Jaclynn Moskow was excited to have been invited to the November 2014 taping of Poker Night in America,
which airs on CBS Sports.
Moskow, a 31-year-old doctor from South Florida who began playing big-money poker in 2013, noted that her emailed invitation from the show’s creative director, Nolan Dalla, carried the subject line “darling,” but that type of language, while unwelcome, was common in the male-dominated sport. The TV show features players plunking down their own cash, rather than playing in a tournament format, and Moskow prefers to play cash games. So she headed to Pittsburgh for the taping.
As she would allege this May in a blog post that has shaken up the world of professional poker, when she arrived, she was rattled by both anti-Semitic comments and a poker expert’s behavior.
She claims that onscreen host Chris Hanson noted that the Pittsburgh game would be a pleasant night because “no Jews are here.”
“I’m Jewish,” she would tell him later.
But the more appalling alleged occurrence came at the after-party. Players and crew gathered at the Tilted Kilt in Pittsburgh. The restaurant chain is known for its female staff dressed in revealing outfits. There, coaxed by main show sponsor Chris Capra, Dalla approached Moskow and said, “I’ve wanted to do this for a long time,” according to her. Moskow claims he stuck his face between her breasts and “motorboated” her, wiggling his head in her cleavage and making a motor-like sound. Fearing that making a scene would harm her poker career, she just quickly left with her boyfriend.
Dalla would later forcefully deny the allegations. He called the claims “ludicrous,” adding that he didn’t find Moskow attractive and stating, “I’ve never heard the term ‘motorboarding’ [sic] before.”
Poker, likely more than almost any game remaining on the planet, is a man’s world. Of the 6,420 entrants in last year’s World Series of Poker, only 252 (3.9 percent) were women. That’s 24 men for every woman.
Women have a tenuous seat at the poker table. No woman has won a televised event on the World Poker Tour, even though the game has boomed in popularity since about 2003. Female players turn heads when they walk into any card room. They also put up with their share of “honeys” and “babes.”
There is a flip side, though. Books such as Outplaying the Boys: Poker Tips for Competitive Women advise women to exploit the men at the table. The book identifies three types of men: the flirt, the chauvinist, and the protector. Some female players have been known to wear low-cut blouses that could entice opponents to go easier on them, and there are shirts (“Go ahead and stare at my boobs while I take your chips”) and seminars geared toward women specifically.
Moskow grew up in Boynton Beach, graduating from Atlantic High and eventually becoming a doctor of osteopathic medicine at Nova Southeastern University, which still publishes research she conducts.
Along the way, she began playing poker in a home game and “loved the mix of math, probability, and psychology, and I used my ability to study like a maniac.” She watched poker videos, played microstakes online (hands for as little as 2 cents per bet), and began building a bankroll and playing bigger games.
She has been playing big-money poker ($5-$10 no-limit, with players who usually sit down with more than $1,000, even $10,000) since August 2013, even organizing a private game at Seminole Casino Coconut Creek and playing in big games at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood and the Palm Beach Kennel Club.
Moskow says the great majority of male players are respectful, but the incidents that happened at the television taping continued to bother her. After the Poker Night in America taping in Pittsburgh, where she won $5,000, Moskow returned a couple of weeks later for another taping at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, but played for only an hour before show creator Todd Anderson removed her for another player. When a second taping was set for the Seminole Hard Rock in December 2015 and other women suggested she appear at the taping as an alternate, she said she couldn’t bring herself to even be on the property.
She was loathe to discuss the events even more than a year after they happened. “I stayed quiet because I was worried I’d burn way too many bridges in an already very small poker community,” she said.
But finally, she says, she mustered the will to go to show organizers to air her concerns. She claims they discussed a settlement to keep her quiet, “but when we were talking settlement, I was nauseated the whole time.”
So on May 25, she decided to post a 4,370-word account of her experience on her website, JaclynnMoskow.com. “I could have taken money, I could have just kept quiet,” she says. “But I just didn’t want it to happen again to anybody else.”
Her account begins, “I am no longer comfortable sitting idle and covering up what I believe to be abhorrent and inexcusable behavior.” She goes on to call out Hanson, Capra, and Dalla. She also makes public a text message from Capra sent two days after the incident, saying, “I apologize for what happened at the PNIA event … I know I instigated it. The actions of Nolan are inexcusable.”
Her words set off a firestorm in the poker community, making headlines on industry sites and drawing both supporters and critics.
A player named Liv Boeree said that she believes Moskow and noted that drinking had been involved. A player named Shawn Deeb said Moskow had “slandered” people. Another player, Chris Moneymaker, initially disbelieved her but changed his mind after seeing Capra’s text and seeing Moskow answer questions. He tweeted an apology to her and said, “I will not participate on Poker Night in America or sponsor it until all the facts have been determined and I have more information.”
Moskow says additional players have supported her privately, afraid if they go public with their support that they will damage their relationships with various entities related to their poker careers. “Can I blame them? Certainly not, as it was a similar sort of fear that kept me quiet about my experience for well over a year,” she says. She acknowledges that she is fortunate because she plays nontournament poker in relative anonymity anywhere in the world and does not have to court sponsors – or ever worry about TV again.
Yet many people also defend Dalla, a longtime public relations and tournament organizer with an encyclopedic knowledge of poker history.
Dalla himself posted on poker chat site TwoPlusTwo.com, defending himself and denying her assertions. “If the charges were in ANY way true,” he wrote, “I would be the first to take personal responsibility and apologize for those actions. If they were true, in ANY fashion, I would also apologize to Ms. Moskow.”
In his own 3,035-word screed, he wrote that Moskow had been the one to suggest she come on his show. He admitted to having “embarrassing moments” in his life, “but the horrific allegations made by Ms. Moskow are so ludicrous and out of character... With all due respect to Ms. Moskow, there’s nothing I find the least bit attractive about her, and to allege I made some physical advance at her in a very public place is something that I completely deny.”
Dalla contended that Moskow was not invited to the first Florida taping but somehow showed up, and that she was “mistakenly” invited to the second. He called her “high maintenance” and posted an email purportedly from her, in which she suggested edits to the show because she was concerned that “I spazzed out and played like a clown in a hand.”
He claims it was only after she was shunned that she began complaining about them men's behavior. He says she wrote in another email, “I deserve to be compensated for what I endured while taping the show - for the groping, the sexual harassment, the anti-Semitic remarks, etc. I would consider monetary compensation and/or paid seats on all future ladies and other mixed shows.” He called it a “shakedown.” He posted an image of an email in which she purportedly turns down a settlement offer of $7,500 and asks for $100,000 instead.
Poker player Linda Kenney Baden now represents Hanson and Dalla, although neither side has filed a suit. She released a statement that neither man would have further comment, and she did not respond to an interview request.
Poker Night in America officials say Dalla is no longer part of their operation, but he is working this month at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, as he has for years.
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On May 25, Todd Anderson, president of Poker Night in America, posted on the show’s site:
“We take these allegations very seriously and have investigated Dr. Moskow’s claims including talking to the alleged witnesses over the past several months. To date, we’ve been unable to substantiate her allegations,” he wrote.
Ultimately, Moskow says, “I’m fortunate enough that I felt I could come forward, but women in other situations can’t because they’d lose their jobs. I also realize there are women in much worse situations, like rape. But no one should ever be touched when they don’t want to be touched.
“If I go down as someone who made it easier for women to speak out against sexual harassment in poker, I’ll be happy.”