The Life and Death of the Midway Poker Tour

The Life and Death of the Midway Poker Tour

It is a tough time for poker players, especially in the United States. All live poker cash games and tournaments shut down in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and a great many venues have yet to reopen their poker rooms. And in the US, players have very few online poker options.

The offer of a live poker tournament in these times is a dangling carrot in front of a hungry bunny.

When a fairly locally well-known live tournament player launched a live poker tour, poker players perked up. The first event was set for Chicago, complete with a reasonable $1,100 buy-in and $100K guarantee, on the weekend of October 2-4.

What could be better for players itching to get back to the live tournament tables?

A pandemic-inspired lockdown, perhaps.

The tournament kicked off alright but devolved into a chaotic disaster on the second day when payouts began…with some cash and some coins. Suffice it to say, things went downhill rather quickly.

A New Poker Tour During a Pandemic

Chad Holloway of PokerNews spoke with tour founder Dan Bekavac in mid-September. Bekavac revealed that he had been working on a Facebook-based poker app since 2017, and as that launch neared, he decided to kick off a live tour as well.

Interestingly, Bekavac noted that the concept of the Midway Poker Tour was based on “for players, by players,” a theme he claimed was new. However, numerous poker entities have used that tagline in the past, from Poker Atlas to PokerTracker, and from poker rooms through the years from Lucky Chewy Poker to Full Tilt Poker.

Anyway, Bekavac claimed that other tours don’t treat players well enough. He wanted to change that with Midway and become the largest mid-major poker tour by the end of 2021.

So, he gave birth to the Midway Poker Tour. The first event was to take place at the Sheraton Suites Chicago Elk Grove, where he rented several ballrooms to allow for Covid-19-related distancing between tables. It was set for October 2-4, and it was associated with 4 K.I.D.S. Sake, a charitable organization.

Keep in mind, however, that there were red flags.

–1. Concept mimicked other tours.

–2. Website and social media pages lacked any information about charitable connection.

–3. Website lacked information about founder and organizers.

–4. Event logo says 100k guaranteed, conveniently missing the dollar sign.

On the plus side, Bekavec did work closely with PokerNews to secure live reporting and publicity for the event and vowed to livestream all of its activities.

Normal Beginnings

Action kicked off on October 2 as planned, with the first of two starting days bringing the initial entry total to 102. Play stopped with just 12 players remaining and Nicola Ditrapani holding a 2-to-1 chip lead over the next player on the leaderboard.

The second starting day delivered another 164 entries. When registration closed, the tournament organizer delivered this information:

–Total entries:  266

–Total prize pool:  $258,020

–Total paid players:  31

–Minimum payout:  $2,300

–Winner payout:  $55,060

That day finished when Denian Costa busted on the bubble. The last 31 players were guaranteed a payout and bagged their chips. That night’s chip leader was Satoshi Tanaka.

On Sunday, October 4, those 31 competitors returned to the Sheraton to play for the win.

Day 2 Started with a Problem and Got Worse

Per the PokerNews live reporting, Day 2 started late because of a chip problem. The tournament organizer didn’t have enough chips. So, when Day 1A finished, players counted their stacks, the tournament staff verified those counts, and the numbers were recorded. However, the chips were removed to be used for Day 1B. They then had to reconstruct Day 1A stacks.

As players waited to begin, players began to discover an interesting fact about the payouts.

They knew the minimum payout was $2,300, but the paperwork showed a strange variation on that (spelling, punctuation, and capitalization errors as were written):

“Congratulations on your 31st Place finish at the inaugural Midway Poker Tour Event. As you are aware this is a charity fundraiser that benefits 4 KIDS Sake and is operated under the Illinois Charitable Gaming Acts and regulations. Per 230 ILC30 your winnings will be paid as $1,600.00 in Cash which is the maximum amount allowed, along with $700.00 in precious metals / collectables.”

Tournament officials told players that they would provide information about the ability to sell the “precious metals / collectables” for cash to someone outside of the Sheraton.

Even worse, Bekavac was not in attendance for Day 2.

Play moved along at a fast clip. After Pat Steele busted in 11th place, the remaining players took to one final table. The dinner break awaited one more elimination, and Frank Lagodich was that player who finished in tenth place.

Players chose to cut their dinner break short and played quickly to the end of the tournament. Tanaka finished in second place, and Renato Spahiu won the title.

