I have been roaming the hallways of the Rio Convention Center during the first three days of the World Series of Poker trying to gauge the public's reaction to the different changes that Harrah's has implemented. So far, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. As a whole, poker players love to bitch and moan at the littlest things, but something magical has happened this year… no one is complaining!
The biggest complaint that plagued the initial days of the 2007 WSOP involved the massive, slow-moving registration lines that were backed up all the way to main entrance of the Convention Center. The first day of the 2007 WSOP resembled bread lines in the Soviet Union during the cold war. Thousands of sad souls were subjected to waiting in line for up to six hours as they endured the excruciating process of trying to register for the WSOP. That sour mood set the tone for the remainder of the series.
During the first three days of the 2008 WSOP, the long lines were non-existent. Not only did Harrah's create a separate room to handle the registration process, they opened up early registration much earlier than they had in previous years. Players took advantage of this, which meant the first couple of days ran smoothly, so smoothly that you almost forgot it was the opening weekend of the WSOP.
The most noticeable change inside the Amazon Ballroom is the table number signs. Multi-colored table number signs were installed to reduce confusion, especially on a day when three or more tournaments are running. The signs in the Amazon Room are distinguished by four different colors (brown, orange, blue, and green) and each section is utilized for a different purpose depending on the schedule and time of day. For example, at the start of a large field tournament such as Event #2 $1,500 NL, all of the tables are in play. As action gets late into the tournament and sections of tables are broken, the brown tables are used for cash games, while the orange tables are designated for mega-satellite tournaments, and the green tables are used for the re-starts on Day 2.
The satellite area in the Tropical Ballroom across the hallway uses white signs in addition to the yellow signs above the tables located in the corridor in front of Buzio's restaurant.
My favorite change involves the increased space between tables. In the past, Harrah's squeezed as many tournament tables as possible into the Amazon Ballroom. The tables were lumped on top of one another with very little room to move swiftly between tables without banging into seated players. The result was a ton of congestion with a bottleneck of players, dealers, floor staff, cocktail servers, chip runners, massage therapists, reporters, photographers, and ESPN camera crews. Players often complained about the intrusion of people hovering over them while they tried to play. However, due to the configuration of the Amazon Ballroom, there was very little that could be done.
The additional space allocated this year alleviated traffic problems and players have gained an extra level of comfort that had been previously missing from the WSOP experience.
If there's one thing I've learned in my four years on the poker tour is that poker players like to eat and they often eat at weird hours. In the past, the Poker Kitchen has always been among the lowlights of the WSOP. After last year's fiasco of housing the Poker Kitchen inside the convention area, WSOP officials made the correct decision and relocated the kitchen outside where it belonged. The quality of food has always been an issue since Harrah's moved the WSOP to the Rio in 2005. They stepped up their efforts and the food has improved over the last few years. The addition of pre-made Capriatti deli sandwiches, in their signature white wrappers, are a welcomed culinary touch for poker players wishing to eat something delicious on the fly. Their specialty is the "Bobbie," which is essentially a Thanksgiving sandwich stacked with turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.
Harrah's also added Krispy Kreme donut stands and Pizza Hut pan pizza stands to both the Poker Kitchen and the main hallway. And if you are up for an adventure, there is also an out-of-the way joint called Miranda Sushi and Noodle Shop which offers up various all-you-can-eat sushi deals.
No registration lines. Better food. More space between the tables. Idiot-proof table signs. No wonder the boo–birds have been silent, since they have very little to complain about so far at the 2008 WSOP.
However, if there has been one change that has left poker players grumbling, it's the new outfits for the Milwaukee's Best girls. Harrah's tried to clean up the image of the WSOP this year, but the newer, refined and less revealing outfits have been a huge letdown to players who were used to being bombarded with T&A. In previous years, there were times that the hallways resembled the red light district in Bangkok, as online poker sites and other poker-related companies hired scantily clad models and former strippers to walk around hawking various products including cigars, energy drinks, and poker chips. The lone holdout this year is the Sapphire Gentlemen's Club. Their booth is being manned by several of their adult entertainers, but sadly, they're not the cream of the crop.