PokerStars denied payment to a player who won a big tournament, saying he was playing from the US

Gordon Vayo Sues PokerStars: Timeline, Summary And Analysis Of Plaintiff’s Claims

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High profile live and online poker player Gordon Vayo has sued the world’s largest poker site for “fraud” and “false advertising,” according to a May 2, 2018, lawsuit filed in the US District Court for the Central District of California.

Vayo, who placed runner-up in the 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event for $4.66 million, claims to have suffered damages of at least $692,460 following the site’s denial of payment resulting from his May 2017 first place finish in “Event 1-H” of the PokerStars Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP).

Following is a summary of claims made by Vayo against PokerStars. The page numbers listed are taken directly from VAYO – POKERSTARS COMPLAINT – FILING (GAF) (002).

From the complaint against PokerStars

May 22, 2017: Following Vayo’s win in the $1,050 buy-in SCOOP “Event 1-H,” the Plaintiff claims to have jointly participated in interviews and “other publicity” with the Defendant (PokerStars), and references a corresponding blog entry published by the site. From this time until July 25th, Vayo states the he was allowed to compete in “roughly 37 tournaments and 5,500 hands of cash games,” while also successfully transferring “nearly $90,000” to other users’ accounts. (Page 2, Lines 22-3)

July 25, 2017: Gordon Vayo attempted to withdraw his PokerStars account balance. He was notified by the Defendant that the funds were being “frozen for investigation of suspicious activity” related to Vayo’s physical location during a portion of the event in question. The Plaintiff claims that this investigation by PokerStars lasted approximately one year, during which time the Plaintiff alleges to have been the victim of a “campaign of harassment” that included “prying into every aspect of Mr. Vayo’s record, demanding Mr. Vayo produce detailed retroactive proof of his location, and even opening meritless investigations into his friends’ accounts, in order to gin up a pretext for not paying Mr. Vayo what he had won.” (Page 3, Lines 4-12)

The Plaintiff communicated in the lawsuit that he subsequently cooperated with the PokerStars investigation and “provided evidence showing that he was in Canada during the entirety of his play in the SCOOP tournament.” However, Gordon Vayo claims that PokerStars determined, “despite the evidence produced by Mr. Vayo, it was ‘not inconceivable’ that Mr. Vayo was in the U.S. at some point during the SCOOP tournament.” (Page 3, Lines 21-25)

April 7, 2018: PokerStars legal counsel sent written communication to Vayo informing him that the investigation had concluded, and that the Plaintiff “had failed to produce evidence sufficient to ‘rebut’ Defendant’s suspicion that Mr. Vayo was in the U.S. during a portion of the SCOOP tournament, and, as a result, Mr. Vayo would not be paid.” Vayo also states that PokerStars threatened to counter-sue him for Terms of Service violations. (Page 4, Lines 2-12)

Vayo vs. PokerStars preliminary analysis

All analysis belongs solely to the author and does not qualify as legal advice or opinions./em>

The “exclusive venue” counter-suit threat that Gordon Vayo claims to have received appears to reference DISPUTES AND GOVERNING LAW, Sections No. 12, No. 14 of the official PokerStars Poker Room Terms of Service webpage for dot-com users.

Under the DISPUTES section of PokerStars’ ToS, users agree to notify the company’s Support Team to make a complaint, and are provided with an email address to the Isle of Man Gambling Supervision Commission (GSC) for the purpose of escalating “any dispute” that is not “resolved to [a user’s] satisfaction.”

NOTE: PokerStars customer withdrawals are covered in Section No. 6 of the dot-com site’s Terms of Service, and can be accessed separately here.

GOVERNING LAW states that the Terms of Service “Agreement and any matters relating hereto shall be governed by, and construed in accordance with, the laws of the Isle of Man (in respect of Owned RM Games) and the laws of Malta (in respect of Licensed RM Games) and by the laws of the Isle of Man in all other cases.”

Furthermore, users “irrevocably agree that, subject as provided below, the courts of the Isle of Man shall have exclusive jurisdiction in relation to any claim, dispute or difference concerning the Agreement,” and that users “irrevocably waive any right” to engage in claims against the company.

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Legal recourse from the terms of service?

These two clauses could lead one to question whether PokerStars customers who have agreed to the site’s Terms of Service have any legal standing to resolve a service-related dispute in a jurisdiction or court other than those designated by PokerStars — although it should be repeated that the “exclusive venue” counter-suit claims revolve around the Plaintiff’s version of events relayed within the lawsuit, and have yet to be corroborated or denied by the Defendant.

Vayo argues in the lawsuit that the US District Court for the Central District of California “has subject matter jurisdiction over this action pursuant to Title 28 U.S.C. § 1331§ 1332(a), along with § 1367” of existing United States Code, and that the “Plaintiff asserts federal claims under the 1946 Lanham Act” pertaining to U.S. trademark laws.

The question surrounding PokerStars dot-com users’ options to resolve service-related disputes could become a hotly debated topic among players, media and industry representatives if the Plaintiff’s claims are confirmed and the Vayo vs. PokerStars lawsuit progresses.

- David Huber has been involved in the online poker and gambling industries as a writer, editor, podcast host and consultant since 2004. His experience covering legislative agendas and legal proceedings dates back to the early 1990s as a broadcaster/news service provider for terrestrial AM/FM radio stations.
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