“I have real cases, real clients. Gambling litigation is just a pastime. Some people play poker. Others sue cheater poker players.”
– Mark T. Lavery (@StopTeenGambling), Twitter DM to Haley Hintze, September, 2022.
Illinois attorney Mark T. Lavery, who has litigated for over a decade against forms of gambling that he deems to be illegal, has filed four lawsuits in Texas targeting that state’s social-club poker scene. Three of the four suits target established Texas cardrooms, their owners, and other entities, including The Lodge in Round Rock, TX, whose owners include Doug Polk, Brad Owen, and Andrew Neeme.
The fourth lawsuit Lavery filed in February targets Nate Silver, of fivethirtyeight and ESPN fame, who lives in New York but is frequently in Texas and who has, on occasion, played poker at the Lodge and elsewhere in the state. Lavery’s complaint against Silver refers heavily to Polk and the other Lodge owners and describes Silver as being part of a “combination” with Polk, Owen, and Silver. The suit then lists a wide net of aspersions and insinuations while alleging illegal activity..
Nevada-based Overlay Gaming Corp, parent company of PokerAtlas, is also a named defendant in two of Lavery’s four Texas lawsuits.
Lavery, who first came to the poker world’s attention in the 2010 “PokerHaus” case, has also filed a separate defamation complaint in Illinois targeting Polk. In an email to well-known, poker-connected tax accountant Theresa Fox that Lavery obtained, Polk allegedly referred to Lavery as a “total nut job,” adding to previous antagonism between Lavery and Polk. Lavery is asking for $30,000 for alleged per se defamation and damage to his business reputation.
The other two Lavery lawsuits target a total of four social-poker clubs in San Antonio and Lubbock. In Bexar County, Lavery has sued the perceived owner of the SA Card House, Sammy Wayne Nooner. Meanwhile, Lavery’s Lubbock County suit targets Rickey Plunkett, Robert McGovern, and Samuel Ashcraft, who operate Stacks Social Club, Gin Mill Card Club, and West Texas Card House, respectively.
Lavery’s Bexar County and Lubbock County complaints also list as a co-defendant Nevada-based Overlay Gaming Corporation, the parent company of PokerAtlas. The Lubbock County lawsuit accuses Overlay of “trying to infiltrate Texas and bring Vegas-style gambling to this state.”
Actions filed under Texas public-nuisance statutes
Each of the four complaints Lavery has filed in Texas cites state statutes related to suing those who participate in common or public nuisances. Each of the four Texas lawsuits also refers to “organized crime” or “organized criminal activity” in one or more declarations.
In general terms, the lawsuits also reference a tragedy in Lavery’s past that forms part of the background for his continuing animus toward gambling forms he believes that are illegal. Those activities include virtually any gambling activities that function or have functioned in the past in grey legal areas, from online poker and blackjack to daily fantasy sports (DFS), and to the social poker clubs in Texas.
Lavery himself seeks a windfall through the cases, whether via settlement or judgment. His action against The Lodge’s individual and corporate owners alone seeks a total of $1.2 million in exemplary damages, or $200,000 each, from Polk, Owen, Neeme, and the three companies also named as defendants – Upswing Poker Inc., Tempus Holdings Inc., and Moon Inc.
In the Lubbock County case, Lavery seeks another $200,000 each from individual defendants Plunkett, McGovern, and Ashcraft, plus $200,000 more from Overlay Gaming, PokerAtlas’s corporate parent.
In the San Antonio action, Lavery seeks $200,000 from each of that case’s two defendants, Nooner and (again) Overlay Gaming. And in the Nate Silver complaint, Lavery once more seeks $200,000. Combined, Lavery’s asked-for damages add up to $2.6 million. In each complaint, Lavery also seeks reimbursement for court costs and attorney’s fees, if applicable.
Each of the four complaints include far-reaching allegations against the named defendants, in addition to the repeated assertions that social-poker clubs are illegal. In actuality, while a handful of clubs have been raided, the legality issue has been addressed — both for and against — on a county-by-county basis.
There is no statewide Texas law declaring social-poker clubs legal, nor have the clubs’ core claims of adherence to applicable gambling law ever reached a courthouse trial. For now, Texas’s 70 or so poker clubs operate in an ill-defined, grey legal area. A handful of Texas clubs have been raided and shuttered through actions conducted at the county level. Most clubs haven’t.
