US judge: 'I sentence you to go and play poker'

A man convicted of fraud will attempt to pay back almost $500,000 (£310,000) to his victims using money he has won playing poker. A judge in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this week agreed to allow Samuel McMaster Jr to travel to poker tournaments across the US to try to win back the money he stole.

McMaster, a former insurance agent, who lists his current occupation as professional poker player, could have his sentence reduced if he is able to prove he can repay the money. He pleaded guilty last week to 26 charges, including securities fraud. He admitted stealing $444,000 (£278,000) by posing as a securities agent and offering high returns on credit defaults and promissory notes (or IOUs) to elderly investors in New Mexico.

Prosecuting lawyer Phyllis Bowman said McMaster had used the money entrusted to him for his own interests, including gambling. McMaster will not be sentenced until next year. He is required to pay at least $7,500 a month in compensation to his victims. If he falls behind by two payments he will be sentenced immediately and will face 12 years in jail.

Teala Kail, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department, which brought the case against McMaster, said that poker playing was recognised as a profession by the Internal Revenue Service and was therefore accepted by the judge as a legitimate way for McMaster to repay the money he stole.