Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Quiet Times

Not to much report on the poker front, from a personal perspective, so call this one a checking-in-for-the-helluvit type of post. I've been on a nasty cooler of late in tournaments, either getting it in with the best of it and losing or running queens or kings into aces, and cash games haven't run any better. Momma Yoda said there'd be months like these, but stories find here bad beats you shall never.

I've also been working on a couple of projects behind the scenes, said projects taking up some large chunks of my time. Besides that, recent snowstorms, the continuing NETeller mess, and growing uncertainty as to whether I'll be able to travel to Vegas this summer all have me in a bit of a spring-fever funk. That last is related to the poker world's steady contraction, and who knows? Sometimes it doesn't matter how hard one works, if the timing is off. Maybe March will be a better month. I shake the Magic Eight Ball and it keeps telling me my future is cloudy, and I should try again later.

I had one of the originals of those things, way way back when. The darn fluid inside mine degraded and bubbled to the point that it affected the little "fortune" float on the inside, keeping the float from showing up in the little window if you held the ball so that the window was at the very top.

Funny, though, that the malaise seems to be affecting more than just me; it's touching the poker blogosphere in general. There a few good posts popping up, but things are sparse right now. One of the funniest bits of recent days was over at Tom Bayes' blog, which I stop by occasionally.

Surfing through some of his comments, I found this a link to a site which is supposed to tell you how many people have your last name. The results?

LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Now they tell me.

Time to muck and wait for the next hand. See you soon.

Monday, February 26, 2007

For Iggy:

Just because he's moving around so much, he's hard to keep track of. It was a brief run for the li'l dude over at PokerWorks, but a good one. There aren't too many cobwebs yet over at the old haunt, so I'm sure he won't lose any sleep in the transition.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hai, It's Danny Boy, Mon

Alright, I'll bite. It's been surprising that Daniel Negreanu's misguided attempt at being funny, filming a video as a Jamaican rasta type for Chops and the crew over at RawVegas.tv, hasn't received more blog coverage in recent days. I'd even say that despite the video's base inanity, the greater discussion topic is being studiously avoided.

Anyhow, for the ten percent of you yet unaware, Negreanu donned some dark brown shoe polish, topped it off with some some mock dreads sewn into the requisite rainbow Rasta headgear, and then did an unfunny schtick. Of course, as soon as the video came out, Negreanu was then accused of being racist and applying "blackface," and that he owed an apology for to America's black population for the video. Say what?

Oh, great, another misguided cause and a new faux battle du jour, which ended up seeing Negreanu make dozens of posts in defense of the whole matter. Negreanu even went so far as to say he'd sent the video to some black friends of his and since they found it to be not racist, it was then okay. However, the fact that he sent the video out for preview indicates that he knew the vid could cause a kiddie controversy, despite his later protestations and links to YouTube shots of the "exchange student" train scene from Trading Places, and others, notwithstanding. Negreanu somehow overlooked the fact that Dan Aykroyd's costume was only acceptable because Eddie Murphy's character played another role in the same gag, and that Murphy's bit in that scene (despite being a helluva lot funnier than Aykroyd's) was a PC allowance in and of itself.

Or something like that. After a while, it became confusing, even as Negreanu continued that backpedaling on various poker forums, including his own at Full Contact Poker. It even featured cameos by other well-known names, including Negreanu's old friend Evelyn Ng, who despite being Chinese-Canadian, proved her depth of understanding on the greater issues by noting that she had seen "Crash," the Canadian t.v. show about a Muslim family. Okay, Evy, thanks for checking in. That was, like, deep.

But whatever; the maw beckons. Do I think Negreanu's skit was racist? If it was, it was only mildly so, and it was done so in innocence and familiarity; I do not believe Negreanu to be racist in the manner we all should protest, that of evil intent. We are all racist or predujiced to some small extent, of course, and that's an inescapable part of the modern human condition; show me the person who doesn't have a prejudice and I'd be verifying the lack of a pulse. As for Negreanu, he clearly meant no ill will; he's just not 100% up to speed on the current ass-hatted, "play the victim" nature of American society, and a life spent at a high-stakes poker table, where race really does matter for nothing, does little to teach it. The odd thing is that if any group could or should have been offended, it should have been some Jamaican organization, not this whole "American anti-Black" thing that the debate has devolved into. Lord knows we have enough real victims in the world, no matter the color, creed or personal issue. Why invent others out of thin air?

Negreanu gets minus points here not for being racist, but for being a dunderhead in the fun of the moment. That he's compounded it by making other disingenuous statements is often irrelevant, more an exercise in his trying to back away from a quicksand pool now that he's ankle-deep in the mire.

Also, true to the nature of the world, Negreanu's received as much ill-advised support as rebuke. Those who support Negreanu often call out anyone who dares speak against him as a hater, someone who's just out to kneecap a famous person. This is simply untrue. The more famous a person becomes, the more newsworthy that person gets, because through the person's fame he is supposed to represent something that other people enjoy learning about.

Entertainers, athletes, and politicians are always open for comment because they are selling themselves; they are the product. Whether poker players are important enough to qualify is always a matter for debate, but it's clear that some players are --- people want to read about them or watch them. Also, any player willing to sign up for an endorsement contract is automatically fair game, because he's now placed a monetary value on his image and name; he is satisfying audience demand and accepting payment as part of the trade; he no longer has absolute control over his image in the marketplace of ideas. This clearly includes Negreanu. Maybe he doesn't quite get that, yet. Not that he'd be the first, as immortalized in Charles Barkley's classic "I ain't no role model" utterance.

Charles was full of b.s., of course, since he was taking money to fill some sort of role, whatever it was.

What's funny is that the video in question is appearing over at rawvegas.tv, which is designed to be controversial. Putting the video on a site that one can reasonably expect to be both cutting edge and non-PC is not an excuse for the video itself, but I sure hope Negreanu wasn't looking to Chops and Co. for guidance as to whether the video would be inoffensive to all audiences. Much as I think Chops and his new crew do some neat stuff, the last thing Chops would ever be is a PC filter. Nor, contrary to some persons' wishes, do we quite yet live in a Harrison Bergeron world.

People do silly and stupid things all the time. Negreanu, for his part, needs to either not do silly things, or to do them with full freedom and accept the consequences, rather than trying to renegotiate the world to his preference after the fact. Either is fine by me, not that anyone has asked. Until he figures it out, we're likely to keep getting these performances of smelly toes waving in front of Negreanu's face, whereupon he takes a bite and discovers that it is indeed a foot.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Party's Deal-Making Software a Flawed Application

I was sweating the final table of last night's this morning's "Deep-Stack Disconnection," a.k.a. the FTOPS Main Event, when I remembered that I had a little bit of oddball news saved up, with a supporting image grab. Sometime ago I tossed out a little blurpette about Party Poker's deal-making software having a hiccup that might have shifted payouts by a thousand or two in the $200,000 Guarantee back on Christmas Eve. I've now seen the same thing two more times, occurring in exactly the same way, and I'm convinced of it: Party's deal-making software has a pretty big bug.

If you're reading this in the States, you likely don't give a rat's ass, of course, but still, it's one of those things that's interesting for its own sake. Party spent some big bucks developing the deal-making system, and for all the hype, one could expect it to work perfectly. But it doesn't.

Here's how the bug unfolds:

1) The surviving players are noodling around with the idea of a chop as a break looms, which happens frequently;

2) The players agree to discuss terms sometime during the break, and they all click their "Deal" option buttons over to "Yes";

3) The break ends, and even though the software recognizes that the players want to discuss a chop, it starts dealing the first hand after the break, which always has increased blinds, too;

4) The players collectively say, "What the hell?" In most instances, there is little or no action on this hand; it's folded around to the big blind or a single pre-flop raise takes it down;

5) The players' chip counts change as a result of the hand that was dealt;

6) The software then enters deal-making mode, but does so with the chip counts as they existed before the previous hand, meaning as they were at the break;

7) The players scratch their heads again, and usually exit the deal-making algorithm, recognizing that the totals being used by the deal-making process don't match what they can see on their screens;

8) A second post-break hand is dealt, which changes the chip countsn again, and during this hand the players usually choose to re-enter the deal-making the process;

9) After this second hand, the second trip into the deal-making software now picks up the ocrrect chip-count totals, and a deal is usually struck. However, two hands have been forced to be played after the players themselves wanted to make a deal, and so the program itself has forced a change in the totals onto the players. This isn't how a deal is supposed to work.

I wouldn't expect you to take my word for it without some sort of proof, so here are images of the disparity illustrated above. These two images display what the chip counts actually were at the end of the hand and, moments later, once the flawed part of the deal-making process has occurred:

Compare the chip counts for the players from one image to the other, and you'll see that they don't match. This is because of the program bug. In this case some big dollars were at stake, meaning that the bug itself could have impacted the potential deal by hundreds of dollars, if not more, and it of course raises the possibility that the flaw itself has kiboshed some deals in other tourneys that the players themselves were ready to make.

Interesting stuff. If I ever see evidence that it's been fixed, I'll let you know....