The results, noting that the “prize value” is listed but was not delivered, were as follows:

1st place:  Renato Spahiu ($55,060)

2nd place:  Satoshi Tanaka ($38,180)

3rd place:  Joseph Paris ($25,800)

4th place:  Rocco Pace ($18,320)

5th place:  Amanda Heidbrick ($14,120)

6th place:  Josias Santos ($11,600)

7th place:  Steve Federspiel ($9,680)

8th place:  Nicola Ditrapani ($8,150)

9th place:  Bob Peppe ($6,680)

Notes from Holloway

On site and trying to report on a disaster of a tournament for PokerNews, Holloway reported a few details.

For example, at one point, the players wanted to stop playing and decided on a chop or a deal, but considering the undetermined value of some of the payouts, it would’ve been nearly impossible.

In addition to Bekavac not being at the Sheraton on the final day of play, “Midway Poker Tour employees were noticeably absent either off-site or behind closed doors, while the charity officials had little to no experience with the poker side of things.”

Holloway noted that the charity was actually responsible for obtaining and distributing the prizes but relied on the Midway Poker Tour – with people well-versed in paying out poker prize pools – to handle the details.

More Details Emerged

Continuing to pursue the story, Holloway obtained some answers.

First, the Illinois charitable gaming laws only allow tournament organizers to pay the cost of the buy-in plus $500 in cash to players who finish in the money. That meant each one of the final 31 players – even the winner – would only be paid $1,600 in cash and the rest in gold and silver.

The organizers thought they would be able to work around that issue but found that the Illinois Attorney General’s office didn’t approve. So, the day of the tournament, Midway Poker Tour organizers contacted a company called AMPM.999 to get $208K worth of precious metals. Players could then take that property to someone outside of the Sheraton, with that person being willing to buy the metals.

That didn’t happen.

AMPM.999 told PokerNews that the company knew nothing of the tournament. The organizers called them at 1:00am on Sunday morning for $200,000 in silver. They were able to obtain it at a price of $30-$40 per ounce. “All we did was fill an order for silver.”

Apologies and Explanations

The Midway Poker Tour’s Facebook page posted a statement, which appears to be from Bekavac. The first sentence was an apology to Holloway, those who appeared to work for the Midway Poker Tour, and “everyone else.”

Then, he talked about what he did. “I busted my ass trying to bring live poker back for the players. I spent upwards of $55K of my own money getting this set up with the charity 4 KIDS Sake.”

(Author note: The post capitalized every single word, and I’m correcting that as I quote it. It looks ridiculous to copy it the way he typed it.)

Bekavac went on to say that he didn’t find out until Saturday, October 3, that he couldn’t have a gold buyer at the Sheraton to buy the gold from players. He suggested that they give the players their cash and a “certificate to pick up gold the next day at a coin dealer.” He would ship it to out-of-town players if necessary. Someone else, it seems, decided to purchase silver instead. “This was not my decision.”

It is unclear who else was in charge to make such a decision.

Back to Bekavac, he wrote that he lost a lot of money to give this event to players “and will not receive one single penny back.” He continued, “I lost a ton of money trying to put this event together for everyone and had it blow up epically in our faces.”

He claimed that the changes were last-minute ones imposed on him and out of his control. Again, he went on to talk about everything on which he spent money to make the tournament happen.

Finally, in the last few sentences, Bekavac apologized…in a way. He apologized “to the players that were affected by the payout differences.” And he followed that with a note about the screen shot of texts that in which the charity tried to explain the situation.

I would Like To Start By First Apologizing To Jason Trezak, Jeremy Smith, Eric Anderson And Chad Halloway And To…

Posted by The Midway Poker Tour on Sunday, October 4, 2020

 

The next day, someone in charge of the Midway Poker Tour’s Facebook page – apparently Bekavac again – posted a more appropriate apology, one that at least appeared to be genuine and included the players. He claimed that he panicked and left the facility, that he was embarrassed. “I wrote some things yesterday out of frustration and anger, and again for that I truly apologize.”

He did claim full responsibility and “will do my best to rectify” the situation. In the days that followed, some players did receive the prize money promised.

Holloway plans to follow up with Bekavac, who claimed that he will make the players whole. His reporting from the scene and afterward, despite PokerNews’ contract with Midway to cover the event, was thorough, fair, and professional.

 

 

About Jennifer Newell

Jennifer began writing about poker while working at the World Poker Tour in the mid-2000s. Since then, her freelance writing career has taken her from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back to her hometown of St. Louis, where she now lives with her two dogs. She continues to follow the poker world as she also launches a new subscription box company and finishes her first novel. Jennifer has written for numerous publications including PokerStars.com and has followed the US poker and gaming market closely for the last 15 years. Follow Jen on Twitter

Disclaimer: The information on this site is my interpretation of the laws as made available online. It is in no way meant to serve as legal advice or instruction. We recommend that you seek legal advice from a licensed attorney for further or official guidance.

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