CBS News, the Daily Mail, and other mainstream outlets have picked up a story broken by the Las Vegas Review-Journal (LVRJ) in which amateur poker player Rob Mercer confessed what many have long believed: That his claims of having terminal Stage 4 colon cancer were faked to solicit donations from well-meaning peers in the poker community. Mercer ran a campaign on GoFundMe this June to raise money to tick the WSOP Main Event off his bucket list.
Mercer admitted to the LVRJ that he does not have a cancer diagnosis. However, he insists he is genuinely sick and believes it is “undiagnosed breast cancer.”
Before talking to the LVRJ, Mercer reportedly texted a confession to Cody Daniels, one of the victims of his scam. Screenshots of the texts were posted to X (formerly Twitter) by user “SnoopDoug,” another recreational poker player who has been part of the effort to expose Mercer.
One part reads:
When I decided to do [the GoFundMe campaign] I wasn’t even thinking about having to tell thousands of people that I most likely have male breast cancer, so in a panic, I told everyone I had colon cancer out of fear of being made fun of or trolled.
Breast cancer can occur in cisgender men. However, it is roughly 40 times less common for them than colon cancer and 100 times less common than breast cancer in women. Mercer claims he has been too scared and depressed to seek official confirmation of his self-diagnosis.
GoFundMe Reimbursing Victims, Mercer Refusing
Doubts about Mercer’s story cropped up almost as soon as he appeared at the World Series of Poker in July. Amidst pressure to present evidence of his diagnosis, he then disappeared from public view until this week.
Mercer’s admission appears to have been forced by GoFundMe’s decision to refund donations to his campaign. However, Mercer told the LVRJ that he has no plans to repay GoFundMe or his donors. He justified this by telling the newspaper that he received the donations because he “was sick” and is keeping them because he still believes himself to have cancer, even if undiagnosed and not of the type he initially claimed.
Mercer could still potentially face fraud charges or a civil suit. In 2022, Mark D’Amico and Katelyn McClure of New Jersey received federal prison sentences for running a fraudulent GoFundMe campaign that raised $400,000. However, Mercer’s campaign was smaller than that one, with estimates of the total value ranging between $30,000 to $50,000 per the LVRJ.
Poker’s Public Image Problems Continue
Twenty years ago, poker was in the public eye in a good way. 2003 was the year that Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event, kicking off the poker boom. He was the perfect American everyman with a perfect name, and he won his entry to the $10,000 event in what was a new way at the time: through online qualifiers.
Since then, positive headlines about poker have grown rarer in the mainstream. The only stories that have seemed newsworthy enough for a non-poker audience have been those that involve cheating, busts of underground poker rooms, or unbeatable computer algorithms.
What’s perhaps most disappointing about Mercer’s fall from grace is that, at first glance, it had the makings of a bittersweet but inspiring Main Event tale to mark the 20th anniversary of the first time it captured the public imagination.
We can imagine an alternate timeline. One in which a dying man got to live out his dream, making an improbable run to the Main Event final table as the poker community rallied around him. Instead, we have one in which he busted out within the first few hours of day one, alienated himself from those attempting to show him kindness, and ultimately revealed himself as a fraud.