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American Poker Pro Sues PokerStars Over Confiscated $690K In Winnings

Gordon Vayo Says He Was Defrauded By World's Top Site

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Poker pro Gordon Vayo, the runner-up in the 2016 World Series of Poker main event, says that PokerStars is engaged in a “pattern of fraudulent and unlawful conduct,” according to a lawsuit filed May 2. He alleges that the site illegally prevented him from cashing out about $700,000 in winnings from a high-stakes poker tournament in May 2017.

Vayo, based out of Los Angeles, alleges that the Canadian online gaming giant since 2011 has conducted “sham investigation[s]” into the online activity of U.S. citizens and residents registered with the site in an effort to prevent some lucrative cash outs.

“[A]fter a U.S. citizen or resident wins a significant amount of money on [PokerStars], Defendant 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 U.S., in order to gin up a pretext to deny payment,” says the court document obtained by Card Player. “In this way Defendant takes the money of Plaintiff 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 admitted in the lawsuit, first reported on by Forbes, to using a virtual private network (VPN), but he says it was for purposes unrelated to his play on PokerStars. According to the suit, PokerStars didn’t buy his explanation of the VPN use for other “internet sites.”

According to the suit, Vayo resides “part-time” in Ottawa, Canada in order to play on PokerStars. The suit says he was approved to play on the site despite not being a permanent resident of the country. Everything was fine for several years, according to Vayo, but in May 2017 he took first place in a PokerStars’ “SCOOP” tournament for nearly $700,000. According to the suit, he kept his winnings on the site and continued to play “regularly” for about two months.

However, the suit claims that when he tried to cash out on July 25, 2017 PokerStars froze his account and wanted proof that he was in Canada when he played the tournament, and not in the U.S., which has not been allowed since online poker’s Black Friday. Vayo admits to using a VPN for other internet activity at the time he says he was in Canada playing the SCOOP tournament.

PokerStars is licensed for regulated online poker in New Jersey, but that market is ring-fenced and can’t compete against players elsewhere in the world. PokerStars is by far the world’s largest online poker site, commanding about 70 percent of the global online poker market.

Vayo alleges that PokerStars had an ulterior motive for not cashing him out—it wanted to keep his money for no other reason then financial gain, he claims.

“Defendant suddenly notified Mr. Vayo that his account was being frozen for investigation of suspicious activity,” the 29-page civil suit filed in federal court in California says. “What ensued was a nearly year-long inquest, during which Defendant 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.”

Last month, the suit says, PokerStars informed him that the investigation was over and he was not going to be paid. He then swiftly pursued legal action.

The suit alleges Vayo isn’t the only player this has happened to. The suit cited a different incident of an unnamed player winning about $140,000 on PokerStars in 2016 and the site allegedly freezing his account for a year over location concerns before finally cashing him out.

Despite not paying him, Vayo says PokerStars publicly promotes his win. “Ironically, to this day, Defendant continues to tout Mr. Gordon as the winner of the SCOOP tournament on the PokerStars.com site, and continue to profit off of its use of Mr. Gordon’s name,” the suit says.

Vayo also claims that PokerStars threatened to counter-sue him over the matter.

He’s seeking punitive damages and attorney’s fees in addition to his winnings.