As the World Series of Poker prepares to pull up its roots in Las Vegas and start a new branch of the family tree in London this September, its commissioner Jeffrey Pollack is at work hyping the inaugural event as an "authentic European experience."
In other words, expect an event where Marcel Luske's suit and slicked hair are the rule, rather than the exception.
World Series of Poker Europe, he says, will be an intimate and elegant affair that complements, rather than competes with, the tournament's 38-year tradition.
Unlike its predecessor, however, the euro series will stretch over three London casinos and include only three events - H.O.R.S.E, Pot-Limit Omaha and a championship - running Sept. 6-16.
PokerListings.com spoke with Pollack on Tuesday, when he weighed in on potential WSOP sibling rivalries, plans for further international expansion and the lack of booth babes at this year's tournament.
What was behind the decision to move the World Series of Poker to Europe?
The past 16 months we've spent a lot of time solidifying the U.S.-based business with our new deal with ESPN, AOL, satellite radio on Sirius, sponsorship from Miller, Hershey's, quorum, innovating the tournament schedule, the H.O.R.S.E event last year, nine new events this year.
So the plan was always to go global in a way the World Series of Poker hasn't before. When you layer into that the acquisition of London clubs it makes sense for us to accelerate the launch of this tournament and plant a new flag in the ground for the World Series of Poker.
Is this going to be a permanent fixture?
Yes. We plan on running this tournament every year at approximately the same time each year. So just as the summer at the Rio is a tradition for poker players around the world, we fully expect September in London to be the same.
Is it going to be in London each year?
Yes. That's where we have properties. And I'd also say that next to Las Vegas, London is the poker capital of the world.
What are your expectations for the Main Event? Do you think it could potentially rival that of the U.S. World Series, or is it a secondary event?
It's neither secondary nor a rival. It is a new way to experience the thrills and excitement of the World Series of Poker. This will be, in comparison to what happens at the Rio, a very intimate experience. The venues are smaller, the fields will be smaller; there are only three events, whereas the Rio will have 55 this year.
And we're going to do this with a style and flair that is both unique and appropriate for the setting. So don't be surprised if we require participants to wear blazers at the tables. If James Bond were hosting a poker tournament it may look something like the World Series of Poker Europe.
Why did you want to move in that direction?
We think it's important to be true to the setting. The London club properties are fairly intimate and exclusive - open to all - but it's just a very different experience. And we also want to be authentic to the European marketplace. London is a city that has tremendous style and we think that putting a little different style on World Series of Poker Europe will be both appropriate and fun.
So who is going to be the real champion if there are two Main Events?
It's funny - there's the Main Event champion for the World Series of Poker at the Rio and that has a standing all its own given the size of the field and the prize pool. I think it is difficult to rival that in any sense …
I don't think one is more important than the other. I think one may have greater notoriety than the other, just given the size of our Main Event in Las Vegas. But again, this isn't about creating a tour and we're not setting these two tournaments in juxtaposition against each other. The World Series of Poker at the Rio in Las Vegas will always be our biggest show, but World Series of Poker Europe is going to have a meaning and importance all its own.
That said, could it have an impact on the number of European players who turn out for the American series?
I don't see it. I don't think anyone is going to forgo a summer trip to Las Vegas to participate in Europe in September. But we may get some people playing in World Series of Poker Europe who otherwise may not have attended Las Vegas. It's open to all and we think there will continue to be a strong European following for World Series of Poker and we also think this event will be embraced by them as well.
The World Series is so connected with Las Vegas; has anyone expressed displeasure with the move?
No, on the contrary; we've had nothing but positive feedback over the last year that we've been exploring this.
I've made probably four or five trips to Europe last year all in connection with laying the foundation for this launch. Our acquisition of London clubs at the end of last year sort of pushed the whole project into fast forward, and everyone's been encouraging.
I recognize that European poker marketplace is very mature and well populated. We recognize that we're late to the game there, but I think we're coming with an experience that is unique to the World Series of Poker and I think we're coming very respectfully of all the other poker product that's out there.
The World Series of Poker is unlike anything else because of the bracelet. And these will be bracelet events - there'll be three of them - and that's something only we can do. I think, again, we're doing it in a manner that is going to be perceived as authentic to the European marketplace and I think we're coming very respectfully.
Will there be dot.com sponsorship at this event?
No firm decisions yet?
No, just no announcements yet. Stay tuned.
Given the current legal situation in the U.S., what are your expectations for this year's World Series for players?
I have been consistent in never predicting participation at the World Series of Poker and I will stay true to that. When I first got to Harrah's about a year and a half ago, I started making the point that ratings come and go, attendance will come and go - not just for us but for all global sports entertainment brands. It's a fact of life when you're playing on such a big stage.
So my pledge is to do what I can to make sure we have a better tournament every year. It may not always be bigger; in late 2005, early 2006 I was on record as saying that the geometric growth that the World Series of Poker had been experiencing was unsustainable over the long haul and I continue to believe that to be the case regardless of any changes in regulatory environment.
Are there any plans for further expansion? Will we see a World Series of Poker Asia?
Stay tuned. Don't be surprised if over the next 12 to 16 months there's another announcement about our international business development.
Have you heard any negative feedback because of your decision to ban dot.net advertising this year? I've read some grumblings on the Internet about the absence of booth babes this year.
I'm not too concerned about the presence of booth babes. We have to do what's appropriate and best from a regulatory and business standpoint and the new rules in place this year, I think, are very appropriate. Especially if you're in it for the long haul, like we are.
Any other sponsorships decisions that you want to announce first at PokerListings.com?
Stay tuned. There's lots of deals in the pipeline.
* * * * * * * * * * *
As the World Series draws closer, Pollack said the company's public relations machine will start making near-weekly announcements about both tournaments and Harrah's Entertainment business dealings.
More information about the London event will be available on the Web site worldseriesofpoker.com as of May 1.
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