The 2021 World Series of Poker is about a month and a half away and players from around the United States are finalizing plans to finally get back to Las Vegas after the WSOP – in its traditional form – was cancelled last year. I say US players, specifically, because right now, the US is prohibiting people from much of the world from entering the country because of the pandemic (there are ways around this, but it’s easier to assume most players at the WSOP will be from America for now). But now, even domestic players are starting to question their desire to play in the festival because of a new rule that has come to light.

Worry about health, worry about losing your buy-in

First brought to the poker community’s attention by poker media maven Kevin “kevmath” Mathers, World Series of Poker Rule #115 addresses COVID-19 and player participation. Here is the first half of the rule:

In accordance with guidelines promulgated by the Centers for Disease Control, [Rio] reserves the right to remove any Participant from any WSOP Event at any time prior to or during the WSOP Event, in its sole and absolute discretion, for any health or safety related reasons, including but not limited to, if Participant is determined by [Rio] in its sole discretion, to have received a positive test result for COVID-19 or come into close proximity (within 6 feet for 15 cumulative minutes) of any person who has tested positive for COVID-19, or if Participant refuses to undergo any health and safety screening required by [Rio] to participate in a WSOP Event.

In the second half of the rule, the WSOP basically says that players will not be reimbursed if they are kicked out for COVID-19, though if they are in the money and are thus owed a payout, they will get that. It goes onto say that the WSOP could opt to postpone or reschedule events if people are removed specifically for COVID reasons.

Potentially significant implications

As one might expect, the poker community is not thrilled with this rule. It’s not that some sort of rule, safety measures, and what-have-you aren’t wanted. Many at least want mask requirements, and some would love vaccination requirements, even if that is highly unlikely. And of course, it is reasonable to assume some action would need to be taken if someone is ill with COVID, but the problem most have is with the wording and generality of the rule.

What scares people about the rule (not to mention COVID itself), is that the WSOP could disqualify people just for being in close proximity to another player who test positive for COVID-19. This means one could just get really unlucky and be seated next to a COVID-positive player or even a dealer who tests positive, and then be removed from the tournament even if they are vaccinated and not sick.

People naturally thought of scenarios in which an entire tournament could be screwed up simply because one person tests positive. And then there is the question as to how the WSOP could even enforce said rule, especially since it is “in its sole and absolute discretion.”

Currently, masks are required in public indoor settings in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located.

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