America’s Cardroom Raises Eyebrows with Unauthorized WSOP Qualifiers
Last week, America’s Card Room (ACR), a member of the Winning Poker Network, tweeted about some World Series of Poker qualifiers it is running. I didn’t think much of the tweet when I saw it, as WSOP qualifiers are quite common in online poker. When I checked out the ACR website to read more about them, something struck me as odd, so I squinted, cocked my head a bit, and then honestly still didn’t think too much of it.
I pondered it again a few days later, but my parents were in town visiting, so I was busy and I put it to the back of my mind. But then I read Kim Yuhl’s criticism of the ACR WSOP qualifiers on uspoker.com and she confirmed for me what made me get that bothersome feeling in my gut. America’s Cardroom is running unauthorized World Series of Poker qualifiers not necessarily to get its customers into the WSOP Main Event, but to make itself some dough.
Now, you may say, “Um, of course the qualifiers are being used to make ACR money. The online poker room isn’t a charity.”
True, but check it out.
On April 16th, ACR tweeted, “Dreamed of attending the World Series of Poker in Vegas? We’re running weekly qualifiers (April 22nd – June 24th) to the 2018 #WSOP Main Event. Each of the 50 GTD packages is worth $12,500 and includes the buy-in and travel. Or take the cash instead @WSOP”
That seems pretty normal. Online poker rooms run qualifiers to major live tourneys, including the World Series of Poker, all the time. The thing is, though, that the WSOP does not endorse the qualifier tournaments, and made that known via Twitter, saying, “Reminder that we have nothing to do with ACR. These are illegal satellites they are unauthorized to run. We will not be able to honor anything related to this company.”
ACR initially responded, “Correct, as stated on the site, @WSOP does not sponsor or endorse, and is not associated or affiliated with ACR. The package won in our satellites will be credited as cash ($12,500) to the poker account and money can by [sic] withdrawn via Bitcoin.”
Realizing that by saying “correct,” the poker room was admitting the satellites were “illegal,” it changed the tweet to remove that word.
Twitter conversation aside, the promotion still looks fine on the surface and it is certainly legitimate; ACR will award people $12,500 if they win a prize package. And that’s the iffy part of the deal. The prize is in cash, not an actual seat in the Main Event (plus added money for travel and lodging). While many players will use that money to play in the WSOP, many won’t, choosing to have the money deposited in their poker accounts.
In fact, ACR encourages people to do this, highlighting in bold the second sentence on the promotional page, “The best part is, if you can’t go, you can opt to take the cash and spend it as you please instead!”
America’s Cardroom isn’t allowing people to keep the cash just to be nice. The site could easily require people to play in the WSOP or give up the prize. But by allowing players to just keep the money in their poker accounts (and remember, there is no option to have ACR register them automatically for the Main Event), ACR is all but guaranteeing that at least tens of thousands dollars will be kept on it site, to be circulated at the tables.
Sure, if a player wins any random tournament, he or she will often keep the money in their account and use it to play poker. But these aren’t random tournaments. These are advertised as WSOP qualifiers. As such, they will generate more attention and very likely more turnout than a tournament of a similar buy-in. A site that awards actual Main Event seats will only make money from the rake. ACR, though, will also make money ongoing as many of the winners keep the $12,500 in their accounts and splash it around on the tables.
Now that I have said all that, I want to back up for a moment and say that this isn’t unusual. After the UIGEA passed in 2006, the online poker rooms that continued to operate in the United States (PokerStars and Full Tilt, for example) did essentially the same thing. The WSOP wouldn’t allow poker sites that were operating in that legal gray area in the U.S. to register players for the live tournaments, so the sites would actually setup shop at the WSOP to hand winners their prize money and then show them how to register at the Rio in person. I honestly don’t remember if players had the option to keep the money, whether it was given to them in person or possibly via their poker account. Players were generally happy about this arrangement, even if it was a bit of a hassle, as it allowed them to qualify online and still play in the WSOP.
And I am sure that many of the winners of the ACR qualifiers will have played with the intention of competing in the WSOP Main Event and will travel to Las Vegas this summer to do so. For its part, ACR might not have had any devious-type intentions with the tourneys and just really wants to help people qualify for the WSOP. So I’m not going to so far as to call them “fake” qualifiers. Even with the best of motives, though, the poker room needs to understand what it should and should not be doing and not give anyone a reason to be skeptical of what it is trying to achieve.