Here’s a deeper look at what each lawsuit alleges:
The SA Card House Complaint
The SA Card House complaint targeting Nooner and PokerAtlas is the only of Lavery’s four recent Texas lawsuits to have received any news coverage to date. On March 13, 2023, San Antonio Express-News business reporter Patrick Danner reported on the suit, detailing Lavery’s allegations and the existence of the other three Texas lawsuits.
San Antonio’s SA Card House: (Image source: Facebook/SA Card House)
Danner’s report identified Nooner as the present manager of SA Card House and, as of 2018, a co-owner of the facility. Nooner declined to comment for that story, while Danner did receive a comment from Austin (TX) attorney Bogdan Rentea on behalf of PokerAtlas parent Overlay Gaming, asserting that Overlay had no role in owning or operating the SA Card House facility.
“Despite demands to abate from Plaintiff,” one paragraph from the complaint reads, “the SA crew continues to promote gambling, facilitate money laundering, gamble [sic] and organized criminal activity continues at the gambling place to reap economic benefits to the SA crew by harming Plaintiff and all of Bexar County and Texas.”
“Poker Atlas functions for criminal gambling in Texas like Silk Road previously functioned for drugs in Texas or Craigslist previously functioned for sex work in Texas.”
— Lavery v. Nooner, Lavery v. Overlay Gaming
Another allegation attempts to tie PokerAtlas to the SA Card House business: “Defendants use the website address www.pokeratlas.com to attract more gamblers from the public to gamble illegally in Texas and pay economic benefits to the combination.” The following paragraph offers this: “Poker Atlas functions for criminal gambling in Texas like Silk Road previously functioned for drugs in Texas or Craigslist previously functioned for sex work in Texas.”
One of Lavery’s final assertions reads as follows: “This public nuisance should be abated so Plaintiff and all are not exposed to these harms while enjoying Texas or trying to enjoy website addresses and computer networks.”
The Lubbock County complaint
Lavery’s complaint against the operators of three Lubbock-area poker rooms offers much of the same background as his Bexar filing targeting SA Card House. That includes the same references to “organized criminal activity” and “public nuisances” found in his other actions.
The Lubbock County complaint, however, includes an increased attempt to tie PokerAtlas to those three clubs, with Lavery even dubbing the four named defendants, collectively, as the “Poker Atlas Lubbock crew.”
The Lubbock County complaint also cites the recent Dallas ruling by Civil District Court Judge Eric Moye that would adversely affect three poker clubs operating there that have had their occupancy permits revoked. “Judge Eric Moye in Dallas, Texas has previously held that a poker club in Texas is an illegal gambling place,” writes Lavery.
That assertion, though, is factually incorrect. Judge Moye simply ruled in favor of the Dallas City Attorney’s Office and against the city’s Board of Adjustment, agreeing with the city’s attorney’s office that the Board of Adjustment had overstepped its authority. Judge Moye made no specific statement regarding the Dallas rooms’ legality, and the three clubs, by agreement on all sides, remain open pending final resolution of appeals expected to reach the Texas Supreme Court.
Lavery writes, “Despite demands to abate and Judge Moye’s ruling, the ‘Poker Atlas Lubbock’ crew continues to promote gambling, facilitate money laundering, gamble and organized criminal activity continues in Lubbock at three gambling places to reap economic benefits by harming Plaintiff and all of Lubbock County and Texas. Lavery also repeats the unsavory Silk Road and Craiglist connotations as found in the Bexar County complaint.
Lavery again inserts PokerAtlas without specifics: “Defendant Overlay Corporation continues operating the club in Dallas deemed illegal by Judge Moye.” However, lacking congruence, Lavery neither names the Dallas club allegedly operated by Overlay, nor has he filed a similar public-nuisance case to date in Dallas County, where the three Dallas clubs potentially impacted by Judge Moye’s ruling are located.
The complaint against Polk, Neeme, and Owen
Another of Lavery’s Texas filings is the Williamson County complaint against The Lodge owners Polk, Neeme, Owen, and three related corporate entities. Under the complaint’s section of asserted “Facts”, Lavery immediately claims this:
Andrew Neeme, Brad Owen, and Doug Polk pose outside the Lodge. (Image: YouTube / Doug Polk Poker)
“This case involves organized criminal activity as Defendants are members of a combination as prohibited by the Penal Code for gambling, keeping a gambling place and money laundering at [The Lodge], Round Rock, Texas.
