PokerStars withholds winnings amid VPN row

The popular online poker website PokerStars is being sued by a former tournament runner-up after the site withheld his winnings. They allege that he was using a VPN to play in the tournament illegally from overseas and contend that they don’t owe him anything.

Where was Gordon Veyo?

The player in question is called Gordon Vayo and he won a tournament in the 2017 Spring Championship of Online Poker (SCOOP) event. Veyo took victory in the SCOOP Event #1, $1,050 No-Limit Hold’em event which offered a top prize of $692,460.

Two months after that event, and despite continuing to play events in the interim, Vayo found that PokerStars had frozen his account with them. The reason they gave for this was ‘suspicious activity’.

It appears that this ‘suspicious activity’ relates to where Veyo was at the time he was playing in the Spring SCOOP event. The tournament is a Canadian one and rules stipulate that all players must be eligible to play in Canada and physically located there throughout the tournament.

Veyo’s legality does not appear to be in question. He is resident in California, USA, but he holds joint US and Canadian citizenship. According to his lawyers, Veyo also retains a Canadian residence to enable him to play online Poker legally in Canada.

However, while this may be true, PokerStars are still questioning whether he was actually physically in Canada during this particular SCOOP event.

Guilty until proven innocent

In a letter sent by the attorneys of Rational Entertainment Enterprises Ltd, which owns PokerStars, they stated that their investigation into the matter had concluded that “failed to produce evidence sufficient to rebut” their suspicions that Veyo had played part of the tournament in the USA.

It seems that they are demanding an extremely high level of proof, with their letter suggesting that it was still “not inconceivable” that he was in the USA at the time of the tournament.

Veyo has responded by filing a lawsuit with the US District Court in Central California. He is alleging that Rational Entertainment is guilty of fraud, deceit, false advertising, and breach of contract.

According to his suit, PokerStars has subjected him to an extended campaign of harassment and meritless investigations over the issue and has still failed to pay him the winnings owed to him. In response, PokerStars has threatened to countersue for breach of contract.

Veyo appears confident in the evidence he has presented to PokerStars and believes that the court will accept his argument that PokerStars is involved in a campaign against American players and that its investigation was a sham.

PokerStars longstanding VPN issues

It is certainly not the first time that the PokerStars site has found itself embroiled in such controversy. We reported a couple of years ago on the case of Sorel Mizzi, another Canadian based in California who was accused of playing tournaments using a VPN.

In that case, as this, PokerStars did not reveal what proof they had that a VPN was used to spoof locations and make it appear that the player was in Canada when they were in fact elsewhere.

There has been one case, that of professional player Brian Hastings in 2015, where this was the case and Hastings himself later admitted that he had used a VPN to play a tournament and was therefore in breach of PokerStars terms of service.

But without such a confession, it seems unlikely that PokerStars can have any genuine proof at all.

It is certainly possible to use a VPN to unblock Poker site and play online tournaments from different countries around the world. But a VPN is a legitimate online security and privacy tool which many online poker players use to protect themselves while playing tournaments.

So, even if PokerStars can prove that the IP Address Veyo used to play the tournament is linked to a VPN provider, they will still not be able to prove beyond doubt that he was not using that VPN connection inside Canada.

This case looks suspiciously like a site trying to get out of paying a sizable winner’s check out on a technicality. And their investigation appears to be taking the approach of Veyo being guilty until proven innocent.

Ultimately, it will now be the Californian courts that will decide who is in the right and whether Veyo will be awarded his winnings or not.

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