Nevada Judge Allows Poker Player’s Suit Against WSOP to Move Forward

Aerial view of Las Vegas strip in Nevada as seen at night

A Nevada District Court has ruled that a lawsuit filed by poker player Joseph Stiers against the World Series of Poker over his removal from the 2017 WSOP main event may proceed to trial, which is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2019.

A Maryland poker player who was disqualified from the 2017 World Series of Poker (WSOP) main event will have his day in court. The presiding judge accepted a proposed schedule that calls for the actual trial against Caesars and the WSOP to begin in late April 2019.

Joseph Conor Stiers, of Baltimore, Maryland, sued Caesars in June, nearly a year after he was removed from the 2017 WSOP main event after tournament officials discovered he had been banned from all Caesars Entertainment-owned casino properties while playing under a different version of his name. Stiers was among the tentative chip leaders at the time of his removal, though it was an early stage of the event and the money bubble was still a full day of play away.

Stiers, who is representing himself in the case, seeks “equitable and injunctive relief for [his] eviction” from the tournament, which includes his $10,000 (£7761) buy-in plus the assumed value of the 650,000 in tourney chips he had amassed at the time of his removal. Stiers estimated his chip stack’s worth at $150,000 (£116,421), and he is also seeking unspecified punitive damages,

The initial complaint, which Stiers filed on June 8, 2018, claimed five causes of action against Caesars: breach of contract, unjust enrichment, unlawful conversion, false and misleading advertising, and tortious interference (with a contract)

Stiers evaded earlier Caesars ban

Stiers’ 14-page complaint against Caesars deals largely with the specifics of his forced removal from the 2017 WSOP main event and the alleged injustice of the corporation-wide ban against him at any Caesars casino property while skimming over the reasons behind the ban. Stiers initially received the permanent ban after being ejected on multiple occasions for card-counting while playing blackjack at Horseshoe Casino Baltimore in 2015.

According to a Baltimore Sun report on the topic of card counters targeting new casino properties, Stiers was one of several gamblers evicted. “Joseph Stiers, 32, of Silver Spring said he was banned indefinitely from the Horseshoe and all other Caesars properties for what the casino told him was inappropriate conduct. He said he was playing at the Horseshoe late last year and objected stridently when he was told to turn over $350 in chips and asked to leave.”

Stiers eventually succeeded in having that $350 returned, though other reports declared that he was evicted on multiple occasions and loudly threatened to sue Horseshoe Baltimore after being removed from a poker event pursuant to the ban. He also posted a video on YouTube in March of 2015 offering his version of events on the ban.

Stiers continued playing in events at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, apparently evading detection of the existing ban by using name variations incorporating his middle name, such as “Joseph Conorstiers” and “Joseph Conor.” That continued until WSOP officials either detected or were alerted to Stiers’ presence at the tables under the assumed name.

The complaint acknowledges that Stiers was aware of the ban, but claims it shouldn’t matter, in part because Stiers expected to enter the large WSOP-branded events as part of his poker-playing career. Stiers wrote: “… the legitimacy and legality of defendant [Caesars’] nationwide trespass policy is unclear and its existence has been denied by [Caesars] representatives in other instances,” though the complaint details none of those alleged other instances.

Stiers also wrote that he played in WSOP events “because my career as a professional tournament poker player was dependent on being able to participate in the WSOP. The WSOP brand has monopolized all of the highest value poker events in the United States, and it is extremely difficult to make it as a tournament pro without being allowed to participate in the highest valued events.” That entitlement runs counter to the generally accepted legal finding that casinos have the right to evict patrons at any time, for virtually any cause. Card counting, for example, is not illegal in Maryland, yet casinos there can still ban card counters as unwanted customers.

Caesars’ response filed, schedule set

Caesars filed its response to Stiers’ complaint in July, admitting that Stiers was pulled from the 2017 WSOP main event and again removed from a Caesars casino, this time the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, home of the WSOP. The response also acknowledged removing Stiers’ tournament chips from play and not refunding Stiers’ initial $10,000 entry fee.

Beyond that, the response either denies all damages-related specifics or declares Stiers’ claims too vague to warrant a definitive response, including his claims regarding Caesars’ nationwide trespass policy. In summarizing, counsel for Caesars wrote, in part: “Plaintiff’s complaint, and each and every cause of action contained therein, is barred due to plaintiff’s own course of conduct.” Caesars’ counsel has also moved for dismissal of the case with prejudice and for Stiers to be ordered to pay the company’s legal fees.

Caesars also submitted a proposed trial schedule to presiding US Magistrate Judge Richard F. Boulware, II. That schedule, which was approved by Judge Boulware, calls for a multi-phase discovery period to run into January 2019, followed by a 30-day period for dispositive motions, another 30 days for action on any motions, with a pre-trial order currently scheduled for March 18, 2019. At that time the actual beginning of a trial would be established if the case has not already been dismissed or settled.