Poker World On Alert After Player Disappears At Tournament

Several friends and family members of an Icelandic poker player missing for two weeks have converged on Dublin, Ireland. They have come to continue searching for Jon Jonsson, 41, who left his hotel to play a poker tournament and never returned. His disappearance has, once again, underlined the need for player safety and caution.

Jonsson was last seen on Feb. 9. Security cameras captured him leaving his hotel and walking down the street.

Family members say he left his cellphone, passport and wallet behind in his room. He may have had a few hundred euros on him for the tournament buy-in. 

Aside from a cigarette matching his preferred brand, there is little evidence about where Jonsson went. Jonsson’s brother, Karl Vilhelm, expressed his worry in an interview with the Irish Times:

“We do not know why he left the hotel. His fiancée went to the bar area for a coffee, (but) when she came back, he was gone. He (has) never gone missing before. This is very unlike him … if he works late or something, he always reports back to his family or fiancée. He is a father of four children. This is out of character.”

Needless to say, the case has garnered plenty of media attention in Ireland. Law enforcement officials have been asking the public for help in locating Jonsson.

“We will stay as long as we need to,” Vihelm said. “We are not leaving Dublin without our brother. That’s how it is.”

Cash-rich nature of poker makes player safety a priority

While theft or robbery may not have been the cause of Jonsson’s disappearance, the case is a good reminder for poker players. Poker players necessarily carry generous amounts of cash, which can make them an inviting target for criminals.

Thankfully, the robbing of poker players isn’t as common as it was in the days of the Texas road gamblers. The ability to play in legitimate casinos, rather than underground rooms, has helped stamp out some of that criminal activity. 

Even so, occasional robberies do occur:

  • In 2004, only months after winning the World Series of Poker Main Event, two men attempted to rob Greg Raymer as he walked back to his hotel room at the Bellagio. He had been playing cash games at the time and reportedly had $150,000 in poker chips. He fought back and the two men fled.
  • A man made off with cash from the poker room cashier at the Bellagio in 2017.
  • Thieves robbed and shot a player outside a social poker club in Austin, Texas,  in April 2018.
  • A mugger in Sacramento, Calif., recently robbed a poker player at knifepoint in his garage after the player won a few thousand dollars at the Capitol CasinoPolice believe the suspect somehow obtained the victim’s information from his playing card and waited for him at his home.

Caution and vigilance are keys to success

These cases outline the need for players to take caution when carrying significant amounts of cash, law enforcement members say. It’s important to be aware of one’s surroundings at all times.

I recently spoke with Justin Hammer, tournament coordinator at the Commerce Casino, about this issue. He urged players to take advantage of any VIP rooms and try to handle money as privately as possible.

“Large sums of cash is sometimes a necessary part of our game, but that doesn’t mean it should be on display if avoidable,” he said. “Commerce offers an armed escort to the car, or even around the casino if carrying tournament winnings downstairs for example. There’s security is on guard at all times in the parking lot, and also security available for an escort if players request it.”

Players hitting it big in a tournament can also request checks to avoid large stacks of cash. Most casinos also offer some service to transport money safely and efficiently throughout the property.

“Take advantage of these services any time there’s suspicious activity, or even if you just need some peace of mind,” Hammer said. “Those services are for players’ protection and convenience. We always want to help players get their money to where they want it to go as seamlessly as possible.”