotsOnline News, Nagy clarified the timeline of events and the position of ACR going forward. “As community interest has grown for the Tice-Perkins HU matches being played on ACR, we began fielding questions about whether our customers could bet on the outcome of the matches. We floated the idea with the players and involved parties. After some frank discussion it was decided that ACR would not offer or facilitate any betting on the match.”

Nagy remains upset by the decision made by the other parties to go public with what he considered a private conversation. “We (ACR) do not agree with the way this information was unilaterally shared”, he said, adding “but we remain committed to ensuring the integrity of the HU match and the integrity of our site.”

After three sessions, Tice is up approximately $98,000 and with this matter put to bed, both men are looking forward to playing some cards.