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World Series of Poker not ready to pull the plug on 2020 events

23 Mar 2020

By Gary Trask
WSOP officials are still hopeful that the Rio will be full of poker players this summer and not remain empty.

WSOP officials are still hopeful that the Rio will be full of poker players this summer and not remain empty.

Despite an unprecedented 30-day shutdown of Nevada casinos and concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak geting more serious with each passing day, World Series of Poker officials are still making preparations to “shuffle up and deal” on 26 May at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, the date when the 2020 event is scheduled to begin.

“We've been taking it day by day, and at this point, it’s hour by hour,” WSOP Vice President, Corporate Communications Seth Palansky told Casino City on Sunday evening. “We're still more than two months away, so as of now, we're planning on running as scheduled.”

That said, Palansky and his fellow WSOP decision makers are not blind to the reality of the situation. All live WSOP Circuit events have been canceled through the end of April. They realize poker players around the world are trying to decide whether they’ll make the trek to Las Vegas to participate in the most prestigious tournament of the year, or whether or not there will even be a live event to play in. They're aware of the public outcry from some corners (Deadspin posted an article on 12 March titled, "The World Series Of Poker Is A Petri Dish For Disease. Why The Hell Hasn't It Been Cancelled Yet?") and they are taking those concerns very seriously.

But they aren’t quite ready to pull the plug just yet.

“Poker is not really important right now in the grand scheme of things,” Palansky said. “We want to see social distancing. We want everyone to be safe and healthy and not to worry about the World Series of Poker.

“We’ll do the right thing. We’ll follow the guidelines from the medical experts and make a decision when the time comes. But for now, we remain optimistic. It would be great if we’re able to host it. It will be sad if we can’t. But life will go on either way.”

Of course, since the WSOP schedule entails more than 80 events slated to run through 15 July, it isn’t necessary to cancel everything in one fell swoop. At least that’s the thinking of Lon McEachern, the long-time WSOP poker play-by-play man and avid player himself. McEachern told Casino City he has suggested to WSOP officials that they could cancel things on a week-to-week or two-week basis, if need be.

“They have that flexibility,” McEachern said. “An abbreviated World Series would be better than nothing at all.”

McEachern also thinks the WSOP is doing the prudent thing right now by preparing as if all systems are “go.”

“If you were going to throw a big wedding party on an island and the bridge was down, you would have to continue to prepare because what if the bridge goes back up four days before the wedding?” he said. “They are being practical. It's a multi-million dollar business. They have the luxury of still being a couple months away. I know they are taking some flak for not just cancelling, but I see no reason to cancel it right now.”

If things worsen and conducting a live World Series of Poker is not in the cards, there is always the option of holding online bracelet events, which have already become more popular in recent years. In fact, this year’s WSOP schedule already includes 14 official gold bracelet events from 31 May to 12 July, including a stretch of eight events over eight consecutive days from 28 June to 5 July, to be held on the online poker platform.

Palansky added that since casinos and poker rooms across the country have been closed in the past week due to coronavirus, traffic at poker rooms in the three states it is offered (Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware) has been “at an all-time high.”

“We almost can’t even keep up with the demand,” he said. “A lot of new player registrations, we’re adding tournaments and we’ve seen peak capacity, bigger than we’ve ever seen.

“Overall, there's a lot of bleak news out there, but if we can put ourselves in the position to look ahead this may ultimately be the catalyst that changes the future of poker to the long term for the better. And if something were to happen with the 2020 World Series of Poker as far as the live events, we now feel even more confident in putting together something online.”
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