7 Questions with World Poker Tour CEO Steve Heller

WPT CEO Steve Heller
Steve Heller wants to put the world back in World Poker Tour.

While the poker world’s attention has been focused on Black Friday, World Poker Tour CEO Steve Heller has been busy making plans to not only improve the WPT but take it places it’s never been before.

A seven-year veteran of the WPT’s parent company, PartyGaming, Heller is making sure the tour lives up to its name by adding new events in new locations.

He's also making sure all are considered legitimate main events equal to those on American soil.

Today Heller answers seven questions covering the WPT’s European expansion, live poker post-Black Friday and how the American tour will fare against Europe’s own EPT.

1. PokerListings.com: Three years ago, the WPT hosted two tournaments in Europe. Now WPT Season X hosts eleven stops in Europe plus WPT Marrakech.

Has the WPT recognized Europe to be the market of the future?

Steve Heller: World Poker Tour is committed to continuing to expand and extend its global reach.

Not only does WPT Season X feature new European events in exciting places like Malta, Ireland and Prague, we’ve invested heavily in bringing WPT Tour stops in Europe on par with those we host in the U.S.

Our committed expansion means that all European WPT Main Events are scheduled to feature Live Streaming, Live Updates and, for the first time, European Royal Flush Girls.

What’s more, we will display the new WPT Champions Cup—which features engraved plaques with the name of every WPT champion, together with the event they won—at every Tour event thoughout Europe and around the world.

Royal Flush girl on the deck
Europe now gets to enjoy the Royal Flush Girls too.

WPT now also hosts National Series events in Europe, making the WPT even more accessible through these lower buy-in events. Our goal is to deliver the WPT experience to as many fans as possible.

2. Is the EPT the biggest rival of the WPT in Europe? Is the accumulation of European tournaments a direct attack on the EPT?

WPT’s European expansion is not a direct response or attack on the EPT. We are simply reacting to the incredible demand for the WPT in Europe.

Fans and players around the world love our show and events. As a global brand, we want to make sure everyone gets to experience WPT wherever they are.

3. Despite Black Friday and the turmoil around Full Tilt Poker, the WPT has managed to grow consistently lately. How do you account for that?

In the last two years we feel we’ve made great progress in improving the experience for both the players and the viewing audience.

We’ve added great excitement to the events via talent appearing at the events, Live Streaming every final table, having our Live Updates team at every event, the presence of the Royal Flush Girls and the WPT Champions Cup at every event, as well as more of a WPT presence at the events and a stronger marketing push for the events.

On the TV show, starting with Season IX we changed the way poker TV is produced and viewed, in a way not done since Season I of World Poker Tour.

By adding Kimberly Lansing as the Anchor, bringing on some controversy and analysis with Tony Dunst and the Raw Deal, adding some glamour via the Royal Flush Girls and increasing the context and story around these great events.

All of this has added to the drama and entertainment value of the program. Our efforts have borne out in the 30% year-over-year growth of our ratings in the US, where we’ve become the number one rated show on our network.

Kimberly Lansing
Introducing Kimberly Lansing as anchor is one way the WPT has upped its game.

We believe these efforts have been recognized by the poker community and have led to a reinvigoration of the brand and of the WPT playing and viewing experience, which has led to more people playing, more casinos wanting, more media covering and more people watching WPT.

4. In the last years, the EPT has been the poker tour with the highest prize pools and biggest fields. Can the WPT reach the same levels or even beat the EPT? How?

We don’t see it as a competition. There is tremendous demand for major poker events around the world and room for more than one company to meet that demand.

We offer many of the world’s most prestigious tournament at some of the world’s most storied venues and those event draw player fields of quantity and quality that set the world standard.

We’ll continue working to make our events the best they can be, expand our Tour and help to grow the poker industry worldwide.

5. Is the merger between Party and bwin a main factor for the consolidation of the WPT’s position on the European market?

While receiving support from bwin.party, WPT operates as an independent entity that has a variety of sponsors and supporters throughout the online poker community.

For at least a couple of years now a concerted effort has been made to tap into the opportunity for expansion into Europe.

6. What are the plans for the WPT in the future? Will there be more/less/different events?

We expect poker to continue to grow—and so will WPT.

We are extremely excited about our European expansion during Season IX and X and the success of our newer events.

We’ll continue to build on that momentum and the poker community can expect to see more events in more markets.

7. Where do you see the future of online/live poker? Is Asia the coming market, or will poker be regulated soon in Europe or the US, and how would that affect online poker?

We see live poker continuing to grow in current and expansion markets.

As more people are introduced to the fun and excitement of poker, more will seek out the live experience, which simply cannot be replicated online.

We’re completely committed to our role of continuing to bring poker to more people’s lives and improving the way they experience WPT, regardless of the method they use to experience it.

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