When Paul Phua and Richard Yong, the “Macau businessmen” who took the high stakes poker world by storm, were arrested two years ago at Caesars Palace and charged with running an illegal sports betting operation out of their villa, it was David Chesnoff’s phone that rang.
When Dan Bilzerian was blowing shit up out in the desert, much to the anger of local authorities who eventually charged the Instagram star with an explosives felony, Chesnoff took that call too.
When a former Main Event champion refused to pay one of the people he’d allegedly promised a percentage of his winnings to, Chesnoff was more than happy to hear all about it and take up the cause.
Chesnoff is the high-powered, well-connected Las Vegas attorney that seems to get every high profile case in Las Vegas. On Sunday though he wasn’t in a Las Vegas courthouse standing next to the latest celebrity to get busted for drug possession – he was sitting in a seat in the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event, decked out in a WSOP cap that he’s had since the 1980s.
“It’s a hat from the Horseshoe. I won a super satellite – god, it must have been in the 80s – I got into the Main Event and made it to the second day,” said Chesnoff. “So I’ve always kept it. I’m an old time friend of the Binion family. I met all the great poker players as a result of that.”
Meeting the likes of Chip Reese and Doyle Brunson eventually lead to Chesnoff picking both up as clients at various points. And that just further increased his interest in poker.
“I was really close with Chip Reese and Doyle Brunson. It’s kind of like why I’m at least interested in watching and understanding it. I used to sweat them a lot,” said Chesnoff. “Then i started playing, but it is difficult to sustain any kind of serious poker when you’ve got a day job, especially a serious day job. But I try to play as often as I can.”
Chesnoff is no stranger to poker tournaments. In 2006, he found himself in the NBC National Heads-Up Championship where he finished ninth, beating Bobby Baldwin and Dan Harrington along the way. He usually finds his way into the WSOP Main Event but he’s been too busy to play the last couple of years though so 2016 marked a return for him.
“I didn’t play last year or the year before. I was very busy and I wasn’t even going to play this year but last night I had a premonition so I decided to give it a shot,” said Chesnoff. “I’m (also) rooting for somebody in One Drop here.”
Two summers ago was when Phua and Yong were first arrested. The court case dragged on through last summer when Chesnoff succeeded in having Phua’s case dismissed. His involvement in tat case likely came from Phua’s relationship with another previous Chesnoff client – Phil Ivey. In 2011 Chesnoff was Ivey’s attorney during his divorce proceedings.
“I’d been around the Horseshoe so poker players always had problems so I got a lot of people from that. Chip (Reese) was the first significant player that I represented and then I represented Doyle, I’ve represented Johnny Chan, I’ve represented Phil Ivey, Jennifer Harman. I’ve helped Phil Hellmuth a few times with some things,” said Chesnoff. “So I just, I’m comfortable around them, they’re comfortable around me. I understand their world and thats big. There’s been issues along the way and it’s always been my pleasure to help them.”
In 2004 Chesnoff represented Mike Matusow as he faced six Category A drug felonies. Matusow ended up serving six months in prison as part of a plea agreement Chesnoff negotiated for Matusow.
“Mike’s situation was sad but it turned out good. He kind of got in way over his head and he wasn’t anything like they made him out to be when it started,” said Chesnoff. “His judgement was not what it should have been but he recognized it, took responsibility for it and did everything he was supposed to once we got it cleaned up.”
Having represented dozens of poker players in various types of cases, there is one case that stands out above them all for Chesnoff. It was back in 2006 when Jamie Gold won the WSOP Main Event and $12,000,000.
“I can’t talk about the final result, but I represented a guy who had a piece of a guy who won a major event and he wasn’t getting paid and I was very happy to help him deal with that situation,” said Chesnoff of his work on behalf of Crispin Leyser. “I was happy the guy came to me and I thought it had a lot to do with the overall integrity of the game. One of the things I’ve always found fascinating is if people do buy pieces or try to support poker players so they can play, and when they win I’ve always been gratified that poker players do the right thing and pay. So that was the most fun.”
Chesnoff’s 2016 Main Event run didn’t last that long though. He was eliminated before dinner break after losing with a flush to a full house.