“Defendant Douglas Polk is a notorious gambler and cryptocurrency maven that owns and operates a gambling place [The Lodge] in combination with Defendants Andrew Neeme and Bradley Owen….
“Defendants have been put on notice by Plaintiff since May of 2022 through Defendant Brad Owen and staff at the gambling place that [The Lodge] is a public nuisance and must be abated and closed.
“Defendants have continued to engage in gambling and operate the gambling place with malice toward neighboring businesses, residents, residents, the public and Plaintiff despite this notice from Plaintiff to abate the nuisance.”
Later, Lavery asserts that The Lodge collects “seat-fee/rake” as one of its methods of generating revenue. However, seat fees and rake are not the same thing, though Lavery’s statement implies that, and the difference between the two goes to the core of the legal positioning under which all of Texas’s poker clubs operate. Specifically, collecting rake is expressly illegal under Texas laws governing poker games, while other methods of generating revenue might or might not be illegal and have yet to be tested in a Texas court.
The Nate Silver complaint
Perhaps the most vitriolic of Lavery’s four Texas filings to date is that against Nate Silver, the founder of fivethirtyeight.com. Silver was also an online-poker pro before his political and sports prognostication site became a viral hit, and in 2022, he also accepted a role as a sports editor for ESPN. Both of those facts enter into Lavery’s allegations.
Nate Silver of 538 fame was sued by Lavery immediately after Silver played in a live-streamed game at The Lodge and Tweeted a link to the YouTube stream for the game.
Silver has been targeted by Lavery not for owning or operating any of the Texas clubs, but simply for having played with Neeme and others in a live-streamed Lodge game last month.
The logic Lavery invokes to define Silver as a defendant is so stretched that for the first 13 paragraphs of Lavery’s introduction of alleged “Facts”, Silver himself isn’t even mentioned. Instead, all that wordage is devoted to a reprisal of allegations against Lodge owners Polk, Neeme, and Owen, and The Lodge’s alleged organized criminal activity.
Then, Lavery describes how he discovered the live-streamed game involving Silver, which Silver linked to in a Tweet on his personal account. Lavery’s discovery came just after he had issued a demand to Upswing Poker’s Nevada-based agent, Theresa Fox, demanding that the “public nuisance” in Round Rock be abated, meaning that The Lodge must close its doors and cease operations.
Here’s how Lavery describes why Silver is also a deserving defendant:
“Defendant Nathaniel Read Silver retweeted a link on www.twitter.com to a stream of him publicly gambling at [The Lodge] on www.youtube.com with Andrew Neeme on February 21, 2023 that was viewed by almost 100,000 people on Twitter.
“Defendant Silver and Neeme gambled through the night publicly on www.youtube.com despite the fact that Neeme’s agent Theresa Fox had been notified to abate the public nuisance earlier that day and Plaintiff previously had given notice to Brad Owen of the combination and staff since May of 2022.
“When two close associates like Neeme and Silver play together, collusion, a form of poker cheating, is possible,” Lavery alleges. Silver, though, reputedly lost $50,000 in the streamed game in question.
— Quoted portion from Lavery v. Silver
“Despite the fact that legal and regulated poker is widely available in New York where Defendant Silver lives and is legally available and regulated in neighboring New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Defendant Silver travels from New York to Texas play in illegal unregulated poker games just like he gambled on illegal unregulated poker on the Internet before the DOJ stopped that criminal gambling activity.”
Next, Lavery casts a collusion aspersion in Silver’s direction. “When two close associates like Neeme and Silver play together, collusion, a form of poker cheating, is possible,” Lavery alleges. Silver, though, reputedly lost $50,000 in the streamed game in question.
On the day after Silver’s Lodge livestream appearance, Lavery notified Silver that he must “abate the public nuisance and abate his use of website addresses and computer networks in connection with this activity.”
Lavery also contacted corporate counsel at Silver’s employer, ESPN, and declared that Silver “[used] brand names of his employer in connection with the organized criminal activity.” Lavery also demanded that ESPN “take steps” to shut down the poker at The Lodge. ESPN parent ABC has actually owned fivethirtyeight.com since 2013, when Silver sold the blog while staying on as its editor-in-chief.
