Poker Ace Murdered in Las Vegas Casino Stairwell

Poker Ace Murdered in Las Vegas Casino Stairwell

Revised: May 25, 2024

In December 1997, the discovery of Donald Idiens' body in a Las Vegas casino stairwell shocked the gambling community. Idiens, a skilled poker player from British Columbia, Canada, was found dead in just his socks and underwear at the Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino. This brutal crime, linked to gambling debts, underscores the darker side of casino culture.

The Discovery: On the morning of December 9, 1997, housekeeping staff at the Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino found Idiens' body on the 17th floor fire escape landing. He had been severely beaten, and the lack of blood at the scene indicated he was moved there after the attack. Investigators quickly identified the body as Donald Idiens, who had been reported missing after a poker game at the Mirage Hotel and Casino​.

Who Was Donald Idiens? Donald Idiens was a 53-year-old land developer and family man known for his exceptional poker skills. Despite his talent at the poker table, Idiens faced significant financial difficulties, including debts from a struggling housing development project. He had likely come to Las Vegas hoping to recoup some of his losses through gambling​.

The Investigation: The investigation into Idiens' death revealed a complex web of financial desperation and deceit. Before his disappearance, Idiens had been playing poker at medium-stakes tables at the Mirage. He left $822 in chips on the table, suggesting he planned to return. Security footage later showed him leaving the Mirage and entering the Imperial Palace, where he was last seen heading to the guest room elevators​.

Detectives focused on room 18136, where housekeeping staff reported finding an unusually dirty bathroom. Luminol tests revealed extensive blood traces, indicating it was the murder scene. The room had been rented by a guest using the alias "Joe Galloway," who checked in on December 1 and paid in cash. Further investigation revealed that the actual guest was Greg Chao, who had convinced a desk clerk to change the name to Joe Galloway upon checkout​.​

Greg Chao. The Suspect: Greg Chao, a gambler deeply indebted to loan sharks, emerged as the prime suspect. Chao, who had a criminal history including extortion, was from the same Vancouver Island area as Idiens. Detectives believed Chao lured Idiens to room 18136 under the pretense of a poker game, then killed him to steal his winnings. Surveillance footage confirmed Chao's presence at the Imperial Palace and showed him gambling with large sums of money at the Mirage after Idiens' disappearance​.​

Arrest and Trial: Chao was arrested upon returning to Canada, but extraditing him to the U.S. took several years. During this time, advancements in DNA technology confirmed that the blood in room 18136 matched Idiens'. Chao's trial began in 2005, where prosecutors argued that Chao, desperate to pay off his debts, had killed Idiens for his money. Despite the strong evidence, the first trial ended in a hung jury. However, in a retrial in 2007, Chao was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole​​.

Broader Implications

The murder of Donald Idiens highlights the potential dangers lurking behind the glamour of casino life. Casinos, while centers of entertainment, can also become hotspots for criminal activities. This case underscores the need for stringent security measures and thorough background checks on patrons and employees to prevent such tragedies.

Casinos must balance the allure of gambling with the responsibility to protect their patrons. Implementing advanced surveillance systems, conducting regular security audits, and fostering a culture of vigilance can help mitigate the risks associated with gambling environments.

Donald Idiens' murder serves as a grim reminder of the darker aspects of casino culture. While casinos offer excitement and the promise of quick riches, they can also attract individuals driven to desperate measures by financial woes. This case underscores the importance of robust security measures and the need for casinos to remain vigilant to protect their patrons and maintain a safe environment.

By understanding and addressing these risks, the gambling industry can work towards creating a safer and more secure environment for all its patrons, ensuring that the thrill of the game does not come at the cost of safety and security.