Poker Coverage:

Tournament Directors Weigh In Post Black Friday About Pending Poker Legislation

Jack McClelland and Matt Savage Weigh in on their Experience since April 15


Jack McClellandA handful of live tournament poker series have taken place since the major online poker rooms were indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday, April 15. The major tournaments since Black Friday have shown mixed results, but there has not been any major fluctuations in tournament attendance so far. Two tournament directors who have hosted tournament series since that time are Jack McClelland with the Five-Star World Poker Classic at Bellagio and Matt Savage with the California State Poker Championship at Commerce Casino.

Both men were at Bellagio last week for the World Poker Tour World Championship event. Card Player caught up with each of them and they shared their thoughts about hosting tournaments post-Black Friday. They also expressed their opinions on the future of live poker tournaments in this new landscape.

Interview with Jack McClelland — Tournament Director at Bellagio

Ryan Lucchesi: The numbers for the WPT World Championship increased this year. Did that increase also apply to the overall turnout for the Five-Star World Poker Classic tournament series?

Jack McClelland: We were up some, the main thing that made the change was moving from April to May. We had been in the April time slot for years and PokerStars came right on top of us with their championship. I finally just said to myself you can have April and I will take May.

RL: How has the turnout for your daily tournaments and cash games at Bellagio been affected since Black Friday?

JM: We have seen a little bit of increase plus we have seen a substantial increase in the small-limit games and a little bit of an increase in the medium and high limit games. I don’t know how much that is due to Black Friday and how much of that is due to how close we’re getting to the World Series. It’s hard to tell.

RL: Do you plan on making any changes to your tournament series moving forward to adjust for Black Friday?

JM: We have tournaments 365 days a year here. Right now we have three major tournament series planned, the Doyle Brunson Classic in December, the Bellagio Cup in July, and then the World Poker Tour Championship next year. We have a lot of other things ready to go like the Onyx Cup and things like that, but with Black Friday those things are on hold.

RL: One thing that won’t change is that Bellagio will continue its partnership with the World Poker Tour through Season XI. How did you feel about that announcement coming out during a time where there is so much uncertainty?

JM: I’m sure we have had a good nine-year relationship so we decided to extend that a little bit. I think the World Poker Tour is happy with our relationship and hopes it blossoms and grows. One of these days the legislators will get their act together so we can’t start building everything back up again.

RL: In terms of the poker world it feels like we have gone back in time a couple of years to when the only game in town was live cash games and tournaments. What was it like in the years before the Moneymaker boom in terms of live poker tournaments, before the online force really came into play?

JM: They were smaller. People were scared of no-limit hold’em. Then there was the perfect storm with the internet, the World Poker Tour showing hole cards on TV, and Moneymaker showing that you could essentially become a lottery winner playing poker. All of that worked together and it was just growing, growing, growing until UIGEA.

RL: Do you feel that games other than no-limit hold’em might become popular once again?

JM: Well, they still show no-limit hold’em all the time on live TV and that’s what most of the people want to play. Ten years ago you could only find one no-limit game if you were lucky and now probably two-thirds of the room is no limit.

RL: Do you feel that large poker rooms like the one at Bellagio have the responsibility to be a steward of the game during this stretch where online poker is unavailable?

JM: Yes, I think it’s important and we were ranked the number one poker room this past year for the seventh consecutive year in Las Vegas.

RL: What is the future of big buy-in tournaments not only at Bellagio but across the country?

JM: So much depends on the economy. The main thing is to pass the legislation in regards to the internet and people will feel a lot more comfortable coming into Bellagio and taking a couple thousand out of their account and then we could also run satellites online with steps to our events, where you could turn $5 into a $25,000 tournament buy-in. Until we get that capability it is going to be very hard to grow.

RL: What would be some of the challenges of a huge influx of online players into the poker room at Bellagio?

JM: You have the lottery-winner mentality where everyone wants to come in for $20 or $40 and $2 million like Chris Moneymaker. Brick and mortar places, you can’t really do that, you can’t run $20 tournaments to get into a $100 tournament to get into a $1,000 tournament because it is just too costly to run. Staffing and expenses makes it not worthwhile to us. If you’re playing online with eight minute rounds it works, but if I want to have a satellite with eight minute rounds people would be fleeing the room [laughs].