A ‘standing’ problem for Lavery in Texas
Despite the fervor within Lavery’s four Texas lawsuits to date, there’s a very real chance that the complaints are invalid on their face. The very same Texas common-nuisance statute that Lavery invokes, Chapter 6, Section 125, details exactly who is allowed to file such a complaint:
Sec. 125.064. SUIT TO ABATE NUISANCE. (a) A district, county, or city attorney, the attorney general, or a resident of the state may sue to enjoin a public nuisance under this subchapter.
Lavery is a resident of Illinois, not of Texas. He is indeed a licensed attorney, but that is also in Illinois, not in Texas, and his four Texas filings list him as a pro se (self-representing) defendant. None of the complaints inform the court or the named defendants that Lavery is a licensed attorney in good standing in another state.
Danner wrote, “Lavery replied with a ‘no comment’ in an email when asked to explain how he was injured by the defendants in the SA Card House case and how he had standing to bring the action.”
The four Texas filings also omit an introductory paragraph found in most civil complaints that typically declares where the plaintiff lives and why the venue – here, meaning a Texas court – is proper. The venue may indeed be proper, but Lavery’s defendants will surely challenge the filings based on Lavery’s seeming lack of standing (meaning residency in Texas) in filing these cases.
Instead, the only disclosure that Lavery isn’t from Texas comes at the very end of each complaint, where he lists his Illinois home address and other contact information.
San Antonio Express-News business writer Danner was also the first to write about Lavery’s possible lack of standing to bring these actions. Danner wrote, “Lavery replied with a ‘no comment’ in an email when asked to explain how he was injured by the defendants in the SA Card House case and how he had standing to bring the action.”
Later, Lavery sent Danner a follow-up: “My comment is that the ultimate decision will be made in due course by the wise judiciary of Texas. I look forward to that debate and pray for justice. I hope the parties will cooperate and streamline this litigation for prompt resolution to resolve these important legal issues about gambling in Texas. I would like to see the card rooms suspend operations until judicial rulings are final.”
On the same day that Danner’s Express-News story was published, Lavery sent an unsolicited email to this writer that runs counter to the request for streamlined litigation in Texas, while also referencing Lavery’s Illinois defamation suit against Polk (below). “Btw I tried to get Polk to agree to stay litigation until our defamation lawsuit is resolved,” Lavery wrote. “He has refused to agree. Polk obviously wants me to move forward in Texas and I will. But I tried to come to agreement on pausing litigation in Texas.”
Also noteworthy is that each of the four Texas complaints inserts the word “malice” regarding the defendants’ behavior, as it relates to Lavery’s demands that the rooms cease operations. Behavior ruled to be malicious is required under Texas law in order for a court to award exemplary, or special, damages. Lavery alleges no actual monetary damages or gambling losses and does not appear to have visited or played at any of the poker rooms mentioned in his complaints.
Lavery’s Illinois defamation suit against Doug Polk
Lodge co-owner Polk has also been sued by Lavery in Lavery’s home state of Illinois for defamation per se for referring to Lavery as a “total nut job” in an email to Fox. Lavery’s Illinois complaint opens with Lavery calling Polk a criminal:
“Douglas Polk (“Defendant”) is a criminal gambler that has strong and lasting connections to Illinois but also operates an illegal gambling place in Round Rock, Texas that is a public nuisance.”
Joey Ingram (Image: revolutionpix/Global Poker Index)
Later, Lavery details the alleged “strong and lasting connections” to Lavery’s home state, which amount to Polk being close friends with Illinois resident “Chicago Joey” Ingram. Both Polk and Ingram publish popular poker-related podcasts. Ingram, despite being a resident of Illinois, has not been sued by Lavery to date.
Lavery’s defamation claim is centered on this line in the email from Polk to Fox: “I am very sorry you have to deal with this. He’s a total nut job. He has been harassing a friend of mine for years….” Lavery then declares that the statement, “He has been harassing a friend of mine for years….” is false and defamatory.
Deeper yet into his complaint, Lavery declares, “On information and belief, the unknown friend in the defamatory statement is from Illinois.… Furthermore, [Polk] has had regular and systematic relationships and transactions with Illinois gamblers and Illinois residents since around 2006.
