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Tour Talk: Cademartori dishes on LAPT
Nolan Dalla recently traveled to South America to cover the Latin American Poker Tour (LAPT) championship, held in Uruguay. While at the event, Dalla sat down with Glenn Cademartori, president of the Latin American Poker Tour.
The following interview took place at the Mantra Resort-Spa-Casino in Punta del Este, Uruguay, which served as the host site of the LAPT Season 1 finale.
Launching the LAPT
Nolan Dalla: Planning the first season of the LAPT must have been quite a challenge. How were you able to create a brand new poker tour, which appears to have been quite successful, within such a short time frame?
Glenn Cademartori: We knew poker was really starting to take off here in Latin America. It really started to grow throughout this region about two years ago.
Since PokerStars.net serves as the official sponsor of the LAPT, as the worldwide leader in online action and poker tournaments, we knew this huge market had enormous potential. So, the first thing we did was to look at the countries where our players were coming from.
Next, we examined which countries were open to possibly hosting an event. Timing was also a factor as we really wanted to get this off the ground within a year. Brazil happens to be our largest market, so we definitely needed to hold an event in Brazil.
Costa Rica is our strongest market in Central America as well as a top tourist destination, so that was also a big consideration. And, Punta del Este (Uruguay) is considered to be the crown jewel of South America, so we knew we had to be here as well.
Dalla: The Mantra Resort-Spa-Casino seems to be an odd choice as a location for a major poker tournament. My guess is that few people outside of this area have ever heard of it. Can you explain why you choose this casino?
Cademartori: After traveling here a few times to Punta del Este, I absolutely fell in love with this place. First of all, the Mantra is a first-class resort and one of the Leading Small Hotels of the World. It's located atop a hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
The staff is also extremely accommodating here. They seemed to have everything we needed and were very eager to work with us.
Punta del Este is also conveniently located between two large poker markets - Brazil and Argentina. So, it just seemed the natural location for us to host our first season championship in what has been called the Monte Carlo of South America.
Dalla: I understand the LAPT championship is being filmed and will be broadcast throughout Central and South America.
Cademartori: That's right. But to be honest, we had not originally planned to broadcast LAPT Season 1.
While we wanted to get the tour off the ground as quickly as possible, we also wanted to walk before we could run. So, most of our energy was focused on presenting the best possible the live events for the players' experience.
But it was Fox Sports who approached us, largely because we have such a strong advertising arrangement with them. Fox said they wanted to come and film our final event here in Punta del Este. They came and now we are pleased to learn that the LAPT will be broadcast throughout Latin America.
I guess you could say that all the cards fell right into place for us. The production crew came over from Buenos Aires (Argentina) and coordinated the filming in a very short amount of time.
The LAPT championship will be broadcast on Fox Sports in Latin America, starting in September. We are also shopping the program to a different network in Brazil, since Fox Sports is not on the air there.
Dalla: So, the idea is for an aspiring poker player located in, let's say Argentina or Chile, to see the LAPT on television and say, "That's where I want to be next year?"
Cademartori: Exactly. Going into LAPT Season 1, we were projecting between 200 and 250 players at the most would attend each of our high-stakes tournaments in what is still a relatively immature market. But as it turned out, we surpassed 300 in all of our first three events, with 314 in Brazil, 398 in Costa Rica, and 351 players here in Uruguay.
Knowing that the interest is already here and now adding television to the mix is certainly going to add more players to our future events.
Online Poker Influence
Dalla: The demographics of the LAPT events seem quite similar to what one would expect to see in the U.S. or Europe. Most players here are young and male. What can you do to broaden the appeal of the LAPT to a wider player base?
Cademartori: Our first point of contact is via PokerStars.net, which has a player base of over 14 million players, comprised of males, females, as well as young and older players. Of course, our player base is predominately males in the 18 to 34 age bracket and we need to make certain that their needs are met, if not exceeded by our staff.
Many players qualify for LAPT events by winning seats online. At each of our first three events we have had between 150 and 200 players qualify at PokerStars. So outside of that, it is up to our advertising and marketing initiatives to draw the rest of the field.
For us, the low hanging fruit is with current poker players. Next, we are looking at secondary markets, such as sports enthusiasts (soccer fans).
To attract more females, we also consider females who like to watch or play sports. After all, we consider poker a sport. I have been to (soccer) games here in South America, and there are plenty of women who are passionate about the game.
