Trouble in Paradise: GGPoker and WSOP criticized over deductions from guaranteed prize pools

The Atlantis hotel on Paradise Island in the Bahamas
Haley Hintze Author Photo
Haley Hintze
Posted on: October 20, 2023 05:10 PDT

Social-media remains active in the wake of GGPoker's recent changes to the framework of December's WSOP-linked "Road to Paradise" festival in the Bahamas. The largest controversy focuses on the disclosure that the $15 million prize pool guarantee for the series' $5,000 main event appears to include, in its prize-pool calculations, lodging and buffet expenses that will be deducted from the pool for winners of GGPoker's recently-created online "Day 1" satellites into the Paradise Main Event.

The issue has become a cause celebre of sorts for at least one prominent poker writer, David Lappin, who doubles as a brand ambassador for Unibet Poker. Lappin laid the wood to GGPoker, and by extension, the WSOP, in two pieces to date about the prize-pool deductions for the "OnLive" Day 1 qualifiers, each of whom will receive either the Bahamas prize package or a $5,000 min-cash, should they choose not to travel to the Bahamas.

By playing the Day 1 qualifiers online, participants who move on in these events will arrive for the main event's live Day 2 in the Bahamas in the money. However, it's not quite that simple, as Lappin was quick to point out:

The thread also included a link to the first of Lappin's highly-pointed takes on the situation, published at VegasSlotsOnline, and he followed up with a second feature just a few days later.

Prize-pool guarantees typically describe funds actually paid to players

As another piece, this time by PokerNewsDaily's Dan Katz, brought into greater focus, one of the issues is that such expenses are not typical deducted from the announced prize pool -- in this case the $15 million listed for the Paradise main event. Prize-pool guarantees are traditionally a post-expenses number, meaning that the issue isn't that the money for the hotel stay and lunch buffets was taken out, but that it means that the chance exists that the event might pay out less actual prize money than the $15 million advertised. That's historically a poker-world no-no.

The money withdrawn for the online Day 1 qualifiers quickly adds up, too. The Paradise casino-resort, near Nassau in the Bahamas, may be charging roughly $600 a night, even it is the "lowest group rate" offered by Paradise, as GGPoker claimed in an online response to one of Lappin's Twitter/X posts:

It's also important to clarify, in perhaps the single detail omitted from Lappin's pieces, that the $6,500 total per player came from the WSOP/GGPoker "Millionaire Maker" event in a different online/;ive series. It's still comparable: the deduction per player for the Paradise trip package may not be exactly the same, and GGPoker has not specifically disclosed what that lowest group rate is for the upcoming festival's dates.

If a similar $6,500 is pulled from the prize pool for each OnLive qualifier into the Paradise main event, and, as an example, 100 online qualifiers make the trip, then $650,000 would be taken out of the prize pool, which is nearly 5% of the guarantee.

It turns out that the OnLive qualifiers will face a harder task in qualifying for the live Bahamas finale as well. According to GGPoker's FAQ on the "Road to Paradise" promotion, the amount being withdrawn for the lodging packages has been "accounted for" in the structure of the online qualifiers themselves:

"How is the OnLive hotel money accounted for in the prize pool?

"Hotels are paid for by GGPoker at the best group discount rate. OnLive tournaments are designed in a way where the survivors go through more levels than live players to reach ITM. This difference covers for the hotels."

While that structure alteration may restore some value equity between online-qualifying and live-only participants, it doesn't address the problem with the listed $15 million guarantee itself. And the OnLive qualifiers who choose to accept the min-cash are forfeiting not only the chance at a major prize, but also the estimated $6,500 that's already been subtracted from that player's qualifying event to pay for the 11-night stay at Paradise.

Intractable situation amid competitive December for poker events

The thorny situation shows no signs of an easy fix. No operator wants to eat significant overlays, and with $51 million in guarantees through the entire Paradise festival, GGPoker has plenty at stake.

The situation also involves the crowded international live-poker scene in December. The WSOP/GGPoker Paradise festival will compete directly against two other major series, the WPT World Championship at Wynn Las Vegas and EPT Prague, which has become one of the European Poker Tour's most prominent stops.

For players in North America as it pertains to the WPT festival, and for the large mass of European pros in relatively close proximity to the Czech Republic, traveling to those series likely represents a more affordable option for both travel and lodging. That's an additional issue for players to consider, since for Paradise qualifiers, travel to and from the Bahamas isn't covered, either.

Other writers and online commenters have noted, that leaves only the allure of a December trip to the sunny Caribbean and possibly winning a WSOP bracelet as prominent selling points for the Paradise series. And as Lappin detailed, the Bahamas haven't always been the friendliest destination for players. WSOP bracelet events, more abundant than ever, could also be nearing a saturation point. It all adds up to a difficult sell in a crowded market.

But a difficult sell is one thing, while the issue of deducting expenses from an already-promoted prize-pool guarantee is another matter altogether. As this week has shown, it's triggered the ire of many of the players that GGPoker hoped to target with the Paradise festival.

(Executives at GGPoker and the WSOP were contacted during the creation of this report, and both declined to offer comment on the controversy.)