The second PokerStars European Poker Tour event in Italy looks to be an unprecedented success and it's clear that much of the credit must go to Luca Pagano.
A member of Team PokerStars Pro and EPT Player of the Year for Season 4, Pagano is acting as host of the EPT San Remo tournament, which commenced Saturday on the Mediterranean coast.
The tournament has attracted approximately 1,200 runners, an incredible figure given that the field was supposed to be capped at 800.
"I'm very, very proud of the turnout this year," Pagano told PokerListings.com. "I was already proud of last year's event, where we got 701 players, and I was going to be happy if we matched that number this year."
Aside from the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, the tournament is already the largest-ever played on the EPT, but according to Pagano, even 1,200 seats weren't enough to satisfy all comers.
"Honestly, this is the maximum capacity for the casino, but we were turning people away and telling people not to come," he said. "The potential for this tournament is even bigger."
The tournament's popularity is emblematic of the success poker is experiencing in Italy at the moment.
"Online poker has just been regulated in Italy," Pagano said. "So there are lots of new players who are eager to learn and eager to play."
Last fall, the country's Amministrazione Autonome dej Monopoli di Stato granted PokerStars a license to offer online poker in the country.
Just days later, the online poker room launched PokerStars.it, an Italian-only version of its popular gaming site.
Since then, the site has spared no expense in publicizing its new attraction and Pagano has proved a valuable asset.
"I'm very proud to be a part of the Team PokerStars Pro team as well as being on the business side," he said. "I consult on everything business and business-strategy related.
"I think the keys to success in the poker industry are putting the game on TV and having a big operator behind it, and we have that with PokerStars.it and that's why we're successful today."
The former computer programmer has played a defining role in his country's love affair with poker, having helped to build the game's popularity from the ground up.
"Seven years ago we were running Mediterranean poker cruises," he said. "Two years ago, the San Remo Casino wasn't sure about poker, but they decided to give us one shot to hold a poker tournament."
The experiment succeeded. Last year's inaugural EPT San Remo event proved to be the third most-popular event of the season, behind only the Grand Final and Caribbean Adventure.
The casino took note, quickly adding more and more poker tournaments to their schedule.
"These days we have to force them to limit their tournaments to one per month," Pagano said.
As the poker star watches his game of choice take root in Italy, he is taking pains to use that popularity to help further his own humanitarian goals as well.
Pagano co-founded , a charity whose main focus is to convince poker players to pledge 1% of their winnings in support of a number of causes, including humanitarian work in Africa.
Last month, however, the charity's focus turned closer to home as earthquakes devastated parts of central Italy.
"PokerforLife is a project that was supposed to get started in May, but the recent earthquakes forced us to speed up the process," Pagano said. "It's a charity where we try to involve many operators, not just PokerStars."
On April 20, PokerStars and PokerforLife will hold a â¬1,200 tournament at Casino San Remo, with all administration fees waived and â¬200 from each buy-in going to the Red Cross' earthquake appeal.
In addition, PokerStars will donate â¬300 per player to the fund.
In Pagano's view, poker players around the globe stand to benefit from the industry raising its profile through charity work.
"This is something that I've always wanted to do, and I think it's something that all organizers should do, not just for charity or for themselves, but for the sake of poker in general," he said.
"It benefits everyone to raise poker's profile this way. Why wouldn't you do it?"
Pagano will take a break from the business side of things to take his own shot at EPT glory on Sunday's Day 1b in San Remo.
You can follow PokerListings' continuing coverage of this massive event in our Live Tournaments section.