The next step in the legal brouhaha between the online behemoth PokerStars and former “November Niner” and poker professional Gordon Vayo is approaching a major point. A hearing is scheduled for the near future that could have an effect on whether the case is even heard in a courtroom or not.
Don’t Want to Pay Me? I’ll See You in Court!
Vayo, who was the runner-up to Qui Nguyen in the 2016 World Series of Poker Championship Event (for a nice score of $4.6 million-plus), is also a strong online player who routinely has left the States of America (where he cannot LEGALLY play online) to ply his trade. This often takes him north of the border to Canada, where he has set up shop when big tournament schedules such as PokerStars’ Spring Championships of Online Poker (SCOOP) take place. It is the 2017 running of their Main Event that the situation begins.
Vayo powered through the $1000 buy in tournament, reaching the final table and taking down the Main Event championship for a neat $692,460 payday. After further investigation, however, PokerStars refused to release the money to Vayo, alleging that Vayo had violated the Terms & Conditions of the site in playing from a remote location. In essence, PokerStars said that Vayo had left Canada and was playing via a Virtual Private Network (VPN) in the States of America, which is against their rules.
Vayo, for his part, claims that he didn’t play from the States of America and even went to the point of physical proof that he was in Canada at the time of the tournament, which PokerStars countered by stating (but not showing) computer forensic evidence he had played from the U. S. As a result of this investigation PokerStars, in April 2018, determined that he had cheated, banned him from the site and denied him his nearly $700,000 in winnings. Vayo filed his lawsuit one month later.
Jurisdictional Issues Complicate Case
Instead of filing his lawsuit in Canada, where he was playing the tournament, or in the Isle of Man, where PokerStars is based, Vayo instead filed his lawsuit in California, which has no regulations regarding online poker. Suing for fraud, false advertising, violation of the rights of publicity, unfair competition and, perhaps most significantly, money unpaid, Vayo has alleged that this is a regular practice by the online site, stating that PokerStars will allow U. S. players on unless they win big. He has also asked for financial sanctions, up to and including punitive and exemplary damages.
PokerStars has put up a motion for dismissal on the very jurisdictional issues that Vayo’s filing presents. Their motion states that Vayo’s “choice of forum” should not be an issue and that, if the case were to be heard, that it shouldn’t be heard in California. On his side, Vayo states he would be unable to find adequate or qualified representation in the Isle of Man – where PokerStars’ is the primary employer – and it would not be cost effective to file the case in Canada (PokerStars, in a surprising moment of hilarity, also suggested that trying the case in California wouldn’t be cost effective for them).
The Wheels of Justice Move Slowly
With the documents and motions on the table, a federal judge in the U. S. District Court for the Central District of California has temporarily halted the proceedings. Originally the court was to decide on the PokerStars’ motion last week, but the judge has pushed off any decision regarding that case to November 6. At that time, the judge can decide to dismiss the case, as PokerStars is requesting, or allow the case to continue to move forward, as Vayo would like to see. If the case isn’t dismissed, then a period of evidentiary discovery will have to take place – normally a process of 60 days at the minimum – meaning that, if there’s going to be a trial here (Vayo has requested a jury trial in the case), it won’t happen until the first quarter of 2019 at the earliest.