There’s a major poker tournament going on in France: The Partouche Poker Tournament Main Event. It had a €5 million guaranteed prize pool. Based on the actual number of entrants, the prize pool ended up being around €4.3 million. Normally when a prize pool is guaranteed, the host must cover any shortfall in the guarantee. Reports out of France are that’s not happening. The €700,000 shortfall is equivalent to $881,961 at today’s exchange rate.
In the United States, host casinos almost always make good on their word. Casinos are heavily regulated, and gaming commissions look askance when a casino starts lying. For example, the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles is running a tournament series right now. The second event of that series had a $250,000 guarantee. When the number of entrants caused the prize pool to not meet the guarantee, Commerce Casino added the $46,000 so that the guarantee was met.
Sometimes guarantees have to be removed. A couple of weeks ago a tournament series in Biloxi, Mississippi was running when Hurricane Isaac came calling. Clearly, people who were planning on traveling to Biloxi had to make other plans so the guarantees were dropped. An event like that is usually covered under a force majeure clause (basically, an act of God). Most casinos cover themselves by inserting a phrase in their advertising, “Management reserves the right to alter or cancel the tournament at any time.” (In the end, the Biloxi tournaments were cancelled because of Isaac.)
As for the situation in France, as of last report none of that is happening. The advertising clearly states a €5 million guarantee and there is no disclaimer. The prize pool has been announced at €4.3 million. Now the question becomes legal: Do the players who appear to be the victims of fraud have any recourse?
Well, the tournament is in France and presumably subject to French law. I’m not an attorney, and know just enough about US gambling law to be dangerous (and know less on French law). So can a lawsuit be filed? Maybe, but it likely has to go through the administrative side of the French regulatory agency, Française des Jeux first. (Unfortunately, French is not one of my languages so someone else will have to tell me about the regulatory rules on casinos in France. My understanding is that under French law a casino might be limited to adding €250,000 to the prize pool. Well, if that’s the maximum allowed, Partouche should do that and let the players know why they can’t do any more. It’s always the cover-up that gets you. But I digress….)
There is one other course of action player can take, and that’s already happening. Name players are rightfully annoyed with a company advertising a guarantee and then reneging on it for no reason. There are tweets and a thread on the poker website 2+2 complaining about this. While Partouche may think that all publicity is good publicity, trust me when I say that the bad words circulating in the poker community on Partouche will definitely have a future impact unless they restore the €700,000 to the prize pool.
UPDATE: This morning the head of the Partouche Poker Tour, Patrick Partouche, announced that this will be the last tournament ever in the series. Additionally, Mr. Partouche apparently denied that the tournament was ever guaranteed. (Here’s a helpful hint for Mr. Partouche–actually two helpful hints: First, if you deny something, make sure no one can prove you wrong within one minute. Second, it’s always the cover-up that gets you.) I don’t know what the laws on fraud are in France, but I suspect that Mr. Partouche and his legal staff may want to quickly investigate them.
For poker players, this does bring up some issues. Be careful regarding operators who are not well known or are in jurisdictions that aren’t well regulated. A tournament in the United States will rarely have any problems; American casinos are highly regulated. If someone duplicated the events of the Partouche debacle in the US, they’d likely be facing fraud charges. If you are playing online poker, make sure the company you play with is reputable.
Does the mean that all poker tournaments in France should be avoided? It certainly puts a black light on French poker, but the answer is no. For all of the issues that I have with Caesar’s, there is no way they would ever do anything like this with the WSOP-Europe (which will be in Cannes in October). Reputable operators–thankfully, most poker tournaments are run by reputable operators–would never do this.
UPDATE-2: The Partouche Poker Tour announced on Friday that the guarantee will be honored.