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Thread: Oklahoma Johnny Hale dies at age 92, but he had an unfinished beef with the WSOP

  1. #1
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    Oklahoma Johnny Hale dies at age 92, but he had an unfinished beef with the WSOP

    Oklahoma Johnny Hale was a name you've probably heard of before. He's an old-school poker player dating back several decades, and was even awarded a special "best all around" bracelet in 1980 after making three final tables in the WSOP that year but finishing second, second, and third. He passed away a few days ago, at the age of 92.

    Here's a short article about him on Pokernews, written after his death:

    Born in 1927, he was one of the older poker players, even 30-40 years ago. He's best known for his advocacy of seniors in poker, creating a Seniors Poker Hall of Fame and a Seniors World Championship of Poker.

    The latter eventually led to an unfortunate misunderstanding which, in turn, led to bad blood between Hale and the WSOP, something which was never resolved.

    You won't find this story anywhere else in the media. I tell this story not to speak ill of the dead, but to provide visibility into the situation which Johnny tried until his final days to make public, but was mostly ignored.

    Recall that Johnny created the Seniors World Championship of Poker (WCOP). A marketing book was released in 2013, explaining the history of the Seniors WCOP, and you can find it here:

    In the book, you can see that the Seniors WCOP was created in 1994, when Hale was 66. It first ran at the Oceanside Card Club near San Diego, but three years later that club closed. In 1998, it moved to Compton -- yes, THAT Compton -- at the new Crystal Park Casino there.

    In 2001, he created a partnership with the WSOP to merge the two events, which became the WSOP Seniors World Championship. This was before Harrah's (now Caesars) bought the WSOP. When Harrah's purchased the WSOP in 2004, they agreed to keep the Seniors event, and to continue awarding a bracelet for it. Harrah's also agreed to find the lost Golden Eagle WCOP Trophy, which had apparently been lost when Harrah's bought Binion's Horseshoe (and the WSOP). When Harrah's couldn't find it, they created a replica, complete with all of the past winners' names of the WCOP.

    For the moment, Hale and the WSOP had a great relationship. He even did the "shuffle up and deal" speech for the 2005 WSOP Seniors event at the Rio.

    However, sometime after that, things went sour.

    It is not clear to me what Hale's official role was after Harrah's bought the WSOP. To me, it seems that he had more of an honorary role at that point.

    In 2010, Hale got upset that they had added "World Championship" onto the name of the highest buyin version of all types of events at the WSOP, starting in 2008. Hale believed this was copyright infringement, as one was called "World Chamiponship Seniors Event", and he had originally created the Seniors World Championship of Poker. To be fair, Hale would have a hard time claiming that the term "World Championship" was his intellectual property.

    Still, World Series head Ty Stewart made some concessions in February 2010:

    From: Ty Stewart
    To: Oklahoma Johnny Hale
    Cc: Jack Effel
    Sent: Tue, Feb 9, 2010 7:21 pm
    Subject: Wsop and seniors

    Oklahoma Johnny-

    Hope all is well with you. Carla has been asking me to follow up with you. Know you are expecting some resolution to your complaints.

    I hope the following is acceptable...

    1-we in no way seek to use any intellectual property outside our own. We referred to our seniors championship (and every one of our highest buy in events per discipline) as world championships only because they were recognized as such by players and media. We had zero idea of your history with the binion family when we made this decision to add the world championship designation to these ten plus events annually.

    However, we take your complaint seriously. Therefore, we've made the decision to drop the designation "world championship" from the seniors event (as well as ladies, casino employees and all the other highest buy in events) - we will now only refer to these events as "world series of poker (event) championship" - as we think that's more than good enough!

    2-therefore, if you feel confident in your registration of the seniors world championship....and seek to stage it will not receive any pushback from us.

    In fact, as professional courtesy, I am more than happy to socialize the opportunity to run a ok johnny poker tournament to all our casinos. If you want
    to put together a proposal - I will share it with marketers in atlantic city, tahoe, etc.

