Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Suggestion for the WSOP

I just read Michael Craig's thoughtful and informative post about disciplinary actions for rule infractions at the World Series of Poker, here.

I certainly understand Harrah's desire to avoid defamation suits, involving third parties, etc. On the other hand, they damage their own reputation by (1) having wildly inconsistent rulings going on, and (2) not giving players and media any useful information about how rules are being enforced, thus allowing rumors and misunderstandings to flourish.

I think that the media, the players, and the sponsoring organizations would all be well served by a simple, happy medium between the current "no comment" posture and the legal morass that would come from full disclosure.

I propose this: Whenever a penalty is imposed on a player (i.e., something beyond a warning), the floor person who imposed it is required to fill out a brief form, noting the player's name, Harrah's card number, event, date and time, a brief description of the offense committed, the sanction imposed, and the name of the official imposing it. If the offense involved language, then quote what was said.

Harrah's should want to keep such records for its own purposes, I would think--to keep track of problem players who are repeat offenders that otherwise might not get noticed because they are disciplined by a variety of different floor guys. They should want to know this sort of thing not just for any one event (i.e., when a player has been previously warned for some infraction, thus warranting an actual penalty for the next offense; in fact, I understand that they do have a tracking system for that sort of thing), but over time. If a player has had, say, ten time-outs imposed over the course of the Series, isn't that worth noting, in order to have a serious talk with him and tell him that the harshness of the penalties will be increasing? It seems perfectly reasonable to me to have a player disqualified from an event for abuse of a dealer or another player if it is the tenth time he has broken the same rule this year, even if the same offense would get only a one-orbit penalty for a first-time offender.

I propose that at the end of the day, or end of the event, Harrah's could release its list of disciplinary measures imposed, with the players' specific identifying information redacted out. The media would love this, I think--at least the bloggers I know who write for various poker outlets during the WSOP seem always to be looking for something new to report on.* The varied ways that stupid poker players get themselves in trouble with "the law" could be endlessly entertaining.

But there is more to it than grist for the media mill. The release of this information would give players a way of knowing where the boundaries are in a way that the written rulebook doesn't. One example in Craig's post is that at one table a rumor was heard that calling another player a "donkey" was a punishable offense. The players didn't know whether to believe that. Wouldn't it be helpful if everybody knew that in advance, and didn't have to guess? Furthermore, wouldn't Harrah's want to know if it has, say, one floor guy who is issuing 30-minute penalties all day long for that offense, while its other 99 supervisors are letting it go as harmless table talk? The media would be quick to pick up on such gross inconsistencies (e.g., a disproportionate number of language offenses being called by one particular floor person), even if Harrah's did not.

The only cost to the organization is a little bit of time. The daily list could be distributed to the media via email, thus avoiding even copying expenses.

Obviously, it opens Harrah's up to scrutiny. Inconsistencies would be more apparent, and Harrah's would have to work to keep its floor people on the same page. But Harrah's claims that it both is and wants to be fair and even-handed in how it enforces its rules. If that's really true, it should welcome rather than fear more transparency.

Really, could the situation that emerges from this proposal really be any worse, in terms of laughable inconsistency, special pleading, obvious shenanigans, and horrendous publicity, than what Harrah's got from the Phil Hellmuth now-you-see-it-now-you-don't penalty of a couple of years ago (see here and here)? Could it be worse than the catcalls they took over the plentiful evidence that the WSOP rules apply differently to Scotty Nguyen than to everybody else (see here and here)?

Frankly, Harrah's couldn't have much of a worse reputation for ridiculous inconsistency on rules enforcement than it already does. My proposal is a pretty simple way by which it could show that it is actually interested in doing better in that regard--if, in fact, it is.

*On that note, see Kara Scott's praise of the WSOP bloggers here. It is both sweet and, based on my experience, accurate. Kara is pretty obviously deeply, painfully in love with me, though in this post she somehow manages to squelch her feelings and not mention me. She is a trouper, that one.


Michael said...

Great point and suggestion. And you are definitely right on it's benefits and use to align consistency in the tournaments. It does make you wonder why they haven't implemented something to that effect.

Keiser said...

During orientation this year they mentioned that penalty tracking was a favorite of last year and it's back, so they definitely write up each incident. The problem is they aren't willing to link a person's name to a rule infraction. As in that email the full tilt blogger got back an example without a name is fine.

The guy that "damaged" 2 cards probably didn't realize those plastic cards can't be torn ;)