GGPoker go after Vanessa Kade over Bilzerian criticism

Jon Pill
Published by:
Posted on 03/11/2021

Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece by Poker.org author Jon Pill. The views expressed here are entirely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Poker.org or its staff.

GGPoker hired Daiva Byrne as an Outreach & Community Advocate less than a month ago. Already she has her job cut out for her.

On International Women’s Day (March 8th) GGPoker advertised their IWD Charity Tournament using Byrne’s face and name.

They tweeted a photo of her at the poker table from their main Twitter account. The image game with the caption: “Wishing a very special International Women’s Day to @baltic_blonde, #GGPoker’s Outreach & Community Advocate. Looking forward to tonight’s IWD Charity game and to many more fun activities in the future! #IWD2021.”

The next day they ended their affiliate agreement with Vanessa Kade. The reason given was that Kade had “clearly terminated that partnership a few months back.” This appears to be a veiled reference to Kade having criticized GGPoker for their support of noted misogynist Dan Bilzerian.

“GG is setting a dangerous and completely subjective precedent,” Kade told Poker.org in a recent interview. “One where they can choose to terminate affiliate accounts that generate income from work that was completed years ago if you say anything negative about their company. […] It says something pretty profound that the only place they exercised this is as punishment for bringing up valid concerns about misogyny.”

We’re sorry you made us do this…

Vanessa Kade woke up the day after International Women’s Day to find a DM in her Twitter inbox. It was from a member of GGPoker’s team. And it ended an income stream for which Kade had already done the work.

Kade tweeted the full text of the message along with the caption: “[GGPoker] finally responded to the Bilzerian mess, by terminating my residual affiliate account from way back […] and not acknowledging any wrongdoing or anything remotely close to an apology.”

“You clearly terminated the partnership[…]” GGPoker’s team member writes. “It’s a shame you can’t see all the things we’re trying to accomplish[…]” they add. “To call us out as misogynistic is completely inaccurate and offensive […] especially to [the] women,” they add.

The tone of the email very much that of the abuser’s classic: “We’re sorry you made us do this.”

This is a real company. One with a customer service division and millions of dollars in their marketing budget. This is how they handle a customer complaint.

The extra “G” is for extra gaslighting

The attempts to hide the victim-blaming are paper thin as is the weaselly way any mention of Bilzerian is avoided. The sub-text is clear though: Speak out about GGPoker’s misogyny and they will hurt you financially. In whatever small way they can.

This threat serves to drastically undermine the reliability of the GGPoker employee’s claims to have never been made to feel “less than equal.”

The message takes on an additionally unsettling tone when one remembers that this note is addressed to a person whom one of GGPoker’s contractors tried to insult by calling her a prostitute. (Bilzerian only failed to land this insult because of a lapse in literacy. A “hoe” is a gardening implement. The slur against sex-workers that he was looking for was, in fact, “ho.”)

In almost any other industry, that alone would have been a major scandal. Here we see GGPoker not only failing to apologize but actively setting out to punish their critics.

The toxicity of GGPoker’s brand

GGPoker has from time to time shown signs of their fly-by-night nature. Most major poker sites have a corporate polish to them. GGPoker, on the other hand, can sometimes feel like one of those family restaurants that reply in all-caps to bad reviews on Trip Advisor.

GGPoker’s target market before 2020 was China, where online gambling is illegal. When they took over the WSOP in 2020, they failed to put on enough server space. The result was frequent crashes. They milked what they could by advertising a WSOP Main Event that turned out to be just another $5k rebuy. Then, in an effort to make their customers more comfortable, they started arbitrarily banning winning players.

And of course, there was the time they hired Dan Bilzerian for his enormous following of incels. This at least they seemed to recognize may have been a bridge too far towards utter bad taste. So they tried masking the chancre with Daiva Byrne’s good name.

The hypocritical oath

Byrne’s good name may not be worth much for much longer. Her performance on a recent episode of The Orbit was unimpressive. She equivocated over the Dan Bilzerian issue, a topic she should have been ready for.

No doubt she was hamstrung by her contract with GGPoker. GGPoker’s outreach program to women has only had one effect: that of gagging a leading voice for women in poker. This is a polished gem of purest irony.

The hire of Byrne now feels like a brilliant gambit by GGPoker’s marketing department. If she succeeded in whitewashing the Bilzerian hire for them, they’d win a P.R. battle. But if GGPoker’s mask slipped yet again — as it just did — then she would serve as a pseudo-Quisling. In that role, she ended up absorbing much of the criticism. Criticism that would be more usefully leveled at Bilzerian and his employers.

GGPoker’s entirely male roster of sponsored pros has managed to evade the same criticism as Byrne. This in spite of similar levels of hypocrisy.

Daniel Negreanu was once one of Bilzerian’s most prominent critics. But he has kept schtum since Bilzerian’s hire, apart from one business-like tweet on the subject. “When it comes to poker and mainstream reach,” he wrote. “There isn’t a bigger influencer in the world. Welcome aboard.”

We have reached out to several of GGPoker’s other brand ambassadors for comment. None have responded so far, so I’ll leave the last word on the subject to Kade.

“This bigotry sh*t? Younger generations are having none of it. If poker wants to thrive & acquire new players, we better stop catering to antiquated ideas and get the f*ck on board.”

Featured image source: Twitter