Table Talk: The Big Russ Hamilton Cover-Up

Rum and cola

The 2013 World Series of Poker has begun! Poker players, media, and fans are in Las Vegas or headed this way soon, and the excitement is in the air. Cards are being dealt at the Rio and all over town, money is changing hands, and chips are being riffled – or shuffled, whatever your preference. The temperature is also rising, looking to near 100 degrees in the next week. And the drinks are flowing at the Rio bars, so order up! It’s certainly summertime in Las Vegas.

Initial bumps on the first day of the WSOP were to be expected. Long registration lines, nervous new dealers, and food complaints dominated much of the social media on Day 1, but it seemed fairly balanced with player excitement for the Series.

Day 2 of the action opened the famous Amazon ballroom for Event 3, as the first day of events only required the tables in the Pavilion room. And with Amazon open for business, some members of the media quickly recognized that the banner representing Russ Hamilton’s 1994 WSOP Main Event win was mostly covered by a black cloth. The photo of Hamilton was unable to be seen, though his name and winning year were left uncovered.

Most seem to approve of this measure. It was only this month that audio tapes were released with Hamilton admitting to UltimateBet cheating and attempting to cover it up. Poker players remain angry with Hamilton, and those feelings came back to the surface when his voice was heard discussing it all so brazenly. It is understandable that emotions are heated, so the primary reaction to the sheet over Hamilton’s face is expected.

However, it should be noted that Hamilton has not been convicted of a crime, nor has he even been formally charged by any law enforcement or government authority. It remains to see if any legal action will be taken, but as it stands, the man has not been formally charged, tried, or convicted in any court of law.

Don’t get me wrong, please. I’m certainly not defending him! I believe, as most others do, that he’s as guilty as the day is long. I, too, want to see him behind bars. The amount of evidence against him is overwhelming, and he should be arrested … immediately.

But the fact remains that he has not been pursued by law enforcement yet. For the WSOP to make the executive decision to cover his face in the main area of the summer poker action is, of course, Caesars’ prerogative. It’s Caesars’ property and their right to do what they wish. It seems in bad taste, however, to cover his face when others who are similarly distrusted by the poker community – Chris Ferguson comes to mind – are left untouched.

The cover-up may endear the WSOP to many poker players who were cheated, or at least offended or scarred, by the actions of Russ Hamilton. In fact, if they displayed Hamilton’s face in the Amazon room at the Rio, players would undoubtedly complain that a known cheater is still being respected by the WSOP.

The WSOP has done what so other sports have done – try to erase a bad memory from history. The most obvious example is the stripping of cycling titles from Lance Armstrong after the determination that he cheated in order to win. Taking away his medals and removing his name from the record books doesn’t erase it from history. The same goes for the WSOP. Hamilton did win the Main Event many moons ago. Even though his reputation since has been tarnished by his own admission of cheating, he is still no criminal, and covering his face doesn’t change the fact that he did win the WSOP Main Event in 1994. It’s a fact that cannot be undone.

Quite possibly, that is why the WSOP allowed his name and year to remain on the banner. It is a way of acknowledging the win in the most minimal way. Again, this is understandable. My point is that Russ Hamilton is still not a criminal in the eyes of the law, and he has yet to be indicted or convicted of any crimes. I certainly hope that changes, but in the meantime, all accusations against him – while backed by incredibly incriminating evidence – are still only allegations.

The WSOP made its decision, and as I mentioned, most people are happy about it. I remain of the mind that “innocent until proven guilty in a court of law” is still a basic tenet of American society, and popular opinion should not overrule that premise.

If you’d like to discuss, I’ll be at the bar inside the Rio’s casino, rum and cola in hand. Join me, won’t you?

Will Smith
Will Smith

What does being convicted of a crime have to do with having a banner with your picture on it hung up at the Rio? They didn't go after his prize money, his bracelet, or bar him from future events. He hasn't been imprisoned without a trial. They put a piece of black felt over his picture. Last time I checked, having your picture hung up at the Rio isn't a right here in America. They can take anyone's picture down for any reason they want. They took Hamilton's picture down because thats what the players wanted. The people who pay millions in rake and have to stare at the banners all day. They KNOW he is a cheater, some were cheated by him, and they don't want to look at his face all day. If anyone tried to take away any of his rights as a citizen without him being convicted of a crime, I would support him. I'd support him even though i KNOW he did it, because I believe with all my heart that a persons rights shouldn't be violated unless they have been convicted in the court of law, no matter how guilty they look. The reason is because I never want to see an innocent person wrongly stripped of their rights and imprisoned. If by some one and a trillion miracle, Hamilton really isn't guilty, I can still live with his banner being taken down from the Rio.