The alleged-cheating story from last Thursday’s “Hustler Casino Live” streamed cash game took an unexpected twist on Thursday when HCL owners Nick Vertucci and Ryan Feldman disclosed that an HCL employee, Bryan Sagbigsal, had stolen $15,000 from Robbi Jade Lew’s stack immediately following the completion of the stream.
Sagbigsal, who had previously described himself on social media as HCL’s longest-tenured employee, was immediately fired by Vertucci and Feldman following the discovery. Sagbigsal’s “discreet” theft was the first finding released from the investigation into the controversial stream that saw game regular Garrett Adelstein launch cheating allegations at Lew, a relative newcomer to the stream.
HCL owners Vertucci and Feldman stated, “During a review of the Sept. 29 hand between Robbi and Garrett, our investigators observed an employee of [HCL parent company] High Stakes Poker Productions removing chips from Robbi’s stack after the broadcast had concluded and while Robbi was away from the table. Today, during our investigation, the employee, Bryan Sagbigsal, admitted taking $15,000 in chips from Robbi’s stack. We immediately terminated Mr. Sagbigsal’s employment and contacted Robbi and the Gardena Police Department to file a complete report.”
However, Sagbigsal may not face charges. “Robbi told High Stakes Poker Productions and the Gardena police that she does not wish to pursue criminal charges against the employee,” the HCL statement continued. “Without a victim, Gardena police told us they do not intend to pursue a criminal prosecution at this time.”
Prior criminal record for Sagbigsal
The 24-year-old Sagbigsal has a prior criminal history, according to the results of a third-party public-records search published by PokerNews. Those search results indicate that Sagbigsal was arrested in 2017 in conjunction with “robbery” and “prison escape (without force)”.
It is not clear at this time if Sagbigsal was subjected to the same sort of employment-related background check that is normally conducted on casino employees. Sagbigsal was not an employee of Hustler Casino, but instead worked for Vertucci’s and Feldman’s company, which contracts with the casino to host the popular live-streamed game at the venue.
A separate disclosure from Lew (details below) indicated that Sagbigsal had already spent the money, although whether in the form of chips inside the casino, as claimed in one unofficial account, or otherwise converted to cash is also not publicly known. Sagbigsal deleted his Twitter account within hours of the news of his dismissal from HCL.
Lew issues statement to PokerNews
Robbi Jade Lew, the player at the center of the alleged-cheating controversy, issued a statement regarding the theft of chips. Lew claimed that after being contacted by Gardena police, she inquired as to whether Sagbigsal had a previous criminal history and was told, “No priors.”
Lew further told PN in her statement, which was published online in its entirety by PN’s Chad Holloway, that she declined to pursue charges against Sagbigsal for multiple reasons, including that the money had already been spent, the employee’s age and “financial hardship”, and the reported lack (later disproved) of any prior offenses by Sagbigsal. PokerNews is one of two outlets to which Lew previously made statements specifically proclaiming her innocence regarding Adelstein’s allegations. Additionally, Hustler Casino Live has offered to reimburse Lew for the $15,000 theft done by one of its employees.
Lew wrote, in part, “I came to the conclusion that pressing charges was unnecessary to damage a young man’s life that would already be negatively impacted by the news of his wrongdoing and the termination of his employment.” Lew did not comment on how she did not notice that $15,000, in the form of three brown, high-denomination $5,000 chips, were missing from her stack when she cashed out or stored her chips when she returned to the table some time after the streamed game ended.
As to Sagbigsal, Lew also told PN this about learning of the theft from Vertucci: “I asked Nick to disclose his name, at which point I could not recall having met the employee.” Lew may not have been able to connect the name to Sagbigsal’s face, but pregame video from the HCL stream shows Sagbigsal as being the HCL employee who affixed Lew’s mircophone prior to the game involving Adelstein and others.
Lew publishes DMs allegedly sent by Sagbigsal
Though the investigation launched by Hustler Casino live into the cheating allegations surrounding Lew has just begun, the news of Sagbigsal’s theft and dismissal quickly shifted a few prominent players’ opinions toward the belief that some form of cheating may have occurred. In the hours that followed HCL’s statement, several outlets from both the poker and mainstream worlds aired conjecture that Sagbigsal was Lew’s cheating collaborator, serving as the purported inside guy who may have accessed and somehow transmitted hole-card information in real time to Lew at the HCL table.
Johnnie “Vibes” Moreno, a former participant in the HCL streamed game, affirmed that Sagbigsal would’ve had access to the card info in real time, based on his personal experience:
However, on Friday morning Lew published a string of text messages she received from Sagbigsal in the wake of his firing. The messages also serve as another defense in her claims of innocence regarding Adelstein’s allegations:
The long string of messages from Sagbigsal — which some commenters claimed that Lew could have written herself — found him professing his belief in her innocence and thanking her profusely for not pressing charges. Sagbigsal also called Adelstein a “crybaby” over the bizarre hand that triggered the cheating allegations.
Sagbigsal’s claim that he didn’t know he was stealing the chips specifically from Lew’s stack, however, is not necessarily believable, given that he was the one who affixed Lew’s microphone for the broadcast at her seat, in addition to his role in monitoring action throughout the game.
Poker.org will return to the HCL saga as developments warrant.
Featured image source: Hustler Casino Live