Financing shortage looms behind Johnny Chan’s 88 Social December Winter Classic series cancellation

Haley Hintze
Published by:
Posted on 11/16/2021

New details connected to the cancellation of the December 1-12, 2021 Winter Classic poker series at Johnny Chan’s 88 Social venue in Houston have emerged. Those details suggest that financial difficulties and increased pressure from competitors caused not only the series’ cancellation, but also threaten the card room’s continuing operations.

Poker.org has received info further explaining the Winter Classic cancellation. The series was to include several events with large guaranteed prize pools, including a $500,000 mega “Opener.” However, the room pulled the plug on the series while also allegedly disclosing to employees that the room couldn’t cover significant overlays if entries failed to cover the posted guarantees.

Daily cashout cap exposes room’s financial woes

Cash shortages behind Johnny Chan’s 88 Social have been evident for several weeks. The room has arbitrarily limited chip cashouts to $2,000 per day, which has led to widespread player ire. Houston cash-game regular and Prime Social part-owner Chanh Nguyen brought the cash-shortage issue to light in a Facebook post on November 1 in the “A Better Houston Poker Live” group.

Nguyen wrote (with some typos fixed), “I am not calling out 88 Social, I am just a bit annoyed. Everyone knows I am here to make the poker scene in Houston better and I support every room here. I like to give opportunities to people who seek opportunity and in return they help me out as well.

“So everyone knows I like to horse people and I send people around to nearly all the poker clubs in Houston to play! Given the fact that 88 has the best action and the most tables running, I have about 5 horses that play there. Yes, that is how I support the local room in Houston!

“So here is the fucked up part, I’ve got about 5 players, some with high 5-figures chips and some with lows. Now is the time to collect and start splitting the profits but guess what? They limit players to $2K a day!!!! Wtf??? Seriously??? Now we can’t get our money? I remember when I was raided! I reopened and paid back close to $800K to all the players that had chips. Even those who pre-registered for the tournament we were supposed to run! This is some bullshit!!! Nothing toward the people or staff there, just mad at their money system. If this was Prime, everyone will come at me sideways. Am I being too nice??”

While Nguyen’s Prime Social and 88 Social are direct rivals, several other players quickly confirmed the $2K daily withdrawal cap. A few well-connected players noted some arbitrary cushion as well, stating they were able to get more than the $2K max on some occasions.

Crowded neighborhood market adds to room’s difficulties

Why the cash shortage exists at all remains officially unexplained, though widely diverging rumors include a large number of earlier chip cashouts to fund trips west for the World Series of Poker. The cashout caps may also have negatively affected 88 Social’s cash-game traffic, which adds to players’ concerns. Why the room has a cash shortfall at all is another question needing a good answer, though it points to an issue with Texas’s largely unregulated social-poker scene.

Johnny Chan’s 88 Social, formerly known as 52 Social, is one of nearly two dozen semi-private poker clubs that have sprung up in Houston over the past few years. As elsewhere in Texas, they exist in Houston in a grey area between city and state gambling codes.

Most of the poker clubs in the Houston metro area operate in just three or four clustered areas. The largest of those clusters is a few miles west-southwest of downtown Houston, north of the city’s Westpark Tollway. One of the rival clubs, Legends, is literally across the street from 88 Social, while the city’s largest room, Prime Social, is a little over a mile to the west. Three other clubs also operate in the neighborhood while another remains shuttered at the present time.

To what extent Johnny Chan’s 88 Social’s owners wish to reinvest in the club remains uncertain. Poker.org has received claims but cannot verify that paychecks bounced for the room’s employees over the past two weeks. Some employees have allegedly quit, while two members of the room’s day-to-day management may have been terminated in the past week.

Despite being the namesake of the club, Chan himself is only a minority owner. The reputed primary owner and operator of the room since its founding as 52 Social was, allegedly Chris Dupre, though a large number or other people have been reported at various times during the operation of 52 Social and its successor 88 Social. Others allegedly owning shares have included Chan, Adam Feierstein, and three business partners of Chan’s, who entered the scene when the club transitioned to 88 Social. Chan and Dupre had — according to one anonymous employee — been working on a refinancing plan to allow the room to continue forward. The situation at Johnny Chan’s 88 Poker remains murky, however, at the present time. (This paragraph has been amended from its initial version.)

Meanwhile, the venue’s Winter Classic is a victim of the uncertainty. Whether another of the city’s rooms will offer a replacement holiday-season series remains unknown.

Featured image source: Facebook / Johnny Chan’s 88 Social