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Brief Non-Poker Discursion

I very, very rarely post non-poker content, but I've been playing around with the free "Google Earth" program, available for download on Google, and the program is cool. yes, Google always wants to mess with your other browser programs, but to be able to be enjoy something as neat as Google Earth, free of charge, I'm willing to put up with a little bit of hassle.

So what can you say about a progam that prevents a coherent, unified view of the world's high-def land-sat maps, all put into a structure that literally allows you to surface over the globa at will? While the resolution varies greatly, the shots are awesome if you happen to be curious about one of the regions where the photos are linked up at greatest resolution. I can check out my childhood home, or zoom in on an 8' satellite dish that I helped erect in a good friend's yard a couple of years back. It's all in the freakin' program.

It's a great program for checking out more exotic locales as well, such as this medium-resolution view of Wake Island:

Of course, it's a top-down look at the world, despite neat rotational tools that can make it seem as though you're skimming over the Earth's surface. It means that you can't really see signs such as this, so we'll just have to take it on good faith that they really do exist:

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Anatomy of a Cybersquatter --- Introduction: Binion’s Horseshoe on the Ropes

(Author's note: I am not an agent for any of the parties mentioned in this series, and all statements herein are as true and honest an interpretation as possible based on the available evidence. I welcome all factual additions to the matters to be discussed in this series, and welcome documentary contributions, upon which I will reevaluate and potentially revise the following story. Nonetheless, over 200 hours of research have gone into the piece, including several hundred pages of legal documents and an exhaustive examination of Internet records. -- hh)

Las Vegas
, January 9, 2004-- It’s a bad day for Binion’s Horseshoe Casino, the last family-owned casino in Vegas. The triumphs and tribulations of patriarch Benny and his progeny have made the Binions -- and the Horseshoe -- the stuff of Vegas legend. But this day brings the demise of the Horseshoe in its original incarnation. Federal marshals, the IRS and Gaming Control Board agents raid the downtown landmark under the orders of two separate liens, one concerning $2.5 million in unpaid back taxes and the other dealing with payments that were scheduled, but never made, into the culinary workers’ union pension fund. Action ceases. The patrons are asked to leave and agents secure the assets of the casino.

Despite the suddenness of the action, it’s not a surprise. The cash-strapped Binion’s operation, hamstrung by its location in a seedy downtown Vegas, has been dodging creditors and shopping several of its properties to potential suitors for some time. One of those is the World Series of Poker tournament and brand name, the values of which are skyrocketing. Only a few months earlier, Tennessee accountant Chris Moneymaker had captured a gambling nation’s imagination by parlaying a $40 online-satellite buy-in into the champion’s share of the world’s richest and biggest event, the Main Event of the World Series of Poker. The WSOP, as it increasingly referred to, has experienced several years of exponential growth and will do the same for several more years, but it stands in stark contrast to the decline of a family casino in a non-Strip locale.

Three days after the January 9 raid and closure, Harrah’s Entertainment announces a deal in principal to take over the hotel/casino from Becky Behnen, the daughter of Benny Binion and current owner of the casino. Behnen had acquired control of Binion’s Horseshoe after a bitter family dispute years before. 

It’s as an outreach of this original dispute that Harrah’s initially acquires a financial interest in the property. Behnen had assumed control of Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in 1998, and that only after signing a long-term note compensating brother Jack Binion for his stake. Jack Binion’s interests are rolled into his Horseshoe Gaming Holdings corporation; they take the form of an in-default note from Becky Behnen worth as much as $20 million late in 2003, when Binion sells out his Horseshoe Gaming Holdings enterprise to Harrah’s. The total deal between Harrah's and Jack Binion, worth some $1.45 billion, takes place in late 2003 and includes this outstanding financial interest in the original Binion’s Horseshoe.

It has long been reported in the industry press that
Harrah’s has interest in the growing “Horseshoe” brand
name and affiliated properties such as the World Series of Poker, but little interest in the old downtown casino property itself. And some of the workers at Binion’s Horseshoe come to view Harrah’s as the Vegas version of the “evil empire”. Among them is Federico Schiavio, and at Becky Behnen’s casino he was the computer guy, the information technology director, and the self-styled guru of all things computer-related regarding the World Series of Poker. That  included the creation of a custom software application for the event. And post-deal at Harrah’s, except for short-term transition stuff, he’d have no job.

By most published accounts, Schiavio notices something at some point in 2003, as the financial situation at Binion’s Horseshoe grows dire and the viewed-as-predatory interest of Harrah’s builds. While there are any number of brand names, mottoes, and the like that have already been registered as trade names in connection with Binion’s Horseshoe and the World Series of Poker, one seems to have slipped through the cracks: No one has ever bothered to obtain the Internet domain name “wsop.com,” or register “WSOP” as a federal trademark... or so it has seemed. 

It’s an oversight borne from an evolving market and trend towards acronyms and abbreviations in general, but with every passing day, the connection between the brand name “World Series of Poker” and the acronym WSOP”grows stronger. So Schiavio, certainly savvy in Internet matters, registers the wsop.com domain, but not on behalf of Binion’s Horseshoe -- he registers it in his own name.

That's the prevailing wisdom. In its entirety, the above is incorrect.

The story, though, rolls on. Harrah's discovers Schiavio's registration of the wsop.com domain months later, sometime during the acquisition of Binion's Horseshoe. Negotiations with Schiavio soon turn acrimonious, entwined with Schiavio's control over the World Series of Poker software application and any short-term continuation of Schiavio's job. Civil lawsuits unfold, although they're all related to the same core dispute: Who will own the rights to the trademark and Internet domain name based on the WSOP acronym?

What follows is the story of the wsop.com domain, which still remains in Schiavio's control nearly three years after Binion’s Horseshoe Casino was turned over to Harrah’s. It’s a battle of legal maneuvers and one-upmanship, a bitter, protracted affair that examines the topic of cybersquatting (also called domain squatting). Whether or not this has occurred here is a matter of continuing debate, a matter of how valid one considers Schiavio's claim to wsop.com to be. Harrah’s continues its litigation in an effort to wrest the domain from Schiavio, even as the wsop.com domain itself is used for a series of ongoing, questionable enterprises.

This series will highlight the history of the legal battle, and it will also include materials never before published, pulled together to show that at least a portion of Schiavio's claim is quite arguably and knowingly false. The evidence suggests that Schiavio has acted in bad faith not just once, but on several occasions; however, the evidence also suggests that Harrah's attorneys and research staff did a less-than-adequate job of due diligence, jeopardizing a perhaps stronger claim to the acronym and causing untold additional legal expenses that continue to this day. But perhaps the biggest stunner is that the battle for wsop.com has much older roots -- it is in fact one of the last outliers of the bitter war between siblings Jack Binion and Becky Binion Behnen for control of Binion's Horseshoe itself.

At the core of this dispute are the free-market beliefs that many poker players hold dear. Does getting there first always triumph over later, arguably more legitimate claims? What happens when the guiding force behind a company allows a high-ranking, well-regarded employee to purchase some rights and run an independent project benefiting the company, and after a rift erupts, such personal enmity ensues that a potentially valuable intellectual property is, in a word, trashed? And at what point does an acronym such as WSOP become so closely intertwined with the World Series of Poker that claims that the letters WSOP have other popular, in-common uses become laughable?

There's more to this, much more, so grab a beer, get comfy in the chair, and settle in.
Next -- Part 1: Bad Blood Runs Deep

© 2007, Haley L. Hintze. All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons Rights Superceded on this Material.

Link to Introduction
Link to Part 1
Link to Part 2
Link to Part 3
Link to Part 4
Link to Part 5
Link to Part 6

Anatomy of a Cybersquatter, Part I: Bad Blood Runs Deep

For the Internet, domain-name registrations go through various domain registrars and top-level clearing houses such as InterNIC, and are ultimately maintained under the auspices of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. That said, anyone can register a domain name, if no one else has already has claimed it; it is through this registration process that a uniform series of numbers, termed an Internet Protocol (IP) address, is assigned to that name.

Federico Schiavio, an Italian-born tech whiz who prior to the raid mentioned above was the information technology director at Binion’s Horseshoe, registered the domain name wsop.com during the first days of May 2003, with the registration becoming official on May 7, 2003. It wasn't, however, the first appearance of wsop.com. That occurred much earlier, in February of 1997, and it was registered and paid for by a high-ranking Binion's and World Series of Poker official, the late Jim Albrecht. Here's the initial registration for the wsop.com domain name, obtained specially for this piece:

Domain Information
* Status: Expired
Registrar: NetworkSolutions, Inc.
Expires: February 21, 2003
Created: February 20, 1997
Registrant Information
Name: Jim Albrecht
Address: ....

What's curious is that Albrecht acquired the domain in his own name, rather than under the auspices of Binion's Horseshoe. Perhaps it was a light-hearted experiment, or perhaps there was an open question among the movers and shakers at Binion's Horseshoe at the time as to the viability of "this Internet thing." This was 1997, remember, not 2006. A 1200-baud dial-up modem was quite acceptable, and the World Series of Poker was also only a small shadow of what it has become today. 1997's Main Event, the unlikely third and final Main Event championship captured by Stuey "The Kid" Ungar, had 312 entrants.

