WSOP Poker Site Sent Me Dubious Legal Threat

I have a policy of publishing all baseless legal threats. I have concluded that World Series of Poker spokesman Seth Palansky emailed me such a threat on August 6, 2018. I explain my opinion as to why I feel that way in great detail below.

The email included no specific quotes that the company is angry about. I have given him enough time to prove his threat valid or tell me that I missed a joke.

I contacted him by email on the day of the threat asking what comments I made that are false with an offer to correct and apologize. I followed up on September 19, 2018. I never got a response.

I also contacted two employees that I feel could have helped here. Neither responded.

Background

I was banned by WSOP.com, Nevada’s monopoly poker site, last year. I wrote this article about a terrible WSOP.com experience right before the banning.

The company reversed a $411 cashout after I won $11 over a few weeks. Customer service told me that I only gave “minimal action” and wanted me to explain myself. This was a player retention trick used by old offshore sites to push players back to the tables when cashing out entire balances.

I paid about $273 in rake and turned my $400 cash deposit over about 15 times. Apparently, that is minimal action to WSOP.com.

I rejected that attempt to get my chips back in action and asked politely, but firmly, for my money. Next, they asked me to submit a bank statement, which I found to be an absurd request as I deposited cash at the Rio cage. I pointed this out and my patience started wearing thin.

Next, they wanted me to verify a $25 months-old electronic deposit that long cleared the bank and was lost before the cash deposit. The situation started to feel like a phishing scam. I had enough of their tactics and demanded immediate payment and they paid me.

After I published that article, WSOP.com emailed me saying I was banned, claiming that I requested it. I did not.

When I pointed out this inaccuracy, they changed their story and said that I violated its terms and conditions and was no longer welcome as a customer at the poker site. The timing did not feel like a coincidence to me, especially since WSOP.com would later show its anger towards my speech related to my experience.

Unsuccessfully tried to resolve issue with WSOP.com

I tried to resolve the issue through WSOP.com support last summer. It went nowhere. My issues were with how the company tried to push me into gambling longer than I wanted and followed that with what I describe as stall tactics, only to get banned after payment with conflicting stories as to why.

It seems clear to me that reversing a cashout and pushing someone into gambling longer than they want goes against responsible gambling principles. I base some of this opinion on Gamblers Anonymous question #14:

Did you ever gambler longer than you had planned?

The answer to this should never be, “Yes. Because the casino pushed me into it.”

I went to Nevada gaming regulators in September 2017 and discussed my situation with them. When 1October happened, I knew Gaming was swamped with that investigation, so I backed off. That was not the time for this.

Now to the threat

In April, I decided to try a more diplomatic route. I contacted Seth Palansky, spokesman for the World Series of Poker, and asked him for help.

I felt the phone call and emails were polite. However, this did not resolve anything, so I decided it was time to go back to regulators in the hopes of bringing a policy change. I waited until the WSOP ended and responded with my disappointment with the dim hope that maybe something would come of it.

I explained to him why I objected to the lack of resolution. I ended the email this way:

It’s clear what’s going on here. I’m notifying Nevada gaming regulators. It will not be a formal complaint but will be a policy recommendation. I’m going to make it clear that this is not an attempt to have your company punished and the real issue is with 888, not Caesars. I think this is a fair compromise.

Palansky’s response doubled down on my banning being justified. It was clear to me that the company was not interested in my feedback or working this out. He also commented about how unhappy they were about my public WSOP.com comments. It did not address the issues that I am most concerned with.

While I disagree with what he said, I never plan on playing online poker again, so I do not care about being banned at this point. The problem gambling and withdrawal policies are my concerns. I was disappointed with what I read up to the quoted part below, but there was nothing to be bothered by. WSOP.com is entitled to its opinion.

However, his email ended with:

Of course, you can take any course of action that you feel you must. We aren’t threatened by any of it. We will take actions from this point forward to prevent you from spreading misinformation about our company and will do what we feel is necessary, including refusing your service at all our land-based properties as well, in addition to pursuing legal action against you.

The WSOP.com spokesman threatened me after I told him that I was going to regulators with general responsible gambling and payout policy recommendations, even though he claims they are not threatened by it. This email did not include any specific quotes the company felt were false. However, I wanted to make sure that I had not made any mistakes in my reporting before escalating it.

I responded by telling him that I was concerned about his email, I was still willing to talk, and that I wanted to get to the bottom of what he felt was false. I offered to fix false statements and apologize.

I did not get a response. After six weeks, I emailed him again to follow up. This email included my policy of publishing baseless legal threats, making sure that I did not misunderstand a joke. He did not respond to that either.

I predict nothing comes from the threats. I am still an invited guest at all Caesars properties. I have been a customer in good standing since 2002. I think the optics of following through on these threats would be embarrassing, and the actual malice defamation standard is impossible to demonstrate here.

