FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver faces a Texas lawsuit filed by an Illinois attorney over playing poker in private Texas cardrooms. Silver played professional online poker for years before gaining recognition for his political predictions and sports commentary. More recently, he appeared on live stream playing at poker pro Doug Polk’s Texas card room, The Lodge.
Silver lives in New York but visits Texas frequently to play at the state’s social poker clubs. Attorney Mark T. Lavery of Tinley Park, Illinois, is suing the clubs and their owners. He added one against Silver for attending the clubs and promoting his visits on social media.
Such clubs occupy a legal gray area at the moment. They skirt Texas gambling law by not collecting any money from the pots. Instead, they charge seat rental fees for revenue. Polk is part of an ongoing campaign to establish their legality through legislation amid attempts by others to shut them down.
Lavery has filed four suits targeting the state’s legally vulnerable poker scene. It’s the latest move in his decade-plus crusade against any gambling he considers illegal. He has an additional defamation suit on the go against Polk in Illinois based on his connections to poker podcaster Joey Ingram, against whom Lavery also has a vendetta.
Lavery’s animosity toward illegal gambling has a tragic origin. He lost his wife, a problem gambler, to suicide in 2008. She had reportedly been playing blackjack online at the black market offshore site UltimateBet, which became the center of online poker’s most notorious insider cheating scandal.
Silver Suit Part of Multi-Prong Challenge to Texas’ Social Poker
According to Haley Hintze, who broke the story for Poker.org, three of Lavery’s four suits target Texas social cardrooms. Those filings also name owners and related businesses, including The Lodge, which is in Round Rock, Texas.
Polk recently teamed up with two fellow pros, Brad Owen and Andrew Neeme, to acquire a majority stake in the central Texas cardroom. Lavery accuses Silver of conspiring with Polk and Owen.
But, while Lavery targeted Polk et al. for owning and or operating social cardrooms in the state, his suit against Silver takes a more roundabout approach. In that case, Silver’s participation in and sharing a live-streamed Lodge event with Neeme gave Lavery enough reason to take aim.
As Hintze noted, Lavery’s logic to define Silver as a suitable defendant is so loose it takes 13 paragraphs before Silver’s name appears.
Lavery finally argues Silver is a deserving defendant because:
Defendant Nathaniel Read Silver retweeted a link on www.twitter.com to a stream of him publicly gambling at [The Lodge] on www.youtube.com with Andrew Neeme on February 21, 2023, that was viewed by almost 100,000 people on Twitter.
Defendant Silver and Neeme gambled through the night publicly on www.youtube.com despite the fact that Neeme’s agent Theresa Fox had been notified to abate the public nuisance earlier that day and Plaintiff previously had given notice to Brad Owen of the combination and staff since May of 2022.
Accusations of Collusion
The filing then admonishes Silver for traveling from New York to play in “illegal, unregulated poker games” in Texas. It also references Silver’s time playing on “illegal, unregulated” poker sites “before the DOJ stopped that criminal gambling activity.”
Lavery’s argument continues, casting aspersions of conspiracy Silver’s way:
When two close associates like Neeme and Silver play together, collusion, a form of poker cheating, is possible.
Of course, the same is true of two people at a poker table who knew each other before the game. Collusion does happen, but it’s rare. Conversely, social connections between players are common and expected.
Hintze also points out that Silver lost $50,000 during the stream.
Does Lavery Have Standing to Sue in Texas?
Unfortunately for Lavery, there has been speculation that his complaints may already be dead in the water.
Per Hintze, the language of the common-nuisance statute Lavery invoked, Chapter 6, Section 125, could also undermine his case. Specifically, he does not appear to be among the parties able to bring such a suit:
Sec. 125.064. SUIT TO ABATE NUISANCE. (a) A district, county, or city attorney, the attorney general, or a resident of the state may sue to enjoin a public nuisance under this subchapter.
Lavery is a resident of Illinois, not Texas. Likewise, he’s licensed to practice law in his home state but is not an attorney in Texas.
Typically, civil complaints begin with an introductory section explaining why the plaintiff has standing to bring the suit and why the venue is appropriate. Hintze credits San Antonio Express-News writer Patrick Danner for pointing out that this section is conspicuously absent from Lavery’s complaint.
That may be the first point of attack for Silver and the others in mounting their defenses. According to Danner, “Lavery replied with a ‘no comment’ via email when asked to explain his standing to bring the action.