The project seems to have remained on the back burner for nearly a year, evidence of just how lightly regarded the connection between the Internet and the World Series of Poker was considered at that time. Not until February 9th, 1998 was a major uploading of content uploaded to the Web, and it was major only in relative terms. A bit of the content already seemed dated, as if it had been written prior to the 1997 WSOP and had been plugged into an available spot, but the point remains: As of early 1998, the domain wsop.com existed, was full of content dedicated to the World Series of Poker, and was available for browsing to one and all on the World Wide Web.

A second update was done in June of 1998, when a few of the site's components were updated; one such update announced the schedule for the 1999 Series. The site, though, was largely the same. Here's the central graphic that greeted visitors on the home page:

And over on the left, a simple visual table offered links leading to brief background pieces on several topics, including the 1997 WSOP Main Event champion, Stuey Ungar, the Women’s Event champ, Susie Isaacs, and a handful of other features. One page, seemingly left incomplete, was intended to serve as a historical tribute to some of the earliest Main Event champions. Other pages recapped the schedule of events, a special “radio charity” tournament, press contact information (this was back in the days when the WSOP needed more coverage, not less), and several interesting statistical nuggets. Curious as to who the all-time WSOP money-winners were through 1997? The site offered a clean graphic displaying this information, part of which appeared as this:

It was a nice start, but the site just wasn’t a high priority in the days when the connection between the World Series of Poker and the Internet wasn’t as easy to see. Then something else happened -- the bitter familial split over control of Binion's Horseshoe Casino itself reached its resolution. The battle pitted the children of casino founder Benny Binion against each other. On one side was Benny's daughter Becky; on the other, sons Jack and Ted, although Ted was no longer officially a part of the operation, having been banned by the Gaming Control Board because of his narcotics violations. Ted had received the "death sentence" as it applies to Nevada gaming, being permanently banned from casino operations in 1997.

The war for control over Binion's Horseshoe was bitter beyond all comprehension, quite literally recalling the days when a mobbed-up Vegas settled its disputes by "disappearing" people out in the desert. By July of 1998, Becky Binion Behnen had assumed legal control of the casino, even as the real battle continued. James McManus, in his seminal poker shosetsu Positively Fifth Street, recounts Becky Behnen's first-person account of how a contract was placed on her head, then later rescinded. Another part of the tale for control touched on the "chocolate chip caper," involving a huge number of illicit, chocolate-colored $5,000 Binion's chips, reportedly created by Jack and Ted Binion in an attempt to break the casino and force Becky to resell to her brother. All this happened in the short period between the July takeover and Ted Binion's untimely and unconnected murder on September 17, 1998, one of the most famous crimes in Vegas history.

Were the $5,000 chips real? Fake? Those who would know, don't say. But what did happen was an episode where a handful of the chips, some $300,000 worth, were attempted to be redeemed by one of Jack Binion's closest friends, flamboyent gambler and erstwhile politician Bob Stupak. Stupak repeatedly tried to cash the chips and was just as repeatedly denied by Binion's cashiers, under the direct orders of Becky and husband Nick. 

Stupak's increasingly hilarious attempts to cash the chips included bringing a camera crew to the casino, hiring the entire UNLV football team as bodyguards -- would that pass NCAA muster? -- and eventually, Stupak even donated one of the $5,000 chips to the church of Rev. Jim Grey, a strident critic of gambling (quite literally the Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion), who was in Vegas to monitor the findings of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, which was then holding its hearings at the MGM Grand. The chip was forwarded to Rev. Grey, who tried to cash it, and he was denied, too.

All this might seem far afield from the story of the wsop.com domain battle, except for this: The highly regarded Jim Albrecht, who obtained personal ownership of the wsop.com domain name, was a loyal and important member of the Jack Binion camp. And as the "Becky" era began, anyone loyal to Jack either left on his own or was quickly shown the door.

One is tempted to assume that Jack Binion was the evil force in all this, but the poker world clearly took his side in the bitter war against Becky Behnen --- and in large part, that story is far beyond the scope of this tale. Numerous people knowledgeable about poker in the earlier days of the WSOP refer to Behnen and husband Nick with descriptors such as "stupid," "evil" and, of course, "hated;" one even referred to Nick as the "devious Nick Behnen." Such epithets are included here under no pretense of accuracy, but instead to illustrate the depth of ill will touching all those involved. Nick was not even a casino official, but his proclamations carried authority, even if they were later overtuned. People in the know universally use the word "dysfunctional" to describe Binion's Horseshoe at the time.

Did Becky Behnen demand that Jim Albrecht turn over the wsop.com site to her, free of charge? Or did she blow the matter off in its entirety? At the very least, Albrecht would have been due the nominal amounts he spent to register the name and house the site, which was originally set up through a Blue Diamond, NV web-design startup called The Internet ADvantage.

Albrecht is dead now, the victim of what was widely presumed to be muscular dystrophy. But it's important to recognize one thing. Whatever the nature of the shenanigans between the various members of the Binion clan, the poker people who Jack Binion brought on to run his poker room and his tournaments were universally held in the highest regard... they were knowledgable, ethical men. Among the very highest and most well-regarded were Jack McClelland and Jim Albrecht. They were the Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside at the the top of Jack Binion's World Series of Poker team; McClelland was the recognizable face on the floor, while Albrecht handled the behind-the-scenes stuff, the promotions and the marketing efforts that were just beginning to transform the World Series of Poker into the modern-day marketing force it has become. This writer has met McClelland and concurs with the general consensus about McClelland's high integrity, and there's no reason to believe that Albrecht was any different.

Whether Behnen made an attempt to purchase the wsop.com domain from Albrecht, demanded it free or charge, or remained all but clueless abut the potential value of the name is unknown. What is known is simply that the domain remained in Albrecht's hands. It's highly unlikely that the two could have reached any sort of amicable deal or were even on speaking terms as 1998 neared its close. Yes, Jim Albrecht had paid a nominal fee to register the domain for a few years, perhaps a couple of hundred dollars, and what was a piddling sum like that worth in the context of the greater Binion-Behnen war? Despite that, though, some extreme personal nastiness must have occurred, enough to drive the highly respected Albrecht to an act of retaliatory spite.

Albrecht had control of the wsop.com name, and he wasn't going to allow something that he owned, at that point without formal challenge, to serve Becky Binion's purposes. In December of 1998 the original World Series of Poker content was pulled down, and a full-screen banner was put up its place. It looked like this:

It can't be said for sure that Albrecht himself created the banner. Nonetheless, the wsop.com site would stay like this for nearly five years, a veritable "Fuck you, Becky!" of the Internet age.
. . . . . . . .
It must have been frustrating for Federico Schiavio, who reportedly joined Becky Behnen’s operation in early 1999, to recognize the viability of the Internet, to see that there had been a wsop.com web site, and to see that the opportunity had already slipped away. Becky had the files and the old content, but Albrecht claimed title to the domain. And there wasn’t any interest on the part of Behnen to do a new site immediately following the split from brother Jack, since there were far more important concerns on the board. Jack Binion's high-rolling friends had deserted the Horseshoe in droves, and the Horseshoe itself was in Vegas's struggling downtown, miles away from the bright lights of the Strip. 

True, the Fremont Street Experience was still a fresh draw, but as the casino's owner, Behnen was on the hook for some of that as well, to the tune of more than $3 million. With no high rollers and a losing battle for the average Joe's gambling dollars, the Horseshoe entered a long, slow slide toward financial oblivion, or as a famous poker name described it, she and Nick "ran it into the ground." Jack Binion never needed to make those bogus chocolate chips, if in fact he did; the house was going broke, regardless.

One bright light remained in the Horseshoe's lineup, the annual pilgrimage to the Horseshoe by the world's best poker players for the World Series of Poker. A few big names boycotted the event during what became known as the Becky Years, but spurred in part by the explosion of online poker, the World Series still skyrocketed in growth. Yes, Chris Moneymaker's 2003 victory drop-kicked the WSOP into the mainstream, but the WSOP was already on the Autobahn, just not necessarily in the fastest lane.

After a hiatus in 1999, it became clear by 2000 that a web presence for the poker world's largest extravaganza was mandatory. Perhaps burned by the previous experience, and with that faux wsop.com porn site still in easy view, Behnen had no intent on letting another non-Binion's-owned site promote the World Series of Poker. Beginning in 2000, the official WSOP information on the web was found on the binions.com site, a development that Schiavio even refers to, obliquely, in his own public defense against Harrah's: “For a variety of reasons, Binion's Horseshoe did not want to own any domain names other than Binions.com and Horseshoe.com.”

Is this statement true and complete? It could possibly pass muster within the time frame of Schiavio's service at Binion's, but it is quite incorrect in view of the old history behind the wsop.com site. Binion's had never owned the wsop.com site, Albrecht had, and Albrecht's parting message on the site had almost certainly poisoned any thoughts on the part of Behnen to try to obtain and resuscitate the domain. Yes, Behnen could have probably launched a legal battle to obtain the site, just as Harrah's would do in 2004. Of course, the name was a whole lot less valuable back then.

But what about that old wsop.com domain name? It was out there, in existence but not being profitably used, and then another unfortunate development occurred: As mentioned above, Jim Albrecht was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. Even as Albrecht began working to help promote the new Jack Binion's World Poker Open series, friends inside the industry became aware of Albrecht's declining health, beginning with an increasing limp, and then with the sight of Albrecht being confined to a wheelchair for the last year or so of his life.

