CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A national poker tour will not make a stop in Cincinnati this month after state regulators said the casino refused to comply with casino surveillance camera laws. The World Series of Poker had a tournament scheduled for March 19-30 at Cincinnati's Horseshoe Casino.
The Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) said it warned Horseshoe's management in 2013 that the cameras used to monitor the WSOP tournament were not in compliance with state law. The tournament was held in a large banquet hall inside the casino, which required temporary camera set ups around temporary poker tables similar to the systems used to monitor the casino's permanent poker tables.
State law mandates cameras inside the state's four casinos so state regulators can monitor the cards played, wagers and the outcomes of games, according to OCCC spokeswoman Jessica Franks. In 2013, the state allowed Horseshoe to hold the WSOP tournament with unapproved camera systems, OCCC executive director Matthew Schuler wrote in an email, but the commission would not allow the same system to be used for the 2015 WSOP stop.
"Last year, the surveillance department delayed proving their surveillance coverage to our agents until two days before the event," Schuler wrote in an email to a Cleveland-area poker advocate last week. "Despite our concerns, we allowed them to proceed with their proposed configuration in order to see how it worked in practice. It failed to meet the requirements. Rather than sanctioning the casino for noncompliance, we directed them to correct the issues before the next event," Schuler wrote.
"They failed to do that," Schuler added.
HORSESHOE PLAYED A "GAME OF CHICKEN"
The news that the WSOP tour would skip its Cincinnati date angered some of the state's high-profile poker players. In 2013, the tournament drew 740 players and their families to Cincinnati. Observers said the crowds for the 2015 WSOP stop would've likely been much higher.
Observers like Cleveland-based Dan Harkenrider, who is considered one of the state's poker industry experts.
"It's basically a game of high-stakes chicken," said Harkenrider, who testified before the OCCC and is a poker commentator for ESPN.
"They (Horseshoe Casino) essentially waited for the Ohio Casino Commission to blink and they didn't do it," Harkenrider said, "They gave them a chance in 2013 and they took it away."
Horseshoe Casino is run locally by Rock Gaming, LLC and owned corporately by Caesars Entertainment. Harkenrider said he's not sure who is to blame for not complying with the state's casino laws that led to the cancellation, but said both ownership groups knew what they did with the surveillance cameras in 2013 wasn't going to work in 2015.
"The Horseshoe thought they could get away with less than the security requirement by law by forcing it up to the last minute, thinking the Ohio Casino Commission wouldn't want to cancel the event," said Harkenrider. "Come a year and a half later, the property did nothing to change that security set up."
Neither Caesars Entertainment nor Rock Gaming, LLC would speak regarding the reasons why the ownership never came up with a security plan to conform to state law. Both issued identical statements:
"LOGISTICAL AND SCHEDULING DIFFICULTIES"
A few weeks ago, poker players across the country received the Horseshoe Casino statement quoting "logistical and scheduling difficulties" as the reason the 2015 World Series of Poker stop would not happen in Cincinnati. For days, players wondered what that meant.
Those "logistical and scheduling difficulties" appear to have come from the failure of Horseshoe Casino owners to comply with the state's casino surveillance laws.
"I don't think people know the truth," said Harkenrider.
Many players blamed the OCCC for the cancellation, Harkenrider said. Once the "true story" is published, according to Harkenrider, poker players will know what really happened.
"I'm the first one to want to criticize regulators when they do silly things," Harkenrider said, "But you know what? In this particular case, it's not the regulator's fault. They were enforcing the law. Doing their jobs. I don't fault OCCC in this."
There were alternatives, according to Harkenrider. The casino could have cleared permanently-placed gambling tables and played the WSOP in flights to make sure the tournament's surveillance complied with state law. The problem for the casino, Harkenrider said, is they didn't want to lose the daily cash plays at the permanent tables during the nearly two-week event.
The cancellation also disappointed the 2013 Cincinnati WSOP champion Brad Albrinck. Albrinck was one of 740 players in the 2013 stop and walked away with $221,994 and a chance to play for the national WSOP title.
The likelihood the WSOP comes back to Cincinnati is small, according to Harkenrider. That means Albrinck may never get another shot to defend his 2013 win.
"I'm just going to be working, wishing I was down at the casino playing," said Albrinck. "It is a huge deal for the poker community in Cincinnati."
The state and city lost potential revenue with this. In 2013, experts estimated the economic impact was more than $1 million. With more players expected in 2015, the tax revenue would've likely been more.
"Absolutely. Thousands of players around here were looking forward to this," Albrinck said, "The staff who work there and the people spending money in the casino, outside the casino, hotels and restaurants."
After his 2013 win, Albrinck paid the state $16,000 in taxes on his winnings and another two percent went to the city of Cincinnati.
"We lost our big shot and beyond that, we lost our opportunity to play on our own turf. It's just a waste all the way around," Harkenrider said.