'Hustler Casino Live' ex-employee eludes arrest in theft

Los Angeles Times
 
'Hustler Casino Live' ex-employee eludes arrest in theft
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Gardena Police Department officers attempted to arrest a former employee of “Hustler Casino Live” who is accused of stealing $15,000 in chips from a poker player last month, but they were unable to locate him after an all-day search Wednesday, lead detective Hugo Gualotuna said.

The department had been planning to arrest Bryan Sagbigsal, 24, on suspicion of grand theft, Gualotuna said.

Officers began looking for Sagbigsal at 7 a.m. in Long Beach. At his last known address — his then-girlfriend’s father’s home — they were told Sagbigsal had been kicked out two weeks ago and that the family was not given a forwarding address. Gualotuna said calls to Sagbigsal’s cellphone were not answered.

The alleged theft of three $5,000 chips was discovered during an internal investigation by the popular YouTube poker show that was launched after top poker pro accused another player of cheating during the Sept. 29 broadcast.

On the show that day, Adelstein lost a $269,000 hand to , a newcomer to the high-stakes poker scene. Lew’s unusual play — in which she called Adelstein’s all-in bet with the jack of clubs and the four of hearts — led to an unlikely win that has been intensely dissected and debated in the poker community. of the controversial hand has been watched millions of times.

High Stakes Poker Productions, which owns “Hustler Casino Live” and streams games from the Gardena casino five days a week, quickly announced it would investigate. Adelstein alleges that Lew’s play and behavior in the J4 hand indicated that she was being fed information by one or more accomplices. Lew has repeatedly denied Adelstein’s cheating claims, saying she outplayed her opponent despite misreading her cards.

On Oct. 6, the company released the first of its findings, saying a review of its video from the game showed Sagbigsal — a production employee who was in the control room during filming, where he had access to players’ hole-card information — taking $15,000 in chips from Lew’s stack after the broadcast had ended and she was away from the table.

It said that Lew, when informed about the missing chips, declined to press charges. “Without a victim, Gardena police told us they do not intend to pursue a criminal prosecution at this time,” High Stakes Poker Productions, which fired Sagbigsal, said.

Lew’s decision to not file a police report — along with her giving Adelstein back half the pot after the now-infamous hand — led some to suspect that Lew and Sagbigsal were working together, which she denied.

“I have no relationship with this now-former employee Bryan, and I would challenge anybody reviewing the security footage to show otherwise,” Lew said on Twitter on Oct. 8. She denounced those who were accusing her of “having an alleged conspiring relationship with someone I do not know… who, in fact, stole from ME.”

In a follow-up tweet, she said she had changed her mind and would “proceed to prosecute the crime of theft that has been perpetrated upon me.”

On Oct. 10, Lew texted a Times reporter to confirm that she’d filed a complaint against Sagbigsal that day. She provided a police report number and offered to share her phone records “to prove I’ve NEVER communicated with him.”

Later that week, she invited The Times to a meeting at Hustler with her, Gualotuna and High Stakes Poker Productions co-owner Nick Vertucci to discuss the Sagbigsal case. Afterward, she said on Twitter and on a podcast that she had turned over her phone records to the newspaper; The Times has yet to receive any, despite repeated follow-up requests.

For weeks it had been unclear where things stood with Sagbigsal, adding to the mystery that has continued to grow around the poker scandal.

The day after “Hustler Casino Live” released its initial findings, Lew posted screenshots on Twitter showing direct messages that she said she’d received from a contrite Sagbigsal apologizing for stealing her chips. A poker podcaster announced that he had booked Sagbigsal as a guest that night, only to have him fail to appear.

Approached outside his girlfriend’s home in Long Beach on Oct. 9, Sagbigsal declined to answer questions and threatened to follow a Times reporter. That same day, Sagbigsal — or someone purporting to be him — went on a poker forum to deny that he had colluded with Lew or anyone else.

The case is now being sent to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. Gualotuna said it could take months for prosecutors to decide whether to file charges.

In an interview Wednesday, Gualotuna also said he did not find a connection between Sagbigsal and Lew in his review of the evidence, including the show’s video of Sagbigsal removing poker chips from the table.

“I don’t have anything that would tie Mr. Bryan and Ms. Lew together, other than just he happened to be working that day,” the detective said, adding that the department is not looking into Adelstein’s cheating allegations. “As far as all that, it would probably be out of our hands. We’re just here for the grand theft.”

Meanwhile, High Stakes Poker Productions’ investigation is ongoing, with a final report not expected until next month at the earliest. The company has hired a team of outside experts to assist, including a cybersecurity firm and a private investigator.

“We are trying our best to have as thorough of an investigation and give as thorough of a report at the end as possible,” co-owner Ryan Feldman said in an interview Tuesday. “We don’t know how long that’s going to take. Everybody wants it to be done overnight, but we really want to dig down.”

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