World Poker Tour CEO Steve Lipscomb says he’s not sure what the fuss was all about.
Blame it on the lawyers, someone else suggested.
Some of poker’s best-known pros either balked or thought twice about playing in last week’s $15,000 buy-in tournament that was filmed at the Bellagio for later showing on the Travel Channel.
Chris Ferguson, one of poker’s most recognizable figures with his long hair, western hat and dark glasses, said he did not play in the Five Diamond Classic because the release players were required to sign would have put him in violation of other business agreements involving the use of his name or likeness.
Daniel Negreanu added that he was unhappy for much the same reason but expected to play (he did) because "Steve is a good guy who can be counted on to do the right thing" for players who have become instant celebrities through their exposure on World Poker tour events.
Both Ferguson and Negreanu are involved in the creation of video games that have nothing to do with the World Poker Tour.
Neither was Howard Lederer, another of poker’s famous faces, happy with the wording of the release, but he said his absence from the Bellagio event was because of scheduling conflicts.
A poker executive who spoke only with the promise of anonymity speculated, "These release forms have been around for a while, but with more and more of these guys stepping into big business deals with big companies, you suddenly have more lawyers than ever going through each line of the agreement. The things no one ever looked at before are now getting read carefully."
The World Series of Poker had some similar problems last year but revised its policy. Player images and names are used on ads and in promotions now only after the player in question has seen and approved the material.
Lipscomb said that he wants the successful players to have a chance to leverage their success, but he hopes "people don’t forget that a lot of this success is because of the stage that the WPT has given poker."
He added, "We’ve worked very hard to give poker players a chance to have outside endorsements."
Releases signed by players participating in WPT events are much the same as those signed by participants in any reality show.
And despite the expected legalese in the release forms, the Bellagio poker event drew 555 players, a healthy increase of some 200 over last year’s total.
"Very few sports have grown like poker has," Lipscomb said.