How Will Black Friday Affect the WSOP?
In just a little more than a week, the 2011 World Series of Poker kicks off at Rio in Las Vegas. This year's series should be a little more interesting than usual. The poker world is still reeling from the April 15th DOJ indictments on PokerStars, Full Tilt, and Absolute Poker/UB. The aftereffects of those indictments will certainly have some impact on this year's WSOP. The question is, how?
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Here are a few post-Black Friday things worth observing at this year's WSOP:
Who will show face?
Two of the three sites indicted on April 15th (Full Tilt and Absolute Poker/UB) are yet to return funds to U.S. players. Will the representatives of those companies have the audacity to show up at the Rio and take their seat in WSOP events?
There are two camps here: the Full Tilt people and the UB people. And within each of those camps, there are two more camps: the higher-up, face of the company types and the bottom-feeding shills. It's safe to assume that the bottom-feeding shills (think: Eric Baldwin for UB or Jeff Madsen for Full Tilt) will participate in the WSOP as if nothing happened. They're far enough removed from the inter-workings of the companies they have been or are affiliated with that they won't feel any responsibility to players who haven't received their money yet. But what about the higher-ups?
Let's first look at Full Tilt. Since Black Friday, Full Tilt has basically been a PR trainwreck. Not only have they not returned the tens of millions they owe to U.S. players, but they have also done a horribly inadequate job of keeping players updated on the status of their quest to return funds. If the status quo continues into the WSOP, Full Tilt stands to lose a lot of goodwill if their top figureheads buy into events. Right now, it would be almost criminal of Howard Lederer to buy into a WSOP event while thousands of Americans have money tied up at his site. If Lederer has any sense whatsoever, and it's very possible he doesn't, he should steer clear of participating in any poker games until his company returns the money they owe to U.S. players.
The same should apply for Phil Ivey who has earned tens of millions as the face of Full Tilt. If Full Tilt is unable to return funds to players or at least make a solid promise that they will return funds in the very near future, Phil Ivey should not participate in the 2011 WSOP. These pros need to show solidarity with players who cannot participate in the WSOP due to their money being tied up on Full Tilt. The question is, will they?
The former shills for UB are in an even less desirable position. The consensus in the poker world is that money on UB is gone for good. Will that stop Joe Sebok from playing in the WSOP? It should. Sebok would be wise to never show his face in a casino again unless a.) UB returns money to U.S. players (unlikely) or b.) he offers to return every dime he made from shilling for a criminal organization. It is estimated that Sebok made $600,000 in his tenure as a sponsored player for UB. If Sebok has any sense, he will make sure every dime of that money is returned to players stiffed by UB before he buys into a single poker tournament. Make no mistake about it: if Joe Sebok plays in the 2011 WSOP, it will be with money he helped a company steal from U.S. poker players.
After the UIGEA was passed in 2006, the WSOP Main Event saw a 27% decrease in attendance. Will Black Friday have a similar dire impact on WSOP field sizes?
Four main reasons come to mind for how Black Friday will contribute to smaller WSOP fields:
1. Players have money stuck online. It's hard to say exactly how much of the poker economy is sitting in the purgatory that is Full Tilt and UB, but you can believe it's a large enough amount to impact the WSOP. Some players have their entire net worth on these sites. We won't be seeing much of them this year unless Full Tilt is able to process cashouts very soon.
2. Less interest from U.S. players. Online poker and the WSOP are joined at the hip. The Black Friday indictments have left a bad taste in the mouth of a lot of poker players. A casual player who may have been pondering a trip to Vegas to play in a $1,000 event may now choose to do something else with their time and money.
3. Less European interest. Black Friday has decreased the size of the overall poker economy by 22%. This means fewer players and smaller prize pools for the rest of the world. Smaller prize pools means fewer WSOP packages have been won. The average casual player in Europe probably doesn't understand a whole lot about what's going on with poker in the U.S. All they know is that poker and the U.S. just seem like a bad combination right now.
4. Smaller sponsorship overlay. Part of the appeal of the WSOP is the chance to grab hold of some sponsorship money. In years past, making a TV table at the WSOP was worth a few thousands dollars due to the advertising potential. This year, it's probably safe to assume that online poker rooms won't be spending a whole lot of money to get their brand featured on U.S. airwaves. Some non-poker companies might step up to fill this void, but it's unlikely that they will be able to offer the handsome sums online poker rooms once did.
Last year's WSOP Main Event had 7,319 players. We'll predict that this year's has 5,449 or 5,733 depending on if Full Tilt processes cashouts by then. That's about a 20-25% drop, almost all of it due to the effects Black Friday has had on the poker world.