An afternoon with Robbi Jade Lew, the woman at the center of the poker cheating scandal
Click here to read our interview with Garrett Adelstein
Robbi Jade Lew is determined to prove the $120,000 ruby ring on her middle finger does not vibrate, is not concealing a tiny camera and was not otherwise tampered with to help her win a controversial Texas Hold ’Em hand last week that has gone viral and rocked the poker world.
Same goes for the supposed bulge in the side of her Versace leggings, which online conspiracy theorists posit could have been hiding an electronic device that was feeding her information from an accomplice. The Hustler Casino chair she was sitting in has also been scrutinized, as have her $480 rose-tinted Fendi sunglasses.
She denies it all — and has invited me to a Beverly Hills jeweler in her quest to clear her name.
“People are saying, ‘She did it for fame; she did it for money.’ I didn’t need the money, so that’s hilarious,” said Lew, 37. As for fame, “I obviously look a certain fake Hollywood way. If I wanted to be famous, there are far easier ways to do it than this.”
Secretive members clubs became even more in demand during the pandemic with their promise of a full-lifestyle day-to-night experience that combines co-working and socializing under one stylish roof.
The former biopharmaceuticals account manager from Pacific Palisades was relatively unknown on the poker circuit before the cheating scandal. She learned to play four years ago, initially picking up a “Poker for Dummies” book before having her husband teach her the basics.
They began playing regularly during the pandemic, hosting games with friends and family as a way to pass the long days at home. Realizing she had a knack for it, Lew hired two big-name poker coaches and turned fully to the game this spring, traveling to Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker and playing in smaller tournaments and cash games there and around Southern California.
On Sept. 29, Lew appeared for the third time on “Hustler Casino Live,” a popular YouTube poker show with 183,000 subscribers that streams from the Gardena casino five nights a week. The high-stakes table included Garrett Adelstein, a 2013 “Survivor” contestant and one of L.A.’s best professional poker players; since “Hustler Casino Live” began streaming 14 months ago, he has become one of its regulars and the face of the show.
A wild hand between the two ensued a couple of hours into the stream, which was broadcast on a delay to prevent players from getting tipped off in real time (they are also required to turn over their phones, smartwatches and any other electronic devices).
Adelstein was holding the seven and eight of clubs; Lew the jack of clubs and the four of hearts. After the flop — the first three communal cards — Adelstein had a straight flush draw, a hand with a lot of potential to win. Lew’s hand at that point was objectively terrible, but she called his bet anyway.
The fourth communal card, known as the turn, didn’t help either player. Adelstein semi-bluffed and bet out again; Lew raised. Adelstein responded by pushing all in for the remainder of Lew’s chips: $109,000.
Lew called — a shockingly unorthodox move that paid off. She took down the huge $269,000 pot when Adelstein failed to improve his hand after all the cards were dealt.
The outcome stunned viewers, the rest of the table and Adelstein, who looked dumbfounded and was speechless for more than 90 seconds after Lew revealed her hand.
“I’ll just say it: Garrett thinks that this hand was not straight in some way — there’s no doubt about it,” commentator Bart Hanson told the more than 20,000 viewers who were tuned in on YouTube. “This is the most disturbed I’ve ever seen Garrett look.”
After an off-camera conversation among the two players and a producer, Lew gave Adelstein back half the pot, further raising suspicions; Lew says she was cornered into returning the money “to alleviate the stress of the situation” and regrets the decision.
That night, in a lengthy statement posted on Twitter, Adelstein reasoned that Lew never would have continued playing with the cards she had unless she was cheating, and said he was suspicious of what he characterized as her ever-changing “word salad explanations” afterward. Lew said she misread her cards, thinking she had a pair of threes instead of jack high, but maintains she outplayed him nonetheless.
‘I’m not nervous about any of this. I have nothing to hide, you know? I feel like if I stay quiet and let the world come up with their own stories and their own story line, that for me mentally is more detrimental than coming out and speaking my own piece.’
