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Contracts And Poker: Giving Interviews

by Scott J. Burnham |  Published: Oct 04, 2023

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One faithful reader recently asked about whether you have an obligation to participate in interviews when you take part in a WSOP event. He noted that Dan Colman refused an interview after winning the Big One For One Drop in 2014, (presumably because he did not want to encourage poker playing due to its dark side?) Jake Schindler also refused an interview after winning a bracelet in 2022, (presumably because he did not want to talk about accusations that he had cheated online.)

The reader was quick to add that if he won a bracelet, he would be happy to be featured on TV and in interviews, but wondered if there was any penalty if you refuse to take part.

This question gave me an excuse to engage in my favorite activity – reading the rules. (In recent columns, we looked at the release you sign when you enter a WSOP event. The rules are now clearly posted as a PDF file under “Important Information” on the WSOP website. Enjoy reading them and feel free to shoot me any questions you have about them.)

I can report that after doing so, I found that if you do participate in interviews, Caesars owns the rights to your appearance. But nothing requires you to participate. I also don’t see any reason why they couldn’t require you to assist in promoting the event if they wanted to make that the rule. You might wonder how they could penalize you. The same penalties would apply that apply to any rule violation – the most obvious would be to bar you from participating in future events.

So should you participate? In a column written about 20 years ago, Keith Hawkins reported that he would not participate because of the unfair financial structure of tournament poker. Unlike participants in most sporting events, the participants in poker tournaments pay for the privilege of participating. In addition, the WSOP makes a lot of money selling the media rights to the entertainment that the players are providing.

So, when you give an interview, you are contributing to their financial well-being instead of vice-versa. It is like actors paying to be in a movie. College athletes seem to be on the verge of sharing media revenue, but it is unlikely that poker players will follow.

A personal thought on why one might not participate is that while it is great for the folks at home to see you on TV, it can be embarrassing when you have nothing particularly original to say. We can’t all be as articulate as Daniel Negreanu or (thankfully) as whiny as Phil Hellmuth.

We do have some edge because we know in advance what the questions are going to be. If you make the final table at the series, Jeff Platt is going to ask, “How are you going to play against these other great players?” If you get knocked out, Kara Scott will ask, “How do you feel you played?” And if you finish on top, pretty much everyone will want to know, “How does it feel to win?”

So knowing the questions in advance, maybe we should be able to prepare some answers. Do you want to be like those actors who get an Oscar and are left stammering, mumbling thanks to people no one cares about, or do you want to give the inspirational remarks that tear at your heartstrings?

Which reminds me of one of the better responses, when Jennifer Tilly proudly displayed her bracelet and deadpanned that it was “better than an Oscar.”

On the other hand, I don’t have any good suggestions for what you might say. I’m reminded of the scene in Bull Durham where the veteran Crash Davis says to the rookie Nuke LaLoosh, “Time to work on your interviews.”

He then suggests tried and true responses like, “You gotta play them one day at a time,” “I’m just happy to be here,” and “I just wanna give it my best shot and, the good lord willing, things will work out.”

Do you remember any memorable responses? I don’t know if it is a true story, but there is the old joke that a big winning player is asked what he is going to do with all that money.

“First off, I’ll pay off some gambling debts.”

“And what about the rest?”

“They’ll just have to wait.”

Perhaps the best response was made in the old days. Truth be told, I don’t recall who said it – possibly Stu Ungar. After winning the main event, this champion was also asked what he was going to do with all that money.

He muttered, “Probably blow it in a poker game.” The interviewer did not catch what he said and asked him to repeat it. He then replied, “Prudently invest it in stocks and bonds.” ♠

Scott J. Burnham is Professor Emeritus at Gonzaga University School of Law in Spokane, Washington. He can be reached at profburnham@yahoo.com.