I concluded that this was ‘meritless thuggery’

Palansky’s legal threat with no specific false statement, even after I asked him to submit a correction, reminded me of First Amendment attorney Ken White’s famous quote:

Vagueness in legal threats is the hallmark of meritless thuggery

This all led me to conclude that Palansky tried to use threats to intimidate me out of going to Nevada gaming regulators with responsible gambling and other policy recommendations. I find this to be repugnant and bush-league. I expect better from a company with the privilege of holding a Nevada gaming license.

I feel that WSOP.com has not acted in good faith

I feel that if WSOP.com thinks that I am crazy and completely wrong, they still should not intimidate customers like this. Just let me go to Gaming and make a fool out of myself. There is nothing to worry about. This and the other issues led me to the opinion that WSOP.com was not acting in good faith.

This made me wonder if Palansky was acting on his own. He mentioned that he consulted his company’s legal department, yet I have not received a response to what my alleged actionable statements were in any way seven weeks later.

Why is the public relations department firing off legal threats to customers? Isn’t that legal’s job?

I contacted the company’s CEO to get his opinion as to what was going on here. I did not hear back from him. I also reached out to a company compliance officer with no success.

I feel that a company operating in good faith handles this differently in many ways beyond the threat. If WSOP.com had some problem with my $25 deposit that cleared and was lost long before my next deposit, I think they should have never permitted me to deposit $400 cash and should have locked my account until it was resolved. Otherwise, in my opinion, this is a freeroll by a poker site.

They clearly had no problem with reversing my cashout request and sending me back to the tables with it. If there is some question about my funds, putting it back into action seems like a security issue to me. If the funds are valid for play, I feel that makes it valid for withdrawals.

Regulation was supposed to put an end to this nonsense. Fixing this was on my list of suggestions that I submitted to the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

Why Call WSOP.com and Palansky Out?

I have a policy of publishing all baseless legal threats. Threats like this can chill speech. The goal of frivolous lawsuits is not to win. It is to bury a critic in legal fees. Some people think that a way to get someone to shut up is to bully them with threats like this because nobody wants to get into a lawsuit. That hurts the free exchange of ideas, a right guaranteed by the First Amendment.

It makes me wonder how many other players have been threatened by WSOP.com. Outing this behavior is a way for me to tell those players that there are protections in Nevada from frivolous lawsuits and encourage them to come forward. I hope that it discourages someone from resorting to these tactics towards me or others in the future.

I fought for Nevada’s anti-SLAPP law

I testified to the Nevada Assembly Judiciary Committee about the state’s anti-SLAPP law as an expert and concerned business owner in 2015. The protections offered by that law allow me to confidently stand up to baseless threats.

NRS 41.650 protects Nevadans by punishing plaintiffs in frivolous lawsuits:

A person who engages in a good faith communication in furtherance of the right to petition or the right to free speech in direct connection with an issue of public concern is immune from any civil action for claims based upon the communication.

NRS 463.0129  Sec. 1 (a) states:

The gaming industry is vitally important to the economy of the State and the general welfare of the inhabitants.

That certainly makes online poker an issue of public concern in Nevada. I think this situation falls under the right to petition under NRS 41.650 as well.

NRS 41.670 Sec. 1 (b) and (c) provides monetary protections for Nevadans defending a frivolous defamation lawsuit:

 (b) The court may award, in addition to reasonable costs and attorney’s fees awarded pursuant to paragraph (a), an amount of up to $10,000 to the person against whom the action was brought.

      (c) The person against whom the action is brought may bring a separate action to recover:

             (1) Compensatory damages;

             (2) Punitive damages; and

             (3) Attorney’s fees and costs of bringing the separate action.

I suppose it is WSOP.com’s bad luck that they threatened a free speech activist that is an expert in the field of defamation law. I guess you might say the World Series of Poker got caught bluffing. I hope they learned a lesson.

Talk to me like an adult

I am always willing to have a respectful conversation no matter how much I disagree with someone. All I ask is that you act like an adult. I always accept apologies if things cross the line. Threatening me with frivolous legal action is never the answer.

If a Caesars executive would like to address the issues in this post, I am willing to do so. My goal is only to make Nevada online poker safe for its residents and visitors. I have absolutely no animosity towards the company and continue to respect it.

Why I care about online poker

I started in the online poker industry in 2001. I owned a rakeback directory site called Rake Rebate Review during the poker boom and got to know the ins and outs of the business through that and other work.

I have seen it all. I worked at Absolute Poker when it opened. This gave me a source for the online poker cheating era and helped me expose some of it. I also covered other scandals, like the ones at Lock Poker and Cake Poker. I moderate at Two Plus Two to this day.

I was always an advocate for players. I published information that helped steer players away from scams. I exposed shady business practices. I later helped lobby for online poker regulations to help protect players. These days, I help players find the best value gambling in Las Vegas. It is my calling.

I want all players to have protections. I do not feel that is happening with Nevada online poker right now and that needs to change. I am going to do what I can to make a difference, including lobbying the 2019 Nevada Legislature.

Palansky’s threat is not going to stop me. It only makes me more passionate that something needs to be done to clean up the Nevada online poker industry.

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