Archive for December, 2016
The world of major live tournament poker is in a bit of a lull right now because of the holidays, but come the new year, things will pick up quickly once 2017 starts as the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure will kick off on January 6th. This is a normal spot on the calendar for the PCA, but it holds slightly more significance next week at the PCA will be the first-ever PokerStars Championship.
The PokerStars Championship was born out of the European Poker Tour, which PokerStars operated. The Tour was probably the most popular live poker tour that spent the bulk of its time outside the United States, but PokerStars felt it had outgrown the confines of Europe (as is evidenced by the PCA being part of the EPT), so something had to change.
As such, the European Poker Tour brand was retired with the conclusion of EPT Prague this month, with two different tours – the PokerStars Championship and the PokerStars Festival – taking over. It appears the PokerStars Championship will essentially be the big brother, while the PokerStars Festival will be the little brother.
Said PokerStars in its initial announcement:
PokerStars Championship events will take place in major cities, organised by the most prestigious casinos across the globe, and are designed to deliver the best poker experience on the planet for players of all levels. A PokerStars Championship event will typically last 10-11 days and feature extensive schedules of up to 100 tournaments, including a €/$ 5,000 Main Event and a variety of cash games.
The PokerStars Festival will have shorter tour stops and lower price points, kind of like how the World Series of Poker Circuit compares to the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
The first PokerStars Championship, the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, will take place January 6th through January 14th, highlighted by the $ 5,000 Main Event. PokerStars TV – via PokerStars.tv, Facebook, YouTube and Twitch – will broadcast the Main Event beginning on Day 2 (January 10th).
Edgar Stuchly, PokerStars’ Director of Live Events, said in a press release:
We’re very excited about the first PokerStars Championship stop. Our aim is to host an event that will be enjoyed by players of all kinds – from the world’s biggest high rollers to recreational players who have perhaps never played at a live event before. With over 90 tournaments on offer, this year’s schedule adopts a ‘something for everyone’ formula. So, for all our regulars, as well as newcomers, we extend a very warm welcome to the Bahamas and hope a great experience is enjoyed by all – both on and off the tables.
Other PokerStars Championship stops that have already been announced include Panama, Macau, Monte Carlo, and Barcelona. The PokerStars Festival already had its first stop at the Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey spanning the end of October and beginning of November. London and Rozvadov (Czech Republic) Festival stops have also been announced.
Nervous about potential online gambling-ending legislation, internet gaming operators are making plans to bolt the Australian market. In the past week, the first domino fell, Vera&John, a site that sounds more like a place to order chocolate-dipped fruit than an online casino, told its Australian customers that their accounts will have to be closed.
In an e-mail, the Malta-based Vera&John wrote:
We’re always sorry to say goodbye, but the time has come. Due to a business decision, Vera&John will no longer be able to offer its services in your jurisdiction. Your account will officially be closed in one week.
As of today, you will no longer be able to make deposits to your Vera&John account. Any funds which have not already been removed from your account can still be transferred to your preferred payment provider within the next week.
While the site did not specify the exact reason for its decision, it almost certainly has to do with the Interactive Gambling Amendment Bill 2016, brought to the fore by Australia’s Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge in November. The goal of the bill is to combat “in-play” online sports betting. Bets of this type are only allowed to be made in a telephone call in Australia, but gaming operators have been violating the law for a number of years.
Many offshore operators without Australian licenses have offering in-play sports betting, as have many Australian operators. By creating smartphone apps that provide the vehicle for such bets, operators have essentially found a loophole to the “telephone call” rule. A smartphone is still a phone, right?
Thus Tudge’s bill would amend current gaming law to tighten up the ban on in-game sports betting over the internet. As for online poker, right now it is not explicitly legal in Australia. It isn’t explicitly illegal, either, so many operators freely offer their services in the country. But the bill would also prohibit games that are not outright legal. Therefore, an online poker room or, say, an online casino like Vera&John, would be running contrary to the law.
Vera&John is the first operator to withdraw from the Australian market because of the possibility of the law, but other companies have indicated that they might do the same. During his company’s third quarter earnings call in November, Amaya CFO Daniel Sebag said that PokerStars would likely retreat if the law is put in place.
From the transcript of the call on Seeking Alpha, Sebag said, “In Australia, we currently offer poker and are reviewing the applicability of proposed legislation to player versus player games of skill. At this time, it would appear likely that if the legislation passes, we would block players from Australia. As we do not offer casino sportsbook in Australia, it currently contributes to about 2.5% of our revenues and we estimate it could reduce our EBITDA margin by up to a 150 basis points.”