RL: Do you see Bellagio partnering with an online poker room to operate in Nevada once the U.S, government legalizes online poker in light of the bill passed by the Nevada State Assembly?

JM: That’s above my pay grade. I know we have plans, but I don’t know exactly what they are. If they allow someone to get a license if they apply with a casino in good standing that is a win-win for everybody because now instead of having 500 customers you would have 10 million. That’s the logical thing to do, to make it federal and to make the headquarters in Las Vegas. Logic isn’t always what takes place.

RL: That would have to be a dream scenario for you to run tournaments online and then you get to stage a main event that is physically possible from a logistics angle. If online poker were legalized how big do you think some of the WPT main events at Bellagio could become?

JM: If we get it legalized I could see that in two or three years we could have 1,000 players for a $25,000 buy-in. We were up to almost 700 before they changed the law.

RL: What was the mood amongst players and tournament staff during the WPT World Championship?

JM: There is such a cloud over everything with the internet stuff. Everybody talks about it but we don’t have any control over it so there isn’t much we can do. We were up 15 percent in the main event which was good. For our first $100,000 buy-in I had estimated 25 players, hoping that it wasn’t 15, but we got 29 players so that was good. Everybody was happy there. I think those numbers were good. Until we get the internet stuff figured out we will have to try to run with our hands and feet tied. I have been doing this for 35 years and I’m pretty good at coming up with ideas, but in my bag of tricks I can now see the hole in the bottom.

Matt SavageInterview with Matt Savage — Tournament Director at California State Poker Championship and Executive Tour Director for the World Poke Tour

RL: What has been your experience both at Bellagio and Commerce Casino running tournaments since Black Friday?

Matt Savage: I don’t know exactly how this is going to affect live poker but I have seen more players coming in and more that I haven’t seen in a long-time to play smaller buy-in events. At the Cal State Poker Championship I have seen more internet guys coming in to play in tournaments, but the field sizes are about where they were last year. I know there are a lot of things going on and that there is a lot of confusion. I don’t have anymore answers than anyone else as far as how things will play out long term.

My first event after Black Friday was WPT Florida and we had 433 players which is a good number for an inaugural event. It’s hard to say. I know I had a bunch of players who said they were coming not show up and then some players who said they weren’t coming did show up.

RL: Do you see some of the tournaments that were popular before the poker boom rise to prominence once again with the no-limit hold’em focus of online poker slowed down for the time being?

MS: I hope so; you know I like to play H.O.R.S.E., stud eight, and Omaha so I hope they become more popular. I think we will probably see them played more in a live setting then before but I just don’t know yet.

RL: What factors will you take into account now when planning a new tournament series?

MS: What I’m doing right now is more events and I will keep adding faster events. Deep stack tournaments are very popular and I think now people want to play more volume in a live setting. I will offer two or three events a day like we are already doing out at Commerce. I think schedules like that will become more and more popular.

RL: One thing you recently implemented at Commerce for the Cal State Poker Championship was the Facebook tournament. How important is it to use every tool available to give players a chance to play live, whether it is social media or other options to attract more players?

MS: I don’t do too much on Facebook but I think it is a great idea to use it as a tool and I think it is vital for poker tournaments to use it, and that is what we hope to do at Commerce. More and more people are using Twitter as well as a way to spread information to players. You can get links to your articles and different stories through Twitter and it’s a good thing that is going on in the poker world. Social media is going to be a big part of the game of poker for a long time. We already have had more than 400 players RSVP for the Facebook tournament.

RL: All the major seasons came to an end this month and we haven’t seen any new season schedules just yet so the picture isn’t clear concerning the future of live tours in the U.S. and Europe. How long do you think it will take for the full effect that Black Friday has had on major poker tours to come into focus?

MS: I think it is going to have a major affect, but I don’t think the changes are complete. We will have to see what happens. I see the new World Poker Tour schedule coming out in the next month or so.