The Midway Poker Tour, which recently made a debut in the Chicagoland area has ended in total disaster. The tour’s $1,100 buy-in Main Event took place on October 3-4 at the Sheraton Suites Chicago Elk Grove.
It initially ran smoothly, but things started to get strange on the final day when the payouts climbed, with players realizing they wouldn’t be able to receive their winnings in a full cash payment.
The Midway Poker Tour took place in partnership with 4 KIDS Sake, Inc, a not-for-profit organization that supports the kids in Illinois and the Chicagoland area. Since it had a charity connection, the event wasn’t conducted under a standard casino gambling license.
Instead, it ran under Illinois’ charitable gambling statutes, which means there’s a major difference when it comes to the distribution of prizes.
The Main Event attracted a total of 266 players, 31 of them guaranteed to walk away with $2,300 in winnings. But under the Illinois Charitable Gaming Acts and Regulations, winners can only be awarded no more than $500 in cash, on top of the $1,100 entry fee. So those who finished in the money were only able to receive $1,600 in cash, alongside precious metals which they could later trade in for dollar bills.
In the middle of the mess, the lead organizers, including the tour’s founder Daniel Bekavac disappeared.
The original plan was to have gold on hand, get a trader on site to buy it back, and then reuse the precious metal for the next player who would finish in the money. It wasn’t the first event in Illinois to adopt such an approach as many other poker charity tournaments in the state did the same. Some players in the area knew how it worked, however those who travelled from other states to take part in the event weren’t aware of it and were left disappointed.
Everything seemed alright at the start, until Terence Shiel of the state Attorney General’s office visited the venue to check if the event was following the rules, especially in relation to the awarding of prizes. He told tournament organizers that the precious metals couldn’t be converted to cash on site, and that there had to be individual prizes for each payout. From there, things went downhill.
The charity, which was tasked to facilitate the distribution of prizes, eventually obtained $208,000 worth of silver, with a trader ready to buy the metals outside the venue. Later, the players found out that the value of the silver coins had been inflated. They were told each piece was worth $35, however upon checking its actual price, it could only be sold for less than $25. There was also no trader off site who would buy back the metals as promised by the organizers.
The controversy led to the final 10 players pausing the game to discuss the matter. They eventually agreed to just play out to determine the winner. Renato Spahiu emerged victorious and was supposed to take home $55,065 in top prize, however due to the inflated values of the precious metals, he might just settle for $40k to $45K.