PokerStars has been particularly sensitive about its image with U.S. regulators, so it would not be surprising at all if it withdrew from Australia in order to avoid doing anything that might look untoward as it continues to try to make progress in current and future regulated U.S. markets
After leading the two races for Poker Player of the Year pretty much since the World Series of Poker concluded in July, it was assumed that German poker superstar Fedor Holz was a lock to take down those awards come the end of December. Well, you know what they say about “assume?” Instead of reveling in the dual victories, Holz had to watch helplessly as David Peters used a late surge literally in the final tournament of the year to pass him and win both major POY races.
Peters was a good distance back of Holz on the CardPlayer Magazine Player of the Year race in mid-November, in the second-place slot by almost 1300 points. Peters would then go on a rampage that saw him win an event and finish as the runner up in the November 18-19 Aria High Roller and Super High Roller tournaments to pull within roughly 500 points of Holz. With only December left on the calendar, Peters continued storming the felt in both the States and Europe.
By finishing at the final table in two events during the running of the Bellagio’s Five Diamond World Poker Classic, Peters knocked another 250 points off Holz’s lead, but he was still short. With the POY award within his reach, Peters went to the final-ever European Poker Tour event in Prague, Czech Republic, and finished in third place for the final EPT event in history. The 1280 points he picked up for that tournament allowed him to pass Holz by a healthy margin with his 8181 points.
So where did it go bad for Holz? From the end of October on to the end of the year, Holz failed to score a single point on the CardPlayer rankings. In a normal circumstance, Holz’s 7058 points would have been more than enough to earn him the POY championship. With the advent of major tournaments going to the end of the calendar year – and the high roller tournaments that normally come along with them – it wasn’t enough in 2016 for Holz to win the CardPlayer POY.
How far from the pack were Peters and Holz? The third-place finisher, Justin Bonomo, could only muster 6020 points to finish in third place, more than 2000 points behind Peters and more than 1000 behind Holz. Two other players, fourth place Ari Engel (5653 points) and fifth place Jake Schindler (5178 points) both used big December rushes to reach their positions. Engel made a final run at the title with his final table finish at the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Rock n’ Roll Poker Open, but was unable to cash for points from his six money finishes in Prague, while Schindler made a big move with his third-place finish at the World Poker Tour’s Main Event during the Bellagio tournament series.
Rounding out the Top Ten on the CardPlayer Magazine Player of the Year rankings are Sam Soverel (4989 points, sixth place), Chance Kornuth (4838, seventh), Dan Smith (4799, eighth), Connor Drinan (4637, ninth) and Ankush Mandavia (4460, tenth).
With the more complex scoring of the Global Poker Index rankings, it was going to be tougher for Peters to pass Holz, but he would do it. His final two cashes of 2016 – his third-place finish in the EPT Prague Main Event (worth 482.16 points) and the fifth-place finish at the Five Diamond High Roller (203.68 points) – replaced two of his other top 13 finishes to push him by Holz by the closest of margins. When the final totals were put together, Peters’ 3666.31 points had managed to eclipse Holz’s 3644.8 points (remember, no cashes in the last two months of the year) and give Peters the GPI POY award.
Bonomo was once again the odd-man out in the triumvirate of players at the top, finishing in third place with his very respectable 3479.7 points. On the GPI rankings, Kornuth’s finishes got more love than on the CardPlayer board, with Kornuth hitting the fourth-place spot with 3336.54 points. Even former WSOP Europe and EPT Grand Final champion Adrian Mateos, who didn’t even show up in the Top Ten for CardPlayer, got his name in at fifth place with 3316.07 points.
Engel dropped in the rankings in the comparison between the GPI and CardPlayer Magazine, with the winner of the 2016 Aussie Millions (we’re less than a month away from the 2017 version) settling for sixth place on the GPI poll with 3290.43 points. Rounding out the next four spots are Paul Volpe (3192.88 points, seventh place), Nick Petrangelo (3176.03, eighth), Mandavia (3138.97, ninth) and Samuel Panzica (3114.66, tenth); three of those four men weren’t even mentioned on the CardPlayer Top Ten.
Although it may be the end of 2016 and the beginning of the New Year, poker professionals and amateurs alike aren’t going to be given a very long break. On January 6, the very first PokerStars Championship Bahamas (formerly the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure) will kick off, featuring a plethora of poker for those in attendance at the Atlantis Hotel. The 2017 Aussie Millions will open for play on January 11, perhaps setting up for a clash between two popular international tournaments. The WPT also gets into the mix with the start of the L. A. Poker Classic schedule on January 13 and the Borgata Winter Poker Open in Atlantic City, NJ, on January 17. Add in the various smaller tours with stops on the schedule (the WSOP Circuit, the Heartland Poker Tour, and others) and the race for 2017 Player of the Year will be off and running!
