The Venetian Macao Resort Hotel Macao

The Venetian’s “Total Prize Pool” Tournament Structure Feels Unnecessarily Sneaky

In poker, we often talk about “guaranteed prize pools” in tournaments. As it sounds, a guaranteed prize pool is the minimum that a tournament’s prize pool will be, no matter how many players show up. If the sum of the buy-ins eclipses the guarantee, then the prize pool naturally increases. With the ability to know the minimum prize pool and structure ahead of time, customers are often drawn to guaranteed tournaments. And at first glance, the “Total Prize Pool” events of the Venetian poker room’s $225,000 Lucky Shot Poker Series & Drawing look like the guarantees we see every day. But these are not guarantees. Nope. They are sneaky quasi-guarantees and they feel very bad.

Total Prize Pool is not a Guaranteed Prize Pool

There are several events in the Lucky Shot Poker Series, but let’s look at the highlight tournament, $250 No Limit Hold’em with a $150,000 total prize pool. That’s the event that will draw the most interest.

The tournament has six starting flights, spanning October 21st through October 26th. Day 2, the final day of the tournament, is on October 27th. The way most interested players would interpret the title of the event is that it costs $250 to enter, most of that will go to the prize pool, and there is a $150,000 guarantee.

But it’s not a guaranteed prize pool. That $150,000 is literally the “total” prize pool, regardless of how many players enter. If 100 players enter, the prize pool is $150,000. If 10,000 players enter, the prize pool is $150,000.

Technically, the prize pool is “guaranteed” in that it will definitely be $150,000, but it is not a “guaranteed prize pool” in poker parlance. Really, it’s a “fixed” prize pool.

It requires inspecting the fine print to understand what’s going on. Buried in rule 9 of 14, we can read, “100% of all funds collected will go to meet the $150,000 Total Prize Pool. Any funds collected above and beyond the total prize pool will be the sole property of The Venetian Poker Room.”

At first, it looks cool. 100% of the funds are going to the prize pool, so that means no rake! But then wait… what? The buy-ins that go beyond the $150,000 are kept by the Venetian.

This is fantastic if fewer than 600 players enter, as there would then be overlay. Above that number, though, and players get screwed. The Venetian keeps the excess.

Factor in “zero rake”

To be fair, since the entirety of the $250 buy-in goes to the prize pool, it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison to most other tournaments. Looking at the Venetian’s Deepstack Series, 79 percent of the buy-in goes to the prize pool in the $200 events and 82 percent goes to the prize pool in the $300 events. So let’s say if this was a normal tourney, 80 percent of $250 of the buy-in would be shipped to the prize pool.

That means that in order to hit $150,000, there would need to be 750 entrants if this was a standard “guarantee” tournament. Okay, fine. 750 entrants. That still means that if more than 750 people enter, this is a bad deal.

There’s a raffle, too

At this point, the Venetian would say, “But part of the Lucky Shot Poker Series & Drawing is the drawing. There are still more prizes to be given away!”

This is true. From fine-print rule one on the tournament’s structure sheet:

This event is part of the $225,000 Lucky Shot Poker Series & Drawing. For every cumulative $250 in Tournament Entries during the $225,000 Lucky Shot Poker Series & Drawing, each patron earns one (1) Drawing ticket. Drawing to be held at 12:30pm on Sunday October 27, 2019. All Drawing tickets will be distributed October 27, 2019, between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. in The Venetian Poker Room. Participating Grazie Members must claim Drawing tickets in person, and sign confirming receipt of all Drawing tickets. The participants are responsible for immediately placing their Drawing tickets into the Drawing drum.

A total of $52,000 will be distributed to raffle winners: 21 people will win $2,000, while one will get $10,000. I would do the calculations to increase the effective prize pool to take the $52,000 into account, but it doesn’t exactly work that way, since four other tournaments are included in this raffle.

My spider-sense is tingling

The whole thing is just convoluted. Again, it is entirely possible that it might work out in the players’ favor, but it smells fishy. The way it is setup just screams, “We are trying to put one over on you.”

Part of the added value is a raffle. A raffle that is based wholly on luck and that requires players to receive their physical tickets during a two-hour window and be present for the drawing, even though the tickets are tracked using players’ loyalty cards. Plus, some players who enter one of the five tournaments that count toward the drawing won’t even receive a ticket because they will not have paid for at least $250 in buy-ins (the highlight tournament is the only one with a buy-in that large).

And as I laid out, the way everything is named, disclosed, and structured looks bad. It looks misleading – the “Total Prize Pool” looks like it completely trying to seem like a guaranteed prize pool when it’s not. The explanation of Total Prize Pool can’t be found until the ninth rule on the structure sheet. A maximum of 81 places will be paid, no matter how many players participate – this can’t be found until the eleventh rule in the fine print.

I will say again: everything might work out amazingly for the players. The $150,000 fixed prized pool might present a fantastic value, with a bonus raffle to boot. But the tournament – along with the other four tournaments that are part of the series – are presented to the public in a way that does not feel good.

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