World Series of Poker Europe

The Business of Poker - Interview with Matt Savage, Part One

The Business of Poker - Interview with Matt Savage, Part One 0001

Most poker fans came to know Matt Savage as the well dressed man that was hovering around the tables in the 2003 WSOP, when Chris Moneymaker shocked the poker world. Indeed, nearly three years, and an eternity in the development of poker later, Matt Savage is still hovering over tables at poker tournaments, be it at his beloved Bay 101 Shooting Star event, or many of the TV events Matt runs.

Matt has been at the center of the poker world throughout the explosion, and has a fairly unique perspective. Recently, I sat down with Matt to talk about his thoughts on the development of poker, and where he is at in his life today.

Strap yourself in, because in part one of this interview, Matt drops some real bombshells, and talks frankly about where the poker world is today. I will run part two next Monday, where Matt will discuss his personal life, and where the infrastructure of poker is going. Enjoy.

John: What struck you the most about 2005 in the world of poker? What's the thing that stands out that defines the year for you the most?

Matt: I think 2005 was a year of poker trying to find itself really. I mean some of the things that I've seen are amazing. Just some great, great things have happened. But I think everybody's fighting for their place right now. And I see it now more than ever. With all the television coverage and the Internet, and where is that all going, it's kind of, not a scary time, but an interesting time for poker, and I don't know where it's gonna go from here.

John: So, to put it in a United States analogy, are we all sort of getting out West and trying to stake our land out?

Matt: Yeah definitely. That's a big part of it. Conflicts for me have been, a challenging part of what I'm doing. In the past, I've always had the fortunate ability to be Switzerland, if you want to say that. You know that kind of came crashing down this last year for me.

John: Right. And let's talk about what difficulty that created for you. You had to, in a sense, choose sides in some specific scenarios, and sort of stake your claim on one side of the fence or the other.

Matt: Yes. You know, it's the first year I didn't run the World Series in the last three. I love the World Series and support it and want to be a part of it, but I think that it was difficult for me not to be there this year. But at the same time I was doing so many other things that it kind of kept my focus off of the World Series.

The conflict of not working the World Series, and then yet still doing a lot of television, created other conflicts for me like the World Poker Tour. I'll give you a simple story that happened to me. I was hired, for lack of a better term, by Bruno Fitoussi to come over to the World Poker Tour in Paris, and announce their final table. I flew all the way over there, of course I was going to do the London Open afterwards, so it wasn't like it was so much out of my way. But Steve Lipscomb was talking to Bruno, and Bruno said oh, by the way Matt's gonna announce our final table. And Steve instantly started talking in French to him and saying no, that I wasn't going to be able to do that. And that was the first time I really realized that me working for Fox Sports Net, or uh GSN or NESN, or whatever, whoever I was working for caused a rift for me with the World Poker Tour.

John: Interesting. That must have been very disappointing.

Matt: Yeah, it's very disappointing. Steve seems to think that me being on so many shows confuses the marketplace and makes it bad for the World Poker Tour. I don't see it that way. I mean, I like to support Poker. I supported the World Poker Tour from the start. It's between the World Poker Tour and the Internet, were the two that got this whole thing started, you know put a lot of money in a lot of people's pockets, including myself. I don't see the conflict. I wanted it better for everybody.

John: Right.

Matt: And I would hope that the World Poker Tour saw it that way.

John: Well let's, let's talk about the World Poker Tour and the World Series. I mean is that, is it a thing where you feel, at least with the Series for now it seems very tied to the corporation.

Matt: Yeah I mean, it's a bit unfortunate. When I was at the World Series, and a lot of players told me that they preferred downtown and the way it was, and they don't like the big corporate part of it. But you know what? Poker's changing. So I don't blame Harrah's for taking it out of there, and I don't blame Harrah's for not using the World Series Poker to market their brand. Another little known thing is when I was called to Harrah's for the first time, working in the 2004 World Series Poker, I sat down with Howard Greenbaum, and Howard said, 'I'm running the Rio golf course, I'm in charge of Keno, I'm in charge of the Sports Book, I really don't have time for this. Can you tell me a little bit about what the World Series of Poker is all about cause we kind of just got this dumped on us.' And so in Harrah's mind, they wanted the Horseshoe name.

Matt: They didn't care about the World Series Poker at all, ok?

John: Hmmm....

Matt: But they learned how big it could be and the value of it, and now they're using it to market their brand, which is fine. I think it was smart to do that. I think that's a great thing, but at the time they had no idea what they had.

John: Let's talk about where tournament poker can go. Can we see a PGA-esque unified circuit with a title sponsor? Can we see that down the road?

Matt: I sure hope so.

John: Will it ever be that together?

