One of the good parts about the recent poker renaissance is the recognition that the players need an organization to speak on their behalf. While looking at the number of them that have come out tends to look like the numerous alphabet soup of boxing associations that exist, there are some that have seemed to step above the rest. One of those that seems to have some substance to what they are offering is the International Poker Association.
In February, during the L. A. Poker Classic, I had the opportunity to speak with two professional players, "Miami" John Cernuto and Roxanne Rhodes, who were very excited about the creation of the new organization. In fact, during the play at the Classic, the first meetings were held to determine the direction of the group. The resulting six months since those first meetings has led to a whirlwind of activity for the IPA.
They were one of the most visible groups that participated outside the playing floor during the lifestyle show at the recently completed World Series in Las Vegas. During the 45 days of play, members of the IPA were constantly there, passing the message and information along that they would be the players' organization that will be around and be a force for the players in the poker community. They have a very strong presence in the poker world and seem to have the support and drive to become a success.
Recently I had the chance to speak with the president of the IPA, Maureen Brooks, and one of the members of the Board of Directors, award winning television producer Mike Kostel, about the growth of the IPA, the direction of the organization and how they intend to be the player organization that lasts.
PN: Since the introduction of the IPA in February, what developments have their been with the organization?
Maureen: One of the best developments have been the drive for membership. That was important to making sure that we were a strong voice for the players. Another thing that was critical for our success was being able to offer an insurance program that the players could get involved with.
Mike: The insurance was important as, for many poker players, this is their only job. They don't have the health benefits and other extras that someone who works a normal job would have. We wanted to make sure those were available for the players. It was also important for us to offer several levels of membership so we could include all types of people involved in the industry.
PN: What would you say are the goals of the IPA?
Maureen: We want to grow, protect and promote the game of poker. We want to be the voice for the players. That can be a little bit tough, as it sometimes seems that there are many factions among players. Of course, poker players have always had that history of not acting as a unit, that "lone wolf" mentality.
Mike: We also want to be there for ALL players. Be they professional, semi-pro or the casual home game player, we want to be the voice for many in the poker community.
PN: How is the IPA different from other player organizations that have come around?
Maureen: We think that we will last. We put quite a bit of work into the creation of the IPA. We spent quite a bit of time with a player steering committee, where we heard many of the players' concerns. We asked them what they wanted to see from a players' group and they were quite vocal. Doyle Brunson was very helpful with the suggestions that he made, among others.
Mike: I think that was important. We spoke to around 100 of the top players in the world and they were extremely helpful with their input into putting the IPA together. They were all very supportive of our efforts and have been great in pointing out sponsorship options that could be available.
PN: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the IPA?
Maureen: Having the top players in the world believing in the IPA gives us a great deal of credibility. When you have some credibility, people will be more apt to listen to an organization. We have also been able to make some great contacts with television networks and sponsors for furthering the IPA into the future.
One of the drawbacks has to be in just getting the message out to those that would find the IPA something that they would be interested in. When you are talking about such a large group, it is always difficult to bring them all together.
Mike: I think one of the strengths of the IPA is that we are doing what we said we would do. I think we have shown that we are going to be the organization that has staying power, to be the ones to provide the players their voice. We have also been able to line up some strong partners and sponsors to come along with us.
PN: What effect do the Board of Directors have on the IPA? (Note: the Board consists of Brooks and Kostel and professional players Cernuto, Rhodes, David Chiu, Ted Forrest, Harley Hall, Jim Miller, Chris Moneymaker and Ross Tannenbaum)
Maureen: The people on the Board of Directors have given a tremendous amount of credibility to the IPA. With their involvement in the game, they also give up a great deal of feedback on issues from the top level of people in the game. They also have a very strong commitment to the success of the IPA.
PN: How important was starting the insurance program for the members of the IPA?
Maureen: In our discussions with the players, this was the thing that they wanted to see done first. We have been able to line up one of the top insurance companies in Chesapeake Life to provide something that many in the industry don't have: medical and life insurance as well as disability insurance.
Mike: It was tough to do this due to the fact that we have such a wide group of people to take into consideration. But we were able to bring it together for the members of the IPA.
PN: The website for the IPA recently was launched. How valuable will this be for the IPA to carry its message to its members and other players?
Maureen: We are always updating the information that is on the website. We want to hear from all people who are associated with the industry and we want to encourage them to join. On the website, there is a great deal of information and we also offer the opportunity to sign up there as well.
Mike: As we continue to grow, we will be offering much more to our members. The website will be the first place that people can keep up with the news of the IPA and the benefits we have.
PN: It seems that this is truly a player-driven organization. What would the casual player find in the IPA to encourage them to join?
Maureen: The insurance program is a huge draw. As our numbers continue to grow, we will be able to do many things to assist our members, such as industry discounts, travel, possibly even buy-ins to tournaments.
Mike: We encourage the recreational players to be a part of the IPA, as well as anyone that is involved in poker. The World Poker Tour has done a tremendous job of bringing the game to the people and is wanting to work with us as well. We have been in discussions with one of the dealer groups as far as joining up with the IPA, as well.
PN: How are you building the IPA while controlling costs?
Maureen: It's all on our backs! As president, I am not taking a salary and the Board isn't either, so all of us involved in the management of the group are carrying it all.
Mike: David Chiu was one of the driving forces behind this. He has been very influential in the development of the IPA and has been instrumental in earning the respect for the organization for the players. This is something that wasn't started overnight; it has taken a couple of years to reach where we are now.
PN: Finally, what is the future of the IPA?
Maureen: It has been a rewarding process. I have been in the business world for over twenty years and Mike has been in the demanding world of television. This is something that I truly believe will be a force for the players.
We want people to know that we are here for them and that we are going to deliver. There are a huge amount of benefits now for our members and those will only get better as we grow stronger. As we draw more partnerships to the IPA, we will be the strong voice for the players.
Mike: It's important to let the players know that we are here for the long haul. Players, poker tours and tournaments all will come and go, but we are going to be here. We want to be the organization that pulls them all together.
I want to thank Maureen and Mike for their time and wish them the best of success with the IPA. Of the groups that have made their bid to become the "players' organization", it seems that the IPA has shown, through their research, perseverance and clout, that they may have the correct formula to become a success and be the strong group that the participants in the world of poker need. For more information on the International Poker Association, be sure to check out their website at ipapoker.com.
Ed note: Aruba satellites are in full swing at Ultimate Bet doesn't the beach sound nice....