Image source: UpswingPoker.com
“For example, one of his closest criminal gambling associates for years is a gambler known as ‘Chicago Joey’”, a reference to Ingram…. “Chicago Joey and [Polk] recently engaged in a campaign of defamation against a person named Mike Postle. [Polk] published false allegations of cheating against Mike Postle on the Internet after Mike Postle fairly won large amounts of money from [Polk]’s associates in a legal and regulated poker game in California that was streamed on the Internet.
Polk’s infamous “More Rake is Better” slam against Daniel Negreanu on a Las Vegas billboard outside the Rio in 2018 even makes its way into Lavery’s complaint: “[Polk] has spent thousands of dollars in the past as part of tirades against his perceived enemies. [Polk] has even bought billboard space as part of a tirade against an enemy of [Polk] that is named Daniel Negreanu.”
Exploring the Postle connection
Lavery’s enmity toward Polk and Ingram is derived in some part from the two friends’ independent coverage of the Postle saga. Lavery initially contacted this writer in August 2022 in connection with other suits he filed in Illinois and Georgia. The contacts consisted of several dozen direct Twitter text messages Lavery sent from two separate accounts last August and September. One of the two accounts, @StopTeenGambling, has since been deleted.
(Image source: Twitter/@Mike_Postle)
Lavery’s texts explored several different topics, including his belief that Postle was innocent of the cheating allegations first publicized by Veronica Brill, and that Polk and Ingram, in particular, had indeed defamed Postle, despite Postle’s $330 million defamation case being tossed out of a California court.
Both Ingram, as an individual, and Polk, via his UpswingPoker interest, were among the 12 defendants Postle sued. Neither Polk nor Ingram actively defended themselves against Postle’s claim, which was ruled frivolous and dismissed.
Postle still owes over $70,000 in combined legal fees to two other defendants who actively contested Postle’s claims, Brill and Todd Witteles. The 12 defendants in Postle’s defamation complaint also included Negreanu and ESPN, the company that currently employs Silver.
Long history of gambling-related litigation for Lavery
Lavery, currently of Tinley Park, Illinois, has filed occasional lawsuits against gambling related people and companies dating back to at least 2010. That year, he represented a Florida man, Scott Crespo, in three separate actions targeting nine well-known online poker players from Illinois, each of whom had recorded significant online wins and were listed on sites such as PocketFives as being Illinois residents.
Six of the players – Andy Seth, Faraz Jaka, Benjamin Lefew, Mohsin Charania, Ravi Raghavan, and Tyler Reiman – were named as defendants in the highest-profile case of the three, dubbed the “Pokerhaus” lawsuit. Kevin Saul was named in another Lavery/Crespo lawsuit, while two more Illinois online players, Connor Drinan and Brandon Zaucha, were named in a third Lavery/Crespo complaint.
Seth and the others organized the PokerHaus, in a real house in Urbana not far from the University of Illinois, where the six players and others formed one of the first online-poker “grinder” operations known to exist and earned hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars. The PokerHaus was also home to live poker games and plenty of parties, as one would expect from a college-aged scene.
The PokerHaus operation was also prominently publicized online, including its own website and forum at pokerhaus.com. Numerous postings from that site found their way into Lavery’s and Crespo’s complaint, which eventually ran close to 200 pages in length.
Of interest is that Crespo never alleged losing money online himself to any of the players. Instead, the action relied on a venerable anti-gambling statute, the Illinois Loss Act, which empowers anyone to sue on behalf of a gambling loser within the following six months and recover those losses themselves. It’s not even known publicly whether Crespo actually played online poker, or whether he just agreed to be Lavery’s more-or-less random plaintiff for the purposes of the suit.
The Illinois statute is similar to the infamous Kentucky Loss Recovery Act that Kentucky officials used to attack offshore online-gambling sites. Those attacks included the long-fought battle between Kentucky and PokerStars that resulted in Kentucky receiving, in 2022, a $300 million settlement from Stars’ current owner, Flutter Entertainment. As with Kentucky, the Illinois law also allows for tripled damages, increasing the financial risk to the players Lavery and Crespo sued.