Matt: I sure hope so. I mean I'm working hard to make that happen. Again, this conflicts me out because of so many other things going on, but I sure hope so. There should be no reason why players can't be part of a tour where they can actually own part of it, or they can actually have their buy-ins paid for. Television is very convoluted right now. You know, there's a lot of poker on television. There's a lot of things that uh I wouldn't say are negative, but you know, there's just so much poker on television. It's hard for everybody to watch all of it. But that's part of the excitement too is, is trying to do something different, keeping it fresh, staying cool. I want to do that. You know, I want it to be mainstream. I want it to be even bigger than it is today. I think there's more and more players playing every day, but the TV numbers are down. I think Oliver wrote an article about that {PokerNews Writer Oliver Tse}. You know Oliver and I had many conversations about this before, we're both from San Jose. I don't see that as such negative, there's so much more poker on television. If you added up all the numbers, there would still be more people watching. But you know, there is an awful lot of it on television. So, I need to find something, and with a new poker tour that would make it interesting for all viewers. I'm working a lot with Fox Sports Net. They have this new tournament coming up with, a sixty million dollar prize pool. I mean that's something that's neat and exciting.

John: For six players.

Matt: Yeah, for six players. I can't wait to see, you know. I would love to see more and more different ideas come up.

John: Over the next five years, what do you think will influence the growth of poker, and specifically tournament poker - television or online poker?

Matt: Well for sure I think it's online poker. We need to clarify and find out what it is that's going to happen legislation wise. Nobody really knows. It's still this big grey area, and believe it or not, many of these online sites would just be dying to pay taxes in the United States, and you know would welcome that if they could just advertise here. I mean it'd just be such a big thing.

John: Right.

Matt: There is always gonna be poker on television. No doubt about it. Will there be less poker on television? I think so. So again, we need to find something that's gonna be good and, and make it good for all of us. But, I think the Internet definitely will be the most major influence.

John: What do you think the Internet companies can do, if anything, to try to facilitate more of the ability for us to all go out and do this? Above board, make it more accessible, et cetera.

Matt: A lot of it has to do with the gaming commissions that are currently in place all over the country and fighting against regulation. They've got big lobbies and they've got lots of money to do that, and I think almost inviting them in and saying you're allowed to have your own online card room. But then you get into the sports books, and there are certain states that don't do that, and it's kind of messy. It's kind of messy, period. I don't know how that's all gonna shake out, but we need answers because obviously we don't wanna shut down. If it gets shut down, people are gonna find other ways to do things. And, we don't want that at all. We want it to work for everybody involved. We want players to be able to wear online sponsorships. But let me tell you a little bit about that too. I mean I think that players have got this skewed view of what that's worth. Let me tell you, I think that players are being pretty well compensated right now. And I think people need to take a look at that and say 'we're thankful for what we have, and let's make it better for all of us and not just be so greedy about it'.

John: So, Do you think players are over valuing their images and likenesses? There are people boycotting events...mind you - just a couple, not many. But, these players are boycotting events, strictly over a sentence or two....

Matt: ...In the release form, yes. For Chris Ferguson, for example, he can't sign that. He's got a deal with a video game, and his lawyers have told him don't sign this because if you do, you're putting yourself in jeopardy for them to use your likeness. Chris Ferguson is one case. Howard Lederer or Annie Duke, those are the people that are gonna get used if the World Poker Tour wants to use their image. So, I see their point. I see the players point. But, should everybody else be worried about that? I don't think so.

John: Right. That leads me into my next question, which I think is the biggest issue in my mind. Can the players ever unite, and how can that happen?

Matt: I've worked on a couple different associations, start up things, and for me it's all about time, and I wish I had more of it, but I don't. You need people that are really committed to it. Jesse Jones is working very hard to do that. Yes, I think it will happen. There's some things coming up, I mean I'm working on a new thing that would incorporate a tour and an association.

I think that they can work hand-in-hand, and I'd love to see the World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker jump on board. I don't think that there is any reason why they shouldn't. For example, I know one of the things that the players are working on getting is, not paying juice on tournaments, and things like that. These casinos need that stuff to pay the overhead.

I'm sure they're getting a lot of exposure and coverage from the media, but they don't see those things. The pencil pushers and the guys in the industry don't, they don't see that. They wanna see the bottom line number, and that's a hard number to make. They don't really factor in the marketing as much as they should, which is unfortunate, but I think Bellagio is a prime example of what the World Poker Tour has done for their poker room, and what televised poker has done for them. And all over the country, you know, these card rooms have to be thankful for what they have received, and maybe give a little bit back. It's a tough thing to do though.

John: So are you seeing, in the way of juice, are you saying there's a direction where it's gonna go to more juice? Or do you think it's actually gonna rise a little bit more?

Matt: It's definitely been going up. Obviously the World Series was the leader in that, when they started charging $600 for the main event. I understand the management side, and they feel like they need to make a profit from it, but again the players are paying all the money for these events, and yet giving up a lot of their likeness while they're becoming big stars, and I know for a fact a lot of these players enjoy signing autographs and doing all those things. I think it's time for the players to just stand up and say look - let's make it work for both of us. It's very tough to pay $300,000 in buy-ins a year and make it, you know?

John: Right.

Matt: It's a lifestyle that they like, and I know that, I know that that's a big part of it also. But yes, I think an association will happen, maybe sooner than you think.

Join us one week from today for part two. Thanks for reading.

What do you think?

More Stories

Casino News

Other Stories