Phil Ivey says he's sitting out the World Series of Poker and has sued Tiltware, the software and marketing provider for Full Tilt Poker, over its failure to reimburse online player accounts in the wake of the federal online poker sting.
"I am deeply disappointed and embarrassed that Full Tilt players have not been paid money they are owed. I am equally embarrassed that as a result many players cannot compete in tournaments and have suffered economic harm," Ivey, who has played online on Full Tilt and appeared in the company's TV commercials, said in a statement posted on his website.
"I am not playing in the World Series of Poker as I do not believe it is fair that I compete when others cannot. I am doing everything I can to seek a solution to the problem as quickly as possible," he said.
County court records in Las Vegas showed Ivey filed suit Wednesday against Tiltware LLC.
Ivey's lawyer, David Chesnoff, said Ivey is in the prime of his poker career and wants to have options to pursue other opportunities if they come up. He said not playing in the World Series of Poker is a principled stand with players who have been prevented from playing poker because their funds are tied up in online accounts.
"He doesn't think it's right that he plays and they can't," Chesnoff said.
The suit said some players have demanded that Ivey repay funds personally and have the mistaken belief that Ivey can cause Full Tilt to return player funds.
"He's won eight bracelets -- it would be like Michael Jordan saying he didn't want to play in the NBA Finals," Chesnoff said. "It's a matter of conscience for Phil."
Chesnoff claimed in the suit that Ivey believes Full Tilt owes its players about $150 million but failed to maintain a large enough reserve account to return the funds.
"Contrary to his sanctimonious public statements, Phil Ivey's meritless lawsuit is about helping just one player -- himself," Tiltware said in a statement. "In an effort to further enrich himself at the expense of others, Mr. Ivey appears to have timed his lawsuit to thwart pending deals with several parties that would put money back in players' pockets.
"In fact, Mr. Ivey has been invited -- and has declined -- to take actions that could assist the company in these efforts, including paying back a large sum of money he owes the site. Tiltware doubts Mr. Ivey's frivolous and self-serving lawsuit will ever get to court. But if it does, the company looks forward to presenting facts demonstrating that Mr. Ivey is putting his own narrow financial interests ahead of the players he professes to help."
Ivey, widely regarded as one of the game's best players, has won $5.3 million at the annual tournament in Las Vegas.
In an entry on his Twitter page, Tom Dwan, another prominent poker pro associated with Full Tilt, said that he would play in the WSOP, which started Tuesday.
The entry on Dwan's Twitter page said: "I'll be playing wsop. Feel fine about that morally b/c I've already said I'll give back 100% I was paid by ftp if players aren't paid in full"
Dwan was ranked sixth in ESPN.com's most recent poker player ratings. Ivey was No. 2, behind Erik Seidel.
Full Tilt was one of three online sites shut down by the FBI in an April crackdown on online gambling. Two other poker sites, PokerStars and Absolute Poker, were shut down and 11 people were indicted on charges they tricked banks into illegally processing payments for gambling.
PokerStars and Full Tilt subsequently reached agreements with federal officials to reopen their domain names in order to repay players. While PokerStars has announced it has repaid players, a message on the Full Tilt Poker site advises users that it's still working on returning their money.
"Please know that your funds are safe and secure and we are working to resolve the distribution of these funds," the site says.
Ivey said he wasn't waiting any longer and decided to take action.
"My name and reputation have been dragged through the mud, through the inactivity and indecision of others, and on behalf of all poker players I refuse to remain silent any longer," Ivey said. "I have electronically filed a lawsuit against Tiltware related to the unsettled player accounts. As I am sure the public can imagine, this was not an easy decision for me.
"I wholeheartedly refuse to accept non-action as to repayment of players funds and I am angered that people who have supported me throughout my career have been treated so poorly," he said.
"I sincerely hope this statement will ignite those capable of resolving the problems into immediate action," he added.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.