Luke Vrabel sat calmly in his black Iron Maiden t-shirt at table No. 678 at Bally’s Event Center on Saturday, alternating between friendly banter with other players and checking his phone.
The last thing he wanted to do was draw negative attention to himself.
“I’m really happy to be back,” Vrabel said. “It’s been amazing.”
Five years ago, Vrabel was banned from the World Series of Poker and all Caesars Entertainment properties following an incident at the “Colossus” No-limit Hold’em tournament.
But he was reinstated this summer by WSOP Vice President Jack Effel before the start of the $10,000 Main Event No-limit Hold’em World Championship and was increasing the chip count before the Day 3 dinner break. tournament.
The Main Event, which drew the second-largest field in its history with 8,663 entrants, continues Sunday with Day 4.
Vrabel declined to discuss the reasons for his ban on Saturday, but posted in 2017 on poker forum twoplustwo.com and Facebook about the incident. He also appeared in 2017 as a guest on the “HighRollerRadioTV” podcast to explain what happened.
According to Vrabel’s posts and interview, the West Hartford, Connecticut poker pro was heckled by a group of fans with 10 players remaining at the 2017 “Colossus” event at the Rio Convention Center.
Vrabel said on the podcast that he asked a tournament director to silence the fans, but claimed he was told: “They didn’t do anything wrong. Sit down and deal with it. When the taunts escalated, Vrabel said in the interview that he asked the tournament director to remove the fans.
Section 40-c of the WSOP Official Rules states that “All participants are entitled to expect civility and courtesy from one another at every table and throughout the WSOP area. Anyone who encounters a Behavior that is not civil or courteous – or that is abusive in any way – is encouraged to immediately contact a WSOP Tournament Official.
Vrabel, who admits he too can be loud and difficult at the table at times, said in the interview that security was called soon after. But rather than being posted near the fans, the two guards were posted on either side of Vrabel as he played.
After play was halted with nine players remaining, Vrabel posted that he confronted the tournament director and the two faced off again. According to Vrabel’s posts and interview, the tournament director called it an obscenity.
“(I) here I’m playing for $1 million…greatest moment of my wsop career by far, and this guy is siding with the spectators,” Vrabel wrote on twoplustwo.com.
Vrabel returned the next day for the final table and was eliminated in the sixth hand in ninth place for nearly $80,000. Afterwards, he posted that he would never play the WSOP again.
According to unconfirmed posts on twoplustwo.com, Vrabel was banned soon after due to the incident during “Colossus” and his subsequent comments about it on social media and podcast interviews.
Effel declined through a spokesperson to be interviewed about Vrabel. The spokesperson said Caesars does not comment on security procedures or, in this case, reinstatements.
Vrabel said on Saturday that his friend and fellow poker player, Nicholas Palma, last week spoke to Effel on his behalf to try to get the ban lifted.
Vrabel was about to play a $400 buy-in event at Aria recently when he said he received a phone call from Effel.
“He called me personally and he was like, ‘You’re back. We’re leaving all of that in the past and moving on,'” Vrabel said. “I was praying. I could see it in (Palma’s) eyes that he really felt it. So I was like, ‘Maybe he’s right.’
“Jack called me and boom, here I am.”
Vrabel, who first gained recognition in 2011 when he won nearly $700,000 and a Lamborghini in the online PokerStars Sunday Million, saw his stack fluctuate wildly over the first three levels on Day 3.
After starting with 119,000 chips, Vrabel lost nearly 25% of his stack early on and then recovered just short of the 200,000 chip mark.
He dived again, but about an hour before the 6 p.m. dinner break, Vrabel scored a key double with jacks. He was sitting on 331,000 chips (82 big blinds) when play stalled as the money bubble edged closer.
Poker pro Michael Rocco was the unofficial dinner break leader with 1.4 million chips.
“Most people are thrilled (I’m back) because they know I’m a good guy and it shouldn’t have come to this point,” Vrabel said. “I’m having a good time.”