When Bookies Go Bad: Paul Phua

While those in the know will certainly be familiar with the name Paul Phua, most people have never heard of this unassuming, modest figure born in Borneo, Malaysia who just happens to be the world’s biggest bookie. Best described as the “unknown king of international gambling”, Phua is a business man, poker play, and rumoured to be a senior member of the 14K triad – a Hong Kong criminal group.

From humble beginnings as a construction worker to jet setting around the world in a $48 million Gulstream V jet, Phua has been plagued by rumours of criminal activity for years. The FBI finally thought they had him beat – only to watch him walk away a free man.

Who is Paul Phua?

Born in the town of Miri in Borneo, Malaysia, Paul Phua travelled to Kuala Lumpur as an adult to seek employment and started working construction jobs. However, he soon started mingling with small-time Chinese gamblers and learned how to set lines on soccer games, eventually becoming a bookmaker.

Phua’s reputation started growing by word of mouth and the sports betting industry was about to undertake a revolutionary change – the age of the internet. Once the sports betting industry went online, bookmakers were able to reach across international boundaries and business was booming. However, getting online required capital – something Phua didn’t have much of at this stage.

“The World’s Biggest Bookie”

In 1997, the first of a series of schemes – with Phua at the helm – took place in order to guarantee the outcome of major sporting events, including the infamous Floodlights Affair, and Phua benefited substantially.

With his newly generated capital, Phua funded the development of his first online sportsbook, now known as IBCBet – similar to legal betting sites in Australia, and quickly solicited business in dozens of countries. However, Phua was attracting the attention of authorities and he was arrested in 2004 along with 22 other men during a raid after police tracked intense illegal betting activity in Malaysia. Phua was simply fined $8000 and put on a flight to Vietnam.

Phua’s Arrest in Las Vegas

Phua’s reputation grew throughout the early 2000s and soon there was evidence of his involvement with the 14K triads. People knew not to mess with Phua as it was clear that he had high-rolling, dangerous connections.

In June 2014, Phua arrived in the Las Vegas and settled in at newly-opened Caesar’s Palace villas, just in time for the start of the World Cup – an event which generated more than $130 billion in betting, both legal and illegal. Phua quickly set up an illegal sports betting operation spread across numerous villas and Caesar’s Palace staff alerted authorities. On July 9th, Phua and several of his colleagues were taken into custody by the FBI.

Phua Walks Away a Free Man

Phua, as well as seven others, were charged with running an illegal sports betting enterprise handling nearly $400 million in illegal wagers on the 2014 World Cup – a charge which carried a seven-year maximum prison sentence. Six of the seven co-defendants pleaded guilty to misdemeanour offenses, departing the US and leaving Phua to fight felony charges.

Celebrity lawyer David Chesnoff came to Phua’s aide and filed a motion to dismiss the case based on the grounds that the FBI had searched Phua’s villas at Caesars Palace with a search warrant that was unconstitutionally obtained. After months of deliberation, U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon concurred with Chesnoff and dismissed the case against Phua. Just hours later, Phua boarded his Gulfstream V jet and flew to Montenegro a free man.