Is it acceptable for U.S. poker tournaments to run at this point in the pandemic?

Geoff Fisk
Published by:
Posted on 01/25/2021

Several major events drew big numbers across the country this weekend

The major tournament circuit in the U.S. reached levels of attendance this weekend that we haven’t seen since COVID-19 considerations shut down the world’s tournament economy in March.

The bestbet Jacksonville Winter Open series and WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open both played out in Florida, while Las Vegas hosted the Wynn Signature Series and WPT DeepStack Showdown.

The MSPT ran its Grand Falls Casino event just outside of Sioux Falls, South Dakota this weekend. All of these events drew big attendance, which prompted the following question from PokerNews Head of Live Reporting EU/ROW Yori Epskamp:

“It’s blowing my mind to see thousands across the US firing live tourneys right now while most of Europe is in it’s strictest series of lockdowns since the start,” Epskamp tweeted. “We won’t have this anytime soon. What is the general consensus on this in the US? Acceptable?”

The WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open Main Event drew the third-largest field in the nearly 20-year history of the tour. Held at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, FL, the $3,500 Main Event marked the first time the WPT has run a live Main Tour event since March 2020.

Live players turned out in huge numbers for the Main Event, which started on Jan. 22 and finishes up Tuesday. A total of 1,573 entries pushed the prize pool to $5,033,600, with the eventual winner bagging $809,515.

The WPT event played as one of at least five major tournaments taking place in the U.S. this weekend. Epskamp’s question prompted responses that mostly favored letting those events run.

Poker journalist Brent Harrington shared his thoughts on the big numbers for this weekend’s tournaments, despite the persistence of the COVID-19 numbers:

“I think the general consensus is that people are going to do what they want to do and rationalize it however they need to. Some people’s livelihood is based on tournament poker. So to a certain extent, I get it,” Harrington responded.

Longtime poker pro Steve Roselius highlighted the difference between how U.S. states can individually choose how to enforce COVID-19 restrictions:

“One of the most underrated facts about the US is that there are 50 sovereign states. Fifty different laboratories for policy and social custom. Some states are locked down. Others are wide open. We end up finding out who’s doing it right,” Roselius tweeted.

Maureen Bloechlinger, another fixture on the world’s tournament circuit, added her thoughts:

“These tournaments in FL & NV are approved by gaming authorities and held within state guidelines. Also flying within the USA is allowed,” Bloechlinger tweeted. “Have questioned myself if we should advertise these BUT they are legal. I am also in Europe and hope we can see live poker back by Summer.”

U.S. poker tours continue to push forward in the early months of 2021. Two major tournament series play out in Houston over the next month, while Las Vegas and Florida persist as major hubs for big events on each U.S. coast.

Are the states and casinos that run big tournament festivals in the COVID-19 era in the right for doing so? As Bloechlinger pointed out, these poker events are operating lawfully.

Barring a federal ban on live tournaments, if these states and casinos find it acceptable to run events, players can’t be expected not to attend. The question of whether it’s acceptable or not is in the eye of the beholder.

Featured image source: Twitter