Poker’s biggest superstar, Phil Ivey, says he’s skipping the World Series of Poker because he’s disappointed and embarrassed that his sponsor, Full Tilt Poker, hasn’t paid back player deposits after pulling out of the U.S. market.
“I wholeheartedly refuse to accept non-action as to repayment of players’ funds and I am angered that people who have supported me throughout my career have been treated so poorly,” Ivey said in a statement posted on his Facebook page and website late Tuesday.
Ivey also filed suit Wednesday in Las Vegas against Tiltware LLC, a company tied to online poker operator Full Tilt Poker, saying it didn’t tell him Full Tilt executives had been repeatedly warned that they were operating illegally in the United States, as federal prosecutors claim.
The suit filed in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas said Tiltware, a company that provided software to Full Tilt Poker, has denied Ivey’s request to pursue other professional relationships in poker. The suit claims more than $150 million in damages to Ivey’s personal and professional reputation.
Ivey’s lawyer, David Chesnoff, said Ivey is in the prime of his poker career and wants to have options to pursue other opportunities if they come up. He said not playing in the World Series of Poker is a principled stand with players who have been prevented from playing poker because their funds are tied up in online accounts.
“He doesn’t think it’s right that he plays and they can’t,” Chesnoff said.
The suit said some players have demanded that Ivey repay funds personally and have the mistaken belief that Ivey can cause Full Tilt to return player funds.
“He’s won eight bracelets—it would be like Michael Jordan saying he didn’t want to play in the NBA Finals,” Chesnoff said. “It’s a matter of conscience for Phil.”
Seven executives and others tied to Full Tilt were indicted in April as part of a federal crackdown of online poker operators, including PokerStars and Absolute Poker. Since then, the sites have made deals to begin repaying customer money in online accounts, but only PokerStars has started refunds.
Chesnoff claimed in the suit that Ivey believes Full Tilt owes its players about $150 million but failed to maintain a large enough reserve account to return the funds.
Attempts to reach Full Tilt, Tiltware and company lawyers were not immediately successful. Five days after the indictments, when Full Tilt announced an agreement toward repaying players, the company said it was a first step in a process that still had significant practical and legal obstacles, including the lack of an authorized payment channel to make refunds.
Ivey, an eight-time gold bracelet winner at the series who has a high-stakes poker room named after him in Sin City, is widely considered the game’s best player—legendary for his gambling and fairly private nature. Ivey didn’t enter a $25,000 buy-in heads up tournament on Tuesday, the series’ opener. He has cashed 42 times at the series since 2000, earning $5.3 million, including a seventh place finish in 2009 at the no-limit Texas Hold `em main event, poker’s richest tournament.
“I sincerely hope this statement will ignite those capable of resolving the problems into immediate action,” Ivey said. “Until a solution is reached that cements the security of all players, both U.S. and international, I will, as I have for the last six weeks, dedicate the entirety of my time and efforts to finding a solution for those who have been wronged by the painfully slow process of repayment.”