One of the nation's top card players lost his poker face as he pleaded guilty in New York City in a $31 million debt collection scam.

Travell Thomas cried repeatedly as he entered the plea Tuesday in federal court.

The 38-year-old suburban Buffalo resident agreed not to challenge any sentence less than 15 1/2 years in prison.

Thomas is a past winner of World Series of Poker tournaments. He says he knew he was violating the law when he encouraged employees of his Buffalo-based debt collection business to make false threats and representations to force thousands of people nationwide to resolve debts.

Prosecutors say victims sometimes were forced to pay more than they owed by being told they might be arrested if they didn't immediately pay off debts.