— Robbi Jade Lew
Adelstein, 36, declined to comment further when reached Wednesday night, but said “that may certainly change at some point.”
The fallout has inflamed the poker community, which has been burned by numerous cheating operations in casinos and online poker rooms over the years. It’s also the latest in a string of high-profile cheating scandals recently, including at the highest levels of chess and in competitive fishing.
Pros and casual players around the world have weighed in, dissecting Lew’s body language (was she tapping her fingers and twisting her ruby ring as a secret signal or just fidgeting?), the clothes she was wearing (was that “bulge” in her leggings something nefarious or a trick of the light?), the chair she was sitting in (was it vibrating at a crucial moment or was she shaking her leg under the table?) and her inconsistent statements about why she played the way she did (was she trying to cover her tracks or simply flustered when questioned?).
“Essentially she played a very bad hand in a way that suggested she could see her opponent’s hole cards,” said poker pro Matt Berkey, who runs a well-known poker coaching academy. “Her hand was so bad that the worst player in the world wouldn’t want to put any money into the pot.”
That said, “it’s still very difficult for me to wrap my head around how they would have pulled this off,” he added. “I don’t have a great degree of confidence one way or another.”
Lew supporters say it’s a classic example of sexism in which a prominent man is unable to deal with losing to a less experienced woman. Meanwhile detractors have delved into her personal life, questioning her wealth, her relationship with her lawyer-entrepreneur husband, and her financial arrangements with her poker backers (Lew said she bought $240,000 in chips before the show started, using money that was staked by another player at the table).
Now the production company behind “Hustler Casino Live” has launched an investigation that involves combing through security camera footage, conducting interviews and reviewing records. It said it might ask Lew and its own employees to submit to polygraph tests.
An internal breach would be deeply damaging for the show, which attracts more than 1 million unique viewers a month and has featured many of poker’s top names including Tom Dwan, Phil Hellmuth and Phil Ivey, who was one of the players at the table on Sept. 29.
“We take the allegations very seriously and understand anything is possible,” High Stakes Poker Productions said in a statement Saturday. “This investigation will be extremely detailed and may take considerable time to complete. Once the investigation is finished, we will release the findings publicly — no matter what they reveal. It’s important for us to reinforce that we have found no evidence of wrongdoing by anyone at this point.”
The company published the first of its findings Thursday afternoon, exactly a week after the hand, saying it had discovered that one of its own employees had stolen $15,000 in chips from Lew’s stack after the broadcast had ended. It said the employee was fired and Lew declined to press charges.
Within hours, members of the poker community were speculating that Lew’s decision to not pursue the case could be a sign that she and the fired employee had been illicitly working together. Some who had been on her side said on social media that they’d changed their minds.
“Although more information will soon come to light, I want to clarify I harbor no ill will towards anyone, especially those who have reconsidered their position,” Adelstein, who lives in Manhattan Beach, tweeted Thursday night.
Of the latest rumors, Lew texted late Thursday: “Yea that’s insane.”
Then on Friday night, Adelstein released a lengthy report in which he said he had “great confidence that Robbi was very likely part of a cheating ring of at least three members,” and laid out his allegations with written analysis of video from the poker game.
The next afternoon, Lew said on Twitter that she had changed her mind about not pressing charges against the fired production company employee who allegedly stole chips from her.
“I have since received new information that has caused me to reconsider my prior decision,” she wrote, “and [will] proceed to prosecute the crime of theft that has been perpetrated upon me.” She said she would contact police on Monday.
Lew arrived for our Wednesday lunch in Beverly Hills 45 minutes late, pulling up to the valet of Ocean Prime in a black matte Tesla. She explained that she’d been delayed by a body language and behavior expert who had contacted her, offering to conduct an analysis of her appearance on the poker stream.
“It’s just so crazy because I’ve been so private,” she said after ordering a double cappuccino. “No one’s really dug that deep into my world.”
