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Part 2 -- Pollack Discusses 40th World Series of Poker

WSOP Commissioner Talks About Major Changes


Jeffrey PollackWith just a little over a week remaining until the start of the 40th World Series of Poker, Jeffrey Pollack sits down with Card Player to talk about the upcoming Series and how it has changed over the years. Part 1 of the Pollack interview debuted Friday.

Card Player: The WSOP is the richest sporting event in the world, but it retains a fun and festive atmosphere to it. Can you speak a little bit about how you managed to keep that sense of entertainment a part of the Series, even with the amount of money that is on the line?

Jeffrey Pollack: It’s just poker, ultimately. It’s Las Vegas. And if you can’t have fun with that and create an environment and experience that’s fun, then you’re not doing your job right.

We like to say that we’re the Wimbledon of poker, but we’re not Wimbledon. It’s a very different experience. The roots of the WSOP are about Las Vegas, a little bit of the Wild West, some of the colorful characters. From the very beginning, this has been about fun.

If you just look at the early days of the tournament: they brought guys in and voted on who should be the champion. It was loose, and they had a good time with it. We tried to stay true to that.

And this year, you’ll see the introduction of Poker Palooza, which will be a really great celebration of poker and gaming lifestyles. I think our attempt to bring a sense of entertainment into the Amazon ballroom, whether it’s Wayne Newton saying shuffle up and deal or singing a song, or having a marching band, whatever it is, showgirls and all of that, not forgetting where we are. And where we are is Las Vegas — the entertainment capital of the world.

At the same time, you’re right, we are the richest sporting event in the world. It’s the most prestigious poker event, and people come more for the bracelet than anything else. The World Series of Poker bracelet is the crown jewel of poker. It’s the prize that everyone wants to win. It’s how poker players measure themselves against each other globally, and we take the presentation of the bracelet very seriously.

As a result, this year, we are now going to have an Olympic-style bracelet ceremony every day at 2:20 p.m. in the middle of the Amazon ballroom with a proper presentation and setting, while playing the player’s national anthem. We’re going to take something that was happening typically under the cover of darkness at two or three in the morning, and put the spotlight on it in a way that the spotlight should’ve always been on it.

We’re going to bring back the bracelet winners the next day, let the whole tournament room and all of the media and the poker world see who they are, and do it right. And we’re very excited about that.

CP: From the delayed final table to WSOPE to the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. event to this year’s WSOP Champions Invitational, you guys have introduced quite a few new things to the World Series of Poker in the last few years. Do you think there are still a lot of big surprises left in the years ahead?

JP: Well, I don’t think of them as surprises as much as I do expressions of innovation. This year, we have the Champions Invitational; you know all about that. It’s a great way to celebrate the main event, which really is the biggest spectacle in all of poker. We’re bringing these winners back to see who will be the champion of champions, and to honor the Binions with the Binion Cup. Jack is going to be there to present it, and we’re really excited about that.

We consider Jack to be the patriarch of poker, and none of us would be here were it not for the Binions. We love that he’s going to be with us this summer, and as I said to him, he’s always welcome. This is still his home in many ways, and the WSOP will always be the Binion legacy.

We also have a $40,000 no-limit hold’em event, which I think is a great way to bring together the best no-limit hold’em players in a concentrated field, probably resulting in one of the best final tables anyone has ever seen. Whether or not we continue that beyond this year, we’ll see. Right now, it’s just for this year.

I think that every year, we put it on ourselves to examine the schedule with a very critical eye, listen to what we heard the year prior, and innovate. The increase in the number of starting chips is a result in listening to player feedback, just one of many things that Jack Effel and Howard Greenbaum have focused on to make this tournament play as exciting as can be. And again, it’s responsive to customer demand.

We’re always going to be looking for new ways to grow interest in the game, and that’s really what we’re focused on. I don’t know what the next new thing is going to be beyond this year. I think we have a couple of good things for this year. I think the final table weekend is extended a little bit; I’m now starting to talk about it as the champions weekend as opposed to the final table weekend, because we’re going to celebrate the Hall of Fame in a new way. We’ve got this new nomination and selection process. Seth Palansky has provided incredible leadership there.

