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LOS ANGELES, California – A New York-based law firm hopes to turn a group of professional poker players into the Curt Flood of their sport.
An antitrust lawsuit was filed Wednesday in federal court in Los Angeles against the operator of cable television's World Poker Tour, asking that producers no longer use the players' likenesses in conjunction with the broadcasts, video games and other World Poker Tour products.
Players competing on the World Poker Tour signed agreements several years ago with the producers allowing their likenesses to be mass-distributed.
"We believe those agreements are no longer valid," said Jeffrey Kessler, lead attorney for the players and a partner with Dewey Ballantine in New York.
The World Poker Tour, televised on the Travel Channel since 2003, is considered one of the catalysts in growing the interest in poker nationwide.
Kessler accused the World Poker Tour's producers of "price fixing" by colluding with 12 casinos to prevent players from entering tournaments unless they forfeit their rights. The casinos were not named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Kessler said he has handled similar antitrust lawsuits against the NBA and the NFL.
The seven plaintiffs include three former world champions of the World Series of Poker -- Joseph Hachem, Greg Raymer and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson. Other plaintiffs were Howard Lederer, Annie Duke, Phil Gordon and Andy Bloch.
Kessler said the seven players will not compete in any World Poker Tour events until the lawsuit is resolved.
Kessler said the poker players hope to obtain free agency to strike their own deals with casinos and the World Poker Tour, which brought comparisons to Major League Baseball.
Flood, an outfielder with the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1960s, became one of the pivotal figures in sports labor history. He refused to accept a trade following the 1969 season, ultimately appealing his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The legal challenge paved the way for the modern era of free agency in professional sports.
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