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Las Vegas Poker Tournament Comes Under Fire For Giving Some Players Buy-In Discount

Poker Community Blasts Casino For Handling Of Tournament Guarantee

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A casino near the north end of the Las Vegas Strip is facing heavy criticism over a poker tournament that began this past weekend.

The Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino is currently hosting the Heartland Poker Tour for a $1,650 buy-in re-entry main event that guaranteed a prize pool of at least $500,000. Factoring in the more than $200 in rake on the $1,650 (the casino’s cut of each buy-in for hosting the event), the event needed 303 entrants to meet the guarantee so the casino wouldn’t be forking over the difference from its own pockets. Still, a turnout of just over 300 players would mean the casino was basically running the tournament for free. That’s not great for business.

At 6 p.m. local time on Saturday, with just 90 minutes left before registration officially closed, there were just 300 players, according to a Tweet from HPT Tournament Director Jeremy Smith. The casino was liable for putting up an “overlay” in order to satisfy the guarantee, according to Smith. What happened next is causing quite a stir in the poker community.

Poker pro Dylan Linde, who entered the tournament four separate times for $1,650 thanks to the re-entry format, told Card Player that the casino wasn’t transparent in its efforts to find more players at the last minute so the prize pool guarantee could be surpassed.

“When we returned from dinner break (last call for registration) a few people at my table mentioned they’d heard an announcement in the sportsbook/poker room (not where tournament was) that people who wanted to enter could do so at a 50 percent discount,” Linde said. “This seemed odd, but hey, it’s within their rights as long as $1,650 goes in for each entry not $825.”

Casinos running promotions to get players into a pricey tournament for a discount is common in the industry. However, according to Linde, the casino did not extend the last-minute discount to poker pros. He said he did not know the names of the players who were able to enter for $825.

“The real problem in my mind came later after hearing all fellow pros who tried to register during this period were denied the promotion,” Linde said. “Not only that, but they were having the discounted guys register in a back room, to keep it away from other players. This seems extremely wrong to me. You cannot make an announcement of this nature for a promotion and then discriminate against some players just because they were willing to pay full price.”

In response to a growing social media blacklash, the Westgate casino made a short statement on its Twitter page. It said that at the end of tournament registration it “chose to pay a portion of the entry fee for select VIP.” Westgate stated that the full $1,650 entry fee went into the prize pool for all the players who were able to get in at the discount.

Smith, the tournament director, said on Twitter that the decision was Westgate’s and it did not come from the HPT. Smith didn’t return a request for comment by Card Player asking how many players were able to enter for half price. An HPT live update said there were 329 total entrants.

Despite the statements, the casino is being criticized by some of poker’s heaviest hitters. Long-time poker pro Matt Stout, who wasn’t in the tournament, told Card Player that while there’s no problem in general with casinos giving away promotional seats to tournaments with guaranteed prize pools, what Westgate did “struck a nerve.”

“When it’s done as a last-minute attempt to reduce the venue’s risk of taking a loss, I think it crosses the line from bad business practice to completely unethical and, while I have no idea of the laws surrounding this, hopefully illegal activity. In my eyes, this amount to a cash grab by the venue and takes equity away from the chips from every player who showed up and paid $1,650.”

“Westgate is claiming that they put up the other half of the $1,650 buy-in for players who were allowed to buy-in for $825, but that simply doesn’t make sense,” Stout added. “After the 303rd entrant buys in, they’ve collected $499,950 to pay for the prize pool, and the next 30-40 or so players would be helping to keep the venue from having to fork over the rake from the first 303 entrants to help make up the prize pool. Essentially, the entirety of every entrant from no. 304 to no. 342 would be giving $1,650 directly to Westgate to cover the rake. Not surprisingly, the event at Westgate had 329 entries as a result of this highly questionable process.”

Like any gambler in Nevada, poker players affected by the situation have the ability to file a complaint with the Nevada Gaming Control Board, just like the poker players involved with a controversial bad-beat promotion at Red Rock last summer.

When asked if he would be filing a complaint, Linde said he would “if someone that knew more about the legality of it told me there was a case.”

“I’m just not clear on if what went down was illegal or simply unethical,” he said.

The final table began at noon local time on Monday.