Thursday, September 15, 2011

Plenty of ickiness to go around

I'm not sure why I continue to be interested in the Epic Poker/Michael DiVita situation--I have no affiliation with the league (except that my friend Jen gave me a nice EPL baseball cap), and expect that I never will--but I am. I listened to the interviews with DiVita and with Stephen Martin (consulting ethicist and head of the Standards and Conduct Committee) on Quadjacks.

Both of them left me feeling icky.

Nobody who wasn't already a friend of Mr. DiVita will have become one as a result of his appearance on the podcast. It was as if he were deliberately trying to make himself look bad, and maybe even more guilty than he actually is. He had convenient and implausible lapses of memory when asked about his criminal history. He made multiple attempts at humor, all of which failed miserably, and many of which were frankly offensive--not least of which was mocking a Mexican accent when told that he was being asked a question from Jonathan Aguiar. His recounting of his criminal history was frankly not credible in many ways, such as claiming that he went to prison for three years on a parole violation because he changed which counselor he was seeing, with that counselor's consent. (How do you end up in prison for three years for a parole violation on what he repeatedly claimed was just a misdemeanor conviction?) The entire thing was cringeworthy, from start to finish. Maybe he's as innocent as he claims, but his approach to the interview left at least this listener with a strong impression that he was not even trying to explain his past with any degree of frankness and honesty.

That said, Mr. Martin's interview had its own troubling aspects. (Among them, it could have been compressed into half the time it took if he would have just refrained from saying "y'know" ten times in every sentence. SO annoying.)

Highest on my radar is that I see no way around the conclusion that he lied in either this interview or the one he gave to Bluff magazine. Compare these answers:
BLUFF: Had he decided to play, would there have been a subsequent meeting with the Standards and Conduct Committee regarding whether or not he was allowed to take part?

SM: We don’t generally make the discussions of the committee public because the players on the committee want to be able to have confidential discussions about the players, so since he chose to withdraw, I don’t think it would be fair to speculate about what would’ve been the next step.
And here's my own transcript of one section of the Quadjacks interview:
SM: I explained the process to him. I explained that if he attempted to play in the league, in the main event, that it was gonna be very likely that the Standards and Conduct Committee would then suspend him pending a hearing and that y'know he would then have a formal disciplinary action against him by the league, and he didn't want that.

QJ: So the committee had made its decision, despite, like I suggested, not having taken any action yet, the committee had made a preemptive decision of how it would act if Mr. DiVita was to refuse to withdraw. Is that right?

SM: The committee did not take any official action, but the committee would have taken action in Mr. DiVita's case y'know if he had attempted to play. Yes.
So to Bluff magazine he claims that it would be just speculation what the committee would have done had Mr. DiVita not withdrawn. But to Quadjacks he explicitly agrees that the committee had made a "preemptive decision" and that it "would have taken action." I don't see any way to reconcile those two stories.

I'm left with a smattering of loosely associated thoughts on this whole mess:

1. I'm not a lawyer and don't even play one on TV, but my guess is that DiVita has practically zero chance of prevailing in any legal action.

2. EPL has a completely untenable situation on its hands, in terms of having a set of moral/personal eligibility criteria for being allowed to buy in to its event, but opening a satellite to that event to anybody who hands over the entry fee for it. It seems to me both morally wrong and horrible PR to take somebody's money to play in the satellite, then, if and only if he wins a seat to the main event, tell him, "Sorry, you're not eligible," and if he loses, you just keep his money, let him walk away, and let him enter again the next time. Who in his right mind would want to play the satellite if the league is going to reserve the right to exclude you after you win, based on infinitely flexible, purely discretionary, totally arbitrary standards by which anything in your entire past life might be judged to make the league look bad?

3. The right to "due process" that Mr. Martin kept boasting about being a feature of their process is pretty much meaningless in a case such as this. They were prepared to suspend him from eligibility to play, pending a hearing. But how fast could they conduct the kind of inquest described? Surely not quickly enough to allow the affected player back into the tournament. And after it's over, even if the allegations were found to be groundless, the league would undoubtedly tell him, "Sorry, but there's no recourse for your lost opportunity in the event that recently concluded. Thanks for paying your entry fee. Buh-bye."

