It’s been another year of ups, downs, and uncertainty on the European poker scene due to COVID-19, but what can we expect in 2022?
The simple answer is: expect the unexpected. The virus may be moving into an endemic and less deadly realm than before, but no one can predict with any accuracy how things will play out over the next 12 months.
With that being said, we can piece together some facts and provide a tentative outlook for European poker in 2022. For example, we know that live tournaments will take place in some capacity, based on the fact many casino-based events returned this year. But what else can we look forward to as we learn to live with COVID-19?
Delays and Disruptions – Likely
Delays and disruptions are likely, at least in the early part of 2022. Countries across Europe, including the Netherlands and Austria, went into lockdown in the latter part of December, while other countries, such as Switzerland, imposed movement restrictions on the unvaccinated.
Elsewhere in Europe, France, Germany, Italy, Scotland, and many other countries placed restrictions on bars, nightclubs, shops, and casinos. Whether the reaction to Omicron is supported by the data or not is irrelevant at this point. The point is that caution remains the operative word.
As we head into the New Year, almost all of Europe is operating under some restrictions. These restrictions won’t disappear overnight, which is why the first three months of 2022 are almost certainly going to be marked by the cancellation and rescheduling of live events.
Masks – Increasingly Unlikely
The one COVID restriction that may fade as we move through 2022 is facemasks. Their use has been patchy in recent months and, with signs that Omicron is milder than previous variants, they may be phased out by governments.
Another reason facemasks may be less prominent next year is the increased use of vaccine passports. Although some people still feel uncomfortable with the concept of showing your medical status to enter a public venue, COVID passes are commonplace in almost every European country at this point.
Even in England, where there has been largescale resistance to COVID passes, they were made mandatory in certain public settings, such as sports events, in December 2021. If vaccine passports and/or negative COVID tests are effective at preventing the spread, then facemasks should become obsolete.
Vaccine Passes – Likely
COVID passes have gradually become commonplace not only in Europe but the poker industry. There were smatterings of change in Europe during the early part of 2021 with venues such as Casino Barcelona and King’s Resort asking customers to provide a negative COVID test before entering.
As vaccines became more readily available, COVID passes, such as the EU’s Green Pass, were added to the entry criteria. The major turning point for the industry was the World Series of Poker (WSOP). Everyone attending the series in Las Vegas had to be vaccinated.
Although there was a breakout towards the end of the WSOP, the new rule was largely successful at protecting players. WSOP Europe at King’s Resort followed suit in November, which suggests that other events, such as the European Poker Tour (EPT), will do something similar in 2022.
Updated Terms and Conditions – Highly Likely
This is where we’re likely to see the biggest changes in 2022. In fact, even before the year was out, PokerStars had published a new set of COVID payout rules. Each organization is likely to offer their own take on payouts and refunds. However, PokerStars got the ball rolling.
Rumblings of change had been brewing throughout 2021 but they came to a head during the WSOP after a number of players went down with COVID-19. Justin Bonomo raised the point on Twitter and, within hours, PokerStars had responded. Partypoker’s John Duthie was also in on the conversation, which suggests he’ll push for changes as well.
Where the big poker tours go, others follow. There will almost certainly be a domino effect as European poker operators and casinos implement their own refunds policies for anyone forced out of an event due to COVID.
This, in a nutshell, will be the reality of European poker in 2022. COVID-19 isn’t going away. Therefore, we have to learn to live with the risks it poses not just to our health, but the way live tournaments operate. This means finding fair ways to compensate players who register but can’t play due to COVID.
As long as operators do everything possible to mitigate the risks and players are happy to ante up with the knowledge that COVID remains a threat, European poker tournaments can return to some semblance of normality in 2022.