Joseph Stiers

Stiers Suit Against WSOP a Study in Toxic Self-Entitlement

Then there’s the tale of the lawsuit filed against Caesars Entertainment (CEC), parent company of the World Series of Poker, by Joseph Stiers, the player who was evicted from the 2017 WSOP main event after tourney staff discovered that he’d been banned since 2015 in connection with repeated blackjack card-counting escapades at Horseshoe Casino Baltimore.

Stiers filed his lawsuit back in June in the US District Court of Nevada, and it went unnoticed at the time, though the approval last week of the trial’s schedule by presiding US Magistrate Judge Richard F. Boulware II brought the matter more fully into public view. That formal scheduling followed Caesars’ initial response to the complaint, filed in July, and the schedule includes months of discovery and pre-trial matters before a possible start to an actual trial next spring, at the earliest.

Poker ChipsStiers is representing himself in the matter, which is a high indicator of his prospects for success. What he’s asking for is a refund of his $10,000 main-event buyin, the supposed value of his tourney chips when he was pulled from the event early on Day 3 (he values his stack at $150,000), and additional, unspecified punitive damages.

It’s all a bit much, a toxic example of self-entitlement by a gambler not understanding the notion that you “don’t shit in your own backyard,” that meaning here the venue or venues in which you’d like to conduct future “professional gambling” enterprises. The core of the complaint is that Stiers should receive his $10,000 buyin plus $150,000 in supposed expected value from his stack, but it’s surrounded in the complaint by page after page of “This is so unfair to me as a professional poker that I’m not allowed to play in Caesars-owned WSOP events.” Well, given that he was 86’d from Horseshoe Baltimore for card-counting at blackjack, then was again bounced from the same facility when he tried to enter a poker event there, this is someone who clearly does not respect the right of the casino to refuse his business and deny him entry to that or related casinos.

So let’s look at that, starting with this pile of porridge from the very first paragraph of the complaint: “This complaint additionally seeks damages for false and misleading advertisements that induced me to pursue a decade of training and participation in the World Series of Poker (WSOP), sacrificing a lucrative and stable career.” Let’s see… Stiers was 32 in 2015, according to this Baltimore Sun piece about him being banned from Horseshoe Baltimore, so he was 25 a decade ago. What lucrative career could he have abandoned at age 25 in 2008 that he could not resume today, and exactly how is that the WSOP’s fault? Other than “online poker player,” I really can’t think of one, and late in the complaint, Stiers notes that, “I cannot play poker tournaments and have returned to school and have very little money.”

Mind that that’s one of the smaller problems with this lawsuit. Moving deeper into Stiers’ complaint, let’s share in its entirety the first few paragraphs of his “factual allegations”:

7. On July 11, 2017, I paid the Defendants $10,000 at the Rio Hotel & Casino to enter the 2017 World Series of Poker Main Event. I began play on July 11 and received 50,000 tournament chips in exchange for my $10,000. I played for three days between July 11 and around 6:00 PM on July 14 in which I increased my tournament chips from 50,000 to around 630,000 chips. When I left for dinner break on July 14, I was one of the overall leaders of the event, which paid eight million to the winner and over one million dollars to each of the top nine finishers and cash prizes for all finishers in the top 15% of the field. I was in the top nine in total chips at this time.

8. As I exited the convention room, I was ambushed in the hallway by several Caesars Entertainment Security Personnel, Las Vegas Police, and Tournament Director Jack Effel. I was grabbed, handcuffed, and quickly moved into a private room. The nature of this ambush was clearly preplanned to occur at the dinner break to avoid other layers observing this event.

9. At this time, I was informed that I was being removed from the tournament and my chips would be removed from play. I would not receive equity for the 630,000 chips I had accumulated or a refund of my $10,000 entry fee. I was told the reason for my removal was I was trespassed from all Caesars properties.

There are important omissions and questionable assertions in the above, but here’s where it really starts getting deep and stinky:

10. Although Caesars’ personnel claim that I was trespassed at all Caesars properties since December 2013, the legitimacy and legality of Caesars’ nationwide trespass policy is unclear and its existence has been denied by CEC representatives in other instances. [The complaint noticeably does not identify any of these supposed other instances — hh.] I continued to play in World Series of Poker events because my career as a professional tournament poker player was dependent on being able to play in the WSOP. The WSOP brand has monopolized all of the highest value poker events in the United States and it is extremely difficult to make it as a tournament pro without being allowed to play in the highest value events. I had cashed for smaller amounts of money in prior WSOP events, including the 2016 Main Event for around $16,000. I paid over $200,000 in entry fees at the World Series of Poker between 2013 and 2017. The Defendants’ pattern of accepting my money and honoring my payouts when payouts were small led me to believe that Caesars would honor future payouts for tournaments where I had paid for my admission. Caesars/WSOP had always accepted my money and retained my money when I was losing poker tournaments, which totaled to over $200,000, but only enforced this trespass eviction when I was in position to win up to $8 million dollars and had around $150,000 in current chip equity.

