Johnny Chan’s Houston Cardroom at Centre of Theft Allegations

December 9, 2021
Andrew Burnett

Johnny Chan’s eponymous cardroom in Houston, Texas, was closed this week amid claims and counterclaims of financial impropriety, with players unable to cash out chips and Mike Matusow hinting at a possible buyout.

The story surrounding Johnny Chan’s 88 Social emerged, as Dan Ross’s tweet above says, when players were unable to cash out their chips, leading to multiple rumours doing the rounds.

Rumours and recriminations

There were claims that a sportsbettor who welched on his debts had pissed off Chan’s clientele, who promptly moved across the road to a rival cardroom.

A rush on the bank for the recently-concluded WSOP was another claim, although that “rush” was in fact – according to Chan himself (or at least, as he allegedly told Mike “the Mouth” Matusow!) simply his business partner simply emptying the bank and safety deposit boxes while Chan was off on WSOP duty.

There is also a lawsuit buried in the details surrounding Chan becoming a part-owner of the club in 2019, formerly the 52 Social. A settlement was reached, though it was reported as “not at all amicable” according to those close to the club.

The here-and-now of the situation is that the 88 Social doors have been shut all week, and that on the back of daily limits on cash withdrawals from as far back as October and a cancelled December Winter Classic series that had promised six-figure guarantees.

So, a messy, rumour-laden affair, and potentially disastrous for what is already a very murky area in Texas, where casino gambling is illegal and poker operates using a tenuous legal loophole.

The Law and the Lawbreakers

Poker rooms and gambling halls in the Lone Star state operate as “social clubs”, where membership and daily or table fees replace the rake.

Though the authorities have attempted to clamp down on this legal grey area, 2019 also saw a high-profile PR disaster involving a District Attorney and one of her employees.

The employee allegedly scammed $250,000 from two Texan cardrooms on the promise of helping to push legislation for legalised poker.

Matusow enters the Arena

With all that as background, Mike Matusow hit our screens this week with a bit of an exclusive, having interviewed Johnny Chan about the situation.

Chan was unwilling to appear on the podcast himself, but “Mike The Mouth” relayed the gist of the 1987 and 1988 WSOP Main Event champ’s side of the story.

That’s where the “my partner robbed the club’s bank while I was at the WSOP” claim by Chan came from, with Mike stating: “I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to that, I’m sure there’s a lot of other things to it – I’ll find out shortly.”

Matusow then proceeded to discuss his own plans for a possible move to Houston, and taking over Chan’s 88 Social.

“I’ve been on the phone with some people, very close friends of mine, to discuss buying the club, and me moving from Vegas to Houston,” said Matusow.

“I know that could come as a shock to most of you but I’ve been debating moving to Texas for close to two years now, so it’s not anything out of the ordinary.”

Mike added: “I see this as a business opportunity for a club that was doing really well before this happened. So, I’ve got a bunch of phone calls set up for tonight just to see what we’re going to do.”

What happens next remains to be seen, although the first port of call has to be somehow ensuring that players can cash in their chips.

Whether the club survives in some form or another – in a very competitive environment – is another question altogether.

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