So, our goal is to translate that enthusiasm for other sports into poker.
Dalla: It appears to be working. Veronica Dabul (from Buenos Aires) came to the WSOP and cashed each of the past two years. Incredibly, she was the first woman in history to accomplish that feat.
Cademartori: Yes, Veronica also played here in each of our LAPT events. She is a wonderful example of players we want to attract. Veronica started out playing backgammon. She is very smart. She started to play poker because she saw the money shift and she realized she could earn more playing poker.
Another female player - Maria Stern, a former WSOP gold bracelet winner who is originally from Costa Rica - also played in our events this year.
Dalla: There are numerous casinos scattered throughout Latin America. However, there are presently no (legal) casinos located in Brazil, which you say is your largest market. There's been a debate for many years as to which sector benefits more from the other.
Does online poker fuel grater interest in land-based events? Or do you believe land-based casinos are hurt by the online industry?
Cademartori: I believe online poker players are feeding live casinos. The typical online poker player is male and between the age of 18 and 34. Younger people are more technologically savvy, so online poker sites like PokerStars allow new players to learn the game very quickly.
The next step is naturally to gravitate to live events and tournaments, which are played in casinos. If online poker (did not exist), I think many poker players would take much longer to develop their skills. Many might end up leaving the game because they would not be as talented as seasoned veterans of the sport.
So, online poker is a great benefit to land-based casinos and card rooms, in my opinion.
Dalla: How common are home poker games in Latin America?
Cademartori: From what I see, home poker games just like you would see back in the U.S. are becoming increasingly popular here, especially with online poker growing so fast. I expect the television broadcast of the LAPT for Season 2 will add significantly to the growth here, as well.
Poker has been around for such a long time in the U.S. and in Europe. By comparison, Latin America is about 3 to 5 years behind. Since more and more Latin Americans have been traveling to the U.S. and Europe for tournaments and see poker on television, they tend to want to emulate what is popular in other mature markets.
Many of the players we meet here at our events talk about their home games with friends and relatives. So, I know home poker games have become the breeding ground for players in Latin America. PokerStars is the other. Another thing to think about is that in Latin America you do not have huge poker rooms with action of many games going, as you see in Las Vegas or Los Angeles. So, home games and online poker are the only options at the moment for these players.
The Latin American Flavor
Dalla: What are some of the differences between the poker scene in the U.S. and Europe versus Latin America?
Cademartori: Latin American players are a lot of fun to watch. Passion defines many Latin American cultures and this is particularly evident here in the sport of poker.
There is a heightened sense of energy in the tournament room during our events. There is a lot more camaraderie amongst the Latin American poker community. It's a bit like living in a smaller neighborhood and knowing what everyone is up to.
Dalla: Let's talk about some LAPT rules, particularly as they relate to language. Two, if not three languages are spoken here - Spanish, Portuguese, and English. How do you run a tournament with different languages being spoken by players at the table?
Cademartori: We do not have language rules here for the reasons you point out. But everything we do, from the marketing, to the communications, to the rules, all are produced in three languages.
Of course, in an event such as the one we had in Brazil, more players are going to speak Portuguese. With Costa Rica and Uruguay, there are more Spanish speaking players. And, there are online qualifiers who come from all over, including the U.S. and Europe, so we have to make sure we communicate effectively with our players who speak English.
We have translators on-site for all of our events to address and communications issues. And, English is commonly spoken here and is somewhat the unofficial international language, so miscommunication is never a problem.
What I think is most interesting is that in poker, there is a language all its own which transcends national identities. Players seem to understand what is going on and all get along. For me, it's been a fascinating experience.
By the Numbers
Dalla: What is the percentage of players who qualify for LAPT events by playing online, versus those who pay cash to enter?
Cademartori: About 40% have qualified online at PokerStars. The rest have bought-in by paying cash.
Dalla: Is that what you were expecting as far as the numbers go?
Cademartori: We can estimate how many qualifiers we will generate, but the wild card is the number of direct buy-ins that show up the day of the event. We were expecting 250 at this event (in Punta del Este) and we exceeded 350. Greater response all around.
Dalla: Why were your expectations so low?
Cademartori: I wouldn't say they were low; we just wanted to manage our expectations in this immature, yet rapidly-growing poker market.