11. The Defendants’ long-term course of conduct allowed them to extract over $200,000 of my money without holding up any intention of their end of the deal if I were to succeed in winning a WSOP event. Gamblers refer to this behavior as “freerolling”. It is a form of fraud. As a result of the Defendants’ actions, I lost over $100,000 and my career as a professional tournament poker player. …

And on and on. So much horseshit, so much misrepresentation. It’s probably the most comical lawsuit brought by a supposedly aggrieved player since Mark Teltscher took on PokerStars in the “TheV0id” escapade that began in 2007. Let’s note a few things:

  • Nowhere in the above does Stiers bring up the fact that his 2016 WSOP Main Event cash and other cashes were achieved under a munged form of his name, wherein he somehow obtained ID — or at least a Caesars “Rewards Club” account — in that munged form of his name. Stiers’ full name is Joseph Conor Stiers, but lo and behold, those 2016 results show up on Hendon Mob as “Joseph Conorstiers“. There are also two “Joseph Stiers” records on Hendon Mob. Now, given that the main Stiers record on Hendon shows Stiers’ residence as Silver Spring, Maryland, and the “Conorstiers” record shows a residence of nearby Washington, DC, one is sort of steered toward an assumption that Stiers obtained a second ID just to help him evade the Caesars’ system-wide ban. That’s the sort of thing that would likely come out during the trial after being found during discovery.
  • For all the claims that being banned from the WSOP ended Stiers’ pro poker career, it seems odd that Stiers claimed to spent over $200,000 on WSOP entries while not winning that much, but has a reasonable resume from other events on the East Coast. The WSOP is indeed the United States’ biggest poker-event entity, but not all of the largest events are WSOP-branded, and Stiers’ own results belie that claim.
  • Stiers formalizes the assumption that the WSOP knew who he was and that he was playing under a munged ID all along, when that’s unlikely to be the case. No one publicly knows — I sure don’t — how Stiers’ alternate persona was discovered, but it’s not at all unlikely to think someone dropped a dime on him. Someone this arrogant and self-entitled is almost sure to have pissed off a few people along the way. If anyone was acting in a fraudulent manner here, it wasn’t the WSOP.
  • Stiers claims that “several other competitors enter WSOP events using variations of their legal names, just as I did.” So what? That’s fraud on the part of those other players, and the one thing it does not do is legitimize Stiers’ conduct.
  • One of Stiers’ claims is that the WSOP and Caesars are guilty of false and misleading advertising because their WSOP ads say anyone can enter the Main Event for a $10,000 fee. Stiers claims that since he’s banned and can’t enter, he’s been induced by “false” ads.

The complaint lists five formal causes for action: breach of contract; restitution / unjust enrichment; conversion; false and misleading advertising; and tortuous interference with a contract, that last being the implied contract that Stiers claims existed while he was playing under the munged name.

Caesars filed its response in July. In addition for asking that the complaint be dismissed with prejudice, the company’s response brief included these “affirmative defenses”:

1. Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

2. Plaintiff’s claims are barred, in whole or in part, by the doctrines of estoppel, acquiescence, laches, waiver, and/or unclean hands.

3. Plaintiff’s Complaint, and each and every cause of action contained therein, is barred due to Plaintiff’s own course of conduct.

4. Plaintiff’s Complaint, and each and every cause of action contained therein, is barred due to Plaintiff’s failure to take reasonable and sufficient measures to mitigate his alleged damages.

5. Defendants acted at all time in good faith and in conformance with applicable laws, regulations and tournament rules, terms and conditions.

6. The Complaint fails to allege facts or causes of action sufficient to support a claim for punitive damages.

7. Defendants assert that there was no contract between them and Plaintiff. To the extent it is determined that such a contract exists, such contract is void and Plaintiff’s claims are barred under the doctrine of fraudulent inducement.

8. Plaintiff’s damages, if any, are speculative, hypothetical, unsupported by any reasonable methodology, and are not cognizable as a matter of law.

9. It has been necessary for Defendants to employ the services of an attorney to defend against this Complaint, and Defendants should be awarded their reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

10. Plaintiff’s Complaint, and each and every cause of action contained therein, is barred in whole or in part by additional defenses that cannot yet be articulated due to the fact that discovery has not yet commenced or been completed. Defendants reserve the right to supplement the foregoing and raise additional defenses as may appear as the case progresses.

I’ve tried to think of a possible way Stiers could win anything on any of his claims, and I just can’t come up with anything. I guess there’s a chance he could argue for the refund of his $10,000 main-event entry, but that would allow him to, in effect, have freerolled the WSOP against the chances of being caught playing under a probably munged name. And that speaks nothing to the extra expenses, incremental though they might be, incurred by the WSOP in having to deal with the situation. Security isn’t free, for example; and there was some lost dealer and floor and casino time in general in having Stiers illicitly occupy a main event seat for two and a half days.

I’m guessing the WSOP prevails quickly here, even if discovery in the case moves forward as scheduled.

(Author’s disclosure: I have done some temporary, third-party contractor work for the World Series of Poker, but the WSOP and Caesars had zero input into this independent op-ed piece. The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone — hh.)

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