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Organizing poker tournaments is serious stuff, but there are set standards that tournament organizers abide by across the world. Home to one of the most popular poker rooms in Las Vegas, the Venetian poker room has a long-standing reputation in hosting poker tourneys, the most popular of them all – the DeepStack Series enjoying cult popularity among the poker fraternity.
The operator has recently landed itself in a hailstorm of negative publicity all because of a $250 buy-in $150,000 GTD tournament that it plans to run from Oct 21-27. The controversy is surrounding the rake structure of the tournament that has the house putting in all the buy-ins (without any rake deduction) into filling up the $150,000 total prize pool. Now, all sounds swell until this point, but apparently, the fine print for the tournament indicates that once the prize pool guarantee is met – all the buy-ins over and above that go to the house. Given the popularity of the Venetian, many players believe that the guarantee will be easily crushed, which could result in the operator retaining a disproportionate amount of the prize collection as rake.
Many like Doug Polk have called for an outright boycott of the Venetian poker room saying that the tournament format is unethical and sets a wrong precedent in the poker industry. Others feel that only the tournament in question should be boycotted.
Even in the midst of all this criticism, the Venetian has stood its ground, insisting that the special format caters to a certain type of players, mostly those who like promotions and other giveaways.
What’s the Fuss About?
The tournament in question is a $250 buy-in tournament that headlines a seven-tournament series called the $225,000 Lucky Shot Poker Series that is to take place at the Venetian poker room from October 21 to 27. The event kicks off on October 21 with the first of six starting flights and an advertised guarantee of $150,000. The poker room is also conducting a special drawing giveaway for the event and has announced that for every $250 that a player spends in buy-in across the tournaments, he or she will earn one ticket to the series-ending drawing that will give away $52,000 in prizes.
The issue in contention is the tournament`s fine print that reads, “100% of all funds collected will go to meet the $150,000 total prize pool. Any funds collected above and beyond the total prize pool will be the sole property of The Venetian Poker Room.” So to say, if the tournament doesn’t hit the $150,000 mark no rake will be charged, but anything beyond that will go straight to the poker room.
Usually, when an event doesn’t attract enough number of players to meet the guarantee, the house makes up the difference by putting in as much into the guarantee. This is one of the biggest reasons that players get pulled to a playing a tournament – they know that even if the participation numbers don’t tally up to the guarantee, there’s a standard prize pool they’ll be playing for. All the better if the event does overshoot the guarantee since that means a bigger prize pool, and even in such cases, the house usually continues to add money to the prize pool. So if the guarantee is $150,000 and the event manages to generate $200,000, the players would usually be playing for their share of the actual prize pool that would be higher than the advertised guarantee.
But this is not what’s going to happen in the controversial tournament whose fine print seems to indicate that the casino will not take a penny of rake till the buy-ins exceed $150,000, but once that milestone is crossed, the poker room intends to take whatever extra piles up in the prize pool.
Not surprisingly, the tournament`s unique rake structure has the poker community up in arms against The Venetian, and many of them have taken to social media platforms like Twitter or forums like TwoPlusTwo to express their anger and disgust.
Former high-stakes pro and poker vlogger Doug Polk has been among the most vitriolic in the attacks. In a recent video and numerous tweets, Polk has called for boycotting The Venetian.
“In my opinion, when you buy into a poker tournament, the buy-in should go to the prize pool. You know, this is really groundbreaking stuff,” Polk said in the video, adding the event could far exceed the guarantee which means that the house would end up earning a massive rake which is “bad for poker.”
In a recent Joey Ingram podcast, Polk also underlined the need for boycotting the tournament.
As Polk pointed out in the podcast, if the tournament is successful, participating players would be paying a 50% rake on their registration as against the 15-25% that is usually part of the deal in tournaments.
The event needs 600 entries to reach the advertised $150,000 guarantee but looking at how famous the Venetian is amid poker newbies and traveling tourists looking for poker action, the tournament could well bypass this number. This also means that many recreational players who are not very attuned to the fine print of tournament format will play without realizing what percentage of their buy-in will go to the prize pool and how much to the house.
Vlogger Jeff ‘Boski’ Sluzinski is another well-known poker personality who took to Twitter criticizing the tournament.
With 6 days of flights and unlimited re entry for 8 levels, the Venetian needs
600 Entries = break even
750 Entries = normal $200+50 rake
900 Entries = 33% rake
1,200 Entries = 50% rake
— Jeff Boski (@ICuRaRook) September 12, 2019
As he rightly pointed out, the 750-entry mark is the inflection point till which the rake component of the tournament equates to the Venetian’s otherwise standard $250+$50 rake structure. The commission goes up from there and hypothetically speaking if the tournament were to get 1,200 entries, half of the buy-ins could effectively be taken in by the house.
While there were a whole lot of the reactions to Sluzinski’s tweet, Run It Once Poker found Phil Galfond jokingly commented, “I suggest Venetian Poker Room market this innovative tournament format as a “Super Guarantee.”
The Venetian Defends Its Move
According to the Venetian, the new series takes inspiration from promotional slot and table game tournaments that feature a set prize pool. In response to queries on the structure, the poker room management reportedly responded – “The $225,000 Lucky Shot Poker Series and Drawing is a new poker series catering to a player who likes promotions and drawings. It is designed to have a lower buy in, but still guarantees $225,000 in total prizes that includes a drawing, providing two ways to win.”
The poker room has also categorically denied that this new “uncapped rake structure” will also be applied to their DeepStack Series. “This new format is in addition to our other successful poker tournaments which are geared to a more seasoned player, like our DeepStack Poker Series,” the house management said.
While the brouhaha continues across the poker circle`s, the Venetian seems to be in no mood to back down with the tournament rake structure still unchanged!