Harrah’s Says No To Third-Party Registrations
In late February, Harrah’s announced it had begun allowing players to preregister online for the 55 scheduled events of the 2007 World Series of Poker. Players may continue to do so until two weeks prior to the start of the event in which they wish to participate (after which time they must register in person at the Rio). According to the “Tournament Rules” (also made public at the end of February), “third-party registrations for players are not permitted unless submitted by Official WSOP sponsors.” In other words, unless Harrah’s has “officially licensed” the third party to hold satellite tournaments or arrange other ways of giving away seats, that entity will not be permitted to register a player for an event.
By way of clarification, Harrah’s added the following statement to the rule: “No third-party registrations will be accepted from online gaming sites conducting business with U.S. residents.” That is, none of the online poker sites serving us Yanks -- e.g., PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker, Bodog, Ultimate Bet -- will be allowed to register participants. For those who still don’t follow, the “Frequently Asked Questions” sheds further light: “Can someone else Pre-Register for me? No, unless they are Official WSOP Satellite Licensees or have official Prize Agreements with the WSOP.”
For Harrah’s to take this position makes perfect sense given how the UIGEA is written. Taking third-party registrations from online poker sites still serving Americans may or may not put Harrah’s/WSOP in violation of the law, actually. But it’s a risk they obviously need not take. Doing so would essentially make them a “financial transaction provider” (like a bank or credit card company) who knowingly faciliated a monetary transaction with an entity in violation of section 5363 (e.g., online poker sites who serve Americans). Depending on how such an action is interpreted, it is possible that Harrah’s could be made subject to whatever penalties the feds decide are appropriate for financial transaction providers who fail to comply with those yet-to-be-delivered regulations.
The More Things Change . . .
One would think the rule is clear. However, scanning through the forums and other media reveals there are many who remain uncertain about the “no third party” rule.
One reason for continued confusion is probably due to the fact that back in October 2006 -- a few days after the UIGEA was made law -- WSOP Communications Director Garry Thompson was quoted saying that the new law would not cause the WSOP to do anything differently. “There has been no change in our registration policy,” Thompson told PokerListings. “We do not accept third-party registrations from online pay-to-play poker sites that do business with U.S. residents. We didn’t do that in 2005 or 2006 either.”
That latter statement caused a few months of head-scratching among those who’d won their seats via online satellites before. Even though someone else most certainly preregistered those players, the WSOP appears to have interpreted those transactions somewhat creatively so as not to consider them third-party registrations. Not sure why they saw fit to do that, really -- the UIGEA doesn’t apply to anything occurring prior to October 13, 2006, of course. Still, the WSOP Communications Director saying that what happens in 2007 will not be different from what happened previously necessarily caused some misunderstanding.
Another reason why players are confused is the fact that many of the sites are still describing their tourneys as “WSOP Satellites.” PokerStars continues to have a “WSOP” tab there under “Events” where they run what appear to be World Series satellites. One also sees a host of tourneys under the “World Series of Poker” tab on Bodog. Likewise does Absolute Poker has several “WSOP Qualifier” tourneys peppering their schedule. All of these sites are essentially ignoring Harrah’s “Trademark Usage Guidelines,” particularly the one stating that “the WSOP acronym and the WORLD SERIES OF POKER non-stylized word mark may not be used in the official names or headlines of any contests or promotions.” (Interestingly, Full Tilt Poker appears currently to be complying with these guidelines, referring generically to its satellites as affording winners entry into the “Main Event.”)
Finally . . . Word from the Sites
So it’s understandable that players are still a bit mystified. Many wrote emails to their favorite sites after apparently winning “seats” into the Main Event, asking for some explanation regarding what they had actually won. Finally -- within the last couple of weeks -- we’re starting to see some responses from the sites regarding the true significance of those satellite wins. As PokerStars explains on its “World Series 2007 FAQ” page, they “were unable to come up with an arrangement with Harrah’s that would allow us to register players directly into the Main Event. Therefore, we are depositing the money directly into your PokerStars account. This means that you will have to register yourself directly into the Main Event.” Those who do win satellites are additionally being emailed instructions how to register themselves. Full Tilt is also emailing its satellite winners a message stating that they “have determined that the only expedient method of awarding our online qualifiers their WSOP Main Event seats is to credit their account the buy in. As Full Tilt Poker cannot register you for your seat, we have deposited funds sufficient to cover your tournament entry into your Full Tilt Poker player account.”
So now, less than a month before the WSOP is set to begin, players are getting word that, in fact, they are going to have to cash out from their accounts and either register online or in person at the Rio. Good luck to them. Thanks to some Omaha success, I was able to cash out some cabbage from both Bodog and Absolute recently. This was my first try at cashing out since losing access to Neteller. In both cases, I simply requested a check be mailed to me. Absolute took about 10 days to get my check to me. Bodog took almost exactly a month. I imagine anyone who has qualified online for a WSOP Main Event seat and who has not already cashed out those funds is going to be cutting it close as far as having that money available to purchase their seat.
When the UIGEA first passed, many acknowledged the comprehensive failure of online poker sites as far as lobbying efforts and other measures to prevent the Act’s passage were concerned. Again, I think here we are witnessing a failure to anticipate on the part of many sites, all but ensuring their much-muted representation at this year’s WSOP.
I do think the overall number of participants will be down (although perhaps not as dramatically as some have suggested). More significant, though, will be the overall “feel” or dynamic of the tourneys, especially the Main Event. With fewer online qualifiers participating, I would anticipate not only that the style of play will differ, but so will the manner in which players conduct themselves at the tables. I’ve seen several sources suggesting that up to 75% of those who entered the Main Event last year did so via online qualifiers. Let’s just say half of those players were relatively inexperienced when it came to live tournaments or the WSOP. To run a tournament of that size -- 8,773 total entrants -- wherein nearly half of the players aren’t necessarily well-versed in tournament rules and/or table etiquette, you are very likely going to encounter a high quantity of amateurish antics (as infamously represented by figures like Eric Molina and Jamie Gold last year).
To sum up, while much will be made of how the number of players in the Main Event fails to exceed that of last year, the more significant difference between 2007 and 2006 will be the play itself. More pros should advance deeper this year. The overall quality of play -- difficult, if not impossible, to gauge accurately -- should be higher. And we shouldn’t see as much taunting, card-flashing, or “top-top” applesauce either.
All of which might well help Jeffrey Pollack realize that oft-stated goal for this year’s WSOP to “top” last year’s -- quality-wise, that is.
Labels: *the rumble