On Friday, less than five weeks from the start of the 2021 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, tournament organizers surprised many by announcing a vaccine mandate for anyone wishing to play.
Proof of vaccination, using a mobile health pass app, is required to participate in any bracelet event, deep stack tournament, satellite, or cash game. The policy applies to everyone involved with the event, including staff, media, vendors, and spectators.
“This is not a decision we have taken lightly-it is made with no agenda beyond protecting player eligibility and the operations of a unique televised gaming event,” said WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart. “The nature of poker is to be in close proximity with your opponents for extended periods of time and a seat at the WSOP is a commitment for both our company and the participants. We want players to be excited for their return to the WSOP, while offering the greatest level of protection and limiting complications during the tournament this fall.”
The WSOP joins other upcoming local events in requiring proof of vaccination, such as NFL Raiders games at Allegiant Stadium, as well as the upcoming Life Is Beautiful music festival and Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC).
But despite following CDC guidelines and the precedent set by others, the decision seemed to divide the poker community, at least on social media.
While numerous players were happy with the news and applauded the WSOP for seemingly putting safety over profit, others felt the mandate was a violation of their personal freedom.
Poker power couple Alex Foxen and Kristen Bicknell were among the high-profile players to speak out against the rule. Bicknell is a three-time bracelet winner, and Foxen is in the running for several Player of the Year awards, but both have decided to boycott the series.
Of course, as poker presenter Sasha Salinger pointed out, “You can’t boycott something you’re not allowed to attend.” Even those who are vaccinated will still be required to prove it, or they won’t be allowed onto the property.
2003 WSOP main event champion Chris Moneymaker originally stated that he was not going to attend the series because he didn’t want to expose his family to the virus. But after the news broke, he took to Twitter to thank series officials for the decision, pointing out to naysayers that the WSOP is a private business that can do as they please.
It had the opposite effect, however, on 2009 WSOP main event champion and four-time bracelet winner Joe Cada, who has decided to stay in Michigan for the series rather than take the vaccine.
While tensions ran high between those for and against the policy, others took the opportunity to find action.
“Looking to bet on several vocal vaccine critics to play,” wrote bracelet winner Max Silver.
Other players used the space to tell jokes… or perhaps share their true feelings.
“Bracelets will be the toughest ever to win this year,” said eternal optimist Allen Kessler. “You’ll be competing against the smartest, most logical playing field in history.”
We can only guess as to how the mandate will affect attendance. The numbers were already going to be lower than usual due to the fact that the series is taking place in the fall this year, rather than the summer. Additionally, many international players will still have trouble getting to Las Vegas with various restrictions in place on travel.
According to the CDC, approximately 58% of eligible Americans have received the vaccine. If those numbers hold true for the poker community, the WSOP would be potentially shutting out upwards of 42% of their player base.
That being said, enforcing a vaccine mandate may make those who have already gotten the shot more comfortable with playing live poker.
According to a poll Card Player conducted over the weekend, 41.1% of those who responded said they were MORE likely to play now that proof of vaccination is required. Only 22.1% said there were LESS likely to play.
With the news that the 2021 WSOP will require proof of full vaccination in order to participate, which of the below options would you say best describes you?
— Card Player: The Poker Authority (@CardPlayerMedia) August 27, 2021
How are they the smartest? They all want vaccine mandates which makes them dumb stupid sheep! https://t.co/Mqdxaqme95
— Mike Matusow (@themouthmatusow) August 28, 2021
This needs to be shouted.
WSOP is a service provider and players are the customers.
They are not your employer, and you are not an employee.
You (a pro player) are a customer who makes money using a service.
— Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker) August 28, 2021
Just got vaxxed so I can play in the wsop. I like poker more than I care about whatever is in the vax, it’s really that simple.
— Pokerguru740 (@pokerguru740) August 28, 2021
Anti-Vax poker players tilting their balls off right now
— Jean Gluck (@jean_gluck) August 27, 2021
I am proudly boycotting this assault on logic and liberty and will be disappointed if any of those who feel the same find the easy way around this and continue to play. This will go down as the biggest mistake the WSOP has ever made.
— Alex Foxen (@WAFoxen) August 27, 2021
Lol to the people who say they are “boycotting” the @WSOP because of the vaccine mandate. You can’t boycott something you’re not allowed to attend
— Sasha Salinger (@sashasalinger) August 28, 2021
— Chris Moneymaker (@CMONEYMAKER) August 27, 2021
Looks like I’m not missing any lions games this season. Thank you @fordfield for allowing me to sit with vaccinated individuals.
— Joseph Cada (@JoeCada99) August 27, 2021
I can’t block enough words to make my timeline ok.
— Dylan Linde (@DylanLinde) August 29, 2021
Looking to bet on several vocal vaccine critics to play, dm offers https://t.co/9UARTAblbn
— Max Silver (@max_silver) August 27, 2021
I want to make it very clear that I’m not attending this years WSOP because I’m broke, not because I’m an antivaxxer.
— Samuel Cosby (@MrCleverFox) August 27, 2021
At a time when division runs high, poker should be inclusive for everyone. We do not bring religion, politics or medical choices to the table. This stance is unscientific, illogical and dangerous. The only logical reaction to this is to boycott @WSOP this summer. https://t.co/IMohODBv6A
— Alexandru Papazian (@betweenjobs21) August 27, 2021
— TonyDunstTV (@tonydunsttv) August 27, 2021
Running a WSOP this year would probably be out of the question if no vaccine existed
closes Twitter for two weeks pic.twitter.com/asblzxSUih
— Jamie Kerstetter (@JamieKerstetter) August 29, 2021
Disagree. People who make a conscious decision to protect themselves and more importantly their community don’t deserve to be hindered in anyway by people too selfish to vaccinate.
— Ian Simpson (@IanSimpsonPoker) August 28, 2021