Word travels fast within poker's inner circle, and it's likely that Schiavio was aware of Albrecht's deteriorating condition by, at the latest, early 2003. Dead men don't renew domain registrations, nor do dying ones, and Schiavio rightly guessed that the wsop.com domain name might become available once again. 

Sometime prior to the end of February 2003, Schiavio put in a reservation for the wsop.com domain in case the existing registration lapsed. Albrecht had a far important struggle at hand than an old vendetta against Becky, and in the end, Albrecht succumbed, dying on October 16, 2003. At the time of Albrecht's death, Schiavio had owned wsop.com for almost five months.

Any assumption that Schiavio just stumbled across a vacant wsop.com name wouldn't be believable, not that he's ever made the claim. Schiavio, attuned to the latent value of the wsop.com name, was in a unique position to get to the front of the waiting line. In Schiavio’s words: “By early 2003, I registered WSOP.com for possible later registration with a service called SnapNames.com, if the domain later became available. On May 7, 2003, I received the domain registration for WSOP.com, and I immediately told Becky Binion Behnen about this registration and offered to transfer the domain name to Binion's Horseshoe. Ms. Behnen told me ‘you keep it’ as the Horseshoe was not interested in the domain name.” In a separate legal document, Schiavio asserted that he was willing to make the transfer to Binion's for free, but was told "Good luck with it," declining further interest in the matter.

When Schiavio made his ownership of the wsop.com domain known to Behnen, it might have seemed to her to be the same old thing, since she likely had considerable animosity toward the wsop.com name based on the old feud. Whatever the details, Schiavio kept the name. Here's another Schiavio quote, from nearby on the same page: “At this point, I already owned WSOP.com with the consent of Binion's Horseshoe, and Binion’s saw no conflict. Binion’s had never used WSOP as a trademark and did not want the domain name.”

Yet the tale is oversold, and it's the point where Schiavio’s straw house of prior ownership claims in his battle against Harrah's begins to whistle in the wind. “Binion’s had never used WSOP as a trademark” is another way of saying that Binion’s never filed official trademark papers to register the acronym WSOP with the government. What it does not say is that Binion’s didn’t use the acronym WSOP -- because it had, and you'll see the proof in Part 3 of this series. Furthermore, not only was it used in conjunction with the World Series of Poker, but as just stated, the acronym WSOP was the series' original name of choice when creating an Internet presence.

The same sort of incomplete logic is used to sell the phrase “(Binion’s) did not want the domain name.” That may well be true, but it ignores the fact that wsop.com was already a property poisoned by those earlier events. It also ignores one other possibility: Despite being universally regarded as being uninformed on all matters Internet, Behnen may at least have recognized that allowing the domain wsop.com to remain in Schiavio's hands could well create an additional complication for Harrah's at a later date. 

Becky Behnen likely hated wsop.com in the first place, but she still could have seen that outside ownership of the domaint as something that, if not exactly a poison pill, would at least be a thorn to that unwelcome suitor at the door, Harrah's. How else to explain the "Good luck with it" comment?
Because of this, the assertion that "Binion's saw no conflict" is not, on its face, believable. If there was no conflict, then Schiavio would have not needed to seek Behnen's approval in the first place.

Oversight or lasting spite? Either fits, given both the greater scope and the fact that Becky Behnen would've been well aware that Harrah's was not only pursuing her property but was in negotiations with brother Jack's now-separate casino enterprise. Becky Behnen likely viewed wsop.com in a highly negative way, embittered by five years of staring at Jim Albrecht's final, animosity-driven parting shot that stood as reminder to a family feud beyond most average folks' comprehension.

Though Behnen may well have caused the animosity, the result was the same -- wsop.com was damaged goods. Either Behnen couldn't see through the old bad blood to understand that the wsop.com name would once again become a valuable, sought-after property of its own, or she did, but recognized that it could well cause problems to whoever assumed the World Series of Poker property, if that were to occur at a later date. If Behnen could hold on to the casino, then no problem -- Federico Schiavio was a faithful employee and something could be worked out. If not, and the WSOP went to Harrah's or back to brother Jack, then at least one small, last laugh was in order.

Perhaps, for Behnen and Schiavio, the fact that wsop.com had been owned by a loyal Jack Binion executive made it all the sweeter.

Next -- Part II: Cybersquatting 101

© 2007, Haley L. Hintze. All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons Rights Superceded on this Material.

Link to Introduction
Link to Part 1
Link to Part 2
Link to Part 3
Link to Part 4
Link to Part 5
Link to Part 6

Anatomy of a Cybersquatter, Part II: Cybersquatting 101

“According to the U.S. federal law known as the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, cybersquatting is registering, trafficking in, or using a domain name with bad-faith intent to profit from the goodwill of a trademark belonging to someone else. The cybersquatter then offers the domain to the person or company who owns a trademark contained within the name at an inflated price, an act which some deem to be extortion.

“The term is derived from ‘squatting’, which is the act of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied space or building that the squatter does not own, rent or otherwise have permission to use. Cybersquatting is however, a bit different in that the domain names that are being ‘squatted’ are being paid for through the registration process by the Cybersquatters. Cybersquatters usually ask for prices far greater than that at which they purchased it. Some cybersquatters put up derogatory remarks about the person or company the domain is meant to represent in an effort to encourage the subject to buy the domain from them.”

The legal battle between Harrah’s Entertainment and Federico Schiavio over the rights to the domain wsop.com is, as of thus writing, well into its third year. Most people, upon learning of the dispute, probably ask a question like, “Well, why did Schiavio buy the name?” At first glance the answer seems obvious: It was Schiavio's personal insurance policy possible against the looming Harrah's threat, where he could attempt to re-sell the domain on to Harrah’s for a highly inflated price. While the definition at top captures much of the motivation behind the cybersquatting practice, it actually leaves out one additionally possibility: a site might be so valuable in and of itself that misdirected traffic might hang around and visit referral links, generate site hits for advertisers, perhaps even buy some products.

In fact, ICANN, the international organization that administers domain-name matters, recently proposed a group of three guidelines that would further clarify whether a domain was registered in bad faith. (Photo at right: Federico Schiavio as "tebedu," his online-poker screen name on Microgaming.) The three proposed rules have not yet been adapted as yet, but have already been endorsed by high-level registrars including register.com and AOL. The proposed rules are:
(i) Whether the domain name holder is making a legitimate noncommercial or fair use of the mark, without intent to divert consumers for commercial gain or to tarnish the mark;
(ii) Whether the domain name holder (including individuals, businesses, and other organizations) is commonly known by the domain name, even if the holder has acquired no trademark or service mark rights; and
(iii) Whether, in seeking payment for transfer of the domain name, the domain name holder has limited its request for payment to its out-of-pocket costs.

The attempt to codify these additional concerns addresses the point made above. Pay close attention to the phrase within the first bullet point: “intent to divert consumers for commercial gain.” If you play poker and are reading this, you are almost certainly aware of the World Series of Poker. At some point in the past you may well have typed in the URL “wsop.com” in an attempt to locate information on poker’s largest event. Toss in the phrasing within the second bullet point about being “commonly known by the domain name” -- which certainly applies to the acronym “WSOP” in this instance -- then there is little doubt that the dispute between Harrah’s and Schiavio already would have been decided in favor of Harrah’s.

However, slightly looser language is in place as of today. Here’s what ICANN currently serves up under the heading “Evidence of Registration and Use in Bad Faith:”
(i) circumstances indicating that you have registered or you have acquired the domain name primarily for the purpose of selling, renting, or otherwise transferring the domain name registration to the complainant who is the owner of the trademark or service mark or to a competitor of that complainant, for valuable consideration in excess of your documented out-of-pocket costs directly related to the domain name; or
(ii) you have registered the domain name in order to prevent the owner of the trademark or service mark from reflecting the mark in a corresponding domain name, provided that you have engaged in a pattern of such conduct; or
(iii) you have registered the domain name primarily for the purpose of disrupting the business of a competitor; or
(iv) by using the domain name, you have intentionally attempted to attract, for commercial gain, Internet users to your web site or other on-line location, by creating a likelihood of confusion with the complainant's mark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement of your web site or location or of a product or service on your web site or location.

It doesn’t seem much different at that. But read point (ii) carefully: “... in order to prevent the owner of the trademark or service mark....”

Despite the fact that ICANN’s edicts may seem to be the universal answer to all domain-name disputes, the truth is that any such judgments as to rightful ownership must stand within each country’s laws regarding trademarks, copyrights, and other intellectual property. ICANN’s edicts can be and often are challenged within the framework of federal trademark and copyright disputes, and because of this, they have on occasion been disregarded or overturned. Obviously, Harrah’s itself never could have owned “WSOP” as a business mark prior to its acquisition of the Binion’s Horseshoe Casino assets, and Binion’s, both prior to and during the Becky Years, had never secured the mark on its own. This is the linchpin of Schiavio's defense against Harrah's, despite Schiavio's clear failure to pass the smell test outlined in parts (iii) and (iv).

