Back in 2005 the World Series of Poker rules included the original "F Bomb" rule. Back then the rule was simply: Use the "F" word — get a penalty. The player reaction was nearly unanimous that this was a very bad rule. But it took over a year for the WSOP and other tours and card rooms to move away from the "zero tolerance" policy to a more enlightened rule, which said that only language directed at another player, dealer or tournament official would be considered for punishment.
Now, in 2009, the WSOP has modified its language policy again and given us a new rule (Rule 36) on the topic:
36. Harrah's prohibits the use of obscene or foul language in any public area of the casino at any time. Any player who uses such language or makes a foul, profane, obscene or vulgar statement, or speaks abusively or in an intimidating manner to another player, a dealer or a Tournament staff member, will be penalized. These penalties will be levied based on Rules 31, 52 and 53.
The problem many players have is with the use of the word "will", as in "will be penalized". It sounds like we are back to the days of "F Bomb I" or worse, because this rule does not single out the highly offensive "F" word. The mere use of foul language in any public area at any time seems a regression back to the pottymouth-police days, when dealers were expected to turn in players for any violation.
I went to WSOP tournament director Jack Effel for his comments and interpretation. Jack pointed out the last line of the rule, which states: "These penalties will be levied based on Rules 31, 52 and 53. What we may have missed is that a verbal warning is considered a penalty under this rule. So a floor person might merely say to a player: 'Watch your language please.'"
Effel pointed out that the intention of the rules are to give the floor personnel more tools with which to operate in what at times is a chaotic environment. Players may indeed be warned for language, but we should not expect the language police to reappear. Apparently the rule is meant to cover continual infractions and to allow a floor person to give a clear warning to a player who seems to be getting out of hand.
In other words, there should not be a repeat of either the Scotty Nguyen or the Phil Hellmuth incidents from last summer. The players will be warned as soon as it is obvious to the staff that they are near or over the language line. A verbal warning carries the implied threat of more severe action but both will be used at the discretion of the floor staff.
Effel also pointed out that the penalties now include a "one hand" penalty. So a player who has been warned could be pulled away for one hand on their second violation and spoken to privately; something along the lines of: "Sorry if we were not clear before but you were warned about X and you are now missing a hand so that we can be clear about our seriousness in enforcing our ban on further occurrences of X. Got it?"
It will be interesting to follow the enforcement of the new rules as the 57-event WSOP plays out this summer.