When I heard about the NAPT, I was excited about the possibility of a tournament series in the U.S. with fair player treatment, good rules and lots of different buy-ins. The NAPT was described to me by another player at a poker table as "competition for the WPT with favorable rules for players and none of the bullshit." This statement got me interested, but I should have remembered to do my own research before putting my faith in anyone having any concern for the players in a poker tournament.
The simple economics make the players the last thing anyone worries about while running a poker tournament series. If possible they want to make the players happy, but when it comes right down to it, the players are last on the list because they will show up anyway. They are either poker pros who have to play to make a living, gambling addicts who will play no matter what, or recreational players who are just excited to be there and don't know that they are being sold up the river to the wolves on both banks.
There have been a few pros in the past who have fought with the World Poker Tour over the rules of their release and whether they would be allowed to use the player's likeness forever in their ads and promotions, but it didn't appear to hurt the WPT terribly and the tournaments went on without them.
Today I was considering a trip to play in a few NAPT events in the spring, and before booking them I decided to have a look at the rules and the waiver I would have to sign. I knew I wouldn't be terribly excited about some of the things in these legal papers, after all it's not like the old days when you paid money to buy in and you got paid out at the end. This is big business for the casinos and the magazines and the online poker sites and television producers. If you don't allow these people to use your image, likeness, film of you, and everything about you, you can't play. Sign the form or you don't get your chips.
You would expect them to compensate the players for this right? After all, the players are basically part of a big poker based reality show, and they should be paid if they are featured. But as I noted above, the players are the last thing the tournament organizers have to worry about. So the players give everything away, agree to rules they know nothing about and sign forms they haven't read. Even those players who do look at the forms, and don't like the rules, are going to sign anyway. They may have driven hours to play the tournament and they stand ready, cash in hand, to take a shot at winning a huge prize. A few disagreeable rules aren't going to get in their way now.
Luckily for me, I checked out the rules online before I booked a flight to go to an NAPT event, where I discovered that this is not just a poker tournament series taking place in North American Cities, it is a misnamed PokerStars Poker Tour, sponsored by PokerStars. My first indication of this was the fact that no more than 10% of the field can wear logos from any site except PokerStars. Yes, if you don't have a ton of experience in bigger live tournaments it may be a surprise, they can and will tell you what to wear.
At the NAPT this concept has been taken farther than ever before. In addition to limiting the number of players who can wear non-Poker Stars apparel, the rules state the following:
1. You can wear one breast pocket path and one logo patch on each sleeve, but that is the only branded gear allowed.
2. You can wear a baseball hat with a logo, or use a card protector with a logo, but they may not be visible at the TV table.
3. If you are going to wear approved logo patches, you must sign a form that you are a sponsored player before the tournament begins and you can not change your mind during the tournament.
4. If you have not registered as a sponsored player before the tournament begins, you won't be able to wear any logos at any time. This means that if you hit the final table and get a ton of television exposure, you can't sign any deals before the final table starts (as so many players have done in the past) to score a nice extra payday.
5. No more than 2 players from any brand can display logos at the final table. If your favorite site already has a ton of players in the tournament they aren't likely to have any interest in you because of this rule.
This all adds up to the rich getting richer and the poor staying that way. The people who run the tournament are going to make their money, and if something really great happens they can show it over and over forever. Meanwhile the no-name player who is trying to get his foot in the door is going to have trouble getting a sponsorship deal before the tournament starts because the major sites will already have 10% of the field sponsored and who would want to take a risk on him anyway without a track record of previous big wins. And once he starts the tournament with no sponsor, he can't change in the middle. In fact he can't even wear his lucky shirt if it has a poker logo on it and he doesn't want to sign a form to officially endorse the site for the rest of the tournament.
When he wins the tournament, our lucky underdog won't make any extra cash from sponsorship deals, but he will still have to pay a large chunk of that money in taxes, and they'll still expect him to leave a percentage as a tip for the dealers. His appearance on television won't earn him any money, he signed away those rights when he entered the tournament, and the tournament series won't pay him anything to use his name and his face no matter how charming he might be, because he signed those rights away too. Take your 60% of the first place money and go home pal, there's still a lot of money to be made on this poker tournament, but you aren't getting another nickel of it.
Meanwhile, on the internet…
Someone just won $100,000 from their armchair while watching a football game, and they are subject only to the tax rules of wherever they live. If that is Canada or Costa Rica or a host of other countries, they pay no taxes at all, and even if they live in the U.S., they can write off other tournament entries and expenses against it before the tax man gets his share. No one uses their likeness for anything, and if they end up as a ranked online player, they can choose to endorse any site they like at any time. They won't be asked to help pay the staff by tipping at the end of the tournament, and the tournament fees will almost always be lower than they would be in a live tournament.
So I'll stay home this time. I can wear any shirt I like, sport my lucky hat all the way through the tournament, and no one can walk up and take my picture while I'm playing and put it on posters in every poker room in the country without my consent. I can still play hundreds of poker tournaments online, I just have a lot more freedom and make a lot more money doing it online from a very comfortable chair in my home office. I want to get out and play more live tournaments this year, but until I find a major series with better rules for the players, I'll be fine playing from home.
I'll see you at the final table,
Chris 'Fox' Wallace
P.S. Join me at the tables by downloading the Poker Pros Network.
*Opinions expressed in this article and other user-submitted content do not necessarily reflect the views of PocketFives.com as an organization.
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