- Andrew Feldman, ESPN.com
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The poker industry started off 2014 as expected with a well-attended PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, but as soon as players returned stateside or began to make their trek to the Aussie Millions, perhaps through EPT Deauville, things got a little more intriguing.
The Borgata's Winter Poker Open is one of the best domestic stops during the first few months of the year. They have the volume, offer the guarantees and provide a great venue that, despite all odds, brings players to Atlantic City in the middle of the winter.
The masses showed up for the first event, a $560 re-entry event with a $2 million guaranteed prize pool. A total of 4,812 entries was enough to overcome the guarantee, but when the field was down to the final 27 players, play was halted due to the discovery of counterfeit tournament chips. As the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement began its investigation, the tournament was cancelled leaving the final 27 without resolution.
While the remaining players wait to see what will happen to the $1 million-plus prize money that has yet to be handed out, a breakthrough in the investigation came with a clogged pipe at Harrah's and the arrest of Christian Lusardi, who allegedly flushed the remaining counterfeit chips down a toilet. Lunardi did make the money in the event.
The 53-event tournament series continued with no additional controversy and led into a main event that far exceeded expectations. The $3,500 World Poker Tour main event attracted a field of 1,229, up from 1,042 a year ago, and will award a top prize of $842,379.
The most logical place to turn is the return of the online poker market in New Jersey. Party Poker, partnered with the Borgata in the online space, is leading the state in signups and clearly has taken major strides to get poker back on the map through strong promotions and new partnerships. According to a Jeffrey Haas, Director of Poker for the Bwin.Party Group, there were 21 satellite winners who earned their seats online across PartyPoker's .com and .NJ sites. Many others tried to qualify, "resulting in an increased profile" for the event. Additionally, five seats were awarded via the daily fantasy sports site DraftKings and another from ClubWPT.com.
Online poker brings interest back into the game and this is a great sign of what's next in the state. With two more majors planned for 2014, the WSOP Circuit championship and WPT Championship, there will be a focus on Jersey like never before and if it succeeds in generating significant revenue from online play, expect more states to follow suit.
Choice may be another simple explanation and that players simply wanted to go to the Borgata for this televised event instead of going overseas. While we can't speculate on turnout for the Aussie Millions, which begins tomorrow in Melbourne, it's noteworthy that EPT Deauville saw a decrease of 111 players in their main event (671 in 2014).
$82 million coming soon
On Jan. 24, the Garden City Group, the claims administrator for the forfeited Full Tilt Poker funds, announced that $82 million will be returned to approximately 30,000 American poker players in the next 2-3 weeks. According to the GCG, the players that will receive this money were those that confirmed their FTP account balances as part of the claims submission process. According to a representative from the GCG, the number of total claimants "well-exceeds" 100,000.
The question now turns to where this influx of money will go. In the scheme of the American economy, $82 million isn't substantial, but in terms of the poker economy, that's a pretty big number. Plus, as more claims are approved, more money is on the way. Will some players head back to the circuit and grind again? Perhaps. Will some players take the money and put it towards a non-poker lifestyle? Absolutely. After nearly three years, it'll be interesting to see if this money entices the return of those who left the field, or if this "refund" is simply going to serve as the money for a trip to the mall or a vacation. Life changes pretty dramatically in three years and the 25-year-old online poker pro may have found a new profession and lifestyle by now. If all money is returned by the end of March, as they initially stated on its website, the upcoming WSOP could be the biggest one we've seen in years.
Small blinds: The recently launched Ivey League is a new poker training site featuring Phil Ivey and a number of established pros. Subscriptions begin at $9 a month, but if you want to learn from Ivey, it will cost you as part of the "Master's Tier." In one of the bigger buy-in side events at the Borgata, Matt Affleck defeated Josh Brikis to win the $1,000 six-handed event for $88,643. On the Heartland Poker Tour, Exequiel Fernando defeated a final table that included JC Tran (eighth) to win $179,020. Want overlays? Head to New Jersey, according to Bluff. According to a Dutch court ruling, poker is a game of skill. Here's a good story on Jamie Kerstetter and how poker brought her back to New Jersey. Celebs love charity poker events, especially at Sundance. There's talk of a $50 million winner-take-all event in April. I'll believe it when I see it. Here's PokerNews' take.