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Pros sue WPT over likeness

Saturday, July 22nd, 2006

Pros sue WPT over likeness

Seven professional poker players planned on Wednesday to file an antitrust suit against WPT Enterprises Inc., operator of the World Poker Tour, over the use of their likeness and their access to play in televised tournaments.

The lawsuit, to be filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, came as the world’s largest poker tournament, the World Series of Poker, was under way at the Rio casino-hotel in Las Vegas.

The players, which include famous pros Howard “The Professor” Lederer, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson (of fulltilt poker), and World Series champs Joseph Hachem and Greg Raymer, argued that WPTE made them waive lucrative rights to use their images and names to promote products and video games before they could enter WPT poker tournaments.

Lederer told The Associated Press that video clips of him playing in a WPT tournament were used in a WPT video game that competed directly with one he and his sister Annie Duke appear in, “World Championship Poker.”

“All I’m asking is that they not compete against me, with me, without even offering to pay me or asking my permission,” Lederer said. “People are being paid seven-figure endorsement contracts. These are rights that should not be demanded of us for nothing.”

Jeffrey Kessler, lead lawyer for the players, said the suit accuses WPT of “price fixing” and “group boycotts” by colluding with member casinos to prevent players from entering tournaments unless they forfeit their rights.

“Their intention is to use players’ images in video games, on Internet sites, and in a whole variety of products that has nothing to do with the tournament,” said Kessler. “They pay them the grand sum of nothing. So the fixed price is zero.”

The suit seeks damages and to void contracts the players had signed for entering previous WPT tournaments, he said.

WPT Enterprises’ lawyer Adam Pliska said he couldn’t comment before seeing the suit. But he added that most players were content to sign the agreements allowing use of their likeness for the chance to play.

“We’ve been able to expand the sport for everyone’s benefit,” Pliska said. “Aside from some occasional complaints, we’ve had great success and this has worked out for all parties involved.”

Poker pro Barry Greenstein, who is not part of the suit, said the action amounted to a dog biting the hand that fed it, although he sympathized with both sides.

“All of us as poker players were degenerates until the World Poker Tour started the whole ball rolling,” the 51-year-old said, adding he had parlayed fame on the tour into a sponsorship deal with a major online poker site and is selling a poker advice book.

“I’ve been involved in DVDs and video games and all these types of things, even though I’ve got no money out of it,” he said. “I know that I get a lot of perks from being a celebrity.”

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