Poker player says he lied about cancer diagnosis in effort to raise donations for $10K WSOP buy-in

 (Valery Hace/AFP via Getty Images)
(Valery Hace/AFP via Getty Images) (VALERY HACHE via Getty Images)

A poker player who claimed he had Stage 4 terminal colon cancer in an effort to raise money for a $10,000 buy-in to the main event of the World Series of Poker admitted Wednesday he lied about his diagnosis.

Rob Mercer, a 37-year-old amateur player from Vallejo, California, raised between $30,000 and $50,000 via a GoFundMe and private donation campaign, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, exceeding his initial goal of raising $12,000. On Wednesday, he told the Review-Journal he never had colon cancer.

“I did lie about having colon cancer," Mercer told the Review-Journal. "I don’t have colon cancer. 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. I’m sorry for not being honest about what my situation was. If I would have done that from Day 1, who knows what would have happened.”

Mercer first garnered attention in the poker community when he tweeted in February that he'd been diagnosed with cancer and had six months to live.

'I have 6 months to a year left'

"I have cancer too and mine is actually terminal, i have 6 months to a year left, how much do you think I can pull together from the community to live my dream,” Mercer wrote on his since-deleted social media, per a screenshot shared by poker influencer Doug Parscal Jr. aka Snoop Doug.

Parscal was one of several voices in the poker community who raised awareness around Mercer's cause when it was believed to be legitimate. He reached out to others in the community with Mercer's story, including Nick Vertucci, who organizes the popular high-stakes poker stream "Hustler Casino Live." Vertucci vowed in a Twitter Space in June to cover the rest of Mercer's fundraising goal if he didn't reach $12,000.

Cody Daniels, another amateur player whom the Review-Journal reports is legitimately chronically ill, has become popular in the poker community and was likewise staked into the main event. He befriended Mercer and donated $2,500 to his cause. Daniels responded to the news of Mercer's mea culpa on social media Wednesday.

"Well I learned a $2500 lesson," Daniels wrote. "Sadly, my kindness was taken for weakness once again. Just a shame. That's all I can say. Hopefully gofundme peeps get their money back. Just sad sad sad."

Mercer played in the WSOP main event and was eliminated on the first day. He did not cash. Per the Review-Journal, he stayed in a suite at Bellagio that was also donated.

Mercer is not planning to return the money

Mercer told the Review-Journal that a GoFundMe representative told him he'd violated the company's terms of services. He also said he has no intention of returning the money to donors because he believes he has undiagnosed breast cancer, making the donations legitimate in his mind.

Mercer told the Review-Journal he initially lied about having colon cancer because he was embarrassed to admit he was a man with breast cancer — which, again, he has not been diagnosed with.

Mercer made his confession after his previous supporters, including Parscal, Vertucci and Daniels, became skeptical of his story, citing personal interactions and his observed behavior in Las Vegas during the WSOP. Parscal told the Review-Journal he received calls from other donors who were concerned about the validity of Mercer's diagnosis and started to dig in.

“Then I just started doing some research,” Parscal said. “That’s when I saw the quote-unquote proof, and I immediately got sick.”

Parscal told the Review-Journal he asked Mercer for proof of his diagnosis in August that Mercer couldn't produce, a confrontation that prompted Mercer to delete his social media.

“Obviously I was just trying to keep up with my story,” Mercer told the Review-Journal. “I didn’t want to get exposed because it looks bad. It does look bad. I lied. I’m not going to deny that. I lied. I should have just been transparent and comfortable with what is going on with me and tell people what was happening.”

Suspicions around Mercer's story continued to grow until he confirmed Wednesday he had lied.

“They’re making me out to be some kind of monster, like this vindictive villain who planned this months in advance,” Mercer told the Review-Journal. “It’s just crazy. But I understand. I get it.”