If you have been living in a cave for the past twelve months or off on a year-long trip to help save the rainforest, you might have missed the news that the 2005 World Series of Poker is just around the corner! Since most of the poker community marks their calendar as to when the biggest poker tournament in the world occurs, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the WSOP is virtually on the doorstep. In two months, beginning June 2nd, the best the poker world has to offer, as well as the amateurs who may become the next great players of the game, will all convene in Las Vegas.
Harrah's firmed up their team for this year's event on March 22nd when they named Gary Thompson the Director of World Series of Poker Tournament Operations and Communications. Thompson has the daunting task of preparing the Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino, the Horseshoe (where final table play will be held), and everyone else involved with the tournament for the onslaught of what will be the richest and largest poker tournament ever conducted. I had a chance to speak with Gary and see just where everyone stands only eight weeks before the big event.
PN: First off, congratulations on your new position. What is your normal schedule and how does your new job increase your responsibilities and hours?
GT: Thanks, Earl. For the past five years, I've been director of communications for Harrah's Entertainment, working on our overall communications strategy, dealing with the media, producing the annual report and other publications. In the new position, I'll be working with Ken Lambert, Nolan Dalla, Howard Greenbaum and the rest of the WSOP tournament team to help coordinate tournament activities for the WSOP and WSOP Circuit events. In addition, I'll be working with Ginny Shanks, our senior vice president of acquisition marketing, and the rest of a very talented, creative and energetic corporate WSOP team on expansion of the brand through strategic alliances, sponsorships, distribution through new delivery channels and other things.
PN: How many players can the WSOP tournaments count on to this point? How many specifically in the Main Event?
GT: We expect between 15,000 to 20,000 or more in total for the entirety of the event and between 5,000 and 6,000 for the Main Event alone.
PN: So we can expect last year's records to be smashed by this year's tournament?
GT: Yes. We expect the total prize pool for all 45 events to approach $100 million, and the Main Event's purse to exceed $50 million.
PN: What do you expect to bring to the most prestigious event in poker?
GT: Harrah's will bring its financial strength, marketing expertise and commitment to customer service to the brand. We recognize the popularity of poker and the opportunities the World Series brings to players, who can share in the biggest prize purse in all of sports, gain celebrity for themselves and, win or lose, have a truly enjoyable experience by simply participating in the game.
PN: How will the move from the Horseshoe to the Rio affect attendance and player participation?
GT: Because of the explosive growth in interest in the World Series, the event simply outgrew the space available at the Horseshoe. We've built a 60,000 square-foot convention space at the Rio that will have room for 200 tables and provide greater comfort and accessibility to the players, as well as to the media and fans who want to experience the excitement of the event.
PN: Many people are saying the growth of poker has about reached its peak. What can the World Series, Harrah's and yourself do to keep the growth of the game alive?
GT: Our goal is to maintain the momentum poker has enjoyed over the past few years. Two years ago, the top prize was $2.5 million. Last year, the championship event field tripled, and the top five finishers at the final table became instant millionaires. We expect the field to double once again this year, so it's premature to say poker's growth has peaked. In addition, as we bring WSOP Circuit events to more places throughout the United States and abroad, we expect to attract more players, both domestic and international.
PN: What has been the main success of the WSOP Circuit?
GT: Two things...by staging Circuit events around the country, we've introduced the brand to many people who've never experienced it before. And we've brought poker's top stars to new venues, allowing players who have never attended a WSOP event before to compete against the best in the business. It's been like bringing Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson to your local golf course, although in poker's case, you actually have a chance to beat the best in the world.
PN: Is expansion of the Circuit being examined for the future?
GT: Yes. With the expected close of our acquisition of Caesars Entertainment in the second quarter of 2005, we'll have about 45 properties around the world in which to host Circuit events. In addition, we're looking at partnering with other casino properties in Europe and Asia that have expressed very serious interest in the WSOP brand.
PN: Thank you for your time, Gary.
GT: Thank you as well!
I want to thank Gary for his insights into the preparations for this year's tournament. If you want to be in Vegas for the WSOP, it will start on June 2nd, with the Main Event beginning in July. Nearly every online poker site has your way to win into the event, so check out your favorite and get ready for the biggest game in the world!
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