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Poker News | Casino Poker | News

California Says No to Ladies-Only Tournaments

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Much has been said and written of late about ladies only tournaments. While there is no doubt that these types of events have lured more women into the game of poker by providing a comfortable setting in which they can play, the debate about the necessity and validity of the tournaments rages on.

One point in the argument centers on the notion that poker is a game of skill. Since anyone can compete on an equal footing in poker, regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or physical ability, many oppose ladies-only tournaments because they are unnecessary. Supporters of the events say that co-ed tournaments can be intimidating to women first entering the game due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of participants are usually male.

Another point in the debate is the exclusivity of tournaments, as men are discouraged and excluded from participation. Some say that this is the right of women to be allowed to play in a safe, comfortable environment. Others argue that it is discriminatory, and if the poker tables were turned, the masses would be infuriated over a men-only – or even African-American-only – tournament.

It is the latter point that has been one of contention in many casinos offering ladies-only events. In the 2007 California State Ladies Championship, Jose Canseco and five male friends insisted that they be able to play in a ladies-only tournament on the basis that California does not allow gender discrimination.

Somehow, the Bureau of Gaming Control in California became aware of the situation and chose to issue a press release to the state’s gaming establishments on January 18, 2008. It read:

It has come to the attention of the Bureau of Gambling Control that some gambling establishments conduct "ladies only" poker tournaments that exclude men from participating, or admit them on different terms from those accorded to women. It is the Bureau's view that such tournaments may violate California's anti-discrimination laws.

Under the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civil code sections 51 and 51.5), businesses may not discriminate in admittance prices, or services offered to customers based on the customers sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, martial status, or sexual orientation. "Ladies Only" tournaments or any other promotional events that fail to admit men and women to advertised activities on an equal basis regardless of sex are unlawful. It may also be unlawful under the Unruh Act to advertise tournaments as "ladies only" even if men are in fact admitted.

The Bureau will approve only those events that include the following features: the event will be open to all customers, the promotional gifts will be given equally to all participants, the fees and prices will be the same for all event participants, any discounts will not be based on gender or another personal characteristics protected by the Unruh Act, and the events promotional materials do not advertise gender-based discounts or imply a gender-based entrance policy or any other unlawful discriminatory practice.

Gambling establishments should take notice that pursuant to Business and Professional Code section 125.6, violations of the Unruh Act are cause for discipline under the Gambling Control Act.

The Bureau’s proactive stance on the issue of ladies-only events at casinos has caused very little change in the way the tournaments are conducted, as is apparent thus far. Los Angeles card clubs and casinos have said that they will remove the “only” in the signage and advertisements for events but continue to refer to them as ladies tournaments. And spokespeople for the casinos acknowledge, as Commerce Casino was forced to do with Jose Canseco and friends last year, that they must allow any men who wish to register and play to do so.

With the recent addition of a ladies tournament series to the World Poker Tour’s line-up – called the World Poker Tour Ladies League (WPTL) – the company was asked for a statement about the recent California development. The statement is as follows: “The intention of WPT Ladies is not to prohibit or promote against male players from joining, playing or receiving equal prizing in WPTL tournaments, but rather to encourage the growth of women in poker and provide opportunities to test their skills in the tournament environment.”

And what if men want to enter the WPTL tournaments? “They can play, of course. And if they win, they’ll get the prizing and seat into the WPTL.”

What remains to be seen is what will actually happen at these ladies tournaments since the statement of the Bureau of Gaming Control has spoken. It has been noted by several women who support the ladies events that men will be made to feel uncomfortable, which is ironic, as that is the reason that many women claim to stay away from predominantly male tournaments.

If more men choose to play in these ladies tournaments, will it render them useless as time goes on? Will women soon find that they might as well enter a co-ed tournament because the ladies-only tournaments are no longer legal or viable? Will other states choose to follow suit and issue similar statements regarding discrimination?

Time will tell. Quite possibly, the majority of men will not care to play the tournaments and let the women have their exclusivity. But if men choose to take a stand on the issue, ladies-only tournaments may be a thing of the past, fading into the history of the game like most forms of discrimination against women has done.

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