Given the greater legal matters of the existing tax liens and back payments owed by the old Binion’s, a couple of months would elapse before Harrah’s fully realized that proper trademark protection for the acronym WSOP had never been properly secured. Here, though, is where the due-diligence argument concerning Harrah's comes into play. 

Harrah's had the desire to obtain both the "Horseshoe" brand name and the World Series of Poker, but how much research did the company actually do into the complete roster of intellectual property rights that Binion's Horseshoe owned? Harrah's certainly would have known that "World Series of Poker" was a trademarked, registered brand, but did they ever did do any research into "WSOP"? Did they ever visit wsop.com -- prior to November, 2003, when Schiavio pulled the earlier content down -- encountering Jim Albrecht's faux-porn slap at Becky Binion as shown in Part 1?

The meaning attached to WSOP was well understood, of course, but while Harrah's could have researched the property, they would have had no valid interest in it until they acquired Jack Binion’s in-default note for his original share in Binion's Horseshoe, late in 2003. Perhaps that's when they first realized that owning the World Series of Poker was more than just a hope; it had a high likelihood of occurring. Likelihood, though, is still just a chance; Harrah's was still on the outside looking in as the threat of marshals closing the Horseshoe loomed.

Another factor was Schiavio’s own animosity toward Harrah’s. Schiavio was technically a consultant to Becky Behnen, not a casino employee proper, but it’s clear he realized long before the Horseshoe’s doors were padlocked that he had little future in the enterprise in the event that Harrah’s acquired the property and brand name. One example of this as recounted on Schiavio’s own WSOP.com site is a request Harrah’s made in the days prior to the federal raid, seeking the current player list for the WSOP. Such a request makes perfect sense, because in the event that the Horseshoe’s doors were sealed and the assets seized, the player lists for that spring's WSOP could quite literally have been locked up with everything else.

As Schiavio recounts this (underlining of key text by this author):

And the surprises are not yet over as you can see from the email and the document that was found on the computer of the gal named below.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
From: Federico Schiavio
Sent: Monday, January 19, 2004 12:09 PM
Subject: FW: Emailing: wsop 2004 Points of Discussion Harrahs

This was found on Ionne’s
Sent: Monday, January 19, 2004 12:09 PMTo: 'BEHNEN'Subject: FW: Emailing: wsop 2004 Points of Discussion Harrahs
This was found on Ionne’sSent: Monday, January 19, 2004 12:09 PMTo: 'BEHNEN'Subject: FW: Emailing: wsop 2004 Points of Discussion Harrahs This was found on Ionne’sSent: Monday, January 19, 2004 12:09 PMTo: 'BEHNEN'Subject: FW: Emailing: wsop 2004 Points of Discussion Harrahs This was found on Ionne’s [sic] computer and is dated 1/15/04.


-----Original Message-----
From: Ione Conquy [mailto:conquyi@binions.com]
Sent: Monday, January 19, 2004 11:14 AM
To: Federico Schiavio
Subject: Emailing: wsop 2004 Points of Discussion Harrahs

Your files are attached and ready to send with this message.

-----Original Message-----From: Ione Conquy [mailto:conquyi@binions.com]Sent: Monday, January 19, 2004 11:14 AMTo: Federico SchiavioSubject: Emailing: wsop 2004 Points of Discussion Harrahs
Your files are attached and ready to send with this message.
F S -----Original Message-----From: Ione Conquy [mailto:conquyi@binions.com]Sent: Monday, January 19, 2004 11:14 AMTo: Federico SchiavioSubject: Emailing: wsop 2004 Points of Discussion Harrahs Your files are attached and ready to send with this message. F S -----Original Message-----From: Ione Conquy [mailto:conquyi@binions.com]Sent: Monday, January 19, 2004 11:14 AMTo: Federico SchiavioSubject: Emailing: wsop 2004 Points of Discussion Harrahs Your files are attached and ready to send with this message.- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
We found this document on her computer and it indicates that Harrah’s had obtained the player’s list of the World Series of Poker, Binion’s Intellectual Property, as early as January 8th one day before the Marshals shut it down and two months before Harrah’s completed its acquisition of Binion’s. I know this because I was the person that gave her the list on January 8th.The gal had been pestering me the whole week for the list and I was reticent to give it to her because I was thinking, “What does she need the list for in January when the poker tournament is in April?” She finally went crying to Becky Binion with some cockamamie story and so Becky came by my office and told me to give it to her and I did.

According to this, Becky Behnen instructed Schiavio to give the player list to Conquy, to presumably be forwarded on to Harrah’s. But then there’s this, only paragraphs later, on the same page of Schiavio’s own site:

The author of the next email is the President of First State Investments, James Laura who at the time was the personal and financial advisor to Becky Binion Behnen and was involved in the negotiations with Harrah’s from day one to the end. In this email he is advising me that Harrah’s wanted to talk to me regarding helping them with the transition and he also mentions that Becky somehow found out that Harrah’s had come into possession of the World Series of Poker customer database before the deal closed, which was a surprise to all. He says somehow because he was not yet aware that I had discovered the malarkey and the above computer file and communicated it to her in the previous email above and via phone as soon as I found out.
-----Original Message-----From: James LauraSent: Monday, January 19, 2004 12:00 PMTo: Federico SchiavioSubject: RE: Hi
Your working with Harrah's was brought up in the negotiations and they gave a name of someone for you to contact regarding the performing the job for the year end for Harrah's. Angie should have the name of the person to contact.Also, the list of players for the WSOP was given to Harrah's, It should not have been given them as we have not signed off with them. I have to tell them today that they have to return the list if we do not close. Becky some how found out.Jim.

Wait a second -- Becky Behnen ordered the lists be given by Schiavio to the aforementioned Ione Conquy, then professed no knowledge of what that transfer was for? That’s a bit of a stretch, although one well-known, anonymous source described the Behnens as "very lax" in many business matters. The above seems to accuse Ms. Conquy of some sort of malfeasance in the matter, but another source indicates that Conquy, who was hired as the poker administrator in 2003, simply would not have proceeded in any task of this nature without direct marching orders from Becky Behnen or Angela Runz, Binion's Horseshoe Casino's in-house counsel. 

Let’s not lose sight of the greater issue in the ongoing dispute: Schiavio’s well-seated hatred of Harrah’s, for whatever reasons. Schiavio’s site also offers no followup to the matter in Laura’s e-mail above, meaning that the greatest likelihood is that the deal was closed -- because we know that that occurred at some point -- and the ownership of the list was a moot point.

Note the date of the e-mails above: January 19, 2004, or a full week after the preliminary deal between Behnen and Harrah’s. It is not at all unusual for details like this to get jumbled up when an event such as a raid and seizure occurs, nor is it unusual for some time to elapse before the deal is finally inked and sealed. In this instance that process took two months, a wholly unexceptional occurrence.

At the point of these e-mails there would have been no reason not to provide any information connected to the WSOP to Harrah’s, because only under the auspices of Harrah’s would the WSOP even take place, later in 2004. But Schiavio’s antagonism toward Harrah’s was well established. No doubt that had an effect upon Harrah’s no longer wanting to take on Schiavio for any lengthy period, despite the fact that the WSOP software was a custom application designed by Schiavio, as Schiavio again recounts here:

“Harrah's asked to meet with me in February 2004 about my consulting for Harrah's and helping with the transition of the business from Binion's to Harrah's. We were not able to agree on terms, and I later found out that Harrah's just wanted to use me and discard me when I was no longer needed....”

The next paragraph is even more telling:

“When I was not interested in being ‘worked’ and handing over my copyrighted and other protected materials to Harrah's, Harrah's completed its acquisition of Binion's Horseshoe in March 2004 and within two weeks, sent me a cease and desist letter about my ownership of the WSOP.com domain name.”

What do you think Harrah’s thought when they learned that Schiavio himself had personally registered the wsop.com domain name nearly a year earlier, apart from Binion’s Horseshoe Casino interests? Remember, too, that despite Schiavio’s claim that Becky Behnen had little interest in ongoing Internet matters, Schiavio himself, in his role as Behnen’s acting information technology director, would have had a fiduciary responsibility to advise Behnen as to the real value of the wsop.com domain name. Knowing this, it's easy to understand why Harrah's would have had little interest in a long-term relationship with Federico Schiavio.

Schiavio’s actions during this period could be interpreted as intentional bad faith, and they are certainly among the issues at play in the civil matters currently pending between Schiavio and Harrah's. But they're only a small part of a longer history.

Next -- Part III: From "World Series of Poker" to "WSOP"
© 2007, Haley L. Hintze. All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons Rights Superceded on this Material.

Link to Introduction
Link to Part 1
Link to Part 2
Link to Part 3
Link to Part 4
Link to Part 5
Link to Part 6

Anatomy of a Cybersquatter, Part III: From “World Series of Poker” to “WSOP”

The battle for control of the WSOP.com domain was joined by early 2004, but Harrah's soon learned that Federico Schiavio had thrown an additional, preemptive monkey wrench into the works -- he'd made an application for ownership and registration, under his own name, of "WSOP" as a federally recognized and protected trademark. It was a savvy move, if an illegitimate one. Schiavio correctly surmised that he could tie the wsop.com domain-name battle into legal knots if he could strengthen its connection to other registration processes, the better to strengthen his hand -- and raise the price -- should Harrah's decide to gulp and meet his demands.

