World Poker Tour Restarts Live Event at Hard Rock Hollywood This Week, But Some Question Safety

Posted on: January 19, 2021, 07:02h. 

Last updated on: January 19, 2021, 11:09h.

The World Poker Tour’s (WPT) Lucky Hearts Open main event kicks off on Thursday at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida – the first major tournament on US soil since the start of the pandemic. It’s also the first WPT event since the tour canceled its entire live calendar last year.

World Poker Tour (WPT)
Open for business: The WPT Lucky Hearts Poker Open will be the first WPT since all major poker tournaments were canceled at the start of the pandemic. (Image: WPT)

Even the 2020 World Series of Poker, which crowned its new champion earlier this month, took place largely online, only moving to the live arena when the field had thinned down to the finale.

But the Lucky Hearts main event is likely to attract a big field. The organizers are offering a $1,000,0000 guaranteed prize pool for this $3,500 buy-in event. That means they are expecting at least 285 players. Anything less and they will take a loss.

Meanwhile, The Sun-Sentinel reports that around 1,000 players per day have been attending the various preliminary events, which have been running since last Thursday.

Pent-Up Demand

The events are taking place in the casino’s 40,000 square-foot ballroom. According to The Sun-Sentinel, there are 60 tables in the room, each with places for eight players and a dealer. They are separated from one another by plexiglass “anti-sneeze” screens, and masks are mandatory.

Certainly, there is pent-up demand for a major live poker tournament. But with a surge in cases in Florida since October, and up to 16,000 new cases reported in the state per day, many are asking, “Why now?” And more importantly, “Is it safe?”

The World Poker Tour declined to comment on safety issues when contacted. However, inviting hundreds of people, potentially from across America, to sit in a room and pass chips to one another would seem to rebalance poker’s risk versus skill ratio.

As one Hard Rock Hollywood regular put it: “It’s a terrible idea. Everybody is dying to play live, so everybody is flying to Florida from all over the world. We’re a hot spot.”

Why is WPT Lucky Hearts Allowed Go Ahead?

In many other parts of the US, such an event would not be permitted to go ahead. But the Hard Rock Hollywood is located on the Seminole tribe’s Hollywood reservation, which is outside state jurisdiction and therefore unbound by local coronavirus rules.

In the rest of Hollywood County, commercial venues are required to limit their capacity to 50 people.

Moreover, it’s not as though live poker is unheard of in a state whose Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, is no fan of lockdowns. Many of the state’s pari-mutuel card rooms are currently open and offering live poker, albeit on a smaller scale than the Hard Rock.

The Daytona Kennel Club’s website, for example, shows that the club is planning on running at least one tournament per day for the entire month of January.