Alleged cheaters’ presence in WSOP $100K high-roller stirs misplaced ire

Haley Hintze
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Posted on June 2, 2022 10:16 pm EDT

There hasn’t been a lot of drama surrounding the opening of the 2022 World Series of Poker in its first couple of days of play, though one metaphorical tempest in a teapot erupted on social media when several players publicly accused of cheating online and in high-roller events entered Event #2, the $100,000 NLHE High Roller. Ali Imsirovic, Bryn Kenney, Sergi Reixach, and Jake Schindler all played in the event, and Imsirovic made the final table, finishing fourth.

Yet there was at least a minor outcry over these players’ participation in the event, with some of the enmity aimed at the WSOP itself for simply allowing these players to enter. That enmity was wholly misdirected, and originates with a lack of understand about the nature of the WSOP as private business entity and its responsibilities to both its investors and to the poker-playing poker.

Alleged poker cheater Ali Imsirovic plays on Day 2 of the 2022 WSOP’s first major event, the $100,000 NLE High Roller. Imsirovic has not commented publicly about the allegations made against him by Alex Foxen, who played in the same event. (Image: Haley Hintze)

The WSOP issued no statement regarding the accused cheaters’ presence, and Poker.org verified that there are no plans to do so in the near future. Instead, the WSOP will adhere to its long-established principles of being open to participants who have not already committed previous violations at Caesars properties — or online, at WSOP.com — that have resulted in a player currently being banned.

None of the players listed above have ever encountered such trouble at the WSOP or elsewhere within Caesars’ business interests, so they’re welcome to play. Neither are any of them present on any U.S. state’s blacklist of violators who have banned from all casinos in that state, which is the one added ban-worthy list that Caesars adheres to, literally by law. Being added to any state’s “black book” is virtually a permanent sentence for a gambler, too. For example, Archie Karas, the famed gambler who went on a $40 million run decades ago and had logged numerous WSOP cashes over multiple decades, is in the black books of both Nevada and California. He’ll almost certainly never play in another WSOP event.

The WSOP can’t be the global poker police

It really is that simple, despite the few buckets of mud thrown Caesars’ way online in recent days. There’s no sound basis for poker players to expect Caesars and the WSOP to ban players based on actions elsewhere, in particular outside the U.S. That’s despite the WSOP’s long history as the world’s largest and most important poker festival.

Caesars’ own obligation to fiduciary responsibility is yet another factor. Should the WSOP ban a player for something that occurred in a jurisdiction where Caesars doesn’t even operate, it could open the door to civil litigation. The global spaghetti ball that all such poker operators face is perhaps the biggest reason why a global poker blacklist remains little more than a pipedream. There is another gambling blacklist that includes several European Union member countries, but again, bans enacted therein apply only to participating jurisdictions.

Even when a company acts legitimately in the case of an already banned player, unexpected troubles can arise. In 2017, for example, Maryland’s Joseph Stiers entered the WSOP Main Event under identification using a variant form of his legal name. Stiers was banned from all Caesars properties at the time after incidents at an East Coast Caesars property, but with the altered ID, he managed to get into the Main Event. Stiers built up a healthy stack but the ruse was discovered on the Main Event’s Day 2. He was booted from the Rio — this writer saw him being questioned in a back hallway — and his chips were removed from play.

But that story didn’t end there. Stiers later sued the WSOP for hundreds of thousands of dollars, alleging lost income. That suit included his estimate of the value of the chip stack he had amassed, which he claimed was already worth a couple of hundred dollars, given the number of chips he had and his alleged superior poker skill versus the event’s level of competition.

Caesars and Stiers eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. It’s hard to imagine a settlement wherein Stiers received anything more than a refund of his initial $10,000 entry fee, perhaps plus some modest “go away” legal-fee money. Yet the Stiers case is more relevant to the current grumbles about the alleged cheaters playing in this year’s WSOP than one might think. Stiers broke Caesars’ own terms of participation, whereas none of the alleged cheaters have done anything against Caesars’, at least as far as anyone knows.

Being proactive against alleged cheating done elsewhere in the world, given the legal realities, is just asking for trouble. Caesars and the WSOP can bounce players for any number of reasons, but generally speaking, there has to be some sort of on-property justification. With regards to Imsirovic, Kenney, Schindler, Reixach, and perhaps others, that Caesars- or WSOP-linked justification doesn’t exist. So they are welcome to play.

Featured image source: Haley Hintze