Eli Elezra announces group-enforced vaccine mandate for Bellagio’s high stakes poker room

Jon Pill
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Posted on August 18, 2021 11:00 pm EDT

While the powers that be in Nevada focus on mask mandates in an effort to stop the spread of COVID, poker players in the Bellagio’s high stakes poker room are forming a union of the vaccinated to protect themselves.

Eli Elezra announced the policy. The idea is that if an unvaccinated player sits at the table, the others will ask them to leave. If they refuse, the whole table will head for the door leaving the anti-vaxxer to play with themselves.

“Playing in @BellagioPoker. Players in-game agreed that from now on if unvaccinated player will seat we all going to quit or ask him no to play with us,” Elezra wrote.

Masks are far less effective than vaccines at reducing cases and hospitalizations. That’s not to say they should be done away with. Epidemiology works on exponential grounds. Any reduction in the chance of transmission at the individual level can make a huge difference at the population level.

However, vaccination has to be the main priority.

At the WSOP this year, being vaccinated is a partial hedge against being disqualified. At Harrah’s New Orleans, being vaccinated is required to enter poker tournaments, at least for the moment. And now if you want to get a decent game in the room-formerly-known-as-Bobby’s you’re going to have to bring along some friends if you want to keep the game going.

Why the ban?

The U.S. is looking at a third wave (or fifth depending on how you count them) of COVID driven in part by the anti-vaccination movement. Moves like Elezra’s are a creative way for players to protect themselves, though they’re also liable to create a great deal of friction with the anti-vax community.

The reality is that in the U.S., where anti-science sentiment has run high of late, the poker community will have to deal with a significant minority of unvaccinated players.

It is also increasingly looking like we will have to deal with COVID as a long-term problem. COVID is looking much more like measles today than like the 1918 flu to which it is so often compared.

Naturally, the decision is controversial. Some players view the Bellagio union as an unfair form of coercion. And the usual arguments about personal freedom are being bandied about in the comments. Others went straight to the classic unfollow.

On the other hand, protests like this—against the decision of the Bellagio players—go a long way toward revealing how bad-faith the argument based on “freedom” really is. In a world where players have the freedom to dodge vaccination, other people have the right to dodge playing with them. Similarly, private businesses have the freedom to refuse entry, and—under the first amendment—everyone has the right to call anti-vaxxers names.

Freedom is a double-edged sword.

The anti-vaxxer’s gamble

The protection of the rights of the unvaccinated actually represents a reduction in personal freedom.

That reduction has often been felt justified in other cases. We all (mostly) agree that people and businesses shouldn’t be free to discriminate based on religion, ethnicity, disability, gender, sex, sexuality, or race. Whether anti-vaxxers belong on that list is still very much up for debate.

Consult with your doctor if you have concerns about the vaccine. So far, hundreds of millions of people have been vaccinated in the U.S. alone. All the data for vaccinated groups says the vaccines are very safe and very effective. Getting the jab will save lives (including, potentially, your own). It will also get you a game in the Bellagio.

Science and ethics haven’t worked to persuade people to get the jab. We’re about to see if taking away their toys has an effect.

Featured image source: Flickr