As such, it soon became clear that both sides had tasks at hand. Schiavio would have to come up with a real business purpose for the domain name wsop.com, and it would be helped if he could show some prior use and purpose for the name. His first effort was to file a trademark application for an entity with the ridiculous name of “Infodomini’s First Annual WSOP Poker” and the mark "WSOP," which also included a logo bearing an uncomfortable resemblance to one already used by the World Series of Poker. The “Infodomini” part referred to another Schiavio-associated enterprise, and the “WSOP” was just tossed in there, gratuitously, serving no real function.

As one might expect, Harrah’s had little problem in having this first application tossed from the trademark system. As Schiavio's battle with Harrah's escalated, he realized that in order to further his claim to legitimacy, "WSOP" would have to stand for something other than what everyone within the poker world knew it referred to, that being the World Series of Poker.

Soon, Schiavio would affirm that WSOP stood for “World’s Standard of Online Poker.” Along with this, spread out over months, came grandiose announcements of planned online tournaments, an online poker room, discussion forums... basically all the stuff that goes with a major, legitimate online site. Something along this line did happen, when Schiavio signed on as the key affiliate of a Prima (now Microgaming) skin called All In Poker, a separate weird tale we'll get to in Part 5. Schiavio was rather more than an ordinary affiliate, and may well be a silent partner in All In Poker itself. Whatever the truth on that point, however, it's just a part of the long series of machinations that Schiavio has undertaken to claim a stake in those four magic letters... WSOP.

We’ll come back to Schiavio’s later workings in a bit, but one other major task remained; his case would be immeasurably stronger if he could show prior usage of the letters WSOP. He could easily point to the registration of the domain name wsop.com, because that occurred many months before Harrah’s acquired its interest, but the problem soon became clear to both parties --- Schiavio and Harrah’s --- that the real outcome of the dispute would be a test of the correlation between “WSOP” and “World Series of Poker” itself. 

Despite the fact that Binion’s had never registered WSOP as a trademark, the law allows that a trademark can be assumed to be in place when usage of a given term or name becomes an overwhelmingly common identifier with a given brand. By this logic, claimed Harrah’s, they were entitled to trademark and brand-name protection for WSOP, since it had long since come to have an in-common meaning with the World Series of Poker.

Everyone with half a poker brain knew that the acronym WSOP was in common usage in relation to the World Series of Poker, but could Harrah’s prove that the usage was so predominant, so unique that it was inextricably tied to the World Series of Poker brand? One would think that this would be easy to prove, but Harrah’s legal staff did an arguably poor job. Their initial efforts, as outlined in an April 30, 2004 communication to Schiavio’s attorney, outlined the problems of doing A-B-C-style research. Imagine a conversation from the assigned Harrah’s attorney to a staff researcher as follows:

“Take a look at this Binions.com domain, and see if you can dig up some old pages from previous years. And if you can find anything that has WSOP on it, then print it off and try to date it, and we’ll see if it can be used.”

And that seems to be pretty much how it happened. Whoever did the checking knew enough about the Internet to be able to discover one of the main historical repositories of old sites, the Internet Archive Wayback Machine available at www.webarchive.org. Sure enough, the pages there show that the binions.com site was recorded as first having content in June, 2000, and it was easy enough to find examples showing WSOP in usage, such as these:

Yes, they all date from 2000, and they’re not the only examples. However, when confronted with samples such as these, Schiavio’s lawyer, in a response dated May 10, 2004, offered the following:

"The inconspicuous use of WSOP in the materials provided with your letter is insufficient to establish trademark rights. If anything, the materials appear to buttress Mr. Schiavio’s claim that Binion’s never adopted or used WSOP as a trademark. In addition, we have not seen documentation of the purported transfer of WSOP to Harrah’s. In order to evaluate your client’s demands, we would request (a) specimens showing trademark use of WSOP by Harrah’s predecessor and (b) a redacted copy of a Trademark Assignment or similar instrument pursuant to which the mark is transferred to Harrah’s.

Even if Harrah’s owns rights in the mark, any enforcement action would be blocked by laches, acquiescence, and related equitable defenses. Your letter does not address our statement that the “wsop.com” domain name was registered and has at all times been used by Mr. Schiavio in good faith. Evidence of bad faith is required in any proceeding to compel the transfer of a domain name.”

In other words, said Schiavio to Harrah’s, so what? Well, here’s the so-what about the above. Had whoever had done the research on Harrah’s behalf at the Wayback site mentioned above just been curious enough to type “wsop.com” into the search box on the main page, they’d have uncovered the original site from 1998, as detailed back in Part 1 of this series. Here’s what the complete history for the domain wsop.com shows, per that archive reference. The first image captures the beginnings of the site in 1998, and the second image shows the extent of Schiavio's work with the site --- a little bit in 2003, and much more in 2004 and beyond:

For comparison, here's how progress occurred over at the binions.com site beginning in 2000:

Each of the dates shown is a link to some sort of information about the site as it existed on that day, and it’s by clicking on these links that one discovers what the site looked like. Content is archived in an incomplete form, and occasionally the links themselves don’t work, but the very first link, from February, 1998, is a goldmine. Not only is there a clear record that the site wsop.com being used to promote the World Series of Poker, it establishes an irrefutable tie between “World Series of Poker” and “WSOP.” 

The 1998 wsop.com site appears to be the first-ever site created to serve as an online historical/promotional front for the World Series of Poker, despite the fact that it was privately owned by a prominent Binion's employee, Jim Albrecht. It also illustrates, as mentioned back in Part 1, a point magnitudes greater in importance than of the material Harrah's assembled in the initial complaint: As far as Binion’s was concerned at the time, wsop.com was the preferred form for Internet use.

At this point the sharp-eyed reader wonders, “But wait! Can we prove a continuing connection between Binion's and the original wsop.com site?” After all, there remains the off possibility that the 1998 wsop.com effort was a fan site created by Albrecht, dedicated to but not necessarily a part of the Binion’s corporate scene. We also know that Albrecht took the domain name with him when he left, and amid the greater turmoil of the Binion-Behnen war, Becky Behnen came to the eventual decision to place continuing World Series of Poker information within the binions.com site instead of challenging for or purchasing control of wsop.com from Albrecht.

How do we know that the initial wsop.com site was an in-house project? The answer lies in a comparison of two screen grabs, although these are just an illustration of the larger proof. The first is taken from the “Gallery of Champions” web page as it appeared on the old February, 1998 wsop.com site:

Now compare that to this second screen grab, which captures a newer version of the “Gallery of Champions” web page, this time as it appeared upon its creation in June of 2000:

The second one’s been prettied up a bit, but we’re not worried about that. Compare the text in one to the other -- it’s a word-for-word match. That’s convincing evidence that this content originated within Binion's, allowing it to be rolled forward for use on this new binions.com site. (Yes, the "WSOP" usage at the bottom is noted as well.) But don’t stop there. Think about who it was that likely knew all about the old wsop.com site, can demonstrably be shown to have web page and graphic-design skills, and who was the boss computer guy for this stuff at Binion’s, beginning in 1999. It’d be none other than Becky Behnen's information technology director, Federico Schiavio.

It’s not certain that Schiavio was the person who copied the text forward from the old wsop.com site for its upgraded binions.com use, but it’s impossible to name a likelier candidate. Further, it places Schiavio in direct contradiction to this statement, made by his legal reprsentation in a document called the "WSOP Supplemental Review Rebuttal," dated October 19, 2004:

"Applicant filed the application in January 2004. He registered thewww.wsop.com domain name for his website in May 2003. See Whois attachment. The printouts submitted by the Examining Attorney show some use of the acronym WSOP in connection with the World Series of Poker event in April/May 2004 (after the Applicant's filing) and for 2005. There is no evidence of use of WSOP in connection with the World Series of Poker before Applicant filed his application.

It's one thing to say that Harrah's hasn't submitted proper evidence, because there's little doubt Harrah's screwed this one up. But that's different than saying there is no evidence, as we've shown above and in Part 1. The above is a blatant falsehood.

Next -- Part IV: The Lawyers Always Get Theirs

© 2007, Haley L. Hintze. All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons Rights Superceded on this Material.

Link to Introduction
Link to Part 1
Link to Part 2
Link to Part 3
Link to Part 4
Link to Part 5
Link to Part 6

Anatomy of a Cybersquatter, Part IV: The Lawyers Always Get Theirs

If Federico Schiavio had previously thought that Harrah's was an evil, false-speaking corporate beast, by the middle of 2004 those opinions were set in stone. Harrah's had acquired the "Horseshoe" brand name and the World Series of Poker, but it'd sure be a lot easier for them if a short-term deal could be worked out, bringing Schiavio on long enough to train other Harrah's staff. 

The problem was that the World Series of Poker software at Binion's was Schiavio's personal baby, and despite the fact that the data itself would have to transfer to the evil empire, Harrah's, Schiavio despised this predatory outsider. Besides that, Schaivio had an ace up his sleeve -- he now owned the wsop.com domain. 

