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2020 World Series of Poker Postponed Due To Coronavirus Concerns

WSOP Organizers Hope To Reschedule For Fall, But No Dates Are Currently Confirmed

by Card Player News Team |  Published: May 20, 2020


The 2020 World Series of Poker has officially been postponed. On Monday, April 20 the WSOP released a statement announcing that the 51st annual running of the world’s largest poker series has been pushed back indefinitely due to the global COVID-19 outbreak.

In the release, the event’s organizers indicated that they are targeting a move to the fall of 2020 for the series, but no exact dates have been determined. The WSOP did stipulate that the rescheduled WSOP will include the $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em main event world championship.

Last year, a total of 187,298 entries were made at the WSOP, with players from over 100 different countries participating. The massive turnout resulted in a record $293,183,345 in prize money being awarded.

Since first being held in 1971, the WSOP has exclusively kicked off in the late spring and early summer. If the series is indeed rescheduled for this autumn, it would mark the first time in the event’s history that it started so late in the year. The original schedule announced for this year’s WSOP called for a record 101 gold bracelets to be awarded, but all indications point to an altered and likely decreased slate of events if and when play gets underway.

“We are committed to running the WSOP this year but need additional time to proceed on our traditional scale while prioritizing guest and staff well-being,” said WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart in the release.

Many around the industry displayed skepticism about the series’ chances of taking place in Las Vegas. Well-known poker personalities like Doug Polk and Mike McDonald were offering public wagers betting against a summer series as far back as February. As more and more marquee sporting events, music festivals, and other large gatherings were steadily canceled and postponed around the globe in March and early April, the likelihood of the WSOP going ahead as planned diminished.

On April 2, WSOP Vice President of Corporate Communications Seth Palansky told Card Player that a decision was not likely to be made until May, with organizers wanting as much time as possible to gather information before making a decision. Palansky was among the roughly 90 percent of Caesars employees put on furlough that same week.

“The only factors that matter for the WSOP, for it to be held as planned, is the health and safety of guests and staff,” said Palansky at the time. “If we can’t host an event as we have in the past 50 years in Las Vegas, where everyone can participate safely and without risk, we won’t.”

Palansky went on to underline that the WSOP would rely on the health experts and government leaders for guidance. Despite his assertion that the decision would likely not be made until May, the move to postpone was ultimately made just over two weeks later. As a result, the eight-week extravaganza that the entire poker world builds its annual calendar around has now been replaced with a WSOP-sized hole.

A Black Hole In The Summer Schedule

“The WSOP is an important part of the poker landscape and the summers in Vegas are a big part of a lot of professional and amateur players’ lives,” World Poker Tour Executive Tour Director and Tournament Directors Association co-founder Matt Savage told Card Player after the news broke. “Even though we knew it was coming, it still kind of sinks your heart when you hear that they are moving [the series] and people won’t be coming to Las Vegas this summer.”

The postponement of the WSOP will have a lasting impact throughout the poker industry, with its effects being felt by players, dealers, casino operators, competing poker tours, online poker sites, and many others.

“We employ over 2,000 people at the Series,” said Palansky when asked about how postponement or cancellation of the WSOP could economically impact workers. “Obviously a big chunk of those are the dealers the players see on the front lines there, but there’s a whole host of other people. So ultimately, look, there are potentially huge financial ramifications, but we’re in the people business and we’ve all come to look at the WSOP as a summer camp where we all get together once a year and have a good time and make memories and share in our passion and love for the game of poker.”

In addition to the players and the workers directly employed by the WSOP each summer, there is another group of workers who rely on the WSOP as a crucial gig each year, which includes tournament reporters, photographers, and other members of the poker media. One media organization impacted by the postponement is the digital video subscription service PokerGO. The service has provided live streaming coverage of final-table action from hundreds of WSOP events since 2017. PokerGo has also worked in conjunction with ESPN to provide same-day coverage of the largest poker tournament of the year, the WSOP main event.

“PokerGO’s programming includes coverage of the biggest tournaments and live poker events around the world, and we always look forward to the WSOP. We’re looking forward to bringing the WSOP tournament to our fans in the fall,” said PokerGO Chief Business Officer J.R. McCabe in a statement to Card Player.

The streaming service has launched several new series since the live poker hiatus began, which join their existing original programming offered alongside coverage of live poker events.

Since the shutdown began, PokerGo moved several of its popular live high roller tournament series to the online realm. The Poker Masters Online series more than doubled its guarantees, awarding more than $35.4 million across 30 events. As a result of that online festival’s success, PokerGo has decided to also host the 2020 Super High Roller Bowl online, running from May 23 – June 1 with a $100,000 marquee high roller event.

“We knew we had to continue the momentum with an online Super High Roller Bowl series in lieu of a live tournament this year,” said McCabe.

With the series out of the picture for the summer, what will be taking its place for players, workers, and fans? That question will remain largely unanswered, as much of the world remains in various states of shutdown due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Online Poker Flourishes During Social Distancing

One sector of the poker world that has certainly seen an increase in prominence is online poker. In fact, the WSOP’s announcement also included preliminary info about possible online poker events to be held during the now-open summer months.

“Official WSOP competitions are expected to be played online this summer, and we will soon announce details of an expanded series of tournaments to be played on and through partnerships with international operators, which will allow players to chase WSOP glory from their homes,” said Stewart in the press release.

A WSOP Circuit online series was announced just days after the initial wave of live poker series cancellations began, serving players in the states of Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware. The Super Circuit Series awarded 18 WSOPC gold rings from March 14-31. The series featured $1.24 million in total guarantees, but more than $3.9 million in prize money was ultimately paid out. An international version of the online WSOPC is also set to take place on the global-facing GGPoker Network in May with $100 million guaranteed overall.

