The United States’ travel restrictions from Europe and elsewhere in the world won’t help the World Series of Poker, but the question is, to what extent could the damage be? [Image: Shutterstock.com]
COVID-19 Delta variant running wild
As the WSOP Online 2021 winds down, the attention of the poker world shifts toward two things: the “international” leg of the WSOP Online on GGPoker and the traditional, live World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.
The latter was moved to the fall – September 30 through November 23 – in hopes that the COVID-19 pandemic would no longer be a factor. But alas, it likely will be. And now, with the United States announcing that it will keep restrictions on travel from Europe and other parts of the world in place, the question arises as to how the WSOP might be affected.
Earlier in July, President Joe Biden said, after hosting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that his administration was looking into lifting the European travel ban. But with cases on the rise in the US and around the world, it seems as if plans have changed. The worldwide explosion in the Delta variant – a more contagious mutation of COVID-19 – is a significant factor.
the seven-day moving average of new daily cases in the US is 67,293, its highest point since mid-April
Last week, health officials said that the vast majority – 83% – of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the US are of the Delta variant. The seven-day moving average of new daily cases in the US is 67,293, its highest point since mid-April. In contrast to then, the average is climbing, not falling. Worldwide, the seven-day moving average is 559,095 new daily cases, the highest in two months.
At least in the United States, one of the most significant reasons for the increase in cases is the refusal of many to get vaccinated. Combined with the lifting of mitigation measures, that’s bad news. According to the CDC, 69.3% of adults 18 and over have received at least one dose (President Biden set a goal of 70% by July 4) and 60.2% are fully vaccinated.
Most players are from the US
So while the United States has its own problems, the Biden administration is hesitant to welcome travelers from Europe, as the Delta variant is causing problems over there, as well. If the restrictions hold, poker players could face major hurdles when trying to get to Las Vegas for the WSOP.
But will it matter as far as overall participation is concerned? Probably, but not in a devastating way. Let’s look at it from the standpoint of the Main Event. The last live WSOP Main Event in 2019 drew 8,569 entrants, one of the biggest fields ever. Of those, 6,110 players were from the United States. That would be the lowest attendance figure since 2005, but we’re not going to lose everyone from outside the US.
The current ban is on the European Schengen area (Germany, Italy, France, Austria, and many other countries), the UK, Ireland, Brazil, China, Iran, South Africa, and India. By my calculations, there were 1,413 players from those countries in the 2019 WSOP Main Event, or about 16.5% of the field. So if we lose all of them, we’re still over 7,000 entries.
But we won’t lose all of them, since some will opt to travel to a non-restricted country like Canada or Mexico for 14 days so they can get into the US.
Fear of travel vs. poker excitement
Of course, we can’t compare 2021 to 2019, since they are two vastly different years. We could see less interest in the live WSOP not because of travel restrictions, but simply because of players’ unwillingness to travel during the pandemic.
Additionally, the existence of both the US and international versions of the WSOP Online could reduce interest in committing to the time and expense of travel. So maybe things will automatically be worse, travel restrictions or not.
live poker-starved players have flooded casinos
At the same time, however, attendance at major live poker tournaments has been booming this year, as live poker-starved players have flooded casinos. Just in April, the World Poker Tour Seminole Hard Rock Poker Showdown set a record for the largest Main Event field in WPT history.
The bottom line: there is a good chance that overall interest in the WSOP will be higher than it has been in quite a while. Players are eager to get back to the Rio to join the annual poker celebration, but it will be tempered by travel restrictions, travel wariness, and the existence of the WSOP Online.
Attendance might dip from 2019, but it won’t be a shocking plummet.
2021 WSOP Europe is coming, too
There is one more World Series of Poker issue to remember, as well: the WSOP Europe. The younger annual festival will overlap ever so slightly with the WSOP in Las Vegas, scheduled for November 19 through December 8 at King’s Resort in Rozvadov, Czech Republic.
The 2021 WSOP Europe bracelet schedule is much smaller than that of the traditional WSOP: just 15 gold bracelet events. Unlike the old WSOP, however, every event has a guaranteed prize pool, with €11,550,000 ($13,634,975) in guarantees in total.
The Czech Republic does not have the travel restrictions that the United States has in place. In terms of travel within Europe, the only people barred from the Czech Republic are those from countries deemed “extreme risk” (according to the map, it looks like Russia is the only one). There are testing and self-isolation requirements for unvaccinated people, but anyone who is vaccinated is free to enter the country.