Paul Phua is one of the most intriguing characters in the world of high stakes poker and gambling in general. For years, we’ve seen him gamble with crazy amounts of money at the tables and heard stories about how he made his fortunes.
Even under criminal scrutiny Phua reveals almost nothing
Phua successfully maintained the veil of mystery even during his trial, facing charges for organizing illegal betting ring in Las Vegas. Prosecutors were determined to get the guilty verdict, even tying him to high ranking members of 14k Triads.
Through all this, the Malaysian businessman remained calm, denying any guilt, but revealing very little about his personal and professional life.
It has become clear that Paul Phua would remain the mystery, unless he decides on his own volition to come out of obscurity and share his secrets with the world. Why and when this would happen was anyone’s guess, but it finally did happen.
Marty Derbyshire of PokerNews was able to get an exclusive interview with Phua, in which he revealed a lot of interesting details.
Humble beginnings of Paul Phua
Growing up in a poor family of Chinese immigrants, Phua did not have much of a childhood. The man who now comfortably loses six and seven figure amounts on a turn of a card is not ashamed to admit that he did not even have a TV growing up.
As children, they would peek through neighbor’s window to watch big sporting events. At this time, Phua started making his first bets against friends, making the whole experience more thrilling. Apart from occasional betting, he explains that gambling was an important part of his childhood, as it is deeply ingrained in Chinese culture.
Paul Phua and junket business
After dabbling with sports betting and finding some success with it, Phua decided to get into the junket business. Junkets facilitate travel, accommodation, money transfers and other perks for wealthy gamblers and have mutually beneficial relations with casinos.
Over time, a lot of the junkets from all round Asia joined us to form a company big enough to allow us to negotiate favorably with the casinos in terms of bonuses.
Seizing an opportunity for Macau casino
His first junket operations were in Malaysia. However, when Sands opened a casino in nearby Macau, Paul Phua was the first one to see a big opportunity. He set up his operations in what is today one of the world gambling centers, bringing clients from Malaysia and mainland China.
The casino was happy, wealthy gamblers were satisfied and the business was booming. During the first year of operation, Phua claims they brought in about 30% of total Sands’ business.
Paul Phua discovers poker in Macau
The Wynn opened their first casino in Macau in 2006. This was the place where Paul Phua would first encounter and fall in love with Texas Hold’em. He noticed the game one day by accident and it piqued his interest. Other junket operators and wealthy businessmen were equally intrigued, and it wasn’t long before the game had become very popular.
It didn’t take long for poker sharks to smell the blood of poker newbies with deep pockets. The likes of Tom Dwan, Phil Ivey and John Juanda had no problem with traveling across the globe just to get their seats.
The Chinese mentality is that if you want to play and you lose, you just say ‘OK, I lose. It’s not my day.’
The stakes can only go up
The stakes in Macau would never go down, explains Phua. As they learned more about the game, they were eager to play higher. Depending on who was playing, the stakes could only go up from the initial 5k/10k HKD (approximately $600/$1,200).
Gamblers were there to gamble it up, pros were there for the money, but everyone had to accept certain rules of behavior. It was very important for Phua and others to maintain an atmosphere of respect and good fun.
Charges, Allegations, and Prosecutions against Phua
Phua explained that he decided to finally do this interview because he wanted to give the wider audience a better insight into who he really is. News outlets are filled with stories about his alleged involvement with different illegal operations, but wealthy Malaysian denies all of them.
When he was charged with organizing illegal betting ring back in 2014, Paul Phua was the only one who refused to take any type of a deal. He was determined to fight in court all the way. He came out victorious, as the charges were dismissed about a year later, but he was still left with rather unflattering public image.
Especially damaging for his private and business relations were the allegations of his involvement with Triads’ members. As it would turn out, these accusations were not based on any solid evidence. Regardless, they had a profound effect on all spheres of his life. “People don’t want to be linked to a Triad”, explains Phua.