An interesting tale comes to us in recent days from the Mediterranean Sea, where high-stakes pro Salman Behbehani was arrested for drug smuggling after flying to the Spanish island of Ibiza, a touristy resort destination.
There are so many curious aspects to his tale it’s hard to know where to start. Behbehani, 33, was one of about 30 people aboard a private jet that flew from Las Vegas to Ibiza. According to an Ibizan new report, the flight was full of poker players and their families and friends. There doesn’t seem to have been a poker tourney or series running at the Casino de Ibiza, so this was likely one of those elite high-stakes cash-game gatherings most people in poker hear about only after the fact, with few specifics. It was probably a PLO game mixed with days or a couple of weeks of partying at this exclusive Mediterranean venue.
Ah, the partying. Ibiza’s customs agents, the Civil Guard, decided to pass Behbehani’s luggage through a scanner, where they saw “organic substances and strange small containers inside a suitcase”. Not just a baggie of pot and some wrapping papers, either; the agents discovered over three pounds total of various drugs.
From one of the reports on the arrest:
“They found narcotic substances in the suitcase such as Tucibi, known as pink cocaine or ‘drug of the rich’, cocaine or hashish, among other drugs. Specifically, 315 grams of cocaine, 171 grams of CB, 705 grams of hashish, 80 grams of crystal, as well as other similar amounts of marijuana, speed, ecstasy, hallucinogenic mushrooms, Popper (amyl nitrate), LSD and other substances to be determined were seized.”
So at least 11 different types of drugs were seized, along with some money: “6,220 euros, 1,785 dollars, 485 pounds, 100 Kuwaiti dinars and 101,200 Thai bats”. One Thai bat equals three American pennies, if you’re curious, so the agents seized perhaps $15,000 total among all the different currencies.
Odd results history for poker ‘pro’
This tale, though, is barely started. The original Ibizan reports didn’t name Behbehani, whose identity was withheld by the Ibizan authorities. Instead, they described the arrest of a “famous poker pro”, aged 33, of dual Kuwaiti and Italian citizenship. Days later, Spanish-language poker site Poker-Red, through some legwork, determined that the arrestee was indeed Behbehani.
As “famous” poker pros go, Behbehani would be a most curious entry. He has (much to my surprise) nearly $3.4 million in recorded cashes over the last decade, including an $818,000 payday in an event on France’s long-defunct Partouche Poker Tour and a runner-up showing in a WSOP event in 2013.
Most players who have earned that much money in live events, I would recognize or at least know about. But I don’t think I could pick Behbehani out of a lineup, no pun intended. “Fame” is a relative thing, and the arrest itself leaves so many other questions without an answer, at least at this point.
Behbehani hails from Kuwaiti elite
The Poker-Red folks did their legwork. They discovered that Behbehani comes from one of Kuwait’s richest oil-lord families, and he appears to be one of those globe-trotting playboys, who in this case loves to play poker. If one looks at that HendonMob results profile closely, it’s clear that Behbehani has always played in high-stakes events. Those two big paydays in the early ’10s might have floated his poker career for a while, but exactly how has he been funding his play in recent years?
Three pounds and change of high-end pharmaceuticals sounds like a lot more than just sourcing the drugs for a days-long party. That’s a lot of drugs, and most of that list is some expensive dope. If Behbehani wasn’t smuggling and selling drugs to support his lifestyle and nosebleed poker play, it would be a surprise.
It’s also very curious regarding how this arrest occurred. Behbehani was arrested after arriving on a private charter for Las Vegas, meaning he’d already successfully smuggled the drugs onto the jet at McCarren International in Vegas. Isn’t it less likely that luggage is x-rayed at its destination then when a plane is originally boarded and loaded, anyway? Unless the Ibizan customs agents tagged Behbehani’s luggage during a random check, or unless a drug-sniffing dog or pig hit on the bag in question, then the agents must have had reason to check Behbehani’s luggage specifically.
It’s all just so curious.
It’s also curious as to what comes next. The Poker-Red piece waxed long on how the arrest was likely to send an “earthquake” through the elite crust of Kuwaiti society, but nah, that society includes plenty of rich playboy types. More interesting is whether Behbehani’s very wealthy father might attempt to intervene financially to spare his son some lengthy jail time. Okay, “bribe”.
It’s entirely possible that this could be one of those situations where a rich family cut off a wayward child — in this case Salman Behbehani — from unfettered access to the family’s wealth. That might have led Behbehani to move to selling drugs to support his preferred life once poker’s variance turned against him.
‘Pill Ivey’ and other poker-related drug criminals
There’s yet another aspect to all this. In the high-stakes poker world, a certain percentage of the players party in hard and expensive ways, including plenty of illegal drugs. A 2+2 thread about Behbehani suggested he might be the player known in certain circles as “Pill Ivey”, who always had a stockpile of pharmaceuticals available to his fellow players. (I’d heard a whisper or two about the unknown Pill a couple of years back.) We might never know if Salman and Pill are one and the same, but if they are, there’ll be a few party-hardy types doing that partying just a touch more carefully in the future.
Behbehani is far from being the first player who’s tried to fund a pro poker career in illegal ways. He’s not even the first — or the largest, in terms of the money involved — to sell drugs to raise the funds to play the pokers. Examples abound.
New York’s Micah Raskin was arrested in 2018 for selling and distributing marijuana and hash oils across several East Coast states, and authorities seized at least 350 pounds of pot alone in the crackdown. Perhaps the largest such case involving a poker player dealing drugs, however, occurred a decade ago in Australia, when David Saab was arrested and sentenced to leading a cocaine-smuggling operation. The episode that earned Saab 14 years in prison included the seizure of 14.6 kilograms (over 30 pounds), which was valued at more than US $5 million.
Still, there are even worse ways to attempt funding a poker career. Ernie Scherer III remains imprisoned for life after murdering his parents with a baseball life so he could inherit a trust fund he could use to play more poker. Crimes such as Behbehani’s drug smuggling occur with some regularity in the poker world. We can pray, though, that we never see something like Scherer’s case ever again.