On January 13, 2004 Harrah’s Entertainment announced they had purchased the Binion’s Horseshoe in Las Vegas just days after federal marshals closed the Downtown Las Vegas hotel. The purchase altered the course of poker history forever because along with the 53-year-old casino came the rights to the World Series of Poker.
The 2015 World Series of Poker will be the 12th since the purchase and marks the 10th WSOP that will be played out in its entirety at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas. Harrah’s has changed its name to Caesars Entertainment and no longer owns the Horseshoe but as the BLUFF 2015 WSOP Countdown continues we’re looking back at the biggest improvements made to the WSOP under Caesars’ management.
A Place to Call Home
Sure, it’s not a four or five star hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, but the Rio Hotel and Casino is realistically the only Caesars-owned property in Las Vegas with enough convention space and parking to host the seven-week-long festival. Putting the WSOP at The Rio hasn’t always felt like a winning decision.
In the early years the WSOP shared convention space with trade shows completely unrelated to poker and even a cheerleading competition that saw six year old girls and their cheer moms sharing the hallways with some of poker’s biggest name. But now there’s an entire generation of poker players who have never known anything but the Rio as the “home of the WSOP”.
The WSOP Circuit
Launched in 2005, the WSOP Circuit was originally supposed to be the WSOP’s way of competing with the World Poker Tour. A series of $10,000 buy-in tournaments around the country were designed to attract the biggest names in poker leading to an ESPN broadcast final table. The idea fizzled out, thanks in part to the passing of the UIGEA, but the reincarnation of the Circuit might just a better overall concept.
The WSOP Circuit now runs 10 months of the year (taking a break during the WSOP) with casinos hosting two weeks worth of events with buy-ins starting at $365 and culminating in a $1,650 main event. The Circuit has become a breeding ground for future superstars of the game with 2013 WSOP Main Event champion Ryan Riess as the poster boy.
A Schedule to Suit All Tastes
Each year Jack Effel, WSOP Tournament Director, has the task of putting together a schedule of bracelet events that keeps the professional players happy while still bringing out the home game heroes en masse. The schedule is always going to be a work in progress but Effel openly solicits feedback and suggestions from everybody in the poker community in an effort to create the best possible schedule each year.
The 2015 schedule includes all game types at all price points, giving those home game heroes the chance to play Deuce to Seven Triple Draw, Razz or the 19-game Dealer’s Choice event for $1,500 while the likes of Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey and Erik Seidel can focus on the $10,000 buy-in events. Alongside the mix games is the usual heavy dose of No Limit Hold’em but the addition of the Millionaire Maker and Monster Stack have made for huge fields since their creation.
Mainstream Corporate Sponsorship
Since the poker boom began mainstream sponsors haven’t exactly been knocking down poker’s door. That hasn’t stopped the WSOP from working every angle possible to break through in that category and over the last few years in particular they’ve had success. Brands like Southern Comfort, Electronic Arts, GoDaddy and Ruffles are just a few of the non-endimic sponsors that have worked with the WSOP.
So how do they do it? Thanks to their unique and long-running partnership with ESPN, WSOP head honcho Ty Stewart is able to give brands exposure on the Worldwide Leader and to a captive audience inside the Rio for seven weeks every summer. The 2015 WSOP schedule includes the DraftKings 50/50 event, the first time a sponsor’s name has appeared on a WSOP tournament name, and now that’s it happened once, it’s bound to become more and more frequent. The next step for corporate sponsorship involves finding a way to get some of that money added to the prizepool.
The November Nine
Quite possibly the most shocking change to happen under Caesars’ watch was the invention of the November Nine in 2008. Rather than playing out the Main Event to a winner each July, the Main Event now stops when the final table is reached and the final nine contestants now wait until November when they return to play down to a winner live on ESPN.
The concept was built around the premise that airing an event where viewers already knew the outcome lacked any real drama and that the 3.5 month break could give producers a chance to properly tell the story of the players at the final table leading up to the live broadcast. While the concept has always had its critics, it has put the WSOP on primetime television and turned the final table playdown into appointment television.
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