The Heartland Poker Tour has a history as one of the most highly respected “mid-major” tournament circuits in the poker industry. It’s recent stop at the Westgate Las Vegas, however, has become mired in controversy over a decision regarding the buy-in for the tournament and the guarantee that was set.
Making its first return to Las Vegas since 2014, the Heartland Poker Tour was looking to make a big mark on the tournament poker scene with their $1650 buy in Main Event. That tournament featured three Day Ones that looked to build a prize pool that would eclipse the $500,000 guaranteed prize pool that was put on the event. With those numbers in mind, 334 entries had to be registered for that guarantee to be met.
The issues began late on Saturday afternoon at the Westgate. In a tweet from Jeremy Smith, the tournament director for the Heartland Poker Tour, it became known that there were only 300 or so players on the tournament clock counter with late registration running out (opened until 7:30PM Pacific Time). That meant that, with slightly more than an hour left in late registration, the Westgate and the Heartland Poker Tour were looking at about a $70,000 overlay.
The next move, allegedly by the Westgate, is what has set the controversy off. While the players were on dinner break – and late registration was technically still open until the players returned from that break – it is alleged that the Westgate offered to allow players to buy into the tournament for slightly more than half the original price ($850 instead of $1650). The resulting turmoil drew in several names in the poker community debating the issue and, additionally, Tweets on the subject that were alleged to have been deleted by people with a stake in the game.
Noted poker curmudgeon Allen Kessler brought the subject up on his Facebook page, bringing up the alleged deleted Tweets and the discounted tournament. Surprisingly World Series of Poker bracelet winner and runner-up to Greg Raymer in the Championship Event of 2004 David Williams backed whomever made the decision to offer the discount, saying “If the prize pool is accounted for, who f*****g cares?”
Other members of the poker community didn’t agree on who to lay the blame for the “discounted” entry. At first many were dismissive of the Heartland Poker Tour but, as more info came out, it shifted over to the Westgate. It was alleged that the Westgate made the decision to offer the reduced buy-in to reduce the overlay that they would have been on the hook for.
So why the hubbub over the alleged issue? There apparently were over 300 players who had to pay the whole entry fee – $1650 – to enter the event and have a shot at the $500,000 guaranteed prize pool. Then along comes a smaller group – let’s say there were enough that the guarantee was met, 30-35 players or so – who only paid $850 to have the same shot at the $500,000 guarantee. That seems to be the crux of what much of the complaints have been about.
One thing that poker players tend to forget – and tournament poker players also – is that the host casino can pretty much change the rules at any time when it comes to their operations. House rules can deviate greatly from poker room to poker room and, when it comes to tournaments, many events have a sweeping “cover” for its actions. Normally it in small print near the bottom of a flyer – “casino retains the rights to change and/or cancel events as they see fit.” This little clause is what allows many casinos the right to make massive adjustments to their tournaments – such as offering discounted buy-ins to meet a guarantee – or cancel those events outright if there aren’t enough people entering the tournament.
As of press time neither the Heartland Poker Tour nor the Westgate Las Vegas has returned overtures from Poker News Daily regarding the situation. There also has been no contact with the public over their respective Twitter or Facebook feeds to offer an explanation. Poker News Daily will continue to watch the situation and, if a communique is received from either entity, update accordingly.
UPDATE: Approximately 3PM (Pacific Time) on Sunday afternoon Smith, the tournament director for the HPT, issued a quasi-statement over Twitter in reply to several people who asked him about the decision to allow players to buy in for less than the stated amount. “This has never happened before (in the history of the HPT),” Smith stated to one person. In replying to World Poker Tour Executive Tour Director Matt Savage, Smith expressly stated that, “I had no say in this…it was a Westgate decision.”
The Westgate Las Vegas also decided to issue a statement at roughly the same time as Smith. In their Twitter statement, the Westgate stated, “(At the) end of registration for the HPT Main Event, we chose to pay a portion of the entry fee for select VIP. Full $1,650 entries accounted for in the $500k main event…Westgate is upholding all prize packages & guarantees are being upheld. Good luck to the participants.”
Finally, the tournament reached 316 full $1650 buy ins, falling short of the $500,000 guarantee.