Hall of Fame Poker

Poker Hall of Fame Voting Process Needs More Transparency

As you may know by now, the ten finalists for the Poker Hall of Fame class of 2015 were announced this week. It is a distinguished set of poker luminaries, all deserving of accolades. Half the fun of the Hall of Fame nominations is the arguing that ensues. Who should be in, who should not be in? But I’m not going to get into that here. What I do want to discuss is the nomination and election process and the problems we keep encountering with them each year.

Straight off, I like the public nomination part of the process. Allowing anybody and everybody to have a say in who makes the final list of ten is a great idea. Poker is the one sport in which amateurs can mingle with the elite and it is nice that that is even extended to the initial stage in the Hall of Fame voting.

It is once the public voting is closed, though, that the process gets murky and, frankly, makes me a little uncomfortable. When the all the public ballots were in, the Poker Hall of Fame Governing Council vetted the nominations and released the top ten finalists. That’s all well and good, but it all feels like a “smoky back room” thing to me.

On the website for the HOF online ballot, it reads, “All submissions will be tabulated and the top 10 nominations will be reviewed by the Poker Hall of Fame Governing Council.” But the list we got could not possibly have included the top ten nominees. No way. I have no doubt that a review of the top ten by somebody is needed before the list is made official just in case some joke nominee made the cut or an ineligible player – perhaps Phil Ivey – was nominated, but every year, there is at least one person on the final ten list that comes as a huge surprise.

This year, that person was Terry Rogers, founder of the Irish Open and a very influential person in the European poker world. He no doubt deserves recognition, but do we really think he was a top ten vote getter? I suppose a large contingent of Irish could have stuffed the ballot boxes, but I’m doubtful.

Last year, 1975 WSOP Main Event runner-up Bob Hooks made the list. No offense to Mr. Hooks or his family, but I would be hard-pressed to find more than one or two people who knows who he is.

In my opinion, this stage of the process needs to be more transparent. Who is on the PHOF Governing Council? Who were the top fifteen online nominees, regardless of eligibility or seriousness? If someone in the top ten was replaced, why was that and was he or she replaced by the person who received the eleventh-most votes? Is the Governing Council just using the public nomination process as a suggestion and just molding the list how they want? If we, the public, are tasked with nominated people for the Poker Hall of Fame, we should be privy to what goes on between the close of voting and the release of the finalist list.

And then there is final vote. What the WSOP and the HOF tell us publicly is that 39 people will now vote for the inductees from that list of ten. Of those 39 voters, 23 are living Poker Hall of Fame members and 16 members of the poker media. We are not told who those media members are. In the past, some media outlets have published the names of the media panel, but the WSOP certainly does not. It doesn’t really concern me who is on that panel, as there are plenty of well-qualified, thoughtful members of the media who I trust to make the best selections, but again, let’s have some transparency.

And continuing on the topic of secrecy, we are never officially told how the voting is actually conducted. All we know is that those 39 people will cast votes and the winner or winners will be announced. “The Poker Hall of Fame traditionally elects one or two members annually,” the online balloting site reads.

If I remember correctly, in the past, nominees had to be named on something like 75 percent of the final ballots to be elected to the Hall of Fame. That’s reasonable, though it could pose a problem sometimes if nobody received enough votes. Now, the way it apparently works is that each voter gets 10 points to allocate to as many as three finalists. The two finalists who receive the most points get in.

Don't ask them about their business.

Don’t ask them about their business.

That’s not perfect, but fine, if that’s the way it’s done, that’s the way it’s done. Again, though, I have a huge problem with the fact that the WSOP and PHOF don’t actually inform the public how anything works. We don’t know who is on the Governing Council, we don’t know the public ballot counts, we don’t know if and how any finalists were replaced on the final list, we don’t know who the media members are, and we don’t know, beyond what we hear from sources other than the WSOP or Hall of Fame, how the final voting process works or what the vote counts turn out to be.

The public nomination process is fantastic – it is a great way to increase interest in the Poker Hall of Fame. But when the HOF leaves us sadly watching like Kay Adams-Corleone as it closes the door to conduct the rest of the election business, it just pushes us away again. If we are to care about the Hall of Fame, its stewards need to let us in.

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  1. Kevin Mathers

    Last year, Chad Holloway wrote an article about Bob Hooks during the WSOP, suggesting he should be nominated for the Poker Hall of Fame. It’s very likely that enough people read the article to nominate him. The surviving Poker Hall of Fame members can add people to the Poker Hall of Fame nominees list to be included in the following year’s nominees. That’s likely how Rogers, Sailor Roberts and Jack McLelland appeared among the list of finalists.

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