Longtime poker pro Jonathan Little awoke to the news on Sept. 9 that his account had been suspended at Americas Cardroom (ACR). The unregulated offshore operator’s CEO Phil Nagy even took the unusual move of taking to Twitter to call Little out.
The incident set off a firestorm with charges flying in both directions.
Hi Phil, It seems my account has suddenly been banned. I was not told why I was banned. I tried to log in to cash out my funds but it is not letting me. Is it because I said ACR is not as safe as a bank? I always spoke highly of your game volume and marketing skills. https://t.co/sRTCYds8xN
— Jonathan Little (@JonathanLittle) September 9, 2020
ACR is an offshore site that serves American players despite a new US legal environment since Black Friday. Since the federal government shut down several online poker sites on April 15, 2011, online poker has been legal only on a state-by-state basis in the US.
Under a variety of US and state laws, offshore sites like ACR are generally operate illegally in America. To publicly criticize a user was an unusual step even from an offshore poker site. The back and forth brought plenty of interest among players.
What brought on the confrontation?
As well as a player, Little is a poker author and founder of the training site PokerCoaching.com. He has more than $7 million in live tournament winnings and released the book Excelling at Tough No Limit Hold’em Games this year.
He also regularly posts strategy advice and his thoughts on the game via social media. When COVID-19 shut down live poker, some of his students asked Little to start streaming online. Little hadn’t previously played at any of the unlicensed and unregulated sites.
“I figured I would play on Sundays to generate content for my students,” he says. “I decided to play on ACR because they have the most volume of medium and high buy-in tournaments. I would then play 14 tables at a time while my students watched.”
The ban came as a bit of a surprise.
“I have not actually streamed for about a month,”Little says, “but when I tried to log in a few days ago, it told me I had been banned.”
He believes some sarcasm toward ACR on his streams was the reason behind the ban. Little joked about how the paid ACR pros seemed to run hot against him and everyone else. He emphasizes they were jokes simply with a deadpan sense of humor.
Little notes that he doesn’t think the site rigs game play in any way and said so on his streams when speaking seriously.
“I was under the impression these types of jokes were acceptable because Nagy often discusses using a doom switch and the paid ACR pros frequently joke about how the site is rigged, either for or against them,” Little told USPoker.
“Perhaps they did not like the fact that I had substantially more viewers than their paid ACR pros and was not afraid to point out flaws with the site, such as when all the tournaments crashed, when the software would randomly freeze, or when there was a misdeal.”
Playing in an unregulated environment
In addition to the jokes, Little also offered some advice on playing at unregulated sites. Platforms like ACR don’t face the same regulations as legal sites in Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
“I also advised keeping relatively little money on the site just in case it goes down sometime in the future,” Little says.
Several offshore sites closed in the past decade, leaving many players unable to get funds back. Earlier this year, ACR users reported numerous technical issues including players getting only one card or none at all, hands labeled as misdeals, tournament suspensions, and more.
Little noted in his stream that players should basically take a buyer beware approach with these types of sites
“I always advise keeping the minimum amount required to play on any unlicensed or unregulated poker site,” he says. “History has taught us that these sites are prone to close up for all sorts of reasons with no advance notice.
“I made a point to make this clear because multiple paid ACR pros have told their audiences that their money is as safe in ACR as it is in a US bank.”
Little also complained about the site’s poor functionality at times. He said he realizes only high-quality legal sites have top-notch software. However, those criticisms were only a fraction of Little’s ACR streaming.
ACR reacts to the criticism
Apparently Nagy didn’t take Little’s complaints well. ACR didn’t officially give a reason his account was suspended, Little says. Nagy tagged Little in a Tweet that seemed to point to the criticism as the reason behind the ban.
“It’s one thing if you’re going to treat WPN [Winning Poker Network] like some side chick,” Nagy noted on Sept. 9. “But I’ll be damned if I’m going to give you the privilege of getting to fuck me on the daily if you’re going to punch me in the head while doing it.”
To some players it seemed like an odd reaction. Secure online poker sites regularly ban players for incidents like multi-accounting, collusion, and other game-play issues.
Criticizing the platform isn’t usually one of those. Other players felt Little had been going too far with his complaints and player warnings. Nagy viewed the action similar to a casino removing an unruly player.
“So why is it when someone acts disorderly in a casino or live tournament, they can be banned for life, and it’s okay?” he posted. “The Borgata can ban you for making a video. How is WPN any different?”
Nagy went on to post a video clarifying his side of the issue.
“After watching Jonathan Little’s videos, I realized they didn’t make me happy,” Nagy said, “and there was not a world where I was going to win him over or make him happy unless ACR got regulated, in which case he wouldn’t get dealt cards by us anyway.
“When you’re in a no-win situation or drawing dead, you fold the hand. That’s all. I was in a no-win situation and backed into a corner, and I folded the hand.”
So this is about as honest as I can get agree or not, this is my logic. pic.twitter.com/uksyTUSgKh
— Phillip Nagy (@WPN_CEO) September 10, 2020
Moving on from ACR
The CEO of a major online poker operator so publicly sparring with a player is certainly unique.The reaction hasn’t surprised Little however.
“In the past he would randomly post vulgar responses to my posts, so I blocked him,” he says. “I’m not surprised he continues to use vulgar speech toward myself and other players he has never interacted with in any way.”
Whatever the case, Little moved on from ACR and cashed out $19,000 he had on the site. He doesn’t see his own incident affecting the site’s traffic.
Little lives in New York, where regulated US online poker isn’t an option.
Players react to controversy, issues arise from unregulated online poker environment
Since the ban, Little has received his own share of criticism online. Some didn’t like his jokes about favorable hand run outs. Others noted that if he had issues with the site he shouldn’t have played there.
Jonathan-I don’t disagree with your comments about bankroll safety.Issue for me is there are naive folks out there that now think that pros are getting favorable run outs.I know you are kidding, but many don’t know. Wrong to assume lack of knowledge in one area & not another.
— Peter Steel (@MMA_Analysis) September 12, 2020
Supporters noted that his banning was unwarranted simply for cautioning students about an unregulated site. They point to Tweets by Nagy himself saying that players shouldn’t be banned for criticizing a poker site.
“I think that everyone knows sites that the unlicensed/unregulated sites can do pretty much whatever they want,” Little says. “This incident just makes that a bit more clear.
“I hope ACR and their paid pros look at this situation from an unbiased point of view and right their ways. I want poker to thrive, and lies and vulgarity are not the way to make that happen.”
One Twitter user found a solution to all the issues regarding unregulated sites like ACR.
“With all the drama happening with ACR and Johnathan Little, another reminder to play on regulated sites and give partypoker and Run It Once Poker your business,” Chip Up training site founder Christopher George noted. “They are doing a great job listening to players and running good games.”
Photo courtesy WPT/Joe Giron