Prop Betting Tales: Vanessa Selbst v. Jason Mercier Wager Turns Sour

We haven’t really checked in with a post featuring some of the unusual high and low points from the 2016 World Series of Poker, and we’ll get to a summary-style recap of some WSOP happenings soon, as the current very busy news cycle allows.  Today, though, we’ll delve into WSOP-related happenings, more specifically the land of high-stakes poker players and bracelet-related prop bets, featuring a now-public fallout brewing between Vanessa Selbst and Jason Mercier, over a bracelet bet between the two.


Vanessa Selbst in 2008. (Source: Wikipedia, By flipchip • –, CC BY-SA 3.0,

It’s an unusual bet at that, with Mercier getting 180:1 odds from Selbst on his winning three or more bracelets at the WSOP this summer.  Mercier put up $10,000, and stands to collect $1.8 million should he win three events.

The bet was made some time ago, and it wasn’t the only such long-odds wager Selbst booked.  Also publicly known is a 200:1 wager she made with Dmitry Urbanovich, again for a $10,000 base.  Whether additional three-bracelet wagers have been accepted by Selbst isn’t known.

The catalyst in the story is Mercier’s great start so far.  He’s already binked Event #16, the Deuce-to-Seven (single) Draw $10,000 Championship, and as play resumes today in Event #20, the Razz $10,000 Championship, he leads the final eight players and is the odds-on favorite to win his second bracelet of the series.

Enter Selbst, who’s publicly stated that she was intoxicated when she made the wagers with both Urbanovich and Mercier — noting also that the wagers were made and accepted on separate nights — and who undertook at least the start of a social-media pressuring against Mercier in an effort to try to “shame” Mercier into allowing to her to buy out of the bet.

Mercier hasn’t accepted any of Selbst’s offers to date, and he isn’t likely to until the razz tourney ends tonight.  If he wins it, he’d be unlikely to accept (in my opinion), any offer too short of a million, noting that Selbst’s most recent offer to buy out of the bet appears to have been $100,000.

The greater issue, though, is Selbst’s very public rendering of her sour grapes about the prop bet and Mercier’s failure to let Selbst buy out — owing to her apparent intoxicated state while making said wager.  Normally, we wouldn’t waste a story on this sort of a tale, but when Selbst took her attempted public shaming of Mercier to social media, then it becomes fair game for public discussion.

Selbst posted the following last night via her Twitter account:



After the majority of public sentiment went against Selbst, who also claimed that she was “near blackout” drunk when wagering with Mercier, and that Mercier was far less drunk, Selbst decided that maybe taking it to Twitter wasn’t such a hot idea.  Still, that came with a final shot at Mercier:

Obviously, making bets while intoxicated that could put a significant portion of one’s net worth at risk is not a good idea, not that Selbst needs any more reminders of that.  Yet it’s hard to understand how anyone can seriously be taking her side in this flare-up.  First, both Selbst and Mercier are professional gamblers, and a case of “wagering while intoxicated” is rarely or never accepted in that fraternity as an excuse to nullify a bet.  Most of these dumbassed prop bets are made with the assistance of and under the influence of alcohol anyway, and why this one should get special treatment — especially since Selbst had made the earlier one with Urbanovitch under similar conditions — is utterly unknown.

Mercier might not be acting like a true “friend,” however one defines that, but nowhere that I’m aware of in the professional gambler’s codebook is there a rule for mandatory outsies between friends.

One interesting sideline is seeing other people using the dispute between Selbst and Mercier to push separate agendas.  One example: Ryan Laplante. While I enthusiastically support Ryan and was proud of his own bracelet acceptance speech on Sunday following the massacre in Orlando, when I read the following Tweet from him, buried in reactions to and discussion of Selbst’s Twitter outburst, my reaction was, “Huh… what??”.  It was in a drying-the-line discussion regarding what constitutes “ethical” behavior by players:

That’s what you call a derail of the first order, using the Selbst-Mercier situation to take a shot at the site that happens to sponsor both players, PokerStars, over that site’s discontinuation of earned Supernova and Supernova Elite benefits last year.

It’s irrelevant in that sense, but it’s worth bringing up here because it does raise another important point.  Whatever one thinks of PokerStars, pro or con, both Selbst and Mercier have to be fortunate to be under contract with the company in this era of belt-tightening and declining player sponsorship. In that light, taking the matter public, as Selbst has done, isn’t the brightest move.  And she can’t blame the alcohol this time.

It’s a safe bet that PokerStars officials are not at all pleased with this ruckus between two of their patched-up reps.  As I’ve already noted myself, elsewhere, it’s just one of several big reasons why sites such as Stars often view the signing of athletes and celebrities as a more-expensive but safer and more-lucrative move than signing pro players.  Celebs generally have handlers, agents and press people around them to keep them from straying too far and too frequently off the farm, as has happened with both Selbst and Mercier here.  But what a site often gets with their signed pros is, too often, … this.

One hopes that all this gets settled in a congenial manner.  Yet one never really knows.


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