When the outbreak of COVID-19 was first discovered in 2020, many didn’t think much of it, that there wouldn’t be any impact on “normal” life. As we know now, in the early stages of 2021, that wasn’t the case. Many things were shut down last year, including much of the tournament poker world. Now, the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, FL, is ready to host the first live World Poker Tour event of 2021, the WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open, and Tony Burns, the director of poker marketing for the Seminole Hard Rock, couldn’t be happier.

The WPT hasn’t been on a live felt since the WPT Rolling Thunder, which completed its final table on March 7. Three other events from last year’s Season XVIII schedule – the Borgata Winter Poker Open, the L. A. Poker Classic and the Gardens Poker Championship – have yet to be completed as they were on the schedule for a “final table festival” in Las Vegas that is in limbo due to the continuing issues with COVID-19. Even under the current conditions in Florida (the state is one of only four that has eclipsed a million documented cases of the virus, with over 1.5 million diagnoses and over 23,000 deaths), Burns completely believes that the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Room is more than ready for the influx of players and that it will be a safe venue.

We spoke to Burns earlier this week ahead of the preliminary events and got some insight as to what the Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood is doing to prepare for this WPT event.

Poker News Daily: How does it feel to be the first poker room to host a major tournament poker event since the pandemic struck?

Tony Burns: Oh, there have been several other venues in the country that have hosted live events since the pandemic, including our sister property Seminole Hard Rock Tampa. (But) It feels good to be the first WPT Main Tour stop. The WPT has been a great partner of Seminole Hard Rock over the years, and we look forward to partnering with them again for this groundbreaking event.

PND: What are some of the precautions that are being taken at the Seminole Hard Rock Hollywood to ensure medical safety for the players?

TB: All Seminole Hard Rock properties have rolled out the Safe + Sound program to help ensure player and team member safety during these times. Some of the most notable program components include mask requirements for all guests and team members; all tables have been outfitted with plexiglass dividers between the dealer and between players; all players are required to use hand sanitizer every time they sit down at a table; and all chairs and seating areas are sanitized by our Clean Team when one player gets up before another sits down.

(Writer’s note: During the interview, Burns also told Poker News Daily that there would be no on-site COVID testing to ensure the health of the players during the tournament.)

PND: What would you say to other casinos, or even other businesses, that are looking to hold large scale events? 

TB: I would tell other casinos looking to hold large scale events to make the investment to be Safe + Sound for the players and team members, and you will find it is worth the investment. Over the last couple weeks, we have heard from players and team members from around the country, and they have been truly impressed with the efforts we have gone through to provide a safe playing environment for them.

PND: Hopefully, this is a continuation to see more tournaments get back to live tables, especially at the Seminole Hard Rock. What events are coming that will be on the scale of this WPT event?

TB: Currently we are looking to host the WPT Showdown in April and our annual pinnacle Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open series in August. There will be more details to come when we get closer to the events, but I encourage players to stay tuned to shrpo.com for all future announcements and updates.

We’d like to thank Burns for speaking to us and encourage folks to check out the schedule for the WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open at the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Room website. Preliminary events are underway right now (schedule here) and it will lead up to play in the WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open Main Event, which begins on January 22 and is a $3500 buy in tournament. The final table of that Main Event will take place on January 26.

Kudos must be given to Burns and the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Room for taking this challenge on. Bringing together a large group of poker players for an event like this is going to draw the attention of many in the poker world just to see if it can be done safely. If the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Poker Room can pull it off, perhaps it will encourage others to get in touch with Burns to learn the secrets of how to put on a poker tournament in the current environment.

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