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Gaming Guru

Sam Skolnik
 

Legal Dueling Over Web Site Domain

20 September 2006

In 2004, Harrah's acquired the venerable Binion's Horseshoe casino downtown in large part, company executives said at the time, so the company could cash in on Binion's increasingly popular World Series of Poker, or WSOP for short.

But that plan has hit a snag, Harrah's claims in a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas against Binion's former information technology director, Federico Schiavio.

One year before the sale of Binion's, Harrah's claims, Schiavio registered the domain name for an Internet site called WSOP.com. Since then, Schiavio has used the site to divert Web traffic to an online gambling site called All In Poker, Harrah's claims. More recently, it appears WSOP.com is in the process of designing its own gambling site.

Harrah's has no control over that Web site and receives no profits from it - a problem it's anxious to fix.

The casino giant claims it owns the trademark on the name "World Series of Poker," and that it has applied for a patent on the name "WSOP" as well, so Schiavio's Web site should be passed over to Harrah's.

Schiavio is attempting to create an association between his Web site and the World Series of Poker where none exists, Harrah's claims. The company says Schiavio "is attempting to frustrate or divert Internet traffic intended for Harrah's."

What's more, the company says Schiavio's Web site is promoting Internet gambling.

"Schiavio's use of the WSOP mark in connection (with) the domain name WSOP.com is intended to trade off Harrah's goodwill and reputation and deceive people into thinking Internet gambling is acceptable," the suit claims.

(Harrah's official World Series of Poker Web site, www.worldseriesofpoker.com, uses advertising from www.PartyPoker.net, a free poker site affiliated with www.PartyPoker.com, the type of gambling Web site the Justice Department has deemed illegal.)

Harrah's 13-page lawsuit includes claims of trademark infringement, "cybersquatting" and unfair trade practices. The company is asking that Schiavio be prohibited from using the WSOP trademark; that the WSOP.com domain name be transferred to them, and that they be awarded damages.

Harrah's also notes that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office suspended examination of its applications to trademark the acronym "WSOP" because of Schiavio's similar application - and is asking that the court order the federal trademark office to reject Schiavio's application and approve Harrah's.

The legal dispute has been ongoing virtually since Harrah's Entertainment Group and MTR Gaming Group purchased Binion's on March 10, 2004. Thirteen days later, after receiving a "cease and desist" letter that Harrah's had sent him, Schiavio changed the content of the WSOP.com site to make it seem less directly affiliated with the World Series of Poker, the lawsuit contends.

Schiavio's site now reads: "WSOP.com: World's Standard of Online Poker."

According to the site, its operators are in the process of developing "the most exciting concept in online multiplayer poker ¦ We will soon be starting an online poker room with a unique selling proposition geared toward rewarding professional poker players, keen amateurs and other players for whom poker is becoming their favorite online activity."

On May 30 of this year, Harrah's filed a complaint with the National Arbitration Forum, asking it to resolve the dispute. A three-judge panel with the forum dismissed Harrah's complaint, finding last month that it would be inappropriate for it to decide while the trademark office was weighing Schiavio's "WSOP" trademark application.

Schiavio could not be reached for comment, and his attorney in the arbitration, Darren Rimer of Laguna Niguel, Calif., did not return a phone call.

According to the suit, Schiavio got the idea to use the WSOP.com domain name while working for the Horseshoe Club Operation Co., owner of Binion's, as a consultant from 1999 to 2004.

Though Binion's no longer holds the World Series - Harrah's hosts the annual event at its Rio Hotel and Suites - Binion's still hosts live poker games.

But Binion's has not done well since MTR Gaming Group took over the management of the casino from Harrah's Entertainment in March 2005. The Sun reported in April that in MTR's latest earnings report, Binion's posted a net loss of $702,000 last year, compared with a profit of $934,000 in 2004.

Legal Dueling Over Web Site Domain is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.