Wednesday, February 20, 2013

$400k winner at Chicago Poker Classic Boycotts Event Forever

$400K winner at Chicago Poker Classic Boycotts Event Forever

Horseshoe Hammond and Indiana Gaming Commission Ethics Questioned

Paul Gibbons

In 2011 and 2012, I accrued more the $400,000 in tournament winnings from Horseshoe Hammond in Indiana in just two visits to the Chicago Poker Classic (CPC).  That includes two firsts, one chopped first-second, and a slew of min-cashes.

I will not, however, ever go there again and fellow Poker Players may want to know why.

We are spoiled for choice as tournament players.  As the CPC opens this week, I count no fewer than six alternatives.  Before the events of 2012 unfolded, I was a loyal Horseshoe Hammond customer – sometimes making the drive from Madison, Wisconsin to play cash games and entering all their tournament series.  The Casino is owned by Caesars Entertainment, and I estimate that over the last two years, I’ve entered $150k worth of events providing them with approximately $30k in rake.  I’ve also spent a further $20k in Caesars properties on food and lodging.

Does $50k in gross income make me a good customer?  Apparently not!

Unprofessionalism, lack of ethics and customer service
In the 2012 CPC, I won the first event, won the last turbo and won three matches in the $1k heads-up.  Looking at the rules published on the website and on display throughout the tournament area, a certain number of points are awarded for each of those.  Add those up, and I score 42 points.  No other points system or official record appears anywhere.  Those 42 points are worth $50,000 and ‘Player of the Series’.
Alas, unknown to anyone, and unannounced (especially to the points-leader), they decided you needed to win four heads-up matches to get points.  Fair enough.  I lose five points and $50,000.  At the last moment, they were a few entries short of target of 256 players, so adjusted the payouts.   Normal, but they failed to change the formal point’s payout at any time.  I was aware I did not min-cash the Heads-up, but (foolishly) assumed the written rules applied.  I’ve competed in ‘points system’ type competitions in Bridge, Backgammon and Poker and this is the first I’ve heard of this ‘rule’.  It is common (I now understand) in Poker, but I’m not sure how when the written rules disagree with informal rules, how a player is to know which to trust.

Now the Casino has the right to award points as they see fit in their promotional events.  They have the right to change the point’s structure as they see fit.  They probably also have the right to change the structure mid-series, and probably have the right to disregard their published information and award prizes to their brother-in-law if they like. 

You would think that when a player (a very well-known player to them) drew this discrepancy to their attention, they would fix it pronto.  You would think when customer who spent $50k on your properties complained, you would pay attention.

 At the very least, you would think politeness, customer service, apology for miscommunication and a thorough investigation of the matter would ensue.

You would think, since the facts are completely indisputable and irrefutable, that they would take the complaint seriously.  The facts are simple: one written points structure existed, it was never changed; my total points using that structure was clear of second place by three points.

No.  Poker players, by and large, are not treated like customers by Casinos.  We seem to be, at least in their eyes, an inconvenience to deal with as they earn their rake.  This example is typical of this.

Here is what they did when I drew the matter to their attention:
-          The first Director yelled from the stage in front of a room full of several hundred players that I was shooting angles, and (with plenty of added profanity) ‘I don’t know how you can look yourself in the mirror daily’.
-          The second, said ‘I have been instructed by Casino management not to discuss this with you’.
-          The third, professionally this time, said he understood, but that ‘it was too late’.  (There was still one tournament in progress where I might have been overtaken!!  Too late how?)
-          A fourth official makes the unofficial pronouncement that the tip I left after event 1 was derisory so I ‘deserve what I get’.

Leaving $50k poorer, I petition, in a formal letter, the Casino management.  They write back:
-          A one-paragraph letter that failed to respond to a single point.
-          Introducing the fabrication that, ‘announcements were made’ at the time. (Since I spent 14 hours a day in the Poker tournament area, I might have heard the sound of $50k leaving my wallet.  They might also have contacted the point’s leaders personally and told him they were withdrawing five points.)
-          Not addressing any of the customer service ‘irregularities’ i.e. the libelous attacks by staff

Collusion with the regulator?
We then tackle the Indiana Gaming Commission.  They:
-          Take six months during which they are unreachable.
-          Reply that they have fined the Casino for failure to publish their rules correctly
-          But despite finding fault with the Casino, cannot pursue our complaint
-          Because… the published rules were acceptable.

But WAIT we reply, the published rules award us $50k.  No reply.

Wait.  The published rules award us $50k. Silence.

Now Chicago politics are known for their backroom, shady, lack-of-transparency.  Perhaps this trickles across the border to Indiana State Government?  Perhaps in order to work together a certain ‘closeness’ is required.

In essence, contacting the two bodies known for maintaining ethics – the Casino Management and the Gaming Commission, we received what amounts to a shrug of the shoulders.  Neither provided me with a refutation of the facts, neither mentioned the facts, and (effectively) both either lied, or obfuscated.

The facts are this:
-          There was one published points system
-          Indisputably (arithmetic), I was at the top of that (substantially clear of second place to whom the $50k was awarded)
-          Inexcusably, accused me of cheating
-          Confusingly, failed to mention the facts presented and to refute any of them (or to explain their lack of relevance)
-          Indefensibly, failed to provide me with a professional response
-          Questionably, persuaded the Gaming Commission not to take this matter seriously, indeed communications from the Gaming Commission suggest they failed to read the complaint at all.

While States are pressing for more gambling to attract more revenues, there is no question that strong oversight will be required to prevent customer abuses.  Clearly the cozy relationship between the Casino and Gaming Commission is not a template which other States should emulate. 

Goodbye Hammond
The tournaments in Hammond have been great to me, but I don’t believe in luck, or that the Chicago players are much worse than the rest of the country.   Still I feel some nostalgia for the place I arrived with a $3k bankroll and left with $165k in cash two years ago.

On the minus side, the waits for cash games often exceed several hours during the ‘Classic’, the nearby accommodation is ‘roach coach’ and generally the Hammond ‘experience’ is not a pleasant one: driving through refineries and Indiana’s answer to the ugliest parts of Detroit on the way to the Casino.

Given that on most weekends, the tournament player has a choice of four to six locations, and every poker location is nicer and more pleasant than Hammond, I would spend the extra dime and go somewhere nice.
Furthermore, Vegas has decades of experience running tournaments, and the regulators there know that a whiff of scandal could destroy a multi-billion dollar industry.  They take customer complaints seriously.  They take their ethics seriously. Not so with Horseshoe, not so with Indiana.

The entire attitude, of the Casino and the Gaming Commission, throughout this complaint, has been: ‘we don’t give a damn’ (either about the facts, or how you were treated).

Poker players can do better elsewhere.


  1. This might get you blackballed, but one hell of a article.

  2. Nevada has years of encounter operating competitions, and the authorities there know that a whiff of scandal could eliminate a multi-billion money market. They take client problems seriously. They take their values seriously. Not so with Horseshoe, not so with In.

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