But here's an oddity: Schiavio had picked up the domain months earlier, back in May of 2003, and then done nothing with it until the end of November. Why on earth would Schiavio, a loyal Behnen employee, acquire this property and leave the faux porn site detailed in Part I of this report untouched? 

The answer is that Dan Albrecht was still alive, and Schiavio didn't want to pull down the previous content and alert anyone -- Albrecht, the Jack Binion camp, or Harrah's -- that he'd picked up this potential goldmine on the cheap. Schiavio knew that Harrah's attempting to acquire the Horseshoe, and the outstanding, in-default note that Jack Binion still held on the casino was also public knowledge, certainly known by Behnen's management. 

Albrecht died in October, almost the perfect timing for Schiavio's needs. By November's end, Schiavio had started placing his own content on the site, the better to strengthen his own assertive claim to the domain. Harrah's has a policy of not offering direct commentary on active litigation, so it's not clear exactly when they discovered that Schiavio had indeed acquired the lapsed wsop.com domain. 

This is where arguments concerning due diligence reach their anti-Harrah's extreme: The argument, well-thought out on several levels, states that if Harrah's had been doing proper research into a property that it wanted to buy, it should have been looking into all things connected to Binion's, including the "Horseshoe" brand and the World Series of Poker. 

It's a key point. Harrah's should long have known that the existing web presence for the WSOP was rolled up within the binions.com web site, and if they had no intent on retaining the Binion's Horseshoe property or continuing the binions.com presence, then they should have been exploring alternate domain names for the WSOP, with wsop.com and worldseriesofpoker.com being among the most obvious possibilities. Harrah's did, in fact, register a less logical domain name for backup purposes -- horseshoewsop.com -- but it's clear that better names were in others' possession.

The arguments continue regarding issues such as trademark registration and protection. Shouldn't Harrah's have been doing research into the sum total of intellectual properties owned by Binion's Horseshoe Casino? It appears that Harrah's did not learn about the gaps in Becky Behnen's intellectual-property holdings until -- at the earliest -- the second week of January, 2004. That said, the deal between Harrah's and Behnen would not be finalized until March, meaning that during this time frame Harrah's may well have become aware of the problem, but wouldn't have had clear ownership anyway.

There is, however, one hidden catch. Behnen had no willful intent to sell the old family casino and she had repelled all of Harrah's previous advances. It was only when the federal agents raided Binion's Horseshoe, seizing a million or more from the cashier's cages and tables, that Behnen realized there was no longer a choice. (The delay, the failure to heed the writing on the wall, likely cost her millions.) 

In this light, and prior to Harrah's acquisition of Jack Binion's properties only a few weeks earlier, Behnen would certainly never have responded to an inquiry about exactly what intellectual properties Binion's Horseshoe possessed. And with an unwilling seller and the Jack Binion deal still not confirmed, the acquisition of the Horseshoe brand and the WSOP would've seemed unlikely, a reason why Harrah's may not have pursued deeper knowledge as to the intellectual properties owned by Binion's Horseshoe.

All that changed in early January, 2004, when the two-month process of finalizing the deal began. The major issues had been decided but innumerable fine points remained, including things such as Schiavio's own contracted consulting services to Binion's Horseshoe. Back in Part 2, we reproduced part of an important January 19, 2004 e-mail from James Laura to Schiavio. Let's reprise the first paragraph from that telling communication:

"Your working with Harrah's was brought up in the negotiations and they gave a name of someone for you to contact regarding the performing the job for the year end for Harrah's. Angie should have the name of the person to contact."

Schiavio's existing consultant contract with Binion's would not have transferred to Harrah's, but he was the guy who wrote the existing WSOP computer application and worked with at least some portions of the binions.com web site, certainly knowledge that Harrah's could make use of for a time. 

Schiavio and Harrah's set up a meeting for February, as detailed in Schiavio's own words here:"Harrah's asked to meet with me in early February 2004 about my consulting for Harrah's and helping with the transition of the business from Binion's to Harrah's. We were not able to agree on terms, and I later found out that Harrah's just wanted to use me and discard me when I was no longer needed."

Is that quite the way it happened? It is likely that sometime between January 19 and February 23, when Harrah's and Schiavio had their meeting, Harrah's discovered that Schiavio had registered the wsop.com property under his own name, in roughly the same time frame as their discovering that "WSOP" was not protected property within Binion's. 

This discovery likely followed another, even more treacherous stumbling block: It turned out that the World Series of Poker itself had been sub-licensed to Becky Behnen's husband, Nick, meaning that a sizeable amount of the income generated by the WSOP at the end of the "Becky years" never made its way into the Binion's Horseshoe coffers itself -- pension-fund payments were skipped, tax bills ignored, service contracts allowed to lapse... all while the WSOP itself grew.

Someone did well off the World Series of Poker in the Becky Years, but in the long run, the hard work of 1800 casino employees went for naught -- the operation was being gutted from within. Harrah's and Schiavio had their February meet, and the transference of wsop.com to Harrah's ownership was almost certainly one of the sticking points in the discussion, a mandatory issue if Schiavio was to do any work for Harrah's. Here's some of the evidence that Schiavio cites as Harrah's bad-faith negotiations, as captured from internal Harrah's executive e-mails:

"FS" stands for Federico Schiavio, "SOW" for Standard Order for Work, and all these instances were obtained by Schiavio in the course of his own battle with Harrah's. 

But here's something to consider: All of the evidence Schiavio cites (including the excerpts above) date from February 9, 2004 or later, when it became clear to Harrah's representatives that Schiavio had interests other than what was expected. Federico Schiavio filed his trademark application for "WSOP" on January 28, 2004, prior to his own meeting with Harrah's. 

So who was dealing with whom in bad faith? At that point, Harrah's could not apply for any sort of legal recognition or protection of "WSOP" in its name, because until the deal was sealed in early March, Harrah's was not the party of interest. And Schiavio, technically a consultant but still loyal to Behnen, used that two-month lag to file his own trademark application, based entirely on his surreptitious purchase of the wsop.com domain name and a small amount of content he had uploaded to that site as of that date.

During this same time frame, Schiavio recognized that a phrase such as "Infodomini’s First Annual WSOP Poker" would be unlikely to pass a court challenge, so the "World's Standard of Online Poker" moniker was created. It's not clear exactly when Schiavio came up with the "World's Standard of Online Poker," but web archives show it in place as of April 1st, 2004:

However, the site itself is content barren, with little except the online-casino banner ad at the right. He'd do better. First, though, it was "Game on!" in the land of the lawyers, since Schiavio wasn't about to give up his insurance policy for cheap. For Becky Behnen, he'd worked for $60 an hour, but the number he pitched to Harrah's in a later offer was $120/hour... and that was just a start. Schiavio also wanted to bring on two additional consultants, Schiavio associates Tong Yi and Mike Curtis, with Yi to receive $40/hr and Curtis $80/hr. But it didn't stop there. 

Schiavio also wanted to extract a licensing fee for his WSOP tournament software. His first attempts to attract a huge one-time fee went for naught, so he instead asked for 1% of the entry fee for each player.It's a staggering amount, when one considers that the current entry fee for the WSOP Main Event is technically not $10,000, but $10,600. This difference --- the "juice," as it's called --- varies, based on the event, but it's rare indeed for any tournament to charge juice in excess of nine or ten percent of the true event fee, that amount being added into the prize pool. 

Irrespective of advertising revenues and other income streams, the juice is what pays for the tournament itself to be run, covering the officials, the dealers, the cards and chips, event advertising... even an allowance for the tournament space itself. Tournament fees are reminiscent of the old "the film's for show, the food's for the dough" line regarding theatres; casinos offering card tournaments really make their nut from the overall increase in casino traffic, not the tournament itself.

But a slice as large as Schiavio wanted wasn't just impossible, it was obscene. Schiavio must have thought that his computer software was some hot shit, but he also thought that he'd earned himself a lasting piece of the World Series of Poker pie. Given how the WSOP itself was being funneled through Becky's husband Nick, such sweetheart deals seem to be one of the lasting legacies of the Becky years itself. Harrah's said no to the extra consultants and no to licensing Federico's software, even if some higher hourly rate for Schiavio himself, perhaps $80 or $100 per, might have been in play. Even that, though, would have meant the surrender of the wsop.com domain rights from Schiavio to Harrah's.

It meant no deal. Had Schiavio signed up with Harrah's for a transition period of a year, as was originally pitched by Behnen, Schiavio could have earned between $100,000 and $200,000. He was aware as anyone, however, of the spike in interest caused by Chris Moneymaker's 2003 WSOP Main Event win amid the rapid growth of poker and its World Series in general. Remember, too, that the casual or new poker fans, the newbies to the scene, would be the ones most likely to fire up the computer and type "wsop.com" into their browser window, just to see what was there. No doubt Schiavio could track the increased hits in his own website statistics, despite its lack of any significant content.

What was Schiavio's asking price? Neither side will say, though figures of a million and higher are rumored. It was certainly high enough and inflexible enough to make Harrah's not want to bother with paying a normal squatter's fee for making the problem go away, while Schiavio had his own schemes to make that WSOP-intended web traffic drop some money into his coffers on the way. Those plans involved the creation of an online poker room connected to his burgeoning multi-level-marketing scheme. We'll come back to this part of the tale, concerning "WSOP's All In Poker," in Part 5, but there's more lawyerly stuff to dispense with here.

