PokerStars Faces a Unique Dichotomy at the 2014 EPT Barcelona

EPTThe PokerStars European Poker Tour will make a somewhat schizophrenic return to Barcelona in August when they celebrate a historic milestone at the scene of one of 2013’s biggest poker scandals.

On one hand, Barcelona hosted the first ever EPT tournament event and the 2014 EPT Barcelona will mark the 100th EPT event in the tour’s history; a milestone PokerStars should and will be celebrating, considering the volume of articles mentioning this fact that were posted on Tuesday [here is just one].

On the other hand, the return to Barcelona will certainly reopen and reignite the debate over the Jens Kyllonen laptop hacking scandal that occurred during the 2013 EPT Barcelona series, at the Barcelona Arts Hotel –which will once again play host to the series.

Judging from the language in the aforementioned articles noting the EPT 100th tournament series celebration, PokerStars is billing this as “Europe’s largest-ever poker festival,” but with the laptop scandal still fresh in people’s minds, and some in the poker community pointing critical fingers at PokerStars’ handling of the situation, will the poker community make this a reality?

The EPT Barcelona is kind of a big deal

Historically, Barcelona has always been one of the EPT’s best-attended stops. Last year’s Barcelona series (which is now combined with PokerStars Spain-focused Estrellas Poker Tour tournament series) set a number of records, with the €1,100 Estrellas Poker Tour Main Event attracting 1,798 players, and the €5,000 EPT Main Event hitting four-figures as well, with 1,234 entrants.

Barcelona has also been a mainstay on the European Poker Tour since the tour was launched back in 2004, featuring prominently on the EPT schedule every single year.

While it’s unlikely the EPT Barcelona tournament series will turn into a ghost town, last year’s scandal was widely covered, and could be enough of a black-eye that attendance could take a significant hit unless PokerStars can somehow sweeten the pot. After all, the shroud of the laptop hacking (with at least three potential victims) and the subsequent investigation are still fairly hot topics in the poker community.

The laptop hacking scandal

The real problem many in the poker world have with the Laptop Hacking scandal is not necessarily that it happened (which was eventually proven), but the handling of the situation by PokerStars and the Barcelona Arts. And for some people in the poker community, this situation is far from resolved.

What should have been an open and shut case –the Barcelona Arts is a five-star hotel with plenty of security cameras and security personnel—turned into an Alex Jones-worthy conspiracy, with disappearing and reappearing laptops, chance meetings in elevators, and implicating everyone from Barcelona Arts employees to PokerStars employees, and even some of the victims were targeted as potential suspects.

One of the biggest targets of criticism was the Barcelona Arts Hotel; which will once again play host to the EPT. From nonoperational security cameras to imagined calls to the police to stone-walling employees, it was the handling of the situation that is most worrisome and has players most concerned with returning.

What should have taken nothing more than a quick review of security camera footage has instead dragged on; to the point that we still have scant details and only gossip as to who the parties involved were.

Should PokerStars be celebrating this event?

While it is their 100th event PokerStars could have been more sympathetic to the poker community and downplayed this particular stop. Not only are they returning to the scene of the crime, and the scene of what has all the hallmarks of a cover-up by the Barcelona Arts, but they are trumpeting their return.

So why are they returning? Nobody really knows for sure. Maybe the Barcelona Arts has a multiyear contract with PokerStars, or perhaps they feel it is simply the most capable host, or perhaps the Barcelona Arts has changed policies and given specific assurances, or maybe PokerStars just doesn’t feel this is an issue?

Still, PokerStars could have been a little more discreet in their marketing efforts surrounding this tournament. After all, last year was the 10th Season of the PokerStars EPT, and while I expected a lot of fanfare at each stop, the 10-year anniversary was hardly brought up and the tour seemed to do just fine –Perhaps the 100th tournament celebration should have been handled in a similar fashion because of where it would be held.

Or perhaps PokerStars could have been a bit more forthright on precisely why they feel the Barcelona Arts is the proper host hotel and assuaging the poker community’s concerns.

Needless to say, this is a story that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.


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