WPT Move to Vegas Venue Leaves Players Unimpressed

WPT Move to Vegas Venue Leaves Players Unimpressed

The World Poker Tour’s plans to move all of its US final tables to a new Las Vegas venue has met with criticism from potential players.

The World Poker Tour has tentatively announced plans to host all of its Season XVII televised final tables at the newly constructed Esports Arena Las Vegas, at the Luxor Hotel & Casino. The WPT’s moving of all nine of its US-based televised finals to the stylish, $25m set might make great corporate sense, but it’s receiving hefty pushback from the players the WPT needs to make the whole concept work.

WPT brass recently revealed that the testing out of the Luxor’s Esports Arena Vegas set for a couple of televised final tables late in the tour’s Season XVI were a bellwether for things to come. Speaking at a dedicated media forum just before the beginning of the WPT’s latest Tournament of Champions final table, WPT president Adam Pliska broke the news of the move.

“As soon as we saw this space, we knew this could really be a great opportunity,” Mr. Pliska told the small gathering. “It allows us to give that sport experience. We are so proud that we will be able to use this facility in the future and do some innovative things coming up.”

The WPT had previously announced a tie-up with the new facility inside Luxor, including the TOC and the finale of a $25K event held at the nearby Bellagio. Continuing on with a few events was expected, but expanding the deal to include all of the Season XVII American final tables represents a bold jump into an unknown space.

Cold logic from corporate viewpoint

Viewed solely from a corporate viewpoint, the World Poker Tour’s gambit makes financial sense. The floating tour has always operated under financially skimpy conditions, despite its high public profile, a part of the reason the tour is now with its third corporate owner (China’s Ourgame) and nearly folded a few years back.

Being able to stage final tables at a set as visually explosive as the Esports Arena should make for a pleasant viewing experience, though to play it up, the WPT has to de-emphasize a touch the actual poker being played. There’s also a huge logistic advantage: For all these final tables now based semi-permanently at the Luxor, the WPT doesn’t have to ship and assemble its own TV set to various casino destinations. (The set doesn’t appear in non-televised events, though how this affects the WPT’s international slate has yet to be determined.)

There may be other savings as well, depending on how the WPT’s deals with how those other facilities are structured. It’s not always clear who’s paying who, but a casino not having to dedicate floor space to the set-up and tear-down of a broadcast set might be part of the reason some of these other casinos were willing to go along with the concept of having a final table yanked from their facilities. One would have thought these other casinos would want the marketing airtime associated with the final, but those specifics have yet to surface.

Players upset over final-table relocation

Getting the players onboard, however, might be an even tougher sell. “We look for a win-win,” WPT Vice President of Marketing David Gitter told the media. “Win for the players, win for the WPT and win for the sponsors.” Cited as being among the player benefits were: free travel and accommodations for those making a final table elsewhere, then being brought to Vegas; WPT player parties while in town; the feeling of being “a star” (this from Pliska), having a chance to obtain coaching, and some possible tax benefits associated with playing the final in Vegas as opposed to elsewhere.

This tax claim appears spurious, though, as those players may well both reside in and have entered the event in another jurisdiction, making them liable for taxes on their winnings elsewhere. Most of the other cited plusses are of little net value and indeed pose a hindrance to many possible entrants, who have committed specific blocks of time for playing in and possibly winning a WPT event.

Those commitments generally do not include a separate block of days for a trip to Vegas, especially for part-time players or business execs with lives away from the tables. Nor has the WPT confirmed a set date in advance for the filming of these final tables. It appears the plan is to lump several of them together in a bid to maximize usage of the Esports Arena set.

The complications don’t stop there. The WPT won’t be paying each of the final-table qualifiers sixth-place money when the final table itself is set, something the rival World Series of Poker did with its now-discontinued “November Nine”.

Despite the attempt to upsell the players, noting that the players are the core commodity putting up the entry fees, those players themselves have decried the decision. Tourney veteran Shaun Deeb predicted a drop in player participation in WPT events of between 25% and 50% over time, while other players – particularly those with families – decried the prospect of having to make cross-country of trans-ocean trips on short notice, just to win the biggest of the prizes they’ve been competing for all along.

As Cliff Josephy, poker’s “JohnnyBax”, Tweeted:

“How are we recreational players ever going to be able to carve out the time for an extra trip in case we make a final table? How can you not think this drastically reduce the # of businessmen playing WPTs?”

The WPT has yet to follow-up its press announcement with a formal framework of plans for the affected Season XVII events. It may well be the tour is looking for a way to repackage its deal with the Luxor and Esports Arena Las Vegas in a way that will be more palatable to the players.