All of the previous poker tournaments that had been held in this region had much lower buy-ins. The (attendance) numbers were inflated because they had rebuys, and typically the cost to enter was between $300 and $500.
No one had ever come in with a $2,500 buy-in event before. So, we figured that if we drew 200, it was a success. If we drew 250, it was a home run.
Dalla: But you attracted 351. So, what's that?
Cademartori: (Laughing) A grand slam? What's funny is that right out of the box, we started off in Brazil, which had never hosted a poker tournament like this before. Brazil doesn't even have casinos! So, when 314 players showed up, we were overwhelmed. We actually ran out of space.
Going into Costa Rica, again we had no idea what to expect. It's a small market and a small country. But almost 400 players showed up for that event for nearly a $1,000,000 prize pool.
Then, here in Punta del Este we held this event during the low season (it's winter in South America). If we held this during the tourist season when there are 900,000 people here in the summertime, as opposed to only 8,000 year-around residents here in Punta del Este right now, there is no telling how big this event could be.
We just attracted 351 players here in the dead of winter. I can't imagine how much bigger things will be next year when we hold this event (and others) during the high season.
Dalla: What kind of numbers might you attract for some of the events next season?
Cademartori: I say 400-500 for each event is certainly possible. As the LAPT gains momentum moving forward, more players are going to want to play in our tournaments with higher buy-ins, bigger prize pools, and additional venues.
And, with all of our events in Season 2 being broadcast on television throughout Latin Amercia, this will add to the growth exponentially.
Dalla: I understand that the LAPT will double in size during Season 2. Can you give more details?
Cademartori: Sure. We plan to revisit these same countries again next year (Brazil, Costa Rica, and Uruguay). On Nov. 2-5, we launch LAPT Season 2o in San Jose, Costa Rica. Brazil is scheduled for February and Punta del Este (Uruguay) comes in March.
We are in the process of confirming an LAPT event in Chile. We are planning an event in Mar del Plata, Argentina, which boasts the largest casino in Latin America, so it makes sense to hold our championship there in April.
Finally, there is Mexico, which is a place that has enormous potential as a poker market. We plan to host an event in Mexico and place it on the schedule at some point.
So, if everything goes well we plan to double the size of the LAPT in Season 2 and have as many as six tour stops. We will post our final LAPT Season 2 schedule on lapt.com in the coming weeks.
Dalla: How do you get around legal restrictions against gambling (and poker) in countries like Brazil and Mexico?
Cademartori: Mexico holds fairs that take place around the country at various times during the year. These fairs go for one to two weeks and are held in places like Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City and elsewhere.
They grant exemptions to gambling laws for a one or two week period of time. What we do is go in and meet with local officials and municipalities and attain licenses during these exemption periods. We make sure we are licensed and everything is set up in advance.
Most of the officials we have talked to are excited to have us bring in new visitors and international attention to their hotels and cities.
Dalla: PokerStars has already launched the European Poker Tour (EPT) and the Asian Pacific Poker Tour (APPT). Do you envision the LAPT being as successful as those predecessors?
Cademartori: Without question, and it already is. Our player participation per tournament has already exceeded both the EPT and APPT during their inaugural seasons. Latin America is the fastest-growing poker market globally.
If you look at how the LAPT started and how poker has developed in this market, I think you are going to see a very similar pattern of growth as our other tours. That said, I also think we have a smaller window of opportunity here. I think it was critical that the LAPT was launched this year, and not later.
I am proud that people now know we are here, and we will only get bigger. They know the LAPT name. They know our brand. I see our numbers growing much faster over Seasons 2 and 3 and beyond.
Dalla: One final question, Glenn. What has the support of PokerStars meant to the success of the LAPT?
Cademartori: It's been critical to have the very best people in poker working with us, and that is what we get from PokerStars. Partnering with PokerStars provides us with the support of the world's largest online poker site, the best in the business, as well as expertise in producing high stakes live poker tournaments.
I was fortunate from the very beginning to work with Rich Korbin, who serves as the director of the Latin American Poker Tour, in building something new and exciting that has not only been an overwhelming success, but which will continue to get bigger and better in each of the years ahead.
The very best proof of our success is the innumerable compliments we have received from the players who have experienced our LAPT events. To me, that says it all.
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Nolan Dalla is on an exclusive assignment for PokerListings. He recently covered the Latin American Poker Tour championship, held in Uruguay.
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