Turks & Caicos: When a guarantee isn't one

The Sign

On Sunday, the World Poker Tour wrapped up its inaugural event at Club Med on the islands of Turks & Caicos with newcomer Rhynie Campbell taking down the title.

What should have been a very healthy payday for Campbell didn't turn out to be, which could prove problematic for the WPT in the future. What had been billed as a "guaranteed one million dollar first-place prize" for the winner of the event proved to be tough to achieve.

Whether it was due to competition with the concurrent European Poker Tour's latest stop in London (which drew 392 runners to the felt who paid roughly $10K American dollars to play) or to the remote location of the Turks & Caicos Islands (approximately 575 miles southeast of Miami in the Atlantic Ocean), the tournament lacked the drawing power that the WPT, Club Med and the government of Turks & Caicos probably would have liked the event to have had.

Registration when the tournament started was a paltry 115 for a $7,500 buy-in and, by the end of the first few levels of play, another 22 players had been corralled to push the total to 137, creating a prize pool that barely covered the guaranteed payout to the first-place winner.

This is where things started to get interesting. When you advertise a guaranteed payout for a poker tournament and fail to drum up the necessary monies, then the organizations sponsoring the event normally pull them out of their own pocket to make up the difference.

Somehow, though, this wasn't the case with this tournament. During Day 1 of the tournament, the WPT and tournament director Jack McClelland decided that they would let the remaining players in the event (around 100 at that point) decide how the prize pool would be distributed!

After two votes for one of four options - paying 10 players, nine players, six players or making it winner-take-all - it was determined by the players that it would pay the top nine finishers, ensuring that ninth place would garner $15K and the winner would walk off with slightly over $463K of the prize pool.

(In the end, the Players Club, the host organization, did add $7,500 to the prize pool to pay the 10th-place finisher as well.)

First of all, I don't know many poker players who would enter a tournament knowing that A) there wasn't going to be a guaranteed first-prize payout of $1 million, and B) there were no guidelines in place for determining the payout schedule.

I am sure that many who trekked to Club Med and were then faced with the shortfall would rather not have made the journey across the Atlantic Ocean. When you promote certain aspects of such tournaments and guarantee a certain payout to the winner, it is expected that those involved will receive what is guaranteed.

I am quite surprised that either the WPT, Club Med or someone else involved in the tournament didn't come up with the extra half million dollars or so to make the guarantee. This would have ensured a successful first-time event (even potentially drawing more players to next year's tournament) and would also have gone a long way toward promoting good will with the players.

Therein lies another question: Could the players have some legal remedies, given that the tournament guarantee was not adhered to? This could be a thorny situation due to a couple of issues.

Where would the players go for their recourse? It is unclear who the respondent would be, especially when you toss in the WPT and Club Med, both American corporations. The Turks & Caicos Islands are recognized as a British Overseas Territory, but the islands use the American dollar as their standard of currency.

After some of the exploits over the past few years, such as the still-pending lawsuit between seven professional players and the WPT, the assorted snafus at this year's World Series of Poker (the outdoor poker tent, the "poker peek" cards and the sequestering of final tables) and now this, to what length are poker players willing to allow these organizations to go?

Does the draw of being featured on television hold such an allure that players are ignoring their own rights, including the power of their own hard-earned money that builds these prize pools? While being recognized as a WPT or WSOP champion is the goal of any poker player, they shouldn't forget that they have some rights as well.

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