Australian poker identity accused of running $30 million Ponzi scheme

Marley Wynter

The founder of a sports betting syndicate which claims to have made almost $30 million in profits in a year is under investigation by police in at least two states amid allegations the syndicate is a Ponzi scheme.

PokerMedia Australia understands that authorities in both Queensland and Tasmania have launched separate investigations into an organisation called Marley’s House of Sport (MHS), which is overseen by well-known local poker identity Marley Wynter. Wynter most recently won the $20K Super High Roller at the inaugural WPT Australia series last September for $430,919.

According to information provided by various parties and confirmed by PMA, MHS is currently being investigated by Queensland Police Service’s Financial Crime Assessment Team and its Cybercrime unit, while official complaints have also been filed with Tasmania Police, where Wynter’s last known address is listed, according to the Australian Business Register.

In a statement following inquiries from PMA, a Queensland Police Service spokesperson said, “The Queensland Police Service has received cybercrime reports in relation to an alleged fraudulent betting investment scheme involving victims in Queensland. For privacy reasons and as the matter is under investigation it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

PMA has also spoken with investigators from the National Australia Bank (NAB) who confirmed they have received multiple complaints from people claiming to be victims of alleged fraud. The NAB did not provide an assessment on whether it had any evidence that fraud has or has not taken place, however PMA understands multiple accounts that have received funds from Wynter in the past have been frozen, as well as those of Wynter himself.

Allegations that MHS and an affiliated company called Marley’s House of Investment (MHI) may be a Ponzi scheme were first aired by another well-known local poker player, Queensland-based Craig Abernethy, in early 2022 but have gained momentum in recent months with multiple clients of MHS coming forward with allegations of their own.

Abernethy, who also established a Facebook page for alleged victims which now has more than 350 members, told PMA that MHS first appeared on his radar after some friends who were already invested suggested he take a look.

“They knew I was a successful sports bettor and thought it would be something I might be interested investing in, but after looking into it I quickly realised it didn’t add up,” said Abernethy. “If you’ve got a system like he is claiming, the biggest problem winning sports bettors have is volume and the ability to put the bets down. Scaling up a sports betting system is always going to run into problems with bookies restricting accounts.

“So many things just didn’t make any sense. In one audio message sent to his members Marley asked them all to pay a $25 annual fee to cover the cost of a new $80,000 server he needed due to expansion. In others he would continually require members to top up their accounts because their lower tier levels were suddenly being removed. He would also discourage any withdrawals and call anyone who wanted to withdraw their profits ‘greedy’ or ‘morons’ claiming it would cost them long-term gains.

“There was no transparency at all and no proof that the millions displayed in members account balances on his website actually existed.

“My goal was just to warn people in the poker community. I thought it mainly involved poker players and their families and I just wanted them to be aware. To me it had lots of red flags. I often heard members discussing how in a year’s time their accounts would have earned enough for them to be able to buy houses for their kids and parents.

“I’m glad that quite a few people who know me and trust me either didn’t invest at all or got out of it when they did, because I knew what was going to happen down the track. That was my biggest concern.”

MHS markets itself as a financial investment service specializing in sports betting, horse racing and “strategic” bankroll management. It claims to have had more than 12,000 investors at its peak and to have multiplied investor money by up to nine times.

Critics have noted that MHS does not hold an Australian Financial Services (AFS) license and is not registered with the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC), although Wynter claims this is irrelevant as he is not providing financial advice.

It is alleged that Wynter primarily targeted investors from within the poker community by sponsoring local poker organizations, including the Australian Poker Tour (APT), where it ran a fantasy sports competition, and Poker Nation, and holding seminars during major events in which he would sell MHS and its returns to potential clients.

Investors were initially offered their choice of three investment tiers ranging from $500 to $2,000 and promising increasing benefits for each tier, but investment levels of up to $50,000 were later added as the business grew. The APT ended its association with MHS in May 2022 after MHS allegedly failed to provide funds that were owed under their sponsorship agreement.

In response to inquiries from PMA, a spokesperson from APT said they “would like to assure our faithful players, shareholders and contractors that APT has had no affiliation with Marley Wynter, nor his businesses since May 2022. The values of MHS/MHI do not align with our own and, in no uncertain terms, do we condone behaviours that bring into question the honesty and integrity of business practices.”