Within two weeks of closing the deal with Becky Behnen, Harrah's attorneys served Schiavio with a cease-and-desist letter concerning his usage of the wsop.com site. Harrah's demanded that Schiavio abandon a WSOP logo that was clearly a knockoff of one of the World Series of Poker's symbols. They alo demanded that he turn the wsop.com site over to Harrah's. Schiavio did abandon his first imitative logo -- and hence, had to modify his initial trademark application -- but he hired his own lawyer to aggressively defend his play for the WSOP mark and the ownership of wsop.com. The sides have been at war ever since.

Harrah's wasted little time once the ink was dry on the Binion's Horseshoe acquisition to begin a two-pronged attack on Schiavio. Schiavio's trademark application for "WSOP" represented the greatest immediate threat, and Harrah's immediately filed protests against the already-pending approval of the mark, while filing their own subsequent trademark application for "WSOP" rights in late April of 2004. 

However, since Schiavio filed first, Harrah's own application had to be suspended until the matter could be resolved. At this moment, no trademark exists for the mark "WSOP," which isn't to say that Schiavio hasn't tried to infer it amid his own protests and pleas for donations. Schiavio was, however, successful in registering the mark "World's Standard of Poker".

One thing about lawyers, though -- they're predictable. Even if they can't find the right evidence to support their client's cause, one can sleep soundly knowing that, hourly billing rates secure, they will grab huge piles of something and fling it at the wall to see what sticks. Harrah's lawyers, somehow unaware of the presence of the earlier wsop.com site, still dug through the evidence they could corral, finding numerous examples to illustrate that "WSOP" was indeed used interchangeably with "World Series of Poker," and in the eyes of the serious poker player they were one and the same. 

Schiavio's lawyer did even better, somehow managing to submit with a straight face the supposition that "WSOP" wasn't even unique in general terms to the World Series of Poker. After all, there was evidence that the same letters had also been used to identify such common conversation topics as the West Sak Oil Pool, the Worst irredundant Sum-Of-Products expression (if the conversing parties were engineers), a Verizon billing-statement phrase called Working Service On Premise, and let's not forget those WSOPs, which everyone really knew were Weapons System Operators in the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force. Schiavio's lawyer even tossed in examples of "W.S.O.P." being used, reasoning that it wasn't even an acronym, it was just a set of initials. Here's the visual example of this that Schiavio and his lawyer cite:

It's absolutely irrefutable -- it is indeed shown here as "W.S.O.P." But never chalk up to true widespread usage that which can be better explained by hideous spelling and punctuation skills. After all, as this larger, separate image shows, the person who designed this flyer and related text was wholly unsuited to the task, not even able to spell correct the famous downtown Las Vegas street that fronted Binion's Horseshoe Casino itself:

It's Fremont St., not "Freemont," rendering this piece of evidence redikulous years before it resurfaced here. But one needed really to look no further than this text segment, a bit higher on the page, to realize that for the person doing the typing, the "." sign was a weapon of war:

* * * * * * * * *

Hundreds of pages of legal documents and exhibits flew, first in the battle over the competing trademark applications and protests, and then, much later (in 2006), in the arbitration process overseen by ICANN as Schiavio fought to retain control over the wsop.com domain name. Schiavio subsequently proclaimed on his website about how Harrah's domain-name protest was dismissed, but a more careful examination shows that it was dismissed on a technicality, that being the ongoing trademark dispute. Should Harrah's prevail in that matter, then a new protest within the ICANN framework concerning the domain name is a surety.

The above seems to indicate that only Schiavio's side was the one stretching things to establish a point, but Harrah's lawyers did their own grasping-at-straws routine. Probably the silliest exercise was sending a pre-worded statement of declaration off to Becky Behnen, hoping that she would disavow the "you keep it" reply Schiavio says Behnen uttered when he made his offer to turn the wsop.com name over to her control. Whether the statement was true or not, or was even uttered at all, was hardly the point -- Schiavio had a couple of the old Behnen cronies to back him up and Harrah's had no proof to the contrary.

Harrah's attorneys, however, overreached, trying for a grand slam in a situation where they were unlikely to even reach first base. The 16-point declaration they created for Behnen, in the off hopes she might sign it, went well beyond what they would have needed to undermine Schiavio's claims. In light of Behnen's own existing history with the wsop.com site, and the widely-known disorder in the last days of her casino ownership, it's clear there's no way she could or would sign the thing. Your author reproduces it here, because in the greater historical perspective, it's a moment of high comedy:

1. My name is Becky Binion Behnen. I am over the age of eighteen (18) years and am competent in all ways to give this Declaration. I have personal knowledge of the facts stated in this Declaration and know them to be true and correct.2. From 1998 to January 2004, I was the President and Chief Executive Officer of Horseshoe Club Operating Company, owner of Binion's Horseshoe Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada (hereinafter referred to collectively as "Binion's").3. My father, Benny Binion, founded Binion's.4. In 1970, my father founded the famous World Series of Poker tournament. Since that time, the tournament has been hosted at, and has been an integral part of, Binion's.<5. Since its inception, the tournament has been identified by the mark WORLD SERIES OF POKER.6. For years, Binion's employees have referred both internally and externally to the WORLD SERIES OF POKER mark by the acronym WSOP.7. WSOP is well known within the poker playing world and beyond as identifying the World Series of Poker tournament.8. Federico Schiavio ("Schiavio") was employed by Binion's for approximately three years as its IT director. In this capacity, Schiavio had familiarity with the World Series of Poker and the Binion's web site.9. Given the widespread use of the mark WSOP by Binion's and its employees, Schiavio would certainly have been familiar with the mark and its use by Binions and its employees to identify the World Series of Poker tournament.10. I did not know until being informed recently by an employee of Harrah's Operating Company, Inc. ("Harrah's") that Schiavio had registered the domain name .

11. Schiavio never sought or received my permission to register or use the domain name.12. To my knowledge, Schiavio has not at any time offered to sell or turn over the domain name to Binion's.13. I had no knowledge until my recent conversation with the employee from Harrah's that Schiavio, while employed by Binion's, was alledgedly pursuing the development of an online poker business unconnected with Binion's or that he intends to use the marks WSOP or WORLD'S STANDARD OF POKER to identify that business.14. At no time did Schiavio ask for or receive my permission, expresss or implied, to use the mark WSOP in connection with any business not associated with or owned by Binion's, and I have never acquiesced in Schiavio's use of the mark WSOP to identify any goods or services not offered by Binion's.15. If Schiavio had asked me if he could register the domain name and use it for his own business, I would not have permitted him to do so.16. The WSOP and WORLD SERIES OF POKER marks were valuable assets of Binion's. While Schiavio was employed by Binion's, I was the only person at Binion's who had authority to grant any rights in, or to acquiesce in the use in, the WSOP or WORLD SERIES OF POKER marks by any third party. I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.Executed this _____ day of April, 2005(unsigned)____________________________________

It was a wasted exercise on Harrah's part. No matter what, Becky Binion simply could never admit to having given away the rights to the domain wsop.com without knowing that she was potentially damaging the value of the World Series of Poker. 

Yet if things weren't complicated enough, then one of those unusual coincidences would stir the pot even more: The legal firm handling the Harrah's side of this battle bought the legal firm where Schiavio's lawyer worked. It meant a delay in all matters while Schiavio brought new legal representation up to speed.It also meant that somewhere in the greater firm now representing Harrah's, a legal construct called a "Chinese wall" had to be set in place; the attorney's and company's notes coming from the Schiavio side were sealed and could not be used directly by the Harrah's side, nor could the attorney or any of the staff previously working on the matter for Schiavio even discuss the matter with the Harrah's staff now assigned the case.

When legal-firm mergers and acquisitions occur, such Chinese-wall setups are a matter of course. In most instances they become a moot point -- discovery normally brings all the relevant evidence into sight for both parties. But Schiavio's former attorney likely knew what Schiavio himself did, that being the real origins of the wsop.com domain, and that meant the notification from Schiavio's new attorney that a Chinese wall be implemented wasn't then just a formality; it was mandatory.

When and where will the legal actions resolve? It's still too soon to tell. In recent months each party has filed a lawsuit against the other, although again Schiavio beat Harrah's to the punch, filing his case in August 2006 in Los Angeles (Schiavio is actually a resident of Marina del Ray, CA) just weeks before Harrah's lawyers filed their own action in Vegas, the reasons for which will become clear in Part VI. 

In this case the "first to file" rules mean that Harrah's Vegas action may be dismissed and re-introduced as a counter-complaint to Schiavio's own suit, but the lawyers, at last report, are still hashing that one out. Besides, there's more of the greater tale to share, that being exactly what Federico Schiavio's plans were for the coveted wsop.com domain.

Next: Part V -- One for All and All for One

© 2007, Haley L. Hintze. All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons Rights Superceded on this Material.

Link to Introduction
Link to Part 1
Link to Part 2
Link to Part 3
Link to Part 4
Link to Part 5
Link to Part 6