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A work in progress - Part three of our interview with WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack27 June 2007
By Aaron Todd
Casino City reporter Aaron Todd sat down with Pollack prior to the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E tournament for a three-part interview.
AT: I've often heard you refer to the World Series of Poker as a work in progress. What have you learned this year that will affect the way you do things next year?
JP: Certainly we need to get our cage open earlier. We failed in anticipating the early demand for the early events, and the result was that really just for those first two days, we had some pretty long lines, but we haven't since then. The operations team at the Rio responded with the good style and thought that they always do and fixed the line problem very quickly. That said, once we announce our schedule for 2008, my hope would be that someone could come to the Rio any day and register for a World Series of Poker event. That's the best case. At a minimum we should open the cage for the World Series of Poker a day or two before we actually start.
We've also learned that the tent is less than ideal. The tent is not a good solution for our tournament players, but it's the best we could come up with for this year. I don't know what we're going to do next year. If we bring the tent back, obviously we have to make it more comfortable, better anticipate the air conditioning requirements and not have it feel as though it's a lesser experience than the Amazon. That said, I don't know if we'll be totally successful in that ever, because if it's not in the Amazon, it's not in the Amazon. But we need to look at that.
AT: When do the discussions and planning for next year's Series begin?
JP: They began day one of this World Series. There is a list that we all keep with things that we need to discuss in the off-season, and some of those discussions have already begun. That's why this is a constant work in progress. We're never going to get this totally right. I think it's impossible to. It's too big an event in too compressed a period of time. And our players are very demanding. And I think those demands will always continue to evolve, and we will always continue to strive to meet them, but we don't expect that one day we're going to walk in here and have everyone in the room say "Perfect." That's just not going to happen. But that's okay. It's part of the character and texture of the World Series of Poker. We accept it.
We are the world's largest gaming company. We do have a pretty good skill set. I think we've done nothing but improve the experience overall since Harrah's acquired it. There's no question in my mind about that. I think new issues, new challenges have been uncovered in the course of that evolution, but that's life. That's okay.
AT: Is it difficult to balance the desires of the players and also try to make sure that the WSOP is good for Harrah's bottom line?
JP: We get a bad rap for how focused we are on the bottom line when it comes to this event. There is a perception out there that at the end of every day we sit down and add up how much we made. There may be some accountants out there doing that, but in terms of the leadership group of the World Series of Poker, we operate this business with a very long-term view. The changes that we're making, some of them are incremental. The way we approach this is we want as many satisfied customers as possible. If we do that, then we'll see the return that we want to see.
Look around this room; these banners, new lighting, new stage. This doesn't just appear. Someone is writing checks for all this. So we're investing in this tournament and will continue to invest in this tournament. That doesn't mean that we don't feel as though we should have a return for our shareholders. People who know me know that I focus on building for the long haul. Our strategic approach aligns us with the interests of the players.
AT: Can you go too far? Can you have too many corporate relationships?
JP: Yes, but we're not even close to that. Poker as a mainstream sports property is not accepted when it comes to consumer product companies on Madison Avenue. It's not as accepted as it needs to be for this game to really grow. The World Series of Poker is the only gaming property, the only poker property, with the type of corporate support that it has, and the level of support that we have, which we're very appreciative of, is really just the tip of the iceberg. To grow the sponsorship base, we still have a lot of very hard work to do.
Poker is not an easy sell with consumer product companies. There is still a stigma attached to it. But we've been more successful than anyone else in changing how people view poker. We are 21 months into our business plan for the World Series of Poker, and this is a five- to ten-year plan. In addition to saying that the World Series of Poker is a work in progress, I've also said that it's a 38-year-old startup. For the first 36 years of this tournament, there was no sponsor support, there was no corporate marketing support, and there really was no effort to further establish the World Series of Poker as a global sports and entertainment brand. It grew very naturally and very organically over those 36 years, but to get to the next level, we need to be doing the things that we're now doing, and we're only just beginning to do those things.
AT: How do you deal with the criticism that you hear from players and from the poker blogosphere?
JP: We're doing a town meeting on Wednesday so players can come talk to me, (tournament director) Jack Effel and the other management folks here. We look forward to hearing whatever feedback people want to share with us.
I think that if you walk around the room at almost any hour of the day, no matter what people may be blogging about or writing about in terms of what we're doing wrong, we're doing a lot right. There's a lot of good poker being played, there's a lot of full tables, there are a lot of customers walking away with bracelets, many for the first time, and there's a good vibe in the room. Again, we will always have spots where we need to do better, but we're committed to doing better, and we appreciate everyone's continued support and feedback.