NEW YORK (AP) - One of the nation's top poker players blamed gambling for derailing his life as he was sentenced in New York to over eight years in prison for a $31 million debt collection scam.

Travell Thomas cried and apologized for his Buffalo-based debt collection business that made false threats to thousands of people nationwide.

In pleading guilty in November, Thomas agreed to serve as much as 15 ½ years in prison.

Manhattan federal Judge Katherine Polk Failla was somewhat lenient, sentencing him to eight years and four months. She said she could go no lower because she needed to send a message to others who wanted to scam debt-ridden people with so little to lose.

Thomas says authorities saved his life when they told him he wasn't allowed to gamble anymore.