WSOP Participants Will Need to Provide Proof of Vaccination
The World Series of Poker found itself pot committed regarding COVID-19 virus restrictions and decided to go all-in.
With the world-famous poker festival set to run in the fall this year — a calendar move from its usual summer timing that was intended to create more distance away from the virus pandemic — tournament organizers were still faced with persistent COVID-19 issues and consequently, vaccine measures.
The WSOP initially tried to deal with the coronavirus-related challenge with “Rule 115” that provided for disqualifications and money forfeitures for players who tested positive for COVID-19 or had come within six feet of someone else who had tested positive for 15 cumulative minutes. As news spread of Rule 115, myriad questions arose and the WSOP scrambled to issue a clarification that introduced the element of vaccinations and removed penalties for vaccinated players.
However, by last week the WSOP conceded that a halfway COVID-19 vaccine rule was still fraught. So the organization pushed all its chips into the middle by requiring that all players provide proof of vaccination to play any poker at all during the WSOP at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino — from the Main Event and all the bracelet tournaments, right through the numerous satellites and even in cash games.
The WSOP is scheduled to run Sept. 30-Nov. 22, with 88 events at the Rio in Las Vegas. The Main Event, with four starting days, begins Nov. 4. The 2021 WSOP is an attempted return to a semblance of normalcy after 2020’s version was mostly conducted via online poker in the United States and abroad with the Main Event final tables played in-person.
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To conduct the 2021 tournament, the WSOP is trying to follow recommendations and requirements that have been handed down from various authorities. For instance, in addition to requiring vaccines of all participants as a matter of a best health practice, the WSOP is saying it will comply with the current indoor mask mandate in Nevada. So, face coverings will be the rule for all WSOP players.
Understanding the controversial nature of the vaccine requirement, the WSOP gingerly explained its rationale:
"This is not a decision we have taken lightly — it is made with no agenda beyond protecting player eligibility and the operations of a unique televised gaming event,” WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart said in a statement. “The nature of poker is to be in close proximity with your opponents for extended periods of time, and a seat at the World Series of Poker is a commitment for both our company and the participants. We want players to be excited for their return to the WSOP, while offering the greatest level of protection and limiting complications during the tournament this fall.”
What the Players Think
Not surprisingly, there is divided opinion among players regarding the WSOP’s vaccine decision. Some, such as 2009 Main Event winner Joe Cada, have insisted they will stay away. Meanwhile Chris Moneymaker, credited with launching poker’s ascent when he won the 2003 Main Event, said before the vaccine mandate that he was not going to play in the 2021 event. After the WSOP decision, Moneymaker tweeted simply, “Thank you.”
Matt Glantz, well-know poker pro, tweeted before the recent decision: “The @WSOP needs to have a strict proof of vax to register for any event. It's everyone's own personal choice to get vaccinated or not, but I don't know any players who want to be sitting in a room all day & night w hundreds of people who are not vaxxed. Seems like a no-brainer.”
Poker pro Allen Kessler, never shy about commenting on how tournaments are conducted, needled poker vaccine protesters who say they won’t play as he contended slyly: “WSOP bracelets will be the toughest ever to win this year. You'll be competing against the smartest, most logical playing field in history.”
Six-time WSOP bracelet winner Daniel Negreanu subtly tweeted a similar sentiment before the new rule: “If you take out all the unvaxxed players the tourneys are going to be much tougher across the board.”
Vax Status Via App
Many poker players are tech savvy and the WSOP is recommending that vaccine status be established through an app.
“The WSOP will make use of CLEAR’s free mobile app and Health Pass feature. Participants who successfully verify their full vaccination status through CLEAR may go directly to the registration cage tellers within the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino Convention Center,” the WSOP said in a news release.
However, for those with more traditional vaccine documentation, the WSOP will also provide an on-site center (currently identified as the Belize Room at the Rio) to verify physical vaccination cards, and other state or country-specific health passes.
Players should be aware that to be eligible to play, their final doses need to be 14 days prior to their first participation date. FAQ on WSOP vaccine policies are here .
A longtime reporter and editor who began writing on casinos and gaming shortly after Atlantic City’s first gambling halls opened, Bill covered the world Series of Poker and wrote a syndicated column on travel to casino destinations for a decade.