Hustler Casino Under Fire After Reneging on a $250,000 Guaranteed Tournament

  • Hustler Casino cancelled the tournament after four starting flights, foreseeing an overlay
  • The poker community has lit into Hustler, slamming it for going back on a promise
  • General manager Shaun Yaple said another, bigger casino “stepped on” Hustler’s schedule
  • The casino decided to refund buy-ins and finish the tournament with the remaining players
Gardens of Bomarzo
Foreseeing an overlay, Hustler Casino cancelled a $250,000 guaranteed prize pool tournament after four starting flights and has taken a ton of heat for it. [Image: Alessio Domato via Wikimedia Commons]

What’s done cannot be undone

Larry Flynt famously once said: “Opinions are like assholes – everybody’s got one.” Well here’s mine: Don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep. Don’t offer guarantees you don’t intend to honor.

The problem is it’s just not good enough.

Credit to Nick Vertucci and Ryan Feldman, who no doubt spent 24 hours in fire-fighting mode, explaining to general manager Shaun Yaple and the rest of Hustler Casino’s upper management what a catastrophic mistake they just made, the outcome of which is some value being given to the players. The problem is it’s just not good enough. What’s done cannot be undone.

On August 2, after four starting flights had already been played, Yaple made the decision to cancel the remaining starting flights of the Main Event of the Larry Flynt Grand Slam of Poker Memorial Series and renege on the $250,000 guarantee. He announced the news on Twitter, his post meeting with furious condemnation from virtually every corner of the poker community.

Orcus: Roman god of oaths

In Roman mythology, Orcus was the god of oaths, duty, punishments, executions, and the underworld. He was mostly worshipped in rural areas of the Roman Empire, portrayed as an imposing, bearded giant. His role was to torment evil-doers, specifically those who reneged on their promises.

With no exceptions for nobility, aristocracy or clergy, Orcus would capture those who broke their word and cart them off to the underworld. Punishments varied from excruciating torture before death, to mere execution, to imprisonment until such time as the promise-breaker had adequately atoned for their sins.

The Romans believed that a person’s word was their bond. That is why Orcus was often depicted with his mouth open, an allusion to the idea of oaths and promises. With similar mouths agape, poker players weighed in on Hustler’s broken promise.

Fool me once

In the poker world, we loan each other money, stake each other, buy action off each other and swap pieces of each other, agreements often bound by nothing more than text message or thumbs-up emoji. Like the Romans, our word is our bond.

we rely on the court of public opinion

In the absence of a legal framework from which to enforce such transactions, we rely on the court of public opinion, both as a deterrent and as a way to punish those who would dare scam us. It’s kind of like we all heard George W. Bush say: “Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again” and thought: “Hmmm, yes that will be our moral code.”

The bottom line is trust, and that extends to poker operators. Poker players risk their money to win other people’s money and poker tournament organizers risk overlay by offering guaranteed prize pools to draw a crowd. A bet is a bet. A promise is a promise. A guarantee is a guarantee. We all put some skin in the game.

Poker players reacted

Jacqueline Burkhart was emphatic, warning the poker community not to stomach such duplicitousness:

Alex Jacob agreed, pointing to the meaninglessness of a guarantee that is not guaranteed:

Barry Carter wryly suggested that the problem could be semantic:

Doug Polk also weighed in, pointing to substantial overlays that were honored by his card club The Lodge earlier this year:

Hustler promises refunds and a $50,000 added tournament

The buck (or lack of bucks) ultimately stopped with Shaun Yaple, who took some particularly sharp criticism. Taking to Twitter, he apologized, but then undermined that apology by blaming a “bigger club” stepping on Hustler’s schedule, saying that to honor the guarantee would have been tantamount to jumping “off a cliff.”

It was far from the mea culpa that the situation demanded and in an effort to prevent the public relations fiasco from doing irreparable damage to the brand, Hustler Casino Live producers Vertucci and Feldman stepped in as consiglieri. The fruit of their counsel was an August 3 video from the trio, promising remunerations, both to the players who played the tournament and to the community as a whole.

Yaple promised the $350 buy-in back for everyone who played. In total, just four of the twelve starting flights took place, attracting a total of 123 entries. The remaining players will also come back to compete for the prize pool that was organically generated. In addition, Yaple said that Hustler would partner with Hustler Casino Live on a future tournament with $50,000 added to the prize pool.

Has justice been served?

We don’t have a god of oaths in the poker world, so we have to be our own Orcus, using our collective voice to metaphorically drag those who break their promises down to the underworld for the appropriate amount of flagellation.

to some extent, this is a victory for the poker community

In this case, has justice been served? Have the appropriate amount of reparations been paid? I don’t think so. To some extent, this is a victory for the poker community, who proved that they can shame a casino operator into conciliatory action.

The problem is it’s not enough and the road back to a place of trust should be long for Hustler Casino, Yaple, and his colleagues.

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