    3-we do, however, recognize your importance as the "elder statesman of poker" and feel honored if you continue to come to the world series.

    I am happy for you to participate with an official welcome to the players immediately before the world series of poker seniors championship event each year you choose to come to vegas. You will be introduced by the tournament director and given the microphone for some brief comments. We think this will be a great way to continue to highlight what a great ambassador you are for poker and seniors poker in particular.

    I am also very happy to pick up your hotel room for the two nights of the tournament each year you can attend. I'm happy to make reservations for you personally.

    And as a last part of the deal, I'm hoping we can make having steak and lobster dinner together (my treat) an annual tradition one of the nights around the series....I love hearing stories about the pioneers of the game. And I know you have a bunch.

    I know its been several years now that you feel you haven't got your due. Definitely want that to change and feel proud to have oklahoma johnny front and center....maybe side by side with future bracelet winner oklahoma sarah


    Ty Stewart
    Vice President
    World Series of Poker
    This seemed to smooth things over for a little while. Hale worked with Caesars to create a new Super Seniors (65+ only) event in their poker room in 2011. At the time, it was not part of the WSOP. You can go to this page to see some information about it.

    Things went south for good in 2015 when the WSOP brought the Super Seniors into its series.

    It's not entirely clear to me what happened, but Hale wanted the Super Seniors to be an event raising money for charity, and Ty Stewart apparently refused. Hale claims that Stewart told him that the WSOP was committed to only having one charity (One Drop):

    Quote Originally Posted by Oklahoma Johnny
    I was made a member of Bennie WSOP poker Hall of fame when I merged my brand, and I have won the seniors world championship of poker on the poker table and Ty will not let it be recognized. and I did win in the 1980 WSOP a Gold Bracelet on the poker table (Best All Around Poker Player in the World) in the 1980 WSOP and Ty will not recognize that. So When Ty stole my two brands and said he only wanted one charity in his WSOP (yes he told me he owned it) "One drop of Water for Africa" etc.
    The above is from his Facebook. You can find his Facebook here, and it's wide open:

    However, you will have a hard time finding content there related to this, as he posted the same message over and over (not sure why) for weeks at a time, and his page is also cluttered with a lot of right-wing political stuff, which frankly isn't very interesting to read.

    Hale and the WSOP never came to terms. In fact, Hale went to the police and FBI about this "intellectual property theft", who of course sent him away because this is a civil matter. It does not appear that Hale attempted to sue the WSOP at any point, perhaps lacking a lawyer who would take his case on contingency (I'm just guessing at that last part). Hale unfortunately took the FBI's refusal to help as an indication that they are "corrupt" -- something he was already starting to believe because Trump has been saying it. (I'm not going to get into the Trump/FBI situation here, nor do I want it discussed in this thread.)

    Hale also claimed on his Facebook that he was arrested for criminal trespassing while reporting the "crime" against him to the FBI.

    Quote Originally Posted by Oklahoma Johnny
    When I made an appointment with the local FBI OFFICE IN las Vegas I was told that appointments were not made just to come on in and report the facts to them, When my daughter took me to the Las Vegas FBI i tried to report the facts of the fraud and the international crime that was committed---I was arrested for criminal trespass.
    My guess is that someone at the FBI told him that they couldn't take his report in that particular department, and he irrationally forced his way in and demanded they listen to him. Again, just a guess but obviously the FBI doesn't arrest you for simply coming down and attempting to report something.

    Clearly Johnny was somewhat senile in his final years. You can see it in his Facebook posts -- which seem to be a mixture of lucidity and old person confusion. This isn't a knock against him. Many people, including my own late grandmother and great grandmother, have encountered declining mental capacities in their 80s and beyond.

    But what really happened here? Did the WSOP really cheat Johnny? Did they really steal his World Championship brand in 2008? Did they really "hoodwink" him, as he accused many times on his Facebook page, and illegally appropriate the Seniors and Super Seniors events?

