WSOP Needs to Rethink Abuse Policy After Matusow Decision

Professional poker player Mike Matusow had an epic meltdown after getting knocked out of a bracelet event at WSOP.com. “Matusow’s rant included threats of physical and sexual assault and the eventual doxxing of the player in question,” according to poker news site PocketFives.

Matusow received no punishment for this. Ty Stewart, Executive Director of the World Series of Poker, told PocketFives:

“We take prevention of abusive behavior at WSOP tournaments or on the WSOP.COM platform extremely seriously. We have a number of preventive measures online including recently disabling our chat entirely. But the regulation of content on our customer’s personal streams and social media accounts is a slippery slope, particularly as each of these third-party platforms have their own escalation procedures. We reserve the right to suspend the account of any individual going forward, but in this case, it appears the player had the perfect response to resolve the situation herself.”

I mostly agree with Stewart. Policing behavior outside the poker site is a dangerous proposition with clear pitfalls. However, I feel strongly that WSOP.com has banned people based on speech outside WSOP. That precedent makes the decision not to punish four-time champion Matusow over speech on third party platforms suspect to me. 

I was banned from WSOP poker site after criticizing it

It is clear to me that my speech away from the WSOP got me banned from the site. It happened a few days after I wrote this article criticizing its customer service and being stalled on a withdrawal request, among other issues. My criticism and all communication were free of any obscenities. The only threat I made was to report the site to gaming regulators.

I was told by WSOP support that I requested the ban. I responded that this was not true. The site then went with the standard terms and conditions violation, a catch-all excuse it appears reluctant to try with Matusow. WSOP would later tell me that they were not happy about my speech to the point I received a legal threat related to it.

This completely goes against what Stewart says in his quote. It is impossible for me to see any other outcome than my account was banned for “regulation of content on our customer’s personal streams and social media accounts,” something Stewart now calls a slippery slope in the Matusow situation.

Stewart likely had nothing to do with my situation or another player that shared a similar experience. I believe it involved a notoriously thin-skinned employee that is no longer with the company. However, the precedent is set and reflects poorly on the Matusow decision. 

WSOP cannot have it both ways. Either behavior outside the site is fair game for punishment or it is not. A four-time champion not even getting a slap on the wrist here can be interpreted as a double standard

WSOP.com could have done whatever it wanted

My experience tells me that WSOP.com does not need any real reason to ban a player. There may already be rules that cover the situation that have been in place for years.

This is an online bracelet event like the standard live WSOP. It is being held online due to COVID-19. The 2019 WSOP rules had this clause under Rule 40:

Rio will penalize any act that, in the sole and absolute discretion of Rio, is inconsistent with these WSOP Official Tournament Rules or the best interests of the WSOP Tournament

And under Rule 51:

Where a situation arises that is not covered by these rules, Rio shall have the sole authority to render a judgment, including the imposition of a penalty, in accordance with the best interests of the Tournament and the maintenance of its integrity and public confidence.

This story could generate a headline that says something like “Man doxes, threatens to rape woman after WSOP loss.” He went on to harass her on social media, calling her the c-word in the process, according to PocketFives. I feel strongly that this is “inconsistent” with the “best interests of a WSOP tournament” and the “maintenance of its integrity and public confidence.”

I see little difference between this and following a player home from Rio to bully and threaten them over an event after paying someone to find the victim’s car. It is directly related to the tournament, even if it happened elsewhere. It has no place in poker or anywhere else in life. It should not be tolerated. 

Matusow says he later apologized for his outburst. It is great that he sees what he did was wrong, and it was the right thing to do. It sounds like his apology was accepted. That should not get him completely off the hook. It is difficult to conclude there is a different outcome if the player did not accept the apology. 

The decision is made here. Hopefully something can be learned from it.

Take this opportunity to make poker and casinos more inviting

This situation exposes a problem casinos have experienced during its entire existence. Women playing a game deal with a disproportionate amount of abuse. No customer should enter a tournament and end up threatened with forcible sodomy, doxed, and called misogynist things on social media.

Matusow not knowing the gender of the player at first is not relevant. It is bad for poker and the entire gaming industry, regardless of the person on the other end. 

I will use a situation with my wife as an example. She is not much of a gambler. She decided to play live blackjack about 12 years ago as I taught her the game. She hit a 12 against a 2 as basic strategy suggests, busted, and ended up taking the dealer’s bust card.

She was immediately called a bitch by a man at the table. He constantly ran his mouth about how she needed to leave the table because she “did not know how to play the game” among other insults. The dealer did nothing.

She has thick skin when it comes to things like this. It was too annoying to have fun though. She decided to leave the table. She has no interest in playing live blackjack again because her first experience was not fun. Her story is far from the only one where players, often women, do not want to deal with abusive customers and leave, sometimes never to return. That hurts the entire gaming industry. 

WSOP and all other poker tournaments need a code of conduct. If a player enters a tournament, there is an expected level of behavior during the event and shortly after it that includes punishment for abusive behavior related to the tournament. Put this in the rules. If it is an online poker tournament, make players agree to not dox other participants. Punish those that break the rules. Repeat or severe offenses end in a permanent ban. 

Doing nothing is not the answer

If there are no consequences for this behavior, I expect more players to end up on the receiving end of this type of abuse in the future. The poker community should be doing the opposite, and that starts with the WSOP finding a reasonable solution that deters these actions in the future.

Kristina Mehaffey contributed to this opinion column

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