The poker community is pretty used to disturbing rumors about players, poker companies or tournaments yet they are rarely impressed. The reason is that in most cases these are nothing more than gossip that is eventually squashed by those who know the truth.
Nevertheless, the very idea that Phil Hellmuth might have been paid to attend a certain tournament from the actual prize pool was shocking. One week ago, the prominent poker player entered the Annual Arizona State Poker Championship hosted by Talking Stick Resort. There is no surprise that a poker pro would choose to participate in such a tournament, as the winner received a total of $246,000.
The rumors were that Phil Hellmuth not only enjoyed free entry at the tournament, but was also paid $25,000 just to be there. It is easy to understand why a land-based casino organising a poker tournament would like to have Phil at the tables, as his presence acts as a magnet for prospective players. This was in fact the root of the allegation, because some players speculated that he was paid to attend and the money was taken from the prize pool.
This scenario would mean that the eventual winner Joe Kuether, and the other players who finished in the money were deprived of a fair share of their prizes. What is customary for the casino is offering wild cards to professional poker players and paying them to attend their tournament, this is to use the promotional budget for this purpose. Whether this comes from the rake collected, tournament fees or other sources of income, it is less relevant as long as the prize pool remains untouched.
For a couple of days these lingering doubts galvanized the poker community, but in the end a Talking Stick Resort official stepped forward and squashed the rumors. He used the popular 2+2 forum visited by many of those who play poker and know the industry inside out, to clarify this matter. He confirmed the fact that Phil Hellmuth received the money, but it was the marketing department who found the resources for these expenses.
The conclusion is that no funds were taken from the tournament prize pool and the Players Promotional Fund was also untouched. While the rumors are now history, the debate rages on and 2+2 forum visitors discuss whether it is fair for a poker pro to receive a free pass cards into tournaments, or if he should pay out-of-pocket, just like any other player. Most agree that Talking Stick Resort paid for the Phil Hellmuth brand, given the fact that the $25,000 greatly exceeded the size of the buy in.