The 2016 World Series of Poker Main Event runner-up is suing the world’s largest online poker site.
Gordon Vayo, who earned more than $4.6 million finishing second to 2016 WSOP Main Event Champion Qui Nguyen, alleges PokerStars refused to pay him almost $700,000 he won in a Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) event last year, after falsely accusing him of breaching the site’s terms of service by surreptitiously playing the event from inside the United States.
Vayo filed suit with the US District Court Central District of California Western Division on May 2.
According to the complaint, Vayo is a US citizen and Los Angeles, California resident who resides part-time in Ottawa, Canada. He lives in Canada for the purpose playing online poker on sites forced out of the US since 2011. Particularly PokerStars.
Vayo wins PokerStars 2017 SCOOP event
Vayo claims on May 22, 2017, he was part of a chop in the 2017 PokerStars SCOOP’s first event. The five players split up the remaining prize money and left an additional $100,000 for the winner. Vayo ultimately went on to win the event and earned a total of $692,460.
Vayo claims to have transferred as much as $90,000 to other PokerStars players over the next few weeks. Plus, he continued playing on the site. However, when Vayo attempted to withdraw the money on July 25, 2017, he was suddenly notified his account was being frozen. Plus, he was under investigation of suspicious activity.
According to the complaint:
“What ensued was a nearly year-long inquest, during which (PokerStars) engaged in an appalling campaign of harassment, prying into every aspect of Mr. Vayo’s record, demanding Mr. Vayo produce detailed retroactive proof of his location, and even opening meritless investigations into his friends’ accounts, in order to gin up a pretext for not paying Mr. Vayo what he had won.”
PokerStars allegedly lowered the bar
Vayo claims to have previously submitted documents to PokerStars establishing Canadian residency — documents that he says PokerStars approved, allowing him to play on the site to begin with. He then claims PokerStars demanded proof he was in Canada on each day of the tournament in question.
He says he complied, providing evidence that he was in Canada at the time. However, PokerStars allegedly lowered the bar, insisting that despite the evidence he produced, it was “not inconceivable” that he was in the US at some point during the event.
According to the complaint, on April 7, 2018, PokerStars sent Vayo a letter stating its investigation had concluded. The letter said Vayo had failed to produce evidence sufficient enough to rebut PokerStars’ suspicions regarding his location. Therefore, he would not be paid.
Vayo also claims PokerStars threatened to counter-sue him for breach of a provision in its terms of service. The provision requires all legal claims brought against the company be brought on the Isle of Man. According to the complaint, this essentially shields PokerStars from being sued altogether.
Freerolling relocating US players?
Vayo says he previously set up residency in Rosarito, Mexico and Montreal, Canada to play on PokerStars. In possibly the most inflammatory accusation contained in the complaint, he also alleges PokerStars has been essentially freerolling relocating US players.
He claims the organization happily takes relocating players’ money when they lose. However, it creates reasons not to pay out when they win:
“Since approximately 2011, (PokerStars) has engaged in a practice of approving U.S. citizens and residents for play on the PokerStars.com site, allowing and encouraging them to play on the site, happily taking their money – in many cases for years. Then, after a U.S. citizen or resident wins a significant amount of money on the PokerStars.com site, (PokerStars) conducts a sham investigation into the user’s activities and the location of the user’s access of the site, placing the onus on the player to retroactively prove that it is ‘inconceivable’ that his or her play could have originated from within the United States, in order to gin up a pretext to deny payment. In this way (PokerStars) takes the money of (Vayo) and other users of the PokerStars.com site with impunity, while depriving the same users of their largest winnings if and when they occur.”
Vayo says legal action necessary
Vayo issued a statement to Forbes regarding the suit this week:
“I am deeply disappointed it has come to this, but feel that taking legal action is necessary to protect my rights as well as those of other PokerStars players who are in my situation, but may not have the means to get their message out and protect themselves against the unwarranted bullying tactics that I have experienced during this ordeal.”
A spokesperson for PokerStars issued the following statement regarding the Vayo lawsuit:
“We cannot comment on pending litigation matters and our investigation into this particular matter is ongoing. However, as operator of the most regulated poker site in the world we believe that we have a duty to protect the integrity of the game and ensure we provide a safe and fair poker platform by enforcing our terms of service. We have paid out over half a billion dollars in tournaments winnings this year alone and will continue to implement rigorous security procedures to protect our players.”