Ending a legal battle before it reached the courtroom Caesars Entertainment, the owners of the World Series of Poker, and a player who was ejected from the 2017 WSOP Championship Event have reached a settlement, with both sides keeping mum about the agreement.
How Did We Get Here?
Back in 2017, poker player Joseph Stiers was among the upper reaches of the leaderboard at the WSOP Championship Event. Sitting on roughly 600K in chips, Stiers was summarily yanked from the tournament at the start of Day 4 and before the money bubble had been popped. His chips were removed from the tournament and Stiers was not refunded his buy-in for the event. After the legal actions began, it was also found out that Stiers played in the 2016 WSOP Championship Event and made a min-cash from the tournament.
As it turned out, Stiers shouldn’t have been there at all. In 2015, Stiers earned a ban from all Caesars properties for card counting in blackjack, something that is considered “advantage gaming” by proponents and an illegal act by the casinos. The ban didn’t stop Stiers from trying to play in poker’s most prestigious event using a pseudonym, however, which he had been doing since the ban took effect. WSOP officials didn’t learn of the subterfuge until 2017 and the Main Event that year, at which point they acted.
Stiers felt he had a legal argument, however. Tossing a variety of legal violations into the court including breach of contract, Stiers sought general, punitive and special damages totaling into the high six-figures. Caesars countered that, because the chip stack had been pulled prior to the money, that any speculation on the 2017 tournament and its outcome weren’t viable – there was still quite a bit of poker to be played. As far as a violation of any contract, Caesars said that no player has a “contractual right” to play in a poker tournament, especially if they had been banned from entering the property.
The Settlement of the Lawsuit and a Gag Order
Stiers and Caesars Entertainment filed a motion on January 31 that the two sides were close to a settlement. In that motion that was signed by both attorneys for Caesars and Stiers, who was acting as his own attorney, they stated that there was “good cause” to extend the discussion regarding the settlement from February 1 to February 15. Judge Carl Hoffman of the U. S. District Court signed off on the deal on February 1.
In a statement to journalist Brian Pempus of USBets.com, Stiers stated that there were settlement discussions going on but, per a confidentiality agreement, he would not comment further. “I would have preferred to take this case until the end,” he said, “but I’m working, in my final year of law school, and this case would have intersected with the timing of the Bar Exam, so I kind of just needed to put it to rest.” Caesars also wouldn’t discuss pending litigation but Pempus correctly points out that Stiers was still barred from any Caesars property, indicating that wasn’t something that was negotiated into any settlement.
Why It’s Important
Stiers’ banishment may be up for question, but casinos have long contended that they can ban people who they view as trying to cheat the game. Some might state that card counting – the act of advantage gaming where a person mentally counts whether a blackjack deck is in their favor or not and can adjust their betting appropriately – isn’t against the law, and that is correct. There is no question that Stiers was in the wrong, however, for violating the ban by contriving false names to enter poker tournaments on Caesars properties.
That Caesars is negotiating a settlement is odd, though. The settlement could be the act of a company that doesn’t want to continue to rack up legal bills on an insignificant case. It could also be the actions of a company that doesn’t want to see its rights curtailed or cut off totally from being able to call certain gaming actions “cheating,” which a judge in a federal court could do with a decision in this case (AKA if the reason for banning Stiers from their properties was found to be illegal).
As there is a confidentiality agreement, the general public will never learn what was the reasoning behind the settlement. Suffice it to say that, while Stiers will still not be allowed to enter a Caesars property, both he and Caesars are getting something they want from the end of the legal actions.