Allegations of Sexual Harassment and Racism at Televised Poker Show

Steve Ruddock : May 28th, 2016
Poker Night in America

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After months of intimation that she would soon blow the whistle, Dr. Jaclynn Moskow has come forward with her version of events stemming from a 2014 appearance on Poker Night in America.

Moskow first posted the details on her blog, and later appeared on Joey Ingram’s Poker Life Podcast. Nolan Dalla has vehemently denied all of the allegations leveled at him, as has Shaun Deeb, who was one of five people Moskow accused of behavior ranging from distasteful to criminal.

I wasn’t present, so I have no way of knowing what actually occurred, but I can shed some light on some of the points of confusion I’ve seen on the forums and social media when it comes to Poker Night in America; such as how seats get decided and what roles different people have in the production process. Hopefully in doing so, these ancillary issues can be pushed aside, and people can focus on the serious allegations instead of nitpicking some of the extraneous details.

Before I get into that, full disclosure, I do know a couple of the principles quite well, and have met every single person Dr. Moskow accuses in her blog post. To my knowledge, I have not met or interacted with Dr. Moskow.

I’m also not going to post the names of anyone who hasn’t publicly responded to the situation, as I see no reason to drag their name into the mix, especially if they haven’t been accused of anything untoward.

Anyhow, I’ve known Nolan Dalla online for several years and we’ve interacted many, many times, publicly and privately. Furthermore, we’ve run into each other in real life a number of times over the past few years – at gaming conferences and at Poker Night in America – and I’ve had the chance to speak with Nolan at length, both one-on-one and in groups.

He’s been nothing but friendly and professional every single time. What’s being said about him is extremely out of character based on my limited experiences, which should be taken with a grain of salt. I know Nolan, but I don’t know Nolan.

I also know the 888 rep who is repeatedly mentioned fairly well, both from PNiA, from my job as an online gaming columnist, and from gaming conferences. He isn’t accused of anything other than being in the general vicinity of the alleged wrongdoing, but people seem to want to hear from him more than anyone else, as he was cited by Dr. Moskow as an eyewitness to the worst charge. There also seems to be a lot of misinformation as to his role within PNiA.

With those disclaimers out of the way, what I really want to discuss is something I do know something about that could perhaps help clear a few things up, which is the mechanics of PNiA, which if not understood properly could easily lead to a lot of resentment and frustration.

How PNiA works

A large part of Dr. Moskow’s early frustration towards the show is based on what she perceived as a lack of opportunity, citing the show’s repeated attempts to keep her from playing and picking her up.

“When I arrived I was immediately met with a sense that no one wanted me there. Anderson rolled his eyes when he saw me and said I could play only until Gavin Smith, who was going to be late, showed up. I sat down and played for about thirty minutes, then was asked to get up. Anderson suggested I leave the premises of the taping and said that someone would call me if a seat opened up. I decided to stay: I had flown to Pittsburgh at my own expense with the expectation of playing poker and intended to do so. I believed Anderson didn’t have any intention of calling me since, to me, he seemed so incredibly, not to mention unjustifiably, annoyed by my presence. Eventually an individual didn’t want to play anymore and I was able to play for the final three hours of taping that day. (As a side note, I was correct in thinking that staying in the room was the only way I was going to get a seat: when one finally opened up, someone at the table texted another cast member to hurry back into the room before I sat down.)”

“The next day I showed up on set again, as per Dalla’s instructions. This time I perceived Anderon’s vibe of “You don’t belong here, we don’t want you here” as even more overwhelming. I was allowed to play for only two of the eight hours of taping. After the taping, however, Dalla apologized and told me that they hadn’t “treat[ed] me right” and, to make up for it, I could have a seat in multiple upcoming Florida tapings of the show for the entirety of the eight hour sessions.”

As someone who not only appeared on the show, but also reported on said appearance and paid a lot of attention to the behind the scenes minutiae of the show (I asked many questions about these things), I think Dr. Moskow was misinformed when it comes to the structure of the show, and this may have clouded her expectations.

First, there isn’t much rhyme or reason when it comes to the non-main cast of players who are invited, or the pecking order of said invitees. Furthermore, it’s not exactly an invite-only show. If seats open up anyone can take them (several times locals have grabbed a seat), although PNiA has a lot of creative control over the process.

