Competing Agendas at the WSOP

by Lou on July 30, 2006

It’s the first day of the World Series of Poker and in case you missed it, it’s no big deal. They’re repeating it four times over the next few days, just in case you missed anything.

There’s an excess of energy in the halls, in players walking and talking of everything and nothing that’s important. There are all kinds of World Series of Poker souvenirs in the stores, more souvenirs than you would find at a baseball game.

There’s even the World Gaming Exposition next door, which is filled by most of the major players in the poker industry and some vendors that are not really players at all. All of the online poker sites are represented, at least they are represented in their dot.net (rather than their dot.com) camouflage.

But that’s not enough. Sometime during the first day, Harrah’s came round and made all those players wearing dot.com shirts cover the “dot.com” representation, turn their shirts inside out, or change their attire. I watched representatives from Poker stars run round the room with black duct tape for players who won their way into the main event via one of their satellites. I imagine all the other sites were doing the same.

Back in the dark ages of the World Series of Poker, which was about four years ago, this was simply a poker tournament that received some, but not much, press coverage. It was funky, informal, there was ease of access, and everyone worked with each other for a common goal.

That’s all changed. It’s hard to get this big without that happening, and now there are so many stakeholders in the WSOP that differing objectives are always going to be in place. Toes get stepped on. Feelings get hurt. Bad decisions are made because holding the best and most important poker tournament in the world is no longer the only goal. A multitude of stakeholders inevitably leads to somewhat competing goals and objectives.

1. Harrah’s want to turn profit and to brand themselves with the cachet of the WSOP, while branding the WSOP with their unique identity.
2. Harrah’s shareholders want to earn a return on their investment.
3. Players want a poker tournament.
4. ESPN wants to produce TV programming.
5. Dealers always find an issue regarding the status of their employment or their pay every year.
6. Big and small media comes into conflict each year. Bigger, traditional media that can promote ESPN’s coverage and the Harrah’s brand, and media that pays for some form of exclusivity want as much of that as they can get, even if it cuts off blogger access. Unfortunately for the poker fan, blogger reports are usually more insightful than “big media” end products, simply because they have a better knowledge of the game. (I find the reporting of people like Tim Lavalli, Amy Calistri, Pauly McGuire, Jen Leo and other bloggers much more worthwhile a read than mainstream coverage.)
7. Fans of poker want to be able to see the tournament, which is something that’s damn near impossible with the set-up in place now. Some sort of arena seating plus TV monitors and lipstick cameras would be a terrific addition to next year’s event. If this can be addressed, perhaps the promoters can provide increased media access too, thus solving two problems at once.
8. Vendors of everything from online poker rooms, to magazines, to affiliates, to apparel manufacturers want an outlet to show and sell their wares.

While I was musing about the WSOP, it was interesting to pick up a newspaper over breakfast and find that there was still a real world with real-world issues going on. Israel called up 30,000 reservists. Floyd Landis’ incredible Tour de France victory may be in jeopardy over allegations of doping. Finally, I found an issue that tied all of this together.

Jack Binion, the guy who helped build the WSOP to what it was a few years ago was named chairman of Wynn International and senior executive for it’s Asian operations and development. If you’re having trouble making sense of the title, it means that Jack is now the king of hosts in Macao, and tasked with luring the highest of the high rollers into the new Wynn property in Macao which is slated to open on September 5th. This means Jack Binion will go mano-a-mano with Stanley Ho, the gaming king of Asia – or at least he was until Wynn threw down the gauntlet.

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