Lew said she was born in Saudi Arabia to a doctor mother and physicist father. She and her family — she also has an identical twin sister and a younger brother — immigrated to Berkeley when she was 5 and later moved to Orinda, a quaint East Bay city nearby. She said she attended UC Santa Barbara, double-majoring in law and society and philosophy, and got married a decade ago to Charles Lew.
“My husband is a very successful man. You can Google him,” Lew said over the phone the day before, the call occasionally interrupted by the barking of her two 7-year-old Shih Tzus, Xena and Ninja.
“He has a massive law firm called the Lew Firm. He’s an owner-partner in several bars, restaurants and a hotel or two. He’s the No. 1 metaverse lawyer in the nation as well as a professor at Loyola Law School. He teaches a metaverse class every week. This is a man who does have bankroll. I don’t know why money surprises people. I guess it’s because most people don’t have it.”
Lew, who said her interests include fashion and fine jewelry, deliberately rewore much of her poker night outfit to lunch: the same long, glittery necklaces, the same black Louis Vuitton sling bag and Prada wedge booties, the same seven-carat ruby ring.
“Isn’t it stunning? It’s to die,” she said, extending her fingers — accented by narrow oval-shaped olive green acrylic nails — across the table to show off the stone. “I’m like jewelry-obsessed. And then I have this tourmaline one on. I have all these diamond bands that I wear. Black diamonds. And this is rose gold.”
You can’t put a price on love, but Amber Kelleher-Andrews has put a price on finding it: $30,000 to $300,000 a year for her elite matchmaking services.
Lew asked to meet here for a specific purpose. She’d made a midafternoon appointment next door at Kazanjian, a storied 109-year-old jeweler that had lent her the ring the day before the poker game. She wanted the store to carefully inspect the piece for anything suspicious, a process she was planning to record on her iPhone so she could share it later with her social media followers.
Lew spoke freely and rapidly about what happened at Hustler. Her chair appeared to vibrate, she said, because she was hung over and had forgotten to take her ADHD meds, causing her to shake her leg. She didn’t have anything in her leggings except for her mic pack in the back; the apparent rectangular bulge was just glare from the casino lights. Having another player at the table stake her is not against the rules and she’s not obligated to divulge the terms of the deal (she said she and her backers generally split her profits 50-50).
“I’m not nervous about any of this. I have nothing to hide, you know?” she said. “I feel like if I stay quiet and let the world come up with their own stories and their own story line, that for me mentally is more detrimental than coming out and speaking my own piece.”
Lew is mystified by the flood of attention — fans DMing her from “every friggin’ country,” daytime talk shows asking her to be a guest, producers reaching out with entertainment deals — and, though she insists she didn’t want any of this, she seems intrigued by the possibilities. She has retained a management and public relations team to help field requests.
Shortly after 2 p.m., Lew led the way to Kazanjian, a heavily guarded jewelry store on Camden Drive. Feet away from the diamond tiara that Madonna wore during her wedding to Guy Ritchie and an 888.88-carat $5-million star sapphire named after Angelina Jolie, she presented gallery manager Joseph Barrios with the now-infamous ring.
“I don’t see anything that would be considered as a technological add-on to it,” Barrios said after a few moments of examining the magenta-hued rock with a loupe magnifier. “It’s insane. Would that have happened to a guy? No.”
Charles Lew was also there, dressed in a gray and black camouflage sweatsuit. He has his own line of jewelry that is sold at the store, and came by to pay for his wife’s latest acquisition: a custom diamond-encrusted brushed rose gold horseshoe ring to match the black version she wore on her index finger during the poker game.
Lew had been unsure about whether to keep the ruby ring after what happened last week. But while in the store, she made up her mind.
“I’m also gonna buy that one — I want it,” she said impulsively. “You know why? It’s going to be a good story. I’ll probably wear it on every stream.”