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World Series of Poker Q and A -- Nolan Dalla

Dalla Talks about the Attendance Numbers and Compelling Stories so far at the 2011 World Series of Poker

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Nolan Dalla in the Amazon RoomThe title of hardest working man at the World Series of Poker might very well belong to media director Nolan Dalla. You can be sure that no one spends more time at the Rio each summer then Dalla. He stays with each and every final table until the end, and he has had the job with Harrah’s since 2002. Before that he was P.R. director at Binion’s Horseshoe starting in 2001.

He also wrote for Card Player, and in 2005 he co-wrote the book One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey “The Kid” Ungar.

Card Player caught up with Dalla at the start of the 2011 WSOP this summer for a discussion of the early events that have taken place in the Amazon Room. He also talks about the growth of tournament attendance, despite Black Friday, and how April 15 might continue to affect the game of poker.

Ryan Lucchesi: There have been a lot of eyes on the attendance numbers this summer and there has been growth overall so far. What do you think this says about the poker industry with the World Series as a barometer for the poker industry?

Nolan Dalla: The barometer of poker and the barometer of the World Series of Poker are two different things. Fortunately, the World Series of Poker regardless of the challenge or the crises, wherever it has happened and whenever it has happened it has been able to indisputably maintain its status as the premiere event in poker. No one in the world can argue with that statement.

I think we can agree given a number of factor leading into this year, including the economic recession that began in 2008 and the after effects of that and having the Black Friday news in April we certainly wondered if we could overcome yet another challenge. I think clearly, if you look at the numbers through the first 20 events the answer is absolutely yes.

The important thing to look at is the $1,000 buy-ins and $1,500 buy-ins and they are getting huge fields. That in my view is the barometer for the industry itself, and particularly the World Series health.

One thing that people might not be aware of is that not only is tournament attendance up but also satellites and particularly cash games are up. Cash games here at the Rio the last five years have always been secondary to tournaments. Even a lot of places around town looked at the Rio kind of as an afterthought, and they would go to different places and play cash games and so forth. But now you come to the Rio and you have it all. You have the satellites, you have the tournaments, and you have the cash games. Cash games are up 12 percent as of this morning. I don’t know of any place in town that can say they’re up that much over last year.

RL: Do you think that growth stems from the fact that many players who live in remote areas and travel to Vegas in the summer are using the Rio as an outlet to get action because the online games they used to rely on are no longer available?

ND: I completely agree with you that there is an uncertain market out there that just fanatically wants to come and play poker somewhere. Their ability to play online poker has been taken away so where do they go? There is really only one destination for serious poker players, and that is the World Series of Poker. I clearly think that we are feeling some of the benefits of what happened.

RL: I think we will see both positive and negative effects stem from Black Friday. Where do you think the balance between those forces will fall for poker or the WSOP?

ND: Philosophically, anyone who loves this game is troubled and disturbed by what happened. Nevertheless, we are moving on. We planned this event many, many months ago, before any of the negative events took place. I’m just pleased how things have gone so far.

RL: Another positive thing for the 2011 World Series was the announcement of increased television coverage of the event by ESPN, which was also planned before the events of Black Friday. How big of an entertainment force has poker become in this country?

ND: That is a very interesting question. I think the jury is still out on what the finished product is going to look like on television and what the audience response will be. That remains to be determined. However, from what we can see here with the brand-new stage only a few feet away from where we are having this conversation we can agree that this is the most awesome spectacle of a stage anyone has ever seen at a poker event, or at any gaming event in the history of the world. For those of you who have not been here, it is simply something that you have to see for yourself.

RL: How important do you think the entertainment value of poker will be during this stretch to hold fans’ interest when many of them can no longer play the game the way they have grown accustomed to online?

ND: I will say that clearly what we have seen through 20 events so far is that poker fame is accessible to more people now than ever before, poker fame and fortune I should say. All the players who have won so far for the most part were first-time winners, and players who have by-and-large come into final tables and cashed are online players, who are known in the online community, but they really have almost no live tournament record or resume to speak of, now we are going to see a lot of these players come out of the shadows, they’re coming out of their homes.

They are shaking up the entire industry in a sense, because these players can play. These players are the barometer of excellence now in the game of poker. It is not so much the famous, familiar names that everyone knows. It may very-well be said that a 22-year-old who have put in a monstrous number of hours is as good as any player in the world.

RL: What have been some of the highlights that have stood out to you so far at the 2011 World Series? You have seen more final tables than anyone so you can spot the great tables amongst the dozens that have transpired.

ND: The neat thing about working the World Series of Poker as you know Ryan is that everyday when we walk in here we do not know what is going to happen. Some days are clearly more exciting than others. Some days are truly exceptional moments. We certainly saw that a few nights ago with the Phil Hellmuth-John Juanda match. It was very good to see what I call old-school poker being played and so many people coming to watch that.

I think it was good to see that; however it’s just as good to see a mix of the new blood as you called it coming into the game, and we have seen a lot of new blood. It is literally a blood bath if you’re over the age of 30 here at the World Series of Poker, so many players who we haven’t seen too much of are winning and doing very well.

I guess some of my favorite moments so far were hearing players and their stories about how they got here. We had Brian Rast win the other day and he only played in the event because he ran into Antonio Esfandiari at the Panorama Towers. That was a great story. The accidents of fate, how sometimes people just kind of stumble into a victory. It just takes an enormous number of perfect storms to make it to a final table, and then ultimately to win.

I think the neatest thing of all is when I’m looking around this room right now and there are about 1,200 people in here, one or two of these people in the next 24 hours are going to win bracelets and thousands in prize money. The entire poker universe changes essentially every 24 hours in this building.

For those who go to sporting events, when you look at a football, baseball, or basketball game you are looking at a closed environment. There might be 22 people on the field, and it will differ depending on the sport, and you just watch one thing going on and you focus. Here you essentially have 300 football fields going on at once. You have all these different players, egos, problems, personalities. All these different conflicts come together and create in a sense a unique dynamic in every single game.

RL: Every sport needs that renewal of talent to keep the game advancing and growing and online poker has provided the resource to grow poker talent’s base. Do you think that the absence of online poker is going to slow down that growth moving forward? Will countries who do still have that outlet like England now gain an advantage? How important is it to get online gaming regulated and back on its feet in the U.S. so players here don’t fall behind or so new generations of players aren’t precluded from starting their poker education?

ND: That’s a very interesting question. It remains to be seen what the impact will be. These British players have played extraordinary poker. Caesars Entertainment and the World Series of Poker have backed online poker’s legalization and regulation inside the United States for a number of years and are now really at the forefront of the liberation of the freedoms of poker players.