The World Poker Tour announced late last week that it had settled a lawsuit involving some of the top poker players in the world.
This lawsuit, which was filed in the summer of 2006 by such "big-name" players as Chris "Jesus" Ferguson and Howard Lederer, alleged that the World Poker Tour had violated federal and state anti-trust laws. The complaint stated that the WPTE and host casinos had "illegally" conspired to "eliminate competition" for the services and "intellectual property rights of top, high stakes professional poker players." The complaint further stated that the World Poker Tour was being allowed to use "player's names and images to sell their products without our prior consent and without any compensation."
The suit revolved around the standard World Poker Tour release that all players are forced to sign before participating in a WPT event. According to the original suit filed on July 19th, 2006, the seven players were seeking to enjoin the WPT's "continuing violation of federal and state antitrust laws", plus they were also seeking "treble and punitive damages."
The original plaintiffs included:
Andy Bloch, Annie Duke, Chris Ferguson, Phil Gordon, Greg Raymer, Joe Hachem and Howard Lederer
Greg Raymer and Joe Hachem both removed themselves from the lawsuit a while ago. Joe Hachem has been playing World Poker Tour events for a while now (he won the Five Diamond World Poker Classic in December of 2006). It is unknown why Raymer removed himself from the lawsuit, as I haven't heard of him playing any WPT events since the suit was filed.
Anyways, Bloch, Duke, Ferguson, Gordon and Lederer announced that they had settled with the WPT just a couple of days ago. The settlement of the suit apparently involves a modification of the player release. The WPT will not be paying any sort of damages, and they are denying any wrong-doing in the matter.
I think that the suit was settled for three reasons (just my opinion of course). Here they are:
1. One of the "principal claims" (a term used by Phil Gordon) of the lawsuit was that the WPT and its host casinos were conspiring to eliminate, and prevent the creation of, competing televised poker tournaments. Gordon once stated that "there is no realistic possibility of a competing tour". I would say that the European Poker Tour has debunked this theory, as it has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success and growth over the past couple of years. It would be a pretty hard argument to make that the World Poker Tour has completely stifled any competition, because it's just not true. The European Poker Tour is booming; just look at the numbers.
2. The World Poker Tour is fading. I mean, let's be real here - the World Poker Tour's business is weakening. Numbers are down. Look no further than the attendance numbers for the WPT Championship, which is the signature tournament for the World Poker Tour. This year there are 545 entrants; in 2007, there were 639, and in 2006, there were 605. The WPT has moved from the Travel Channel to the Game Show Network, and they are getting paid significantly less per episode. Their stock is trading at just $1.56, giving it a valuation of just $32 million dollars; well off of its all-time highs of over $25. I don't think that the World Poker Tour is in much of a position to continue to battle it out with some of the biggest names in the game - they need all the star-power that they can get at this point.
3. There was not much support for the lawsuit in the poker community. Daniel Negreanu famously spoke out against the lawsuit, sparking a memorable war of words between himself and Greg Raymer. The players involved in this suit might say "how would you know how much support we had?" I would say that actions speak louder than words, and it seems to me that no one else was boycotting the WPT events while this lawsuit was still active. Other players may have been quietly supportive, but they sure weren't showing it. Plus, two of the original seven plaintiffs withdrew from the suit.
So at the end of the day, the nearly two year old lawsuit has been settled, and we finally (finally!) get to see Phil Gordon make his triumphant return to the World Poker Tour. We will also get to see Annie Duke play without any shoes on, and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson take a full minute before making every decision. Order has been restored in the universe.
Filed Under: Poker Legal Issues