Each year, the Pennsylvania legislature is not only required to devise a budget plan for the state, but is required to have it balance. In 2016, the process of doing this was a mess and with just a few days left before 2016, the budget still doesn’t balance. One of the sticking points revolved around Pennsylvania’s gambling industry; gambling expansion looked like it would happen, but after much wrangling, things are still up in the air. As such, State Senator Kim Ward has scheduled a meeting with the leaders from Pennsylvania’s twelve casinos in the Capitol on January 3rd, this according to the Associated Press.
It is not known exactly what they will discuss, but Sen. Ward said, “The days of doing nothing are over at this point.”
There is a good chance the main topic of conversation will be how to settle the issue of casino “host fees.” The nine casinos that are located outside of Philadelphia were required to pay a tax to the municipalities where they were located in the form of either two percent of slots “gross terminal revenue” or $ 10 million per year, whichever is higher. A total of $ 142 million in host fees were paid last year and are an important part of city and county budgets.
Mount Airy Casino & Resort’s owner, though, sued the state, arguing that the host fees were an unconstitutional tax. Because of how the host fee was structured, all nine casinos routinely paid the $ 10 million because they weren’t large enough to have more than $ 500 million in gross terminal revenue. Because of this, the casinos were effectively paying different tax rates, hence Mount Airy’s problem with the host fee.
In late September, the state Supreme Court agreed with Mounty Airy’s owner, but rather than eliminating the host fees immediately, it gave the legislature 120 days to come up with a solution.
The Senate has supposedly devised a very basic solution that would simply make the host fee a flat $ 10 million. This would have the same effect on the casinos, but there would be no tie to revenue. Nothing has been settled upon, though.
Online poker is also an issue. There was a big push to legalize and regulate internet poker in the state and though it got plenty of support in the legislature, no bill ever got so far as to passing. The budget has counted on online gambling to fill a $ 100 million hole, a hole which is actually now even bigger than expected. Many lawmakers still expect positive developments on internet poker in 2017, but it was disappointing it didn’t get done this year.
When the Senate sent its host tax amendment to the House, the House added a part to legalize online gambling, including fantasy sports, but the Senate didn’t like that.
Senate majority leader Jake Corman told The Morning Call at the time, “We told the House before, we don’t have consensus on I-gaming, yet they chose to load it into the host fee bill. That basically killed it for this session.”
According to the New York Post, Carl Icahn, whose Icahn Enterprises owns the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, is in discussions with other casino operators to sell the property. The former center of east coast poker closed on October 10th.
Aside from making money, one of the reasons Icahn is looking to make a deal may be because he might not be allowed to re-open the casino for five years. Less than two weeks after the Taj Mahal closed, the New Jersey Senate passed S2575 by a 29 to 6 vote, an amendment which would add a reason why someone could be disqualified from holding a casino license. In this case, it would disqualify a licensee who closed a casino. Specifically, the amendment reads:
Notwithstanding the provisions of any law, rule, or regulation to the contrary, the substantial closure of a casino hotel facility by the licensee occurring on or after January 1, 2016 shall disqualify the licensee from continuing to hold that license and shall constitute sufficient cause for revocation of that license, except that such substantial closure shall not impact any other pre-existing casino license held by the licensee. The division shall determine what constitutes a substantial closure of a casino hotel facility pursuant to this section.
Last Monday, the New Jersey Assembly passed the bill by a 60 to 17 vote; it now goes to Governor Chris Christie for his signature, though it is not known if he will sign it. The above disqualification would last five years.
Considering the retroactive date in the amendment, this bill specifically targets Carl Icahn. The reason for this is the way Icahn took control of the Taj and the way he handled things after doing so. Trump Entertainment Resorts – the former owner of the Taj – went into bankruptcy proceedings in September 2014. Icahn, the company’s largest debt holder, took control of the Taj Mahal when the company emerged from bankruptcy in February of this year. During the bankruptcy proceedings, the Unite Here Local 54 union lost its pension and healthcare benefits.
This year, after Icahn took over, the Unite Here Local 54 tried to negotiate with his company and the operator of the Taj Mahal, Tropicana Entertainment, to get its benefits back, but Icahn was not agreeable to what the union was looking for. In July, the about 1,000 union workers went on strike and, citing the inability of the Taj Mahal profit because of the strike, Tropicana Entertinament President and CEO Tony Rodio announced a few weeks later that the Taj Mahal would close.
Some believed that after the closure, Icahn would try to re-open the casino using non-union labor so that he would not have to pay union benefits. Thus the reason for the bill.
Senate president Steve Sweeney, the sponsor of the bill, told the AP in June, “Casino owners shouldn’t be manipulating the system and exploiting bankruptcy laws as a way to break unions and take away the rights and benefits of the workers. Atlantic City’s gaming industry is obviously experiencing the difficult challenges of competition from other states, but the answer is not to engage in practices that punish the workers.”
If the bill becomes law, Icahn would be unable to re-open without re-negotiating with the union, which could very well be why he is looking to sell.