PMA believes at least $3 million has been invested with MHS since early 2022, with MHS claiming to have turned this into around $30 million in little over a year. MHS was shut down on 26 January although PMA has learned that Wynter has continued trying to recruit investors in the months since.

Marley’s House of Sport promotional video (source: YouTube)

In a lengthy two-hour Twitch interview conducted by fellow poker player Josh “JMac” McIntosh five days later, on 31 January, Wynter denied MHS was a scam and claimed the business had paid out $1.6 million in winnings to its members since November.

“I don’t like the term Ponzi scheme because if you’re saying that the people who get in early get paid the most, I can give you proof that some of our biggest winners only joined six months ago,” he said at the time. “The difference is they started with more money than the people that started back in the day.

“MHS has taken in a certain amount of money and MHS has paid out six times more than that. What type of a Ponzi scheme is that?”

Wynter also promised to pay out all investors their full deposits plus 5% by 1 April 2023. This deadline has since passed with multiple investors confirming they have yet to receive any of their funds.

Days before the deadline, some investors received a letter claiming to be from a law firm representing Wynter and appointed to negotiate with financial institutions and regulatory authorities to administer then return of funds to “deposit holders”.

The letter, which included the logo of a company called BJH Law, added that the firm had been provided with a list of deposit holders and their respective deposits, and would be contacting these deposit holders to confirm their identities. PMA has tried to contact BJH Law at the address provided to verify the validity of this letter but has at time of publication been unable to do so.

It is understood a class action lawsuit is set to be filed against Wynter within days with at least a dozen parties involved.

Wynter, meanwhile, told viewers of his Twitch interview that his efforts to make payments to investors had been made more difficult by having bank accounts frozen. 

“I’ve started thinking that some of the people making those reports have another agenda. It’s easy to sit there and say, ‘You’ve got to pay people’ but it’s hard to pay people when this sort of thing is going on,” he said.

However, Wynter – who says he has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder – refused to take questions directly from PMA during the stream and failed to fully address specific questions around how and where MHS placed bets and why the company had falsely claimed to have donated significant funds to various charities.

In one instance, MHS advertised on its website that it had made a $50,000 donation to the Kids with Cancer charity organisation, but when contacted by PMA the charity’s CEO, Todd Prees, denied having ever received such a payment. He also revealed he had sent MHS an email requesting it “cease and desist” from using the Kids with Cancer brand in its advertising.

In February, MHS caught the attention of Todd Witteles, a US-based poker player who was involved in exposing the infamous Absolute Poker cheating scandal back in 2007 and now hosts a podcast called Poker Fraud Alert.

In an episode which aired on 16 January 2023, Witteles states that he has seen betting syndicates similar to MHS “time and time and time again and it’s a scam.”

“The immediate thing that should be a red flag is why would they need massive money invested to bet on these sports if the person who has the picks is that confident with their system,” Witteles said.

“They need some money to bet but at some point, having too much bet on a game is going to be problematic because it’s going to start moving the lines and it’s going to be hard to get the money down. So there is something to be said for not betting too much money.”

Among the criticisms levelled at MHS by investors is that requests to withdraw funds were allegedly met with resistance, and that they received images of bank statements claiming payment had been made only for those funds to never materialize. Others allege they were paid out only after threatening to go to authorities.

It is also claimed that Wynter actively discouraged withdrawals by regularly altering the company’s Terms and Conditions . In one email dated 12 June 2022 and seen by PMA, MHS informs its clients that it is shutting down its lower tier memberships and offering only Diamond-level memberships for members who have invested at least $50,000. The email encourages lower-level members to top their memberships up to $50,000 and warns that they will no longer be MHS members if they fail to do so.

In his recent Twitch interview, Wynter said it’s “okay for people to have their opinions.”

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I’ve heard people say the word Ponzi and they’ve thrown that around very loosely,” he said, adding that paying members what they are owed has become increasingly difficult due to the growing number of complaints.

Asked why MHS ultimately ceased operations, Wynter claimed it was due to “bank problems” and MHS staff “getting abused. It was too big and there were too many people causing problems, so we elected to close our doors.”

PMA has reached out separately to Wynter for further comment.

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