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What Is A Guarantee?

by Gavin Griffin |  Published: May 09, 2018

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When I was growing up, my grandpa liked to watch a cooking show featuring a man from Louisiana named Justin Wilson. He was fond of punctuating an emphatic statement by saying, in his gumbo-thick Louisiana accent, “I guar-ron-tee.” He made you feel certain that he stood behind what he was saying. He believed it and made you feel like you could believe it too.

“Damn right that chicken is crispy and delicious, he guaranteed it.” My grandpa would quote that to me all the time in an imitation of Wilson’s accent and I believed my grandpa too when he did so.

That’s not the only place I’ve heard the term, of course. All kinds of marketing has a guarantee on it. Money-back guarantee, satisfaction guarantee, freshness guarantee. When you see a guarantee from a company it carries legal weight. The Federal Trade Commission requires a company to adhere to their return policy at the time of a purchase or face charges of false marketing. In other words, when a company advertises, “We guarantee you’ll like it or your money back,” they better give your money back according to their policies if they were wrong.

So then, where isn’t a guarantee actually a guarantee? When it’s in a poker tournament. The most famous example of this is from the 2012 edition of the Partouche Poker Tour main event, an €8,500 buy-in tournament with an advertised guarantee of €5 million. When the prize pool came up short of that by €700,000, they said that it wasn’t really a guarantee, €4.3 million isn’t too bad for a prize pool, right guys?

After some understandable outrage from the players still in the tournament at the time they made this announcement, the company decided to make good on the guarantee and no longer offer their services to the world, shutting down their poker tour.

In California, it is popular for tournaments to advertise a big number with an asterisk next to it and refer to it as an estimated prize pool, not a guaranteed one. Of course, this is a little annoying if you haven’t read carefully, but it’s valid nonetheless.

Recently, in a Heartland Poker Tour tournament at The Westgate in Las Vegas, an event guaranteed a $500,000 prize pool as long as there were at least 300 players registered. A conditional guarantee, but a guarantee nonetheless. If there are 300 players, that means the players have put up the $1,440 tournament buy-in plus $210 in fees for a total of $1,650 × 300 = $495,000. $5,000 in actual prize money added to the pool and everyone is now playing a $1,650 tournament with no rake.

It would take a total of 348 players for the tournament to break even on their guarantee i.e. they would have a $500,000 prize pool and the requisite rake for the house. Any fewer players and they would be playing for a less-than-advertised rake.

Players have alleged, and it seems to be confirmed, that with 90 minutes left in registration and only 303 people registered, the Westgate started offering discounted buy-ins to patrons on a special list, but not to everyone. Players on this list could put up $850 of their own funds and The Westgate would contribute the additional $800 to make the prize pool whole. These are people who would not have played the tournament at the $1,650 price point, so they aren’t offering discounts to patrons who would already be playing. The Westgate casino is a business and they can use promotional funds to get players into the field as they see fit, but some players who paid the full buy-in both before and after the promotional rate was offered to select participants were understandably miffed.

I did not play this tournament. If I had, I would be upset at the situation as many people are. Someone on the r/poker subreddit used a good analogy. It’s as if you bought a TV at full price then the store sold the same TV for half price and it made your TV just a little bit smaller and lower quality. The overlay in the tournament is being reduced by these people being put in and that decreases everyone’s equity in the tournament equally.

It’s probably not against regulations, but it’s definitely morally ambiguous at the very least. They honored the $500,000 “guarantee” but did so in a way that calls into question the ethical standards of the casino.

I’m not sure that I would have ever played poker at The Westgate before this incident, but I’m quite certain now that I won’t. In fact, I’d go so far as to say in my best Justin Wilson voice, “I guar-ron-tee.”

Gavin GriffinGavin Griffin was the first poker player to capture a World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour and World Poker Tour title and has amassed nearly $5 million in lifetime tournament winnings. Griffin is sponsored by HeroPoker.com. You can follow him on Twitter @NHGG