The World Poker Tour last week filed a response to a lawsuit filed by seven prominent poker players who accused WPT of engaging in anti-trust practices, price fixing and unfair use of their likenesses and intellectual property.
The parties to the suit include players Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Andy Bloch, Annie Duke, Phil Gordon, Joe Hachem, Howard Lederer and Greg Raymer.
Among other things the suit alleges that WPT Enterprises, which sponsors the World Poker Tour, conspires with host casinos to boycott all non-WPT televised tournaments, thus eliminating competition for the poker players’ services; requires players to sign "releases" that give up intellectual property rights that are misused by the WPT; and forces casinos to boycott players who don’t agree to WPT terms.
The WPT’s response, which was filed by the Washington, D.C.-based law firm of Makan Delrahim, essentially denied all the allegations set forth in the original lawsuit.
"We believe that our answer illustrates why we believe the allegations in the suit are misleading and without merit," said WPT Enterprises General Counsel Adam Pliska.
Specifically, the filing states that its "releases" are "reasonable" and standard to events that are broadcast on television.
"Without a release signed by each participant, no network would broadcast a television show like the World Poker Tour or any reality-based show," the filing stated. "Other televised poker tournaments require similar releases."
The WPT also denied entering any unlawful agreements or conspiracies with casinos regarding the terms of its film releases, but it did admit that its casino agreements often contain "necessary and reasonable limitations on the ability of these casinos to license their names or trademarks to third parties," but that these casinos "comprise merely a fraction of the available casinos in the United States."
In addition, the WPT denied trying to "restrict competition or to prevent professional players ”¦ from taking full advantage of the numerous tournament, broadcast, publishing and endorsement and other opportunities that exist in the marketplace."
Besides denying allegations made by the poker players, the WPT response admonishes the players for, in a sense, biting the hand that feeds it.
"The irony of plaintiffs’ claims is that the ”˜notoriety’ that these seven plaintiffs claim forms the basis of their considerable income is due in no small part to their participation in the World Poker Tour in its early years, at a time when the public had never heard of them, and which would not have been possible without the reasonable releases about which the plaintiffs complain," the response stated.
The WPT further accuses the plaintiffs of using the lawsuit "to damage WPTE’s goodwill and reputation to the benefit of Full Tilt Poker and other web sites and companies in which the plaintiffs have ownership or other interests."
Full Tilt Poker is an online poker web site that was founded by Chris Ferguson and Howard Lederer.
Finally, the WPT response said the lawsuit "is not about promoting competition or freeing players from restrictive bonds," but it is a "competitive tactic by seven multimillionaires who WPTE shepherded from unknowns to wealthy poker personalities with interests in competing enterprises in an ever-increasingly competitive poker entertainment marketplace."