The ‘fake vaccine card’ controversy: legitimate or overblown?

Haley Hintze
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Posted on 11/19/2021

How effective has the World Series of Poker’s vaccine-card program really been? The program required players to submit proof of vaccination through the CLEAR Health Pass system. Its effectiveness is very much an open question, with little hard data on which to judge.

This is one of the lingering controversies of the WSOP, which overall has to be graded as at least a qualified success. The series has managed to avoid a full-blown meltdown associated with Covid’s spread, even though the last week or two (based on players’ self-reporting on social media) has seen an uptick in cases. Brandon Shack-Harris, Nick Schulman, Chris Brewer, and others have been sidelined recently due to contracting the virus. Meanwhile a few others, such as K.L. Cleeton, have ended their series participation out of safety concerns.

All of those who have publicly acknowledged contracting Covid have also confirmed they were indeed vaccinated, proving that vaccines don’t provide 100% effectiveness against a continually mutating virus. But what remains unclear is whether any players entered the WSOP after filing forged vaccine cards, then caught the bug and either denied having it or quietly slipped away from the series after selfishly exposing others.

Laplante and Jordison posts stir the fake vaccine card pot

On Monday, Angela Jordison and Ryan Laplante shined a bit of social-media light onto the situation. Jordison posted her own hearsay about the possible issue, then subsequently deleted her Tweet after being assailed by a large number of anti-vaxxers. Laplante’s response remains visible. In it, he noted that he’d heard multiple stories of people successfully submitting fake or forged vaccine cards into the CLEAR system and being approved with little or no problem:

Laplante, though, supplied no names, nor did several respondents who offered similar tales:

Like Tuchman, British poker writer and editor Barry Carter was among those who hoped for names, but none, as of yet, have emerged. The WSOP is highly unlikely to acknowledge publicly if any player was caught submitting fake info, but the stories are widespread enough that it appears such rules-breaking was done to some extent.

Armstrong reputedly bragged previously about not being vaccinated

One player who ran deep in the Main Event has drawn at least some interest for possibly faking vaccine info. That’s Georgia’s Ben Armstrong, who made it all the way to Day 5 before eventually busting in 135th place.

Armstrong is something of a minor cryptocurrency celebrity, with several hundred thousand Twitter followers and hundreds of videos and recorded livestreams available on the web. Armstrong, who’s known as Bitboy_Crypto online, was mentioned in regards to his vaccination status after being moved to the Main Event’s feature table:

Neither this writer nor Poker.org is making any claims as to Armstrong’s vaccination status. This writer has been unable to locate the specific livestreams in which Armstrong made any of those alleged anti-vaccination claims, which leaves the matter open. Nor did Armstrong respond to a direct attempt to obtain comment, though with his large following, he might not have even seen the request. It’s entirely possible that Armstrong indeed relented and decided to be vaccinated in order to play at the WSOP, just as it’s possible he could have submitted fake info. The answer remains publicly unknown.

CLEAR might have been a glorified honor system

The WSOP was quite strident regarding vaccination requirements when it announced its partnership with CLEAR weeks before the 2021 series began. All players have indeed been required to submit their vaccine information at the Rio’s Belize Room, either through CLEAR’s online app or in person. Long lines in the room itself marked the first few days of the series.

As part of its protocols, the WSOP promised possible stack forfeitures for people caught defrauding the system. But as Laplante and others noted, there’s been a growing question of whether there was a true medical-records mechanism in place to detect fake vaccine cards. The WSOP’s news release about its partnership with CLEAR was adamant in detailing the system and the WSOP’s rules regarding vaccination status. One thing missing in retrospect, however, is any statement detailing exactly how CLEAR would detect fraudulent vaccination cards. Such a technical declaration was never present.

One dealer — unbidden and wishing to remain anonymous — stated to Poker.org that dealers themselves have estimated that as many as 5% of all players in this year’s WSOP events may have submitted faked vaccine info. If the truth is anywhere close to that, then it infers that the CLEAR system never did any real checking of info other than to make sure it appeared to be correctly formatted. Still, this writer has heard hearsay that at least a few players were indeed caught submitting faked info, which could explain the “hallway” Tweet posted above.

Even lacking a true direct-checking mechanism against medical records, however, the WSOP-CLEAR setup at least partly accomplished the WSOP’s real goal: having as many vaccinated series attendees as possible. It remains to be seen whether the CLEAR system will remain in place for the 2022 WSOP, although the state of the ongoing pandemic itself will also be a factor.

Whatever the real story was, it likely matters little for the remainder of this series. Still, if the CLEAR system is being defrauded, the WSOP and Caesars could always opt for the solution used by rival series. That is, they could abandon the vaccine requirement but insist on mandatory mask-wearing at the tables.

Featured image source: Haley Hintze