The Realities of Tournament Poker


As a professional player, I am always looking for value in tournaments. I want the best structure, the lowest juice, and the highest guarantees. I want the house to bring in hundreds of fish for me slaughter, I want a comfortable chair, and a free food comp doesn’t seem like too much to ask for. I wouldn’t mind professionally trained dealers, knowledgeable floor people, and I want to play some alternate games and short handed events too. And what about a heads up event? Is that too much to ask?

Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding yes, it is too much to ask.

There are a lot of reasons why you can’t have everything you want. The better the structure is, the more hours of labor the house has to pay. Dealers don’t make so much from the house, that can’t be to expensive can it? While the dealer hours do add up, they aren’t a huge expense. The floor people, tournament director, food and beverage runner, and surveillance personnel all have to be paid for those hours as well, which starts to add up to real money. And those food and beverage runners are bringing some free beverages, and when you are done with that beverage, someone has to be paid to wash the glass.

Chips, cards, tables, new felts every few months, and utility bills are all part of the program too. Someone has to be paid to design the tournament flyer, and someone else has to be paid to put that flyer on the website. The expenses go on and on. The truth is that you may feel like you are being charged too much, but the house may not be making money at all. Poker tournaments, even when they are profitable for the house, are the least profitable operation on the casino floor. The house counts on extra income from the cash games and the table games in the pit to make it worthwhile to run a poker tournament, and without that extra income most rooms would never run tournaments for us at all.

The biggest problem, and one that I have written about before, is that poker tournaments have to take place in the most expensive spaces in the world. Renting an apartment in Manhattan or Paris would be cheaper than renting casino floor space in most cases. As long as poker tournaments take place in casinos, the expenses will be high and poker will be treated like a second class citizen compared to table games, slot machines, and even cash game tables. One of the reasons we have great poker rooms in Minnesota is because the rooms don’t have slot machines and they treat poker as a serious part of their business instead of the afterthought that the game becomes in many full fledged casinos.

What do we do about this?

The only solution I see is to get poker tournament out of casinos, and that is not likely to happen any time soon. There is no reason to regulate poker tournaments in a different way when compared to say a chess tournament or a darts tournament, but most legislators and most members of the general public don’t understand this concept. They see poker as a gambling game and they create legislation that drastically over regulates it because of this perception.

In Minnesota, I think we could be very successful with a law that allowed the horse tracks to have slots and that allowed poker tournaments to be run anywhere that any other type of tournament can be run. This would allow Mystic Lake to run tournaments, and it would also allow me to rent a warehouse space in St Paul, get the proper licensing, and run my own tournaments. Anyone could get into the game. Cash games have been opened up this way in Michigan and there are now over 300 card rooms and the game is thriving.

Unfortunately this probably won’t happen. When Mystic Lake bought a piece of Canterbury Park, the agreement hinged on the fact that Canterbury would no longer lobby for slot machines with Running Aces. This leaves Running Aces lobbying by itself against Canterbury Park along with every native casino in the state, a fight it can’t possibly win.

All we can do is enjoy the two excellent card rooms that these laws have created, because they wont’ be changing any time soon. Luckily, Running Aces allowed us to use their excellent structure, a reasonable amount of juice, and a nice variety of tournaments, including a heads up event, in the upcoming Pocket Fives Poker Tour series. If the tour event goes well, we can continue to convince potential venues to give players more of what they want, but you can’t have everything you want. I wish you could, but you just can’t. It’s too much to ask.

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