Lavery may have been inspired by a similar 2010 case in Kentucky, when that state sued PartyPoker parent bwin.party over Party’s pre-UIGEA activity in that state. Kentucky threatened the use of the third-party loss recovery statute in that matter, just as would be implemented in its case against PokerStars. Bwin.party settled in 2013, sending $15 million to Kentucky to resolve the matter. Kentucky also received $8 million from the $105 million the US Department of Justice received from bwin.party in an early-2010 settlement.
In 2011, an Illinois judge consolidated the three Lavery-Crespo lawsuits into a single case. Later that year, with all parties fatigued from the impact of that April’s “Black Friday” online-poker crackdown, the two sides negotiated a settlement for an undisclosed amount.
Personal tragedy led to Lavery’s online-gambling hatred
Sagas as long and fever-pitched as Lavery’s ongoing legal wars often have dark, sad stories within. Lavery’s backstory contains one of the darkest. In October of 2008, his wife, a problem gambler, committed suicide after losing an unspecified but admittedly large amount of money gambling online.
Lavery’s wife, then 34, had been playing blackjack online at UltimateBet before her losses became too much and she took her own life. Beyond the huge personal and emotional loss, Lavery may have suffered a significant financial hit as well.
This writer did not pursue how Lavery’s wife moved money onto UltimateBet, though several deposit channels were available at the time, from credit cards to e-checks to transfers from bank accounts through third-party online wallets.
With his wife’s online bankroll long gambled away, Lavery would’ve had little hope of recovering funds. (No additional personal information about Lavery’s deceased wife, including her name, will be published here, out of respect for her privacy and for Lavery’s personal loss.)
The tragedy also factors into Lavery’s drawing of a sharp line between what he views as legal casino gaming and other gambling forms. Lavery is fine with land-based casinos. “I got engaged to my wife at Bellagio,” he told this writer in a DM last September.
Lavery’s wife’s passing occurred roughly at the same time as news emerged of the insider cheating scandals at UltimateBet and its eventual sister site, Absolute Poker. For Lavery, that likely led him to believe that not only was the poker at UltimateBet crooked, but the online blackjack was as well, and that the site cheated his wife out of her money.
It’s impossible to prove a negative from the outside looking in, but this writer’s considerable knowledge of the UB and AP cheating scandals doesn’t include any evidence that the blackjack, as with some of the poker, was rigged. Online poker is a peer-to-peer competition, and the insider cheating there was done via “God Mode” developmental tools that were reinserted, with special access for the cheaters, into real-money play. In contrast, the online blackjack was a player-versus-house game with a built-in house edge.
And to Lavery, there’s no doubt that UB’s blackjack games weren’t on the level. “There was no grey area with Ultimate Bet. It’s obviously illegal to operate a rigged blackjack site in US after [2006’s] UIGEA,” he stated in another text message.
There were certainly significant connections between the poker and blackjack offerings at UltimateBet. According to company insiders, several million dollars of the money stolen on the site’s poker tables by primary inside cheater Russ Hamilton were funneled into his personal pet project, the Ultimate Blackjack Tour.
UltimateBet’s top two poker ambassadors, Phil Hellmuth and Annie Duke, were among numerous well-known poker players who played on the short-lived UBT. Hellmuth also figures into Lavery’s lawsuits in another way, detailed later in this piece.
The only allegation regarding possible blackjack rigging at either UB or AP that this writer ever encountered came not from UltimateBet, but from Absolute Poker. Both companies were quick to jump on the blackjack bandwagon after PartyPoker became the first US-facing offshore poker site to offer online blackjack to US players in late 2005 or early 2006, under its PartyCasino platform.
In one of many insider tales I’ve never fully corroborated, a high-ranking AP executive told me that AP founder Scott Tom saw Party’s quick success with online blackjack and wanted to copy it, but with a twist: He wanted to rig the blackjack gaming engine so that new players always won the first hand they played. According to this tale as described to me, AP’s regulator at the time, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, denied Tom’s request to have such an altered game approved.
Cardrunners co-founder Taylor Caby also among Lavery’s legal targets
Lavery’s targets aren’t limited to the Texas card room operators, PokerAtlas, or Silver. On March 15, 2022, he filed an action against former online poker pro Taylor Caby, an Illinois resident who was a prominent player on UltimateBet prior to the 2011 Black Friday crackdown under his “Green Plastic” screen name. Caby was also a co-founder of one of the first major training sites, CardRunners, which became closely affiliated with Full Tilt Poker.
