Over the last few years masseuses have become a proper and ubiquitous part of poker tournaments around the world.
Well, everywhere except France, where masseuses haven't been able to work at poker tournaments since 2011.
This is again the case at this year's WSOPE in Enghien-les-Bains where the massage girls from Goldfingers -- professional masseuses who have worked on poker tournaments around the world for years to help poker players stay loose at the tables -- are sorely missed.
So what is it with the French people and their aversion to massages? Maeva Taranne, one of girls from Goldfingers, who are working just outside the tournament room, explains:
“We're fine in every single other country in the world," Taranne says.
"But the French Gambling Police decided to ban us from the tables in case we could see the players' cards, because of some scandal with a journalist.”
The Law's the Law
The scandal Taranne is talking about is the Ali Tekintamgac case, a German player who was caught cheating at the Partouche Poker Tour Cannes in 2010.
Tekintamgac allegedly had three journalist accomplices standing behind the other players and telling him what cards they had.
So the law's the law, and the tournament organizers have no choice but to comply. Lucille Denos, Tournament Director for Barrière and Co-Director of the WSOPE with Jack Effel, says:
“When you organize a tournament in a casino or in a venue owned by the organizers, just like the Grand Hôtel Barrière here, you have to comply with casino regulations.
"You need a special authorization to get into the playing zone, and we can only award it to professions that are deemed “essentials,” like journalists. For now, that's not the case for the masseuses.”
Of course, Taranne finds the decision regrettable:
“I've never heard any complaint from the players. On the contrary, I think they were delighted to be able to get a massage while playing.”
Bevand: Something That Can Only Happen in France
Speaking of the players Jonathan Duhamel, for example, was quite a fan of massages:
“You know, when you play poker for 12 hours and you have back issues, it's nice to be able to get a massage. So yeah, that's pretty sad.
"The girls may see the cards? Yeah, it's one of the risks, but you should make sure you protect them well enough and no-one can see them.Plus I think that the girls they hire are generally trustworthy.”
French pro Manuel Bevand is on the same page and even spares a thought for the masseuses:
“Something like that can only happen in France. I mean, banning the masseuses from the poker tables, really?
"It's sad for us players, but it's mostly sad for the masseuses themselves since they get less work.”
“We got really angry at the time, because that meant losing money, losing clients, losing great partners like Partouche or Barrière – which also meant losing such great events as the WSOPE in Cannes or here in Enghien.”
Bevand doesn't even understand the Police's argument and makes an excellent point:
“They say they banned it for security reasons? There's never been any problem. The Tekintamgac scandal? Well sure, but the masseuse can't choose who she's going to massage.
“If it's about Labor Law, then it's so very French. Now we're preventing people from working and making money.”
Being in the Hallway Isn't Great
Could there be other reasons behind this ban? That's what Taranne thinks.
“The Gambling Police didn't want to have money passing from hand to hand during tournaments.”
Tournament organizers did their best to offer an alternative to the players, setting up a small massage booth at the entrance of the tournament room. But this doesn't come close to replacing the table massages.
“The players only get 10- or 15-minute breaks," Taranne says. "They get out of the room to walk a bit, to have a smoke, chat about their previous hands, but they don't get massages.
"Being in the hallway isn't great and 15 minutes really isn't enough to get a massage. It's not ideal.”
The end result?
“Well, if we want to work on poker tournaments," Taranne says, "we have to go abroad. That's a shame.”