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What Makes The WPO Tick?

19 November 2004

They come from near and far, famous names and those seeking to become famous, media coverage is extensive and the finals are televised on the Travel Channel's World Poker Tour, the prize money if fabulous with $1.5 million for the Texas Hold 'em championship but what really makes the 6th Jack Binion World Poker Open tick is the unmitigated cooperation between two highly competitive casinos.

Horseshoe Poker Room Manager and co-tournament director Ken Lambert and Gold Strike's Director of Marketing agree on this key point even while battling each other day day in and day out for the hearts and purses of casino customers.

"We work extremely well together and can call on each other with the assurance that things will get done," said Ms. Brown. "This is not just a unique affiliation, it is probably unheard of in the gaming industry. We work as one."

Said Lambert, who put his dream of a major Southern poker tournament into effect when he approached Gold Strike to become a partner in the new event. "It worked from the beginning and has been a success since 2000. This relationship has been a great example of how two casinos can work together on one event for mutual benefit but one that also benefits the Tunica market as a whole."


LOTS OF WORK
The intense effort to plan and implement the WPO begins even as the last event is still underway. A joint committee comprised of some 30 members of the poker room, marketing, hotel, food & beverage, security and cage department, review the past tournament and then plan for increased attendance at the next one. The first year the WPO attracted some 2,100 players and each year grows by about 20 percent. Last Jan. some 6,163 poker players journeyed to Tunica Resorts each with an eye out for a piece of the staggering $7,856,435 total prize money.

There is a tremendous amount of work done by the two casinos and with some 7,000 players anticipated for the 6th event, teamwork and cooperation is of the essence to make it flow smoothly for the players and their guests. Fortunately, the Horseshoe and Gold Strike now have a lot of experience and success in preparing for and handling large fields, crowds and the overflow of people in the past.

"Prize money was paid to players from virtually every state in the country and 22 different nations," said Nolan Dalla who coordinates publicity and media for the event. "The prize money is bigger than the Masters in golf or Wimbledon in tennis. If the past is any measure, the prize money and attendance will increase again by about 20 percent."

That the tournament has been such a continuous success is not so much a surprise. The Mississippi Delta is the birthplace of poker, as we know it today. Riverboat gamblers and Southerners essentially invented the game and the lore that emanated from those early years of poker has helped its growth immensely. Also, the event is helped by two of the most prestigious names in the industry, the legendary Horseshoe (Harrah's Entertainment) and Gold Strike (Mandalay Resort Group), with the encouragement and support of Jack Binion, one of the most loved and respected men in the gaming business.

"We work at this 365 days a year," said Sheila Stafford, Horseshoe's Advertising Manager. "We have to get out advertising and publicity not only for the event but to attract about 200 qualified temp dealers from around the country as well to augment the 75 we have. We had 101 tables operating last year between the two casinos and with different shifts that is a lot of people from a small available pool. We even advertise in Europe."

GROWING PROBLEMS
The fact that poker is exploding around the world is not only a plus for the WPO but a growing problem as well. As one of the largest events, the tournament continues to grow and that requires more poker tables, more dealers, more space and more hotel rooms which are already in short supply for this large gathering. Both casinos have already sold out their rooms for the Jan.5-Jan. 27 run, a month earlier than last year. It is expected that some 13,000 rooms will be booked in January and that includes blocks at other casinos, all the area motels and even some in Memphis.

The event has gained prestige and not only draws the biggest names in poker but has spread to Hollywood and Ben Affleck, Lou Diamond Phillips and Toby McGuire may make appearances in Tunica for the event. Affleck and Phillips played last year and Spiderman McGuire recently won the Phil Helmuth Invitational, a $2,000 buy-in event.

Beside the big money pool, the Binion WPO is very generous to players, helping make it an event to be played in. Room rates are every affordable for players and they are also allowed to eat at special rooms in Gold Strike, where the ballroom is the main venue, at no cost.

THE GAMES
While Texas Hold'em is the main attraction other games adding to the attraction include Omaha, Seven Card Stud, and a Ladies event, no-limit Hold'em. There are a total of 20 events. Buy-ins range from $200 up to $10,000 for the championship finale. However, many players earn their way into the tournament by winning "satellites," which are smaller tournaments costing as little as $65.

But one the major attractions of this gathering is the side action that goes on around the clock. There are numerous cash games at both casinos from $1-5 limit to all the way up to pot limit and no-limit.

There was a unique and very interesting sidebar that accompanied the winner, Barry Greenstein, last year. The Rancho Pales Verdes, California pro, who retired at the young age of 36 after selling his software company, incredibly donates every penny of his winnings to charity. Last year that meant he donated $1,278,370 to his favorite charity, Children Incorporated.


Guest of players along with the public are invited to watch all the tournament excitement that starts at noon each day. For the final event, the beautiful Millennium theatre at Gold Strike will catch all the action on its large screen on Thursday, Jan. 27. For more information call 1-800-303-7463 or 1,662-357-5500, ext, 5760. Media inquiries may be direct to Nolan Dalla at nolandalla@aol.com

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Best of Rudi Schiffer
Rudi Schiffer

Rudi Schiffer is a long time columnist and contributing writer for Jackpot Magazine, the South’s leading gaming publication, and for casinocitytimes.com, the world’s leading casino industry internet news distributor. He is also owner and co-host of the 20-year-old Goodtimes Radio Show, now simulcast on Fridays from 3-6 PM Central Time from Country Classic 1180 AM, Memphis networked with KMIS 1050 AM, and 103.9 KGLU FM from Kennet, MO covering parts of Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. His radio show is also archived at audiovegas.com. A Boston University Journalism graduate, he resides in Memphis, TN. Known as the "Voice of Tunica" for his support the gaming jurisdiction for two decades, he was also recently named to Memphis Business Quarterly Magazine’s 3rd annual “The Power Players, Who’s Who” of Memphis.He is also a contributing writer for Southern Gaming & Entertainment and Mississippi Gaming.

Rudi Schiffer Websites:

www.AudioVegas.com
Rudi Schiffer
Rudi Schiffer is a long time columnist and contributing writer for Jackpot Magazine, the South’s leading gaming publication, and for casinocitytimes.com, the world’s leading casino industry internet news distributor. He is also owner and co-host of the 20-year-old Goodtimes Radio Show, now simulcast on Fridays from 3-6 PM Central Time from Country Classic 1180 AM, Memphis networked with KMIS 1050 AM, and 103.9 KGLU FM from Kennet, MO covering parts of Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. His radio show is also archived at audiovegas.com. A Boston University Journalism graduate, he resides in Memphis, TN. Known as the "Voice of Tunica" for his support the gaming jurisdiction for two decades, he was also recently named to Memphis Business Quarterly Magazine’s 3rd annual “The Power Players, Who’s Who” of Memphis.He is also a contributing writer for Southern Gaming & Entertainment and Mississippi Gaming.

Rudi Schiffer Websites:

www.AudioVegas.com