This writer has yet to obtain certain documentation regarding Lavery’s suit against Caby, or about a related complaint and request for injunctive relief he filed just six days later. That March 21, 2022 complaint named SidePrize LLC (the parent entity of DFS site PrizePicks, and Caby’s Establish the Run LLC. Corporate entities American Wagering Inc., BetMGM LLC, and Rush Street Interactive IL LLC are also named as defendants.
The March 21, 2022 lawsuit against the five corporate defendants was dismissed last October for lack of sufficient evidence, but the presiding judge granted Lavery the right to submit an amended complaint. SidePrize LLC was dismissed as a defendant from the initial complaint in December, and in January, Lavery filed an amended complaint against the remaining defendants.
In his Twitter DM blast to this writer last September, Lavery asserted, “I offered Caby’s lawyer a no-dollar settlement if they shut it down in March and April [of 2022].” The exact date the offer was purportedly made is unclear.
Lavery’s targeting of Caby also has roots in the UltimateBet and PokerHaus eras. “The PokerHaus kids were colluding and connected to Taylor Caby,” he texted this writer, though no mention of Caby appears to exist within the expansive Pokerhaus complaint.
“And Taylor Caby sold the lie ‘I turned $35 into millions on UB’ to thousands of underage gamblers who deposited on [UB],” he added. Caby did not respond to an informal request from this writer to discuss Lavery’s legal actions against him.
Lavery has filed one other anti-DFS action in Illinois as well. That lawsuit names New York-based Underdog Sports Inc. as its defendant. Underdog Sports Inc. is the parent company of Underdog Fantasy, another site Lavery alleges provides illegal DFS services to Illinois residents.
Caby linked to Phil Hellmuth in related Georgia complaint
Caby has also been sued by Lavery in another state, Georgia, again in connection with an online DFS offering that Lavery contends operators illegally. In his first Twitter contact with this writer, last August, Lavery texted, “Are you aware of the new gambling case against Phil Hellmuth, SidePrize, ETR(Caby LLC),” [referring to Caby’s Establish the Run entity], “Levitan and Silva? Is a lawsuit against Hellmuth for cheating newsworthy to you?”
Phil Hellmuth at the 2022 WSOP (Image: Haley Hintze)
Lavery also sent a photocopied image of the Georgia lawsuit’s first page to this writer, but refused repeated requests to email the entire complaint for review.
The single-page file image Lavery transmitted does show the Georgia case was e-filed on August 22, 2022 in Fulton County State Court of Georgia. It lists as defendants SidePrize LLC, David Wexler, Hellmuth, Adam Levitan, Evan Silva, and Caby’s Establish the Run LLC.
The filing also claims to be for the benefit of the Educational Fund of Fulton County, rather than to benefit Lavery personally as in many of his other cases. However, this writer decided not to explore the story further at that time, due to Lavery’s refusal to forward the full complaint and due to the combativeness and belligerence expressed in many of his Twitter DMs.
“What’s your business model? Being a tout pretending to be a journalist,” Lavery texted in one exchange. “I don’t want your coverage. I just wanted it documented that the tout ‘poker’ press will cover up the story. My mission is accomplished.”
Some newsworthy discussion did eventually ensue, though not enough to override multiple other concerns. Part of the less-confrontational portions of the exchanges involved Hellmuth, the long-time minority owner and public face of UltimateBet, the site where Lavery claims his wife lost the large sums online before taking her own life.
“Phil stayed at the site after 2006,” Lavery texted. He added, “Hellmuth is not stupid. He claims his best friend is one of the richest men in the world. He knows UB was criminal enterprise. He knows PrizePicks is criminal enterprise.”
Yet Lavery claimed there was no personal hatred involved regarding Hellmuth. “I have no hate in me at all. I’ve told people on many occasions I like Hellmuth. I think his conduct is illegal and hurts teen gamblers. But I think Hellmuth seems smart and entertaining. I hope he changes his behavior.”
Then Lavery switched to how he specifically decided to go ahead and sue Hellmuth, Caby’s company, and the other defendants in Georgia. “I told Brian Balsbaugh to shut it down before WSOP (Balsbaugh is an owner too and Phil’s agent and close friend). He refused so I initiated Georgia action.”
