Yesterday, the World Series of Poker continued one of its traditional early-season rites by announcing the opening of public nominations for election in the WSOP-managed Poker Hall of Fame. As in previous years, the WSOP begins the three-stage election process with two weeks of open nominations at the Poker Hall of Fame landing page.
From there, the PHOF’s Governing Council tallies the votes, verifies that all of the highest-nominated recipients meet the election criteria, and, typically, adjusts the list of ten finalists just slightly. Roughly speaking, the top seven or eight nominated players make the list of finalists, and they’re then joined by two or three industry-side stalwarts who otherwise receive relatively short shrift from the player-focused support of many fans.
Once the Governing Council selects a final 10 nominees, the list is submitted to the PHOF electors, which consist of all previously elected members of the Hall. The eventual winner is announced and honored during the WSOP’s Main Event, which takes place this year in early July.
Increased controversy for PHOF in recent years
The Poker Hall of Fame has received increased criticism in recent years following two significant changes in the election process. The number of people enshrined each year was reduced from two to one, and the WSOP also removed numerous media from the voting panel, making the PHOF even more insular than in earlier decades. The PHOF had already been accused of heavily favoring the traditional Las Vegas “Big Game” world, at the expense of players and executives from other parts of the world (particularly from Europe), and all but ignoring the accomplishments of people integral to online poker.
For example, PokerNews Executive Editor U.S. Chad Holloway wrote a detailed examination late last year on why the PHOF is currently flawed, and he outlined several steps that the PHOF could consider implementing or restoring to give the PHOF more gravitas, which has arguably been impacted by recent changes. Holloway was one of numerous media members who previously helped vote on the PHOF finalists. (Disclaimer: This writer, also a poker historian, at one time also had a media vote.)
The PHOF’s current opacity also contributes to the controversy, and the entity has long been accused of being impacted by coordinated bloc voting. Last year’s election of “Big Game” veteran Eli Elezra was surprising to many observers, since he was well back in the pack in the previous year’s voting but jumped other strong contenders to receive the 2021 nod. It’s not that Elezra wasn’t a deserving enshrinee — he certainly was, and he was tabbed by this writer as one of the two likeliest enshrinees — but his jumping the line, so to speak, raised some eyebrows. Ultimately, the WSOP chose not to release the 2021 vote tallies, breaking an informal tradition it had held to in earlier years.
Single-enshrinee change makes it harder for poker executives to win entry
Reducing the number of people the PHOF honors each year from two to one arguably makes it even more difficult for industry officials to receive recognition. Such stalwarts as veteran tournament director Matt Savage and PokerStars co-founder Isai Scheinberg remain on the outside looking in. As Holloway wrote last year, “For me, I think the WSOP should return to inducting two players each year with a caveat – every three years induct a third “industry” honoree. As it stands, it’s extremely difficult for a non-player to make their way into the PHoF (just ask Matt Savage).”
Savage would certainly know, being the bridesmaid for election more than once. Ever the diplomat, Savage offered his own take on the annual PHOF election process. “There are many that feel the PHOF needs a ‘dump’ of players and influencer to get in due to a backlog of eligible and deserving candidates,” he told Poker.org.
“While I stone bubbled getting in the last three years in a row (third in 2019 when they took two, second in 2020, second in 2021), I actually would prefer to get in the current way. Sure it would be nice to have two instead of one every year; I don’t want them to go to categories because I actually think I have the merit to get in with this original voting system. I really wanted to get in when my father was still alive but unfortunately he’s gone so now it would be a great legacy for my wife Maryann and family. In my 30th year in the industry and 20th anniversary of the TDA I’m proud of the career that I have had.”
Featured image source: World Poker Tour