Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, a mainstay among top poker venues worldwide, stepped back into the limelight after the turn of the new year with its The Return series (run in conjunction with BetMGM Poker), which ran from Jan. 2-8. The series was well received and even better attended, with over $8.5 million in prize pools across three primary events.
The $5,300 Main Event shattered its $3 million guarantee, amassing a prize pool of greater than $5.5 million, with Pennsylvania poker players Bin Weng and Joe McKeehen winning and taking third, respectively.
Before the Main Event, Borgata’s first-ever Mystery Bounty tournament was just as big of a hit. The $2,200 event drew 1,361 entries, creating a total prize pool above $2.6 million, including $1 million in mystery bounties.
Weng, McKeehen represent PA at ‘The Return’ Main Event final table
Borgata’s The Return Main Event drew 1,142 runners across two starting flights, producing a prize pool of $5,538,700 paid to the top-110 places. The money bubble burst after dinner on day two, and Philadelphia’s Bin Weng led the final 53 at the end of the day.
Another full day brought the field to the final table of eight after 2015 WSOP Main Event Champion Joe McKeehen, of North Wales, delivered a cooler to Grant Lang’s pocket kings to eliminate him in ninth place. The two had nearly identical stacks before the hand, giving McKeehen a commanding lead going into the final day.
Both players caught more heat at the final table, with Weng notching the first two knockouts and McKeehen the next two. Weng added a third when he eliminated Jon Borenstein in fourth place and overtook the chip lead from McKeehen after winning a huge coin flip with ace-king suited to pocket jacks.
Three-handed play continued for two more hours until McKeehen was coolered once more, his pocket kings losing all-in preflop to Sundiata Devore’s pocket kings. Moments later, he fell in third.
Shortly after heads-up play began, Weng and Devore agreed to flatten the top-two prizes before returning to battle. Weng ultimately came out on top in another all-in preflop scenario, with his ace-king holding against Devore’s ace-queen to earn the first seven-figure score of his career.
$5,300 ‘The Return’ final table results
|1||Bin Weng||Philadelphia, PA||$1,000,000*|
|2||Sundiata Devore||Brooklyn, NY||$926,128*|
|3||Joe McKeehen||North Wales, PA||$440,327|
|4||Jonathan Borenstein||Teaneck, NJ||$368,324|
|5||Justin Saliba||Las Vegas, NV||$304,629|
|6||Lanny Vaysman||Rego Park, NY||$246,472|
|7||Christopher Ng||Monticello, NY||$193,855|
|8||Sam Laskowitz||Bayport, NY||$144,006|
*Denotes heads-up deal
The wait for live tournament poker was worth it
Pennsylvanians have been starved for big poker tournaments in the region since 2020’s coronavirus shutdown.
Although many poker rooms in the region reopened after a months-long break that year, they stuck to running cash games and smaller daily tournaments. Elements of tournament series, such as increased room capacities and traveling players, created a greater risk for exposure. Lots of poker rooms avoided this.
Now, we can comfortably look back on that hiatus in the rearview mirror. Even better, the tremendous turnouts at Borgata demonstrate a still–healthy poker economy in the northeast.
2023 ‘The Return’ series results
|$2,200 Mystery Bounty||$1 million in bounties||1,361||$2,670,340||Sam Laskowitz||$146,609*|
|$5,300 'The Return' Main Event||$3 million||1,142||$5,538,700||Bin Weng||$1,000,000*|
|$2,100 Bounty Event||$150,000||500||$485,000||Soukha Kachittavong||$70,194*|
*Denotes prize after deal was made (not including bounties, if applicable)
Be on the lookout for more live poker tournaments in 2023
The success of The Return gives Borgata grounds to run more (and even bigger) events throughout the year. However, the implications stretch further than that. Other poker room managers undoubtedly watched to see how things panned out and will follow suit as 2023 unfolds.
MGM Resorts’ Director of Poker Strategy, Sean McCormack, hinted at more tournaments on Twitter following the conclusion of the series, saying that it was “just the beginning” and concluding the tweet with, “#StayTuned.”
If you’re trying to jump right back into the action (and are willing to drive a few hours), MGM National Harbor’s Potomac Winter Poker Open runs from Jan. 25 to Feb. 6 in Maryland. The series has 16 events, featuring a $500K GTD Mystery Bounty event and another $500K GTD Main Event.
As for more Atlantic City casino tournaments, we hope to see other festivals surrounding the World Poker Tour and WSOP Circuit return in the second half of the year. WPT typically announces tournaments all year long, while the WSOP Circuit’s current season wraps up in May.
Hopefully, AC will have a stop when the 2023-24 schedule arrives.