Seven of the world’s best poker players have pulled their chips together to fight the World Poker Tour. And they’re not bluffing.
The world-renowned players -- who include Howard “The Professor” Lederer, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson and Annie Duke, often billed as the best female professional poker player in history -- filed suit Wednesday accusing the tour’s Los Angeles-based parent company, WPT Enterprises, of stifling competition by forcing them to hand over rights to televise their poker faces for free.
The players say the World Poker Tour conspires with casinos to use their likenesses to flog poker programs, while insisting that they waive their rights to promote their own video games and promotional products if they want to compete against the big boys and girls.
Casinos are instructed to boycott players who refuse to forfeit their rights, the lawsuit contends.
The casinos are banned from holding poker tournaments outside of the tour, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Los Angeles.
The World Poker Tour sponsors and televises high-stakes tournaments in glamorous casinos from Las Vegas to Paris.
Now in its fifth season, the tour has made household names out of such players as Andrew Block, Phil Gordon, Joseph Hachem and Greg Raymer, who also are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Jeffrey Kessler, the players’ lead attorney, said the rules have been around since the tour’s start, but his clients decided to take the company to court as the popularity of televised poker grew -- and WPT Enterprises’ terms became more restrictive.
Kessler said the casinos are also probably complaining, “behind the scenes,” because of the World Poker Tour’s restrictions.
The players are seeking damages and to void their contracts with the tour.
“If the WPT is essentially the only place to be a professional poker player ... you either go to WPT or you stay home,” Kessler said. “All they want to do is create some competition.”
World Poker Tour representatives, including lawyer Adam Pliska, issued a statement Thursday calling the lawsuit an “unfounded attack.”
“We find it disappointing that a handful of players -- of the many thousands who play in WPT events each year -- have decided to make these claims even as the sport continues to grow,” Steve Lipscomb, World Poker Tour WPT founder and chief executive officer, said in the statement.
Kessler said his clients still want to play professional poker -- but with a fair deck.