When we all got here, we said, “We’ve got to do more with the Hall of Fame,” we had some things that we had to do first, but I’m glad that in year four, we’ve gotten to really elevating the Hall of Fame in a new way. Doing the induction ceremony last year on the final table stage was also a step forward. This year, we have a new nomination and selection process. We have a special dinner honoring Hall of Fame members and inductees. We’re going to have a small Hall of Fame tournament for all of the living members of the Hall of Fame. We haven’t set the date on that yet.

So, for the 40th WSOP, I think we’ve done well in continuing to innovate. For No. 41, we’ll go through this year, as we’ve done every year, and figure out what we missed and what we can change and what we can do for next year.

CP: ESPN isn’t televising any non-hold’em events this year. How is the World Series planning on marketing other games besides hold’em to the general public?

JP: It’s in part recognizing what people want to watch. ESPN is really the expert on that. They’ve been airing the WSOP for a long time, they’ve aired a lot of different events, they’ve aired circuit events, they’ve aired what’s happening in Las Vegas and now Europe. They know how to program better than anyone else. So we listen carefully when they give us feedback on what makes for good television.

But what makes for good television is a function of what people are interested in. And no-limit hold’em, some would say for better or for worse, is by far the most popular expression of the game. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other forms of the game that have an audience — maybe a smaller audience — but if you look at our schedule every year, it’s not the World Series of No-Limit Hold’em and those who say that don’t look carefully enough at the schedule.

We have almost every variant of poker that’s meaningful and known to man somewhere on our schedule. We don’t have every single one, but we’re going to keep looking at it this year so that we’re staging the events that need to be staged not only because of their popularity, but because of their importance.

We have some events that only get a couple hundred players. We could use that slot for events that would get a couple thousand players, but we don’t do that because those other events are important for celebrating the history and the heritage and the completeness of the WSOP. We see it as incumbent upon ourselves to offer the broadest palate of poker events anywhere in the world.

That doesn’t mean that all of them will make it onto television or onto the Internet, but I will say that while ESPN has four events for TV this year, we’re doing 24 on broadband coverage, ESPN 360. In the digital age, having coverage through the Internet is pretty meaningful, almost as meaningful in some instances as television. It lives forever on the Internet, so we see that broadband coverage may not be used the same as TV coverage, but the coverage is there, and we’re trying to make sure that none of our history is lost by virtue of some events not being on TV.

With that, I would say that as other games of poker become more popular over the years, we’re going to be responsive to that and I’m sure ESPN will be, as well.

CP: So you don’t particularly see it as the World Series’ focus or responsibility to try to help those other games become popular? You see your role as more responsive to what people want to play?

JP: I think we have a responsibility to offer, as I said before, as many variants of the game as possible, and our customers will tell us which are most popular. Any event that’s held at the WSOP, that’s a pretty big deal as far as we’re concerned.

Going back to things we’ve done, we’ve made community relations very important to the WSOP. We think we have a responsibility to be engaged in the community, both locally and globally. Since Las Vegas, Nevada, is our home and we’re a global brand, we have a partnership with the Nevada Cancer Institute and Ante Up for Africa. Those are two very concrete expressions of our commitment to giving back, and trying to have an impact on the community beyond the staging of the events.

CP: Harrah’s has shown its support for Barney Frank’s new bill. Can you speak a little bit about how you personally feel about it, and where you envision the World Series going in terms of online gaming?

JP: I can say professionally and as an executive here: Our view is that millions of Americans are playing online poker and gambling online, and have been doing so for years. And despite efforts to date, they still do it in an unregulated environment without proper oversight and mechanisms for consumer protection and safeguards. We think that this is very much a consumer-protection issue, and we think our government should do what our government does very well typically, which is provide for consumer protection.

CP: Do you guys have any ideas how you will incorporate online gaming should this bill become law?

JP: Don’t know yet. We haven’t figured that out yet.

CP: You’ve been in this role for four years now. Do you see yourself staying another four years?

JP: If my bosses will have me.

Note: This interview was edited for clarity. The World Series begins on May 27.



13 years ago

W.S.O.P. 2009 in one more week, woohoo!!! but seriously, other than the outstanding vig charges on the events, i do like the direction Harrah's is taking the WSOP. Every year it gets better and better and with enough trial and error who knows how great it can become???


13 years ago

As someone who is pretty new to the poker world environment, I'm very impressed by the direction being taken to bring poker into the mainstream. The attention to detail by Jeffrey Pollack will definitely have an effect on the public-at-large, and the mix of atmosphere showcasing the importance of the bracelets with just general fun sounds perfect for both the players and visitors.