Catching COVID at the WSOP: The Ballad of Turlough McHugh

  • McHugh was attending his first ever WSOP and the visit started well despite a booking mixup
  • Things took a turn when he tested positive for COVID and was made to vacate the Bally’s hotel
  • He had to take a COVID bus to a “Liberty Wellness Center,” unable to leave until negative
  • McHugh faced further difficulties when he eventually returned before finally getting his room
  • The story spread throughout WSOP, with many poker pros learning don’t test don’t tell
Positive COVID test
At this year’s WSOP, Irish poker player Turlough McHugh found out what happens if you test positive for COVID at Bally’s in Las Vegas. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

A good start

“There was a young man called McHugh,
An online beast known to very few,
He decided to go to Sin city
Where things quickly turned so very shitty,
That his friends all said he should sue.”

The hero of our story, Turlough McHugh, is a talented online player with a Sunday Million chop and a World Championship of Online Poker (WCOOP) title to his name (it’s a running joke between us that whenever I bring up an accomplished player, he asks: “But do they have a WCOOP?”) Post pandemic he decides to start dipping his toe in live poker and heads to Las Vegas.

they put him in a suite for the night at the same price

He gets there late on a Wednesday mid World Series of Poker (WSOP), very excited. It’s his first time in America. When he goes to check in, Bally’s can’t find his booking. Concerned he may have been scammed by Booking dot com with two k’s or g’s, he retreats to investigate. He returns convinced he has a valid booking, but is unable to convince them of this. He agrees to pay for a room in cash for the first night while they sort out the mixup. The bad news is there are no free rooms of the type he booked. The good news is they put him in a suite for the night at the same price.

Thrilled with himself, he walks around the WSOP telling everyone about his good fortune. The next day they told him to stay in the suite while they were “investigating his booking.” That night they told him they “found his booking.” He had paid for the two nights which they refunded.

Things take a turn

The following day he wakes up feeling poorly. Suspecting COVID, he gets me to run out to the pharmacy for a test. I throw it in through the door of his suite and flee. He tests positive and isolates.

The hotel security now ring him up saying they want to move him out of the suite to a regular room. He tells them it might be best to wait until his COVID has passed, to which they respond that he should stay where he is, informing him that it isn’t a problem.

he has to vacate not just the room but the hotel

The next morning, a couple of security guards knock on his door, telling him he has to vacate not just the room but the hotel. They say they made a mistake informing him it was okay to stay in the room and that he has to leave immediately. When he asks why he’s informed it’s “company policy” that once they have a report of a positive test, the guest has to leave.

“But I have a reservation. Where can I even go? I can’t imagine any other hotel opening their doors to me with open arms. Do I at least get a refund?”
“No sir, we also have a no rebate policy.”
“But I don’t even feel that bad. Those home tests produce false positives. Can we do a better test?”
“Company policy is you must vacate the property as soon as we receive notification of a positive test.”
“But I have nowhere to go!”
“It’s okay sir. We will bring you to a facility.”

The COVID “facility”

The COVID bus was arriving at 4pm. In the meantime, Turlough took a second test which returned negative. He was told he still had to leave as they couldn’t prove the results. They stood over him while he packed up his belongings and reflected on the ominous sound of “facility.” They then escorted him down and out the side of Bally’s, perp walk style, onto a bus used to transport him and other COVID sufferers to the “facility.” The bus drove down the strip and out into the desert at which point Turlough was conjuring up images from gangster movies of sandy burials.

he could not leave until he tested negative

It eventually pulled up outside what looked like a cheap motel, mainly because it used to be one. It had now been repurposed as a quarantine facility, and renamed with Orwellian ironic genius as the “Liberty Wellness Center.” Turlough was shown to his cell slash room and told not to come out until he tested negative. Suddenly not fancying 5-10 days in Vegas anymore he asked them if they could just bring him to the airport so he could go home to a country that wouldn’t send him out into the desert as soon as he tested positive for COVID. He was told in no uncertain circumstances that he could not leave until he tested negative.

The next morning, Turlough woke up feeling a lot better and asked for a test. They were unable to provide him with one, so he took a $25 Uber (each way) to a clinic for a 95$ antigen test, which they laughed at when he asked them to refund. Testing negative, he rang Bally’s telling them he’d tested negative and asked them to send the bus to come get him. The good news was he was welcome back. The bad news was the COVID bus was a one-way thing, so he’d have to Uber it.

The grand return

Arriving back, the lady at check-in asked him to wait a few minutes while she checked something. He stands there waiting. After some time he looks around and there’s a couple of security guards on either side of him.

“What’s the story fellas?”
“ What’s your name sir?”
“Turlough McHugh.”
“ Sir you will not be allowed to check back into this hotel.”
“ I’ve paid for this in advance and I’m negative for COVID.”
“Sir, don’t shoot the messenger, I’m just telling you, you will not be allowed to check back into this hotel. You can however check into any other hotel.”

He’s now in full breakdown mode and in tears saying this is insane, it’s my first time in America, it’s my birthday, this doesn’t seem legal, it wouldn’t be in my country, at which point one of the security guys goes off. He comes back with a big smile saying everything is resolved, he can check-in.

you can’t have everything I suppose

They finally give him his room, and he sends me a happy message. A minute or so later he sends me a video of him turning on the taps in his room to reveal black running water. Well, you can’t have everything I suppose. Turlough also suffers from muscular dystrophy which must have made the entire ordeal even worse.

A bad WSOP all round

News of his ordeal spread through players at the WSOP almost as fast as COVID, and the lesson most people drew from it was don’t test don’t tell.

Turlough played the Main Event busting on bubble day before the money. He played a few side events. I’ll spare you the bad beat stories but sufficeth to say he ran so badly his last night in Vegas saw him grinding the Daily Deepstack desperate to leave with any kind of a positive besides his COVID results. He bubbled that in cruel fashion. Ever the supportive friend I pointed out that as far as the Hendon Mob was concerned it was like he was never here in Vegas.

As he headed for the airport the following morning he sent me a photo of the COVIDmobile, waiting to bring another poor soul to the center of Liberty and Wellness.