Ryan Feldman and Nick Vertucci, the owners of the world’s most-watched weekly poker stream, Hustler Casino Live (HCL), have decided that high-stakes cash superstar, Garrett Adelstein, will not be invited back to play on the High Stakes Poker Production’s popular telecast indefinitely.
This surprise revelation was made by Vertucci during this morning’s episode (3/20/2023) (#043) of his podcast, The Nick Vertucci Show. Vertucci’s special guest was none other than HCL high-stakes regular and fan-favorite, Ben Lee aka ‘BlankCheckBen.’ During the show, Lee flipped the script and grilled Vertucci for an answer regarding Adelstein’s long-awaited return to the stream. Vertucci’s reluctant reply was, in short, “not at this time.”
This is an unexpected turn of events for HCL’s rabid audience. Most poker fans were anticipating Adelstein’s return to HCL in the upcoming Million Dollar buy-in cash game. Adelstein had appeared to be a shoo-in to return this May for what has been billed as the biggest poker cash game in US televised history.
To complicate matters, HCL expressed open arms for the cash game crusher on their Twitter feed as recently as three months ago. “Now that the investigation has concluded, we want to address the numerous inquiries about Garrett and his future on the show,” tweeted HCL on December 14, 2022. “Simply put, HCL is open to having @GManPoker back.”
In response, Adelstein tweeted that he was open to joining the Million Dollar event in May if a seat was open. We now know that won’t be the case. So. The billion-dollar question is: what’s changed Hustler Casino Live’s mind?
Vertucci explains HCL decision
During Vertucci’s recent podcast episode, he simply stated that it was a pure business decision not to invite Adelstein back on the show. On the surface, it would actually seem like an extremely poor business decision for HCL. Due to the fact that longtime fans of Adelstein have been chomping at the bit to see him back in action. More importantly, the show would definitely draw a huge crowd for the views and seemingly benefit financially from his presence. So, why not let him play?
PokerOrg spoke to Vertucci before the podcast episode dropped today, and he shared what went into the decision.
“There’s a number of reasons behind our decision,” Vertucci said. “For one, our players don’t want him back. And you can see that our games have grown even larger. Players are buying in deeper because Garrett is not there. So, there’s more action, which makes the pots bigger and more exciting.”
Vertucci told PokerOrg, there is no ill will behind the decision, and that the choice was based on business.
“I’ve always called Garrett a friend. And I truly wish him and his wife the very best during the birth of their child,” Vertucci said. “This is hard on all of us. But he didn’t do us any favors by leaning hard into the position he held and still believes – that he was cheated. Even after an extensive investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing. I hesitate to use the word banned, in regard to having Garrett back on the show. Maybe things will change down the line. We will never say never.”
PokerOrg has reached out to Adelstein for his response to the unexpected announcement from High Stakes Poker Productions and will include it here when Adelstein responds.
Edit: Following the publication of this article, Adelstein responded to our request for comment and pointed us to his statement on Twitter. We have posted it below.
Breaking down the hand heard ’round the world
It’s well worth a short summary of the origin of the ‘infamous J4 poker hand’ and the reams of content that it bore. Strap in, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Last September, amateur poker player, Robbi Jade Lew, flipped the poker world on its head on the popular Hustler Casino Live stream. Lew made a controversial call of an all-in shove on the turn by Adelstein, holding only a very weak jack high hand (J♣️4❤️). When the smoke had cleared, and two river cards had fallen, (both players had agreed to run the final card twice) Lew had raked the full $269,000 pot.
Truth be told, Adelstein has lost much bigger pots over the years. Many of them are documented on live streams versus all types of players, both professionals and amateurs. Adelstein would customarily tap the table and say, ‘nice hand,’ and move on. In the past, he’d always been the consummate and gracious professional, win or lose. But not this time. This hand was different.
Adelstein froze, agape. The game literally stopped. As a few of the players at the table celebrated Lew’s bizarre hero call versus the now clearly rattled Adelstein, while thousands of poker players watching across the globe silently wondered — had he just been cheated?
Adelstein certainly thought so. He immediately requested to talk with Lew and the producer, Ryan Feldman, away from the bright lights and cameras.
What ensued was Lew feeling the pressure (she later called it bullying) from Adelstein’s experienced position that the hand was fishy. She eventually relented and gave back the portion of the pot he had lost. “I wanted minimal destruction,” confessed Lew. She had asked Adelstein, ‘What’s going to make you happy?” He said, ‘To give me my money back.’”
“To be clear, I never asked her for a refund,” Adelstein later commented regarding the aforementioned discussion with Lew. “I never even considered asking as it would be such an obvious admission of guilt on her end. But once she offered, of course, I’m going to accept my money back after being clearly cheated.”
Adelstein’s statement was later refuted by HCL co-owner, Ryan Feldman, who was present during the off-camera discussion immediately following the hand. Feldman went on record and stated that it was Adelstein’s idea for Lew to return the money.
What happened next has been documented and dissected ad nauseum for months by many of the top poker minds on the planet, amateur sleuths, and a host of Internet trolls. Most everyone who had seen the hand hand contributed their proverbial two cents, swinging back and forth on a razor-edged pendulum vacillating between whether she cheated or didn’t cheat.
Lew’s story never waivered regarding the cheating allegations.
“I 100% unequivocally did not cheat,” she told The Los Angeles Times reporter, Andrea Chang, “…and I’m just waiting for the investigation to show that.”
HCL’s internal investigation
To Hustler Casino Live’s credit, they immediately sought an outside third party for assistance, GLI (Gaming Laboratories International) to investigate the broadcast (in truth – they had no other choice but to do so).
The end result culminated on December 15th, 2022, almost three months after the hand went down. GLI’s post-investigation recommendations included a total overhaul of HCL’s production area. Producer Ryan Feldman would be the only one who could see the cards dealt to the players during the telecast. Numerous cameras were added to monitor each employee involved during tapings. The players would have to stash all belongings in a faraday bag and were no longer allowed to use card protectors. And to top it off, all participants in the production are checked by a metal-detecting security wand before the show. It would seem that HCL is doing everything possible to make the show a safe and secure environment for each and every player.
More importantly, GLI’s investigation found “no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing” while dispelling many of the myths and cheating theories surrounding Lew’s actions that night.
The dust had finally settled. Lew was vindicated. And for the most part, Hustler Casino Live’s stream carried on business as usual, and not unexpectedly, grew to even greater heights of popularity.
The future for HCL and Adelstein
Life goes on.
Over the past year, the Hustler live stream and Garrett Adelstein have thoroughly entertained the poker community. There was drama. There were big egos, laughter, high highs, low lows, and, of course, stacks of cold hard cash on the line. It’s a train wreck we can’t look away from at times–reality TV at its best and worst.
It may not be in the cards for Adelstein to return to the Hustler Casino Live broadcasts anytime soon. It’s still very possible he’ll be back in action one day, possibly mixing it up on the OG of poker streams, Live at the Bike, or perhaps the growing telecast on Poker at The Lodge. On the other hand, Adelstein may decide to retire from professional poker and pursue other business interests away from the felt. Much like every revelation up to this point, only time will tell.
Craig Tapscott has been a regularly featured columnist for Card Player Magazine for the past seventeen years, as well as contributing poker content to FOXSports.com during the height of its poker broadcasts