Later in the text exchange, Lavery summed up his beliefs as follows: “Final note: I’m not anti gambling…. I’m anti cheater.
“I don’t want any press…. I just wanted to create paper trail of cover up.”
Tragedy, but also litigation for profit
Lavery’s Georgia lawsuit being filed to benefit an educational fund, most of his lawsuits demand personal compensation from the named defendants. Lavery pitched a nobility angle this writer’s way during the initial text exchange, though his statements then exposed his seemingly dim view of poker players and the poker world in general.
“The $ will come in due time. The shaming is to get them to #StopTeenGambling now.”
— Mark Lavery, Twitter DM to Haley Hintze, September 2022
As his various filings show, there also appears to be significant personal-profit motivation, even if it’s deeply driven by the tragedy in his past. At one juncture, he texted, “The $ will come in due time. The shaming is to get them to #StopTeenGambling now.”
To Lavery, the end he seeks thus justifies the means. “How is filing valid lawsuits to stop the type of crime happening at Full Tilt a worse business model than exploiting fish, drunks, and addicted gamblers on the felt every day?” Lavery asked. At least in Texas, there are significant questions as to whether his lawsuits are indeed valid, or whether they are instead nuisance litigation.
“I have real cases, real clients. Gambling litigation is just a pastime. Some people play poker. Others sue cheater poker players,” he added. This text message to this writer was sent over three months after Lavery acknowledged making demands against The Lodge’s owners to close down the Austin-area poker club.
As for poker, his is a dim view indeed, no matter the venue. “The list of winners is small,” he texted. “Recall ADDICT Erick Lindgren, BROKE Brad Booth, Marker Criminal Ted Forrest, DIVORCED Jen Harman, Molester Amarillo Slim, Cheater of Baccarat Phil Ivey, and Stu Ungar.”
Lavery is nothing if not hyper-aggressive in how he practices law. He even advertises himself online like this: “Mark is an aggressive lawyer who prefers to strike first and sue creditors, collection agencies, consumer reporting agencies and unfair businesses before a client resorts to bankruptcy or before the client gets sued.“ He sells himself as a defender of consumers’ rights, though his practice covers broader specialties, and for those who might wonder, he is a lawyer in good standing in Illinois and has received no formal bar sanctions in a quarter-century-long career.
His aggression regarding his various court cases continues as well. Over the course of five emails earlier this month, he has indicated his plans to depose or subpoena this writer as a “witness” in his cases, specifically those involving Polk.
A Saturday, March 4, 2023 email to this writer declares:
I have filed lawsuits against Doug Polk. One is related to Lodge poker. You seem to have significant relevant information about this gambling place in Texas. I also have filed a defamation lawsuit against Doug Polk in Illinois. See attached.
I am seeking related evidence from you. I believe you may be a witness.
Are you willing to voluntarily provide me with evidence?
The very next day, Sunday, March 5, 2023, Lavery emailed this:
I am surprised by your lack of response and non-cooperation but I would like to offer the dates of April 17-21, 2023 for your deposition. If we cannot come to an agreement by the end of next week then I will unilaterally pick a date, serve a subpoena and move for a rule to show cause if you fail to appear. Please provide me with a preferred date for your deposition.
Lavery continues to insist this writer consents to either an informal meeting on an increasing number of topics or be subpoenaed. By information and belief (as lawyers are fond of stating), he has made similar “witness” demands on other poker people as well. As I explained in my delayed response to him – his emails actually went to an address I rarely check – I believe I have no relevant information to offer.
Stated here publicly, I’ve only met Doug Polk in person very briefly at the WSOP on two or three occasions. I’ve never been anywhere near The Lodge card room in Texas, and I wouldn’t have the slightest clue about how that room’s owners conduct their business. But I really don’t care either way; I wouldn’t mind trying to learn more from personal observation about this man who’s come to hate deeply so many things connected to poker.
This writer has contacted or attempted to contact several of the people referenced in this story. No one was willing to speak on the record at this time.
(Anything in this report that could be construed as an opinion is that of the author only, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of PokerOrg’s owner or publisher. — HH)
Featured image source: Haley Hintze