Criminal Allowed to Play Poker to Save Jail Time

August 12, 2010

Samuel McMaster, an ex-stockbroker from New Mexico and poker conman, convicted of swindling at least 20 people is being given an unusual shot to pay off his debts. He has been given the opportunity to compete in live poker tournaments throughout the country in an effort to earn the money back he owes to his victims.

McMaster, who admitted to 26 felonies of securities fraud, owes $444K to his victims. He has been given a delayed sentence so that he may work over the next six months to win restitution owed of $7,500 per month. If he misses two of those payments, he will immediately return to court to face sentencing of up to 12 years in prison.

McMaster’s attorney claims that his only source of income right now is poker. He’s actually been accused of using the stolen money to originally fund his gambling habit. McMaster is known as a poker shark and pro, but that remains to be seen. Over the last seven years, he’s own cash a few times in live tourneys and for minimal amounts since 2003, the biggest cash out being a $1,000 buy-in to a 2008 Bellagio tournament in which he won $12,550. He’s never even cashed at the WSOP. The court has actually granted him leave to play out of state tournaments.

Because the IRS recognizes pro poker as a profession, the New Mexico judge claimed there was not reason enough to prevent McMaster from “working” in order to earn the money to pay back to his victims. Furthermore, he poses no real threat.

The New Mexico prosecutor on the case, Phyllis Bowman, said, “There’s nothing to indicate he is a violent threat to society. The conditions of his release have nothing to do with his profession.”

It all seems very unconventional when taken in perspective of the US judicial system. However, according to Kelly O’Donnel, superintendent of New Mexico’s state regulation and licensing department, “If he demonstrates an ability to successfully meet his restitution payments by playing poker, it potentially could sway the judge’s decision on final sentencing. How much jail time he gets ultimately is up to the judge.”


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