Cayuga Nation Sues Hit Showtime Series ‘Billions’ for Defamation Over ‘Offensive’ Portrayal

Posted on: August 14, 2019, 05:18h. 

Last updated on: August 16, 2019, 01:25h.

New York State’s Cayuga Nation is suing the Showtime network over an episode of its hit show Billions, which it claims defamed the tribe while pushing an “offensive stereotype” of Native Americans as “irresponsible, corruptible, and even criminal” casino owners.

Cayuga Nation
Billions stars Damian Lewis (left) and Paul Giamatti. The Cayuga Nation claims the show was “patently offensive and defamatory” in its depiction of the tribe in an episode that aired in May. (Image: Showtime)

A lawsuit filed Tuesday in the state Supreme Court in New York City complains that an episode that aired May 5 depicted the tribe using its real name and even the name of one its leaders — although at least Billions’ writers went to the trouble of changing real-life Cayuga chief Clint Halftown’s gender.

In the show, the character “Jane Halftown” is a council member of the “Cayuga Iroquois” who participates in blackmailing and bribing a government official.

‘False and Defamatory’  

The episode also included a “false and defamatory narrative that the Nation and Council Member Halftown had previously been engaged in a casino land deal and an illegal revenue-sharing arrangement,” according to the complaint.

The Cayuga Nation belongs to the Iroquois language family. But unlike the tribe depicted in the episode, it does not operate full-scale casino gaming – just a couple of class II electronic bingo parlors in upstate New York under the name of Lakeside Entertainment.

Billions stars Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis, whose characters are based on, respectively, former US District Attorney for the State of New York Preet Bharara and hedge fund manager Steve Cohen of SAC Capital Advisors. But the lawsuits notes these characters’ names have been changed completely from the real-world people they loosely depict.

The lawsuit argues the picture the episode painted of the tribe was “patently offensive and defamatory” and is seeking unspecified damages.

The Nation is concerned the portrayal could prejudice its long-standing and so-far-unsuccessful quest to have the US Interior Department take land into trust for the tribe, a condition that could one day allow it to offer full-scale casino gaming. Its latest application is currently under review.

“Critical to that review is a confirmation that the application accurately described the Nation’s business operations,” the lawsuit states. “Thus, a false statement regarding the nature and type of the Nation’s gaming operations may be injurious, and perhaps even fatal, to that application.”

Writers Named as Defendants

Also named as defendants are the show’s creators Brian Koppelman, David Levien, and Andrew Ross Sorkin. Koppelman and Levien were the writing team behind cult poker movie Rounders, which is often cited as a contributing factor to the poker boom of the 2000s.

Their Billions protagonist, Chuck Rhoades, also has a poker connection. His real-world counterpart, Bharara, was the man who, in 2011, led the “Black Friday” prosecutions against the three biggest online poker sites serving US players, PokerStars, Full Tilt, and the CEREUS Network. Bharara has been credited with ending the aforementioned poker boom.

Billions’ credits include a disclaimer asserting that “all characters are fictional and that any resemblance to an actual person is coincidental.”