Other tours and series have also made the move to online in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Irish Poker Open and the Poker Masters high-roller series both transitioned from live events to online, with both series taking place on partypoker and utilizing the real names of the competitors. The World Poker Tour announced the first-ever WPT Online Series running from May 3-19 on partypoker, with a $5 million guaranteed main event being the centerpiece of the schedule.

“The WPT is very excited to be a part of partnering with partypoker. It’s going to be our first champion to have their name added to the WPT Champions Cup in an online event,” said Savage. “I think it’s going to be a massive success and we’ll see how this goes, but there is obviously a big chance that we will do more with them.”

Online poker traffic is up all across the board, with record numbers on both American and international sites. PokerStars recently hosted its largest-ever tournament, with 93,016 players entering the Sunday Million to create an $18.6 million prize pool. Online poker operators in New Jersey reported their single highest monthly earnings number in March. in Nevada saw an increase of 46 percent over the annual peak during the summer, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Sites around the world have responded by increasing their tournament guarantees. Global Poker has seen its registered player base grow to over 1 million. The site’s Sunday Scrimmage had featured a guaranteed prize pool of SC 50,000 prior to the shutdown but has since increased the guarantee up to SC 200,000 by mid-April. Global Poker even ran a special SC 500,000 guaranteed edition of the tournament on April 26, and crushed the guarantee by more than six figures. BetOnline has also increased the guarantee on their big Sunday event recently, up to $250,000 from $150,000, and Americas Cardroom is gearing up for a massive $7 million guaranteed Venom tournament in July, after scheduling 15 separate $1 million events in May.

Will Other Live Tournament Series Fill the Void This Summer?

While the tournaments at the WSOP are the epicenter of the poker world for the summer, there are a handful of other sizable tournament series that typically run alongside the WSOP in Las Vegas. Various series had been announced at the Golden Nugget, Planet Hollywood, The Orleans, ARIA Las Vegas, and The Venetian Las Vegas. The partypoker MILLIONS Vegas series at ARIA has officially been moved online, while all the other series outside of Orleans Summer Poker Series have been officially postponed while organizers await clarity about when the gambling mecca will begin to re-open.

“The health and safety of our Team Members, our guests, and our community is a top priority,” said Tommy LaRosa, tournament director at The Venetian Resort Las Vegas, site of multiple Card Player Poker Tour events in recent years. “At this time The Venetian Resort remains closed and we look forward to a time in the near future when we announce our re-opening date. We can confirm that The DeepStack Championship Poker Series will not take place on its originally scheduled dates, May 4-July 26. However, as the current situation evolves, we will review new dates and announce them as soon as they are available.”

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak indicated on April 21 that there was not yet a firm date for when non-essential businesses, including casinos, can re-open in the state. With the casinos in the Silver State remaining closed for the near future, it is hard for those who organize and put on live poker tournaments to have much clarity about their events in the near future. In some cases, key personnel usually involved in the running of these types of events have been furloughed or laid off during the shutdown.

Outside of those series in Vegas, much of the poker tournament world takes a hiatus for June and much of July. If casinos in certain states and countries were approved to re-open during the summer, an opportunity exists for series postponed in March and April to be moved to the weeks normally dedicated to WSOP action. Major tours, like the World Poker Tour, are reliant on their casino partners when it comes to deciding when their tour stops can start to get back underway.

“The WPT does not make the decisions on when we can resume,” said Savage. “It is essentially up to our partners to make sure that they’re comfortable with their policy and procedures going forward, and we at the WPT will be ready when that happens.”
There are currently a number of major events scheduled for August that are currently moving forward as planned, including the WSOP Circuit’s season-ending Global Casino Championship (Aug. 11-13) and the European Poker Tour Barcelona festival (Aug. 12-30), which will also host the second running of the massive PokerStars Players NL Hold’em Championship, or PSPC.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and will keep players updated in advance of any change to current plans,” said Rebecca McAdam, Associate Director of Group Public Relations for The Stars Group when asked about the status of the PSPC and other PokerStars live events.

Looking Forward To The Fall

In the press release announcing the postponement of the 2020 WSOP, event organizers specifically targeted the fall for possible rescheduling of the event. This is typically a busy time of the year on the tournament circuit, with steady action picking back up around the globe in August after a brief hiatus in the wake of the series in Las Vegas. If the series typically held in the fall are able to play out as planned, there are likely to be plenty of festivals that conflict with any timeslot the WSOP could choose.

“We never like to go over the top of the WSOP or any other major event or tour because we feel like it’s important that we respect the players and their wishes, while also trying to make it a great event for our partner casinos,” said Savage about how the WPT might deal with the WSOP moving to the fall. “We will look at those dates, when they’re announced, and try and make adjustments where we can so that we have a great and successful series.”

One major festival that could be impacted by a new timeslot would be one of the WSOP’s own, the 2020 WSOP Europe. The 12th running of the WSOPE remains on the calendar and is set to be hosted at King’s Resort in Rozvadov, Czech Republic for the fourth consecutive year. The three prior iterations all ran from around the middle of October through early November. Turnout could be impacted for both events, with international players perhaps choosing to not make the trek to America if the WSOPE is right around the corner. Similarly, some North American players might be less inclined to fly across the pond to Europe who might have normally gone if they’re fresh off of multiple weeks of bracelet chasing.

It is impossible to know how this unprecedented change will impact turnout for the WSOP or any other poker events. With so many important factors outside of the control of organizers, the entire poker tournament industry is currently in uncharted territory. There are thousands of casino workers and executives, poker reporters, dealers, and players all patiently waiting for the game they love to return. Hopefully, we all won’t have to wait too long until it is once again safe to shuffle up and deal. ♠