Second, they’re relying on poker players, who are anything but punctual or reliable. In order for the show to work, overbooking is pretty much a necessity. This is why they have a main lineup and an alternates lineup. Based on an email posted by Nolan Dalla, it appears Dr. Moskow was an alternate.

Third, the show determines who plays and who gets picked-up from the game. If the show’s decision makers don’t think you’re good for TV you’re out, end of story. Basically, an invite isn’t some guarantee of a seat, nor are you necessarily guaranteed x amount of playing time if you are seated. PNiA isn’t a typical cash game where once you sit you keep your seat, it’s a TV show and they have to make decisions on what’s good for the game and the broadcast.

The reason I think this is salient to the conversation, is because I got the distinct feeling the right hand doesn’t always know what the left hand is doing at PNiA when it comes to invites and playing time. Different people with the capability to invite players don’t always let the others know (particularly if they’re not fully 100% committed), and because they’re poker players, nobody really knew who was going to show up and who would be playing until the day of the taping. Also, since it’s based around a large tournament stop, a big name may suddenly appear and take one of the seats.

Essentially, if you’re promised a seat, you’re not really promised a seat. When I went to Turning Stone for the show I told them I could only play on the first day, and that request was accommodated. However, I wasn’t an alternate player, as it appears Dr. Moskow was.

Finally, I don’t know what was relayed to the table when Dr. Moskow played in Pittsburgh, but when I was on the show it was made CRYSTAL CLEAR to everyone at the table that after the dinner break (halfway through the eight-hour session) three seats would be changed and if it didn’t happen naturally, the show would decide who was 86′ed.

This is precisely what happened. At the break they asked if anyone wanted to give up their seats, and then if more people needed to be changed out, the show decided who would stay and who would go.

It was also made clear that being extroverted, and active was encouraged. Playing slow, tight, and/or being quiet wasn’t outlawed, but it was made clear that it was frowned upon and could cost you your seat. Because of this, if you’re a poker player and can’t afford to light $10k on fire to promote yourself, PNiA really isn’t for you.

From the sound of it, Dr. Moskow didn’t tick off the appropriate boxes. And from the sound of it, it seems she thought the seats were awarded differently. This may have caused them to renege on their invite to the Florida stops. From the sounds of it (Shaun Deeb’s appearance on Joey Ingram’s Poker life Podcast) she also came across as difficult, which might have also played a part in her being dis-invited, although, it’s understandable why someone who expects to be given a certain amount of airtime might get angry when they’ve travelled at their own expense to the game.

888’s role

As a key sponsor, 888 has a strong presence at PNiA, but this doesn’t mean they have any kind of editorial control over the show. Their rep’s role is to promote 888 on PNiA, and make sure 888’s players (sponsored or qualifiers) are having a good time and enjoying their experience on the show. They might help coordinate when their players are on air, but that’s about it.

During my appearance the 888 rep was busy throughout trying to negotiate day-of deals with players to wear 888 patches, and as a naturally gregarious and outgoing person, his entire reason for being on the set is to make everyone feel comfortable, welcomed, and important.

I say this because there seems to be some debate about the professionalism when it comes to drinking at the bar post-filming, as well as the implications of his text message apology to Dr. Moskow.

Let me be clear, his job is to show the players a good time, so the bar behavior is par for the course, it’s basically in his job description. Also, as I intimated on Twitter, if you went to him (in-person or by phone) and said you felt slighted in any way, he would apologize. He’s essentially the customer service department and his first duty is to apologize and try to rectify the situation and make you happy.

The reason I bring this up is not to discredit anyone, but because many people are speculating what the text messages prove. The apology doesn’t prove or disprove the allegations.

Final thoughts

Again, I have no idea what did or didn’t happen, or what was said to Dr. Moskow, and that’s not the purpose of this column. If some of these allegations are true, this is deplorable and sickening behavior.

Hopefully what I did do is shed some light on the general atmosphere and structure of PNiA, as I think it helps explain Dr. Moskow’s on-the-felt frustrations and feelings of mistreatment by the show. What happened off the felt is not something I care to discuss, as I wasn’t there, and don’t have enough details on.

Hopefully my explanations above help end the discussions and speculation about these parts of the story.

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