William Mason is the Poker Room Director for the Seminole Hard Rock Casino and is in the eye of the storm for perhaps the most important tournament of his career. The $10,000,000 Main Event Guarantee was announced in mid-April and shortly after that his office was flooded with calls, emails and tweets asking if they had made a mistake.
Mason was proud to announce that it was indeed a $10 million guarantee with $1.5 million guaranteed for the winner. The preliminary events crushed all the guarantees and if the action holds up Mason may have the largest tournament ever held in Florida.
Even Mason’s superiors questioned the viability of the event, but Mason’s conviction, preparation and execution of the series leading up to the Main Event have been, by all accounts, a massive success.
This seemed like a dream considering just a couple of years ago the state enforced archaic rules limiting buy-ins and betting amounts.
Mason’s career in the game began in 1993 as a table game dealer in Atlantic City. He traded in the Northeastern winters for warmer weather working on a casino cruise out of Miami. From there Mason grew his profile, ultimately becoming Director of Operations on a different casino cruise ship. Ten years ago Mason joined the Hard Rock team and guided the resort through the landmark legislation that allowed Florida to become competitive with other poker friendly markets.
Can you talk about the state of poker before the laws changed a couple years ago?
Before the laws changed in Florida it was primarily tournament based, mainly Sit & Gos. There were nights at the Hard Rock where there would be over 225 Sit & Gos ran. One would break and another would take its place right away – they had people lined up waiting out of the door. We had $1/2 and $2/2 games and on a Saturday night you could have 200 people waiting. It was amazing to see.
When the laws changed did the games change overnight?
Yeah, it changed from tournament-based to big bet poker. Everyone had to be retrained and players had to learn the new games. There was another law that extended hours for local and smaller card rooms. Those started filling up as well. They were able to run the same games as us. It evened the playing field for everyone.
Poker rooms exploded in Florida after the new laws, how did the Hard Rock position themselves to stay competitive an newly competitive environment?
Currently, we’re positioning ourselves as the high-end room. We’ve changed our tournament mix and buy-ins over the last six months; we’ve went from some smaller buy-in tournaments to having a weekly $560 buy-in with a $75,000 guarantee. We’ve added some higher end tournaments once a month, it’s called the Big Slick with a $200,000 guarantee. We’ve taken our Saturday tournament, which was a smaller buy-in and field, to a $240 event with $20,000 guaranteed. We also have a $100 turbo we run every night. We’ve gone after the higher end business and that’s where we think we should be positioned.
Whose idea was it to run a $10 million guarantee?
It was a cumulative effort – a lot questions were tossed back and forth. Before our April event we asked what we could do to take us over the top.
Did the top executives think you were crazy when you presented the idea?
A lot of people thought we were crazy. When we announced it via Twitter I was getting phone calls the next day. There was a World Series of Poker Circuit event going in North Carolina and we heard the buzz started started going around the room. ‘Is this real?’ and ‘How can they do this?’ Nobody thought we could do this. We started right away with a satellite system in May and we just kept going at it every day. We had $115 rake-free satellites and at the start there were maybe ten to fifteen players in them. By the end of two weeks we had 25-30 players. The last week of June we were doing 50-75 players a day. The growth was incredible. The last two 28 seats mega satellites we drew 600 and 626 players – which is an amazing number for satellites.
On Day 1A of the Main Event the Hard Rock drew over 600 players – what does that mean to you?
We worked really hard but it really speaks more about the poker community. We put this out there and the community gave us the support back. Everyone wants to see this succeed – even the other local venues. Everybody knows that this is good for poker and when you’re trying to grow something that has been down lately, it’s great to see the support. We really appreciate the support.
Do you see this returning as annual event?
I see us looking at it and evaluating everything once it’s over and see if we can do it bigger and better next time.
With the size of the Florida tourism industry, where do you see the future for Florida poker?
There’s a lot of risk-takers in Florida poker – which makes for high-paced cash games. Our $2/5 and $5/10 games are really strong here. There’s a really solid base here and I’ve seen a lot of players that have moved to play cards here. The games are really good.
Gaming laws in Florida allow players 18 and up to gamble, how does that factor into the games here?
I think that gives us a competitive advantage compared to other regulated jurisdictions that are 21 and up. We do get a lot of 18-20 year-olds playing in the cash games. It also gives players a chance to start playing in an environment like this at a younger age. I think that players advance a little faster down here. We’ve had a lot of support from them, especially on the weekends. We also get a lot of the college kids that come in during the off times – it’s been great for us.
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