4. The way we as a society treat sex offenders who have completed their sentences is both shameful and counterproductive. See here for the best essay I've read on how things like sex-offender registries are "a triumph of outrage over reason." I don't know exactly what Mr. DiVita is accused of having done in 1991, nor whether he actually did what he was accused of. But I don't care. First, he has done his time and not been convicted of anything since then, so I consider it over and done with. Second, it could not possibly have any meaningful impact on how he conducts himself as a poker player in 2011.

5. His arrest in 2008 also should be ignored, in my opinion. People get arrested for all sorts of reasons, including, e.g., mistaken identity and people concocting false accusations for their own nefarious purposes. The presumption of innocence should actually mean something. Drawing an inference of guilt based on an arrest for which charges were later dropped is, I think, grievously wrong.

6. Neither Mr. Martin nor anybody else from Epic has explained to my satisfaction exactly what conduct from a person's past renders him ineligible for participation in EPL. To repeat the oft-asked question, why is DiVita's criminal record disqualifying, but Mike Matusow's isn't? Why is Chino Rheem owing money to other people in the poker community worthy of suspension, but Dutch Boyd's "PokerSpot" history is given a pass, and Team Full Tilt members are welcomed with open arms not only to play in the league, but to sit on the Standards and Conduct Committee in judgment of others? Can you say hypocrisy? I knew you could.

7. Mr. Martin's emphatic insistence that Mr. DiVita "chose" to withdraw is a classic example of a half-truth. Suppose I put a gun to your head and tell you that you can either hand over your wallet or I'll pull the trigger, and you do the former. I can later claim that you "chose" to give me your wallet, and there is some kernel of truth to that claim. But that does not make the use of that word a particularly useful or accurate description of the transaction.

Now if somebody could hand me a jug of Clorox, I'd like to go douse it over my head to get rid of the sense that the filth from this ugly episode is clinging to me.


Anonymous said...

1) REALLY?? You do not think he would win if he brings a lawsuit? REALLY? He paid his entry (check), did nothing illegal during play (check), he won (check), and then they decided he was not worthy of his prize and took it away. If this is the case, why not say Chino was also not worthy and take his million bucks? ALL the same things apply to him.

Anonymous said...

...AND I would like to send out a special FU to the EPL for making me take the side of this piece of S*** person! Not only do I have to take his side, but I actually want him to sue and win. I love that EPL has yet to even issue a statement on this.

Grange95 said...

I don't know much about this situation other than a cursory reading of a few somewhat inconsistent poker media reports. However, his legal case would be rather unlikely to win, assuming the EPL has a fairly standard provision in its registration form (i.e., the contract) which basically gives the organizing group near-omnipotent authority to act as capriciously as they wish (e.g., inconsistent WSOP floor rulings, the WSOP player this year who was banned and blinded out with no refund, the star treatment given to Hellmuth, Negreanu, and others). The only real moderating force in play is the desire to appear to act reasonably and consistently so as to increase legitimacy.

Don't expect courts to jump into the business of second-guessing rules decisions in private contests.

FWIW, the EPL was founded on an elitist model. The poker bluebloods deign to let the common riffraff play with them. But when push comes to shove, the poker royalty will always protect themselves and their inner-circle of friends.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that it was not a "private" event, it was open to ANYONE who had $1500 in their pocket. I also beleive that nobody was required to sign anything for the Pro-Am before play started.

I personally think that it will not make its way to a court room anyway. If/When Gaming gets this, I think the EPL will quickly get a check sent out. Maybe with some type of non-disclosure type agreement. $18.5K will burn up really quickly if your paying lawyers. Better to just cut a check and be done, no fault admitted of course.

Grange95 said...

@ Anon: Just because the public can enter doesn't change the fact that the EPL is modeled on and is intentionally analogous to pro sports leagues, notably the PGA (which has had pro-ams for years, and where amateurs can qualify for some majors). The courts generally are going to steer clear of trying to second-guess rules interpretations in sports/contests. It would take a civil rights type of issue (think of the PGA disability lawsuit) to get much traction in court.

As an aside, players do not need to sign anything to be forced to follow rules. Merely voluntarily entering the contest can subject a player to the rules. In fact, most poker rooms/tournaments already operate on this basis. Don't look for courts to get involved. Gaming regulators might care, might not.

NT (aka Cardgrrl) said...

I would be surprised if they didn't have some language about the satellite seat having no cash value, being non-transferrable, and being good for entry only to the Main Event. Haven't heard any official mention of that.

Rakewell said...

Yes, Mr. Martin said exactly those things in the QJ interview.