    I can't be 100% sure, but my guess is that they didn't. I feel that this was a big misunderstanding. It was likely a coincidence that the "World Championship" designation in 2008 happened to match Johnny's seniors tournament name. Then, when they rolled in the Super Seniors in 2015, Johnny seems to have believed that he had a right to force them to make it a charity event. He didn't.

    At the same time, I can understand Hale's most recent beef in 2015. Presumably he created the original Super Seniors as a small event for Caesars in 2011, separate from the WSOP, and was paid for his contributions. However, it was likely the official property of Caesars at that point, and he was just a consultant. When they rolled it into the WSOP, he was mad that they removed the charity angle, as that portion was important to him. Caesars probably tried to explain that they couldn't keep the charity part anymore because of One Drop, but stubborn Hale wouldn't hear it. He still saw it as his, since it was his creation. And it infuriated him to see them collect "$100 per chair" for every player seated in these two popular events. He posted about this many times, noting that they collected $870,000 in rake in those two events combined in 2019.

    It is sad that they could never come to terms. I can see both sides of this, and I can see how a man like Hale could come out of it feeling screwed, when in reality he just didn't completely understand the concepts of corporate intellectual property.

    Anyway, RIP to this interesting and historical character from poker, and I hope the WSOP can at least pay tribute to him in 2020, despite the bad blood.

  2. #2
    If you dare to go through his Facebook, he had a series of other grudges/complaints with:

    Nolan Dalla (Before the start of the Seniors Event, Hale would ask players to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance)
    Jim McManus
    Matt Savage (apparently about a penalty he gave Hale in the early 2000s)

    Hed rant about the same things on his Twitter account until that got suspended.

    He was also known to go on extended monologues at the start of the WSOP Seniors Event, when most would rather start the tournament than listen to him.

  3. #3
    I somewhat knew OK Johnny Hale. It was during the years 97 to 03. I would encounter him in the middle limit cash games at the Horseshoe during the WSOP. He was a friendly person. He would sit down in a game with a copy of his book and a pen. He was looking to sell the book, which when he sold it he would go get another book to sell. He always had a book for sale when he was in the cash games.

    He also played satellites to get his WSop Final Event seat. These were not the satellites being run during the WSOP leading up to the final event. They were satellites being run every week leading up to the start of the WSOP. I don't remember the structure but Johnny always showed up for them until he won a seat.

    The first time he sat down at a game i was in I bought his book. He signed it "To one of the better players, OK Johnny Hale." That was funny because he had never ever seen me play.

    I think it was 2004 when they opened the Golden Nugget Cardroom back up. I was at the grand opening. Eric Drache made a big speech while all of his high roller poker playing friends were sitting around. The high limit stud players. And Chip and Doyle and that gang.

    When the speech was over Johnny Hale started agitating to get a 10-20 holdem game going. I walked up beside him and started agitating too. i figured I may as well win the first hand dealt in the new cardroom. I didn't know that that was Hale's plan too.

    The dealers were all green but we got one in the box, got more players, got some chips, drew for the button, and we finally got this green dealer to get a hand in the air. First hand dealt at the Golden Nugget Cardroom Grand Reopening. I was dealt pocket 7's UTG and open raised. Hale on my left re-raised. Everyone else folded. I don't remember the exact flop but it had an 8 in it and another overcard. I checked and Hale bet. I did the same on the turn and river and Hale bet both times. I called. He showed a Q-8. The only reason I payed the hand off was because I was in contention to win the first hand.

    Then Hale went into a speech "Do ya'll know that when the old Golden Nugget Cardroom closed in 87 I won the last hand dealt. Then we all walked across the street to the new Horseshoe Poker Room and I won the first hand dealt there. Now I've won the first hand dealt at the new Golden Nugget Room."

    I picked up a little history in his statement. There wasn't a Horseshoe Poker Room until 87 when the Golden Nugget closed their room. It's from fuzzy memory but I think 87 is the year he said it happend.

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