WSOP Poker Player Lied About Terminal Cancer to Fund Tournament Buy-In
An amateur poker player this week admitted to fabricating a story about having terminal colon cancer. The claim was made to raise funds for his entry into the recent World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event at the Horseshoe in Las Vegas.
Rob Mercer, a 37-year-old from Vallejo, California, managed to raise $12,500 in donations via GoFundMe to back his $10,000 buy-in to the tournament and a trip to Las Vegas.
Mercer’s story was initially portrayed as an inspiring tale of a man with a terminal illness fulfilling his dream. Various media outlets ran stories about Mercer’s journey to 2023’s record-breaking WSOP main event, and several prominent poker players got involved in promoting his campaign.
However, after several holes were found in his tale, donators began to get suspicious. Now, just months later, Mercer has owned up to his scam. He says he believes he does have breast cancer, but was too embarrassed to admit it or go to a doctor, so he made up the colon cancer story instead.
“I did lie about having colon cancer. I don’t have colon cancer,” Mercer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal this week.
“I used that to cover my situation. What I did was wrong. I shouldn’t have told people I have colon cancer. I did that just as a spur-of-the-moment thing when someone asked me what kind of cancer I had.”
High Stakes Bluff
On his GoFundMe page, Mercer portrayed himself as a semi-professional poker player who had always dreamt of participating in the WSOP Main Event, but lacked the funds.
He first wrote about his supposed Stage 4 cancer diagnosis in August 2022, claiming he had between six to 18 months to live. This alleged diagnosis, he said, made his dream of playing in the WSOP even more urgent.
Over the next six months, Mercer’s campaign raised $12,500 in donations. Sources close to the story told media it is believed he also raised as much as $18,000 in private donations outside of the main funding campaign.
Among the donors was Cody Daniels, a poker player genuinely diagnosed with a terminal illness.
The high profile nature of the scam story has led to frequent discussion of Mercer’s name in poker community spaces, podcasts, and other media. Most of it negative.
“They’re making me out to be some kind of monster, like this vindictive villain who planned this months in advance. It’s just crazy. But I understand. I get it,” Mercer said.
Despite the funds and the attention, Mercer’s stint at the WSOP Main Event was short-lived, as he was eliminated within a few hours.
He now says he won’t be returning the money donated privately. That’s because he considers himself to be genuinely ill, saying he spends 18 hours a day in bed.
Discovery and Consequences
The poker community first became suspicious of Mercer when donors to his campaign saw him visiting the Horseshoe’s casino floor on the morning of the WSOP event. When asked if he was using funds he had raised for the poker tournament on general casino gambling, he reportedly became defensive.
Through his scam, Mercer was even comped a room at the most famous Nevada casino, the Las Vegas Strip’s Bellagio. However, attendees said Mercer and his father, who attended the event with him, seemed stressed and unhappy after his exit. “Ungrateful,” one witness said of their attitude.
After the event, donators began doing their own private research into Mercer’s story and diagnosis, which is where his lack of substantial evidence was revealed.
GoFundMe has now refunded all the donations and is in contact with law enforcement over potential criminal charges.
“GoFundMe has zero tolerance for the misuse of our platform and takes swift action against those who exploit the generosity of our community,” the crowdfunding company said in a statement Thursday.
“We have removed this fundraiser for violating our terms of service, all donors have been fully refunded, and Rob Mercer has been banned from using the platform for any future fundraisers. Additionally, GoFundMe cooperates with law enforcement investigations of those formally accused of wrongdoing.”