WSOP 2021: Impact of the Biden COVID vaccine mandate

Kat Martin
Published by:
Posted on 09/10/2021

In Washington D.C. yesterday, President Biden announced new measures aimed at increasing the number of Americans vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. These include the mandatory vaccination of federal workers and others employed through federal funding. Most controversially, businesses with at least 100 employees are mandated to require their workers to be vaccinated, or be tested weekly for the virus.

What this article is not about

At Poker.org, we have been covering the COVID pandemic out of professional necessity. Live poker creates a unique environment in which the chances of COVID transmission are high. Nine or ten individuals are seated in close proximity and all touch cards and chips. Thus the health of the poker industry, as well as the health of players and dealers, is directly impacted by the prevalence of the COVID virus.

The new mandate raises legal and ethical concerns about the reach of government and personal liberties. It also reflects the evidence that higher vaccination rates slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce individual risks of serious illness and death.

Impact on the 2021 WSOP

At the time of writing, precisely when the new vaccine mandate will be implemented is unknown. Federal workers are being given a 75-day grace period to get the COVID vaccination, which provides a hint to the likely timeline.

At first sight, this would appear to rule out any impact on the WSOP, since 75 days extends just beyond the end date of the series.

As such, Biden’s new vaccine mandate would impact WSOP employees, but after the WSOP has ended.

However, one important detail of how WSOP is handling this crisis is whether dealers and floor staff will receive regular testing for COVID, particularly in light of the lack of a vaccination requirement for such staff. To date, WSOP has declined to make a public statement on any testing policy.

While the timeline for the introduction of the federal mandate means WSOP is required to do nothing, some players have expressed hope that, for the sake of all attendees at the series, they choose to do something. Testing dealers is a simple method of reducing contact between COVID-positive individuals at the event. Not only would such a measure protect those in the Rio playing areas, it increases the odds that WSOP completes its full schedule.

Tricky situation

On the flipside, the WSOP is facing staffing concerns. Namely, the series is struggling to find enough dealers to cover their need for dealers. Any vaccine or testing mandate could exacerbate that challenge, as much as it might also increase the degree of safety for the series.

We asked Dr. K., a doctor in Hamburg, Germany, working at a COVID vaccination facility, for her observations on the current WSOP COVID protocols. She was at first hopeful that the vaccine mandate on players would let the series run its full course without major problems. However, when told that dealers moved from table to table twice an hour, and that they were not required to be vaccinated, she expressed concerns.

“If a considerable number of the dealers are not vaccinated, they’ll soon be understaffed,” she told Poker.org. She went on to explain that, with such large numbers in a confined space, it is inevitable that many will be carrying the virus. The presence of unvaccinated dealers greatly increases the probability of a significant COVID outbreak.

Beyond the WSOP

As noted above, live poker has been impacted more than many other professional endeavors through the nature of the environment in which the game is played. Further, the industry provides a livelihood for hundreds of thousands of individuals in the U.S. alone. Any measures that help get the industry back on its feet are therefore of interest to players and fans alike.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to personal tragedy for millions worldwide. Thus, we at Poker.org extend our thoughts to all those who have suffered, and to those who are trying to bring this awful pandemic to an end.

Featured image source: Twitter