Since its launch in September, the Hustler Casino Live show has enjoyed immediate success thanks to innovations brought to the stream by its producer, Ryan Feldman, and co-owner Nick Vertucci, with appearances by some of the biggest names in poker.
“A few years ago, I was thinking it would be the dream to get Phil (Ivey) and Tom (Dwan) … for me, those are the top two guys to get on a show. You see Hellmuth and Negreanu a lot but you don’t really see Phil and Tom a ton, and they were legends back in the day,” Feldman said. Two months later, the dream came true as the two high-stakes legends played at the same table in late October in front of over 20,000 live viewers.
“To be able to get them, especially in the first few months of the show, was incredible,” Feldman gushed.
Big stars help make a big game
Also playing that night was Garret Adelstein, who regularly appears on the highest stakes games streamed on both Hustler Casino Live, and Live at the Bike. Adelstein is also known for his appearance on Survivor: Cagayan, where he was the second player voted off. It was a rough night for Adelstein, as he ended down nearly $200,000, and Dwan reaped the most of those benefits, ending the night $274,000 up. The full stream is still available on the Hustler’s YouTube page, and has gotten more than 1 million views total, a clear indicator of the popularity of the show and the talent it is bringing.
So how did a poker stream that had been running for just two months manage to pull off such an incredible feat? Well, Hustler Casino Live is trying to do things other poker streams aren’t doing. Their model is to present their poker stream as more of a televised sports event, rather than just another game of cards.
Standing out among the crowd
“I always envisioned it like an NBA broadcast. If you watch NBA on TNT or ESPN, [at the] beginning of the 4th quarter, they have a live interview with the coach. They have interview packages they air from the day before on the broadcast,” Feldman said, describing some of the features he’s tried to incorporate into the Hustler’s stream.
One such clip can be seen from the previously mentioned Ivey-Dwan game, where another regular, professional gambler Mikki Mase, discusses a hand in which he went broke while playing on the stream. Similar in-stream interviews were seen at the WSOP on PokerGO, but are hardly ever seen at casino-specific streams. Not content to stop there, the show is looking to stand out in other ways as well.
Feldman continued about things he wants to keep adding to the stream, “The NBA shows have all the info and stats on a ticker on the bottom, and that’s what I wanted to bring into the poker stream. More like a high-quality stream, I wanted to be different and stand out.”
Part of the package with this stream in particular is the state-of-the-art camera equipment. According to Feldman, they spent “a few hundred thousand on equipment, as well as the stage and set.” He didn’t want to reveal what type of cameras they use in order to stay ahead of the curve, joking that it was a trade secret. The Hustler has been on board with this vision from the beginning and continues to stay out of their ways.
“We don’t have people to answer to, it’s just us,” Feldman said. “We wanted to have high-quality equipment, cameras, microphones on all the players. We wanted more of a sports TV production in the control room as opposed to a standard, minimized production.”
Now that Hustler Casino Live has secured the biggest names in poker, how can they possibly raise the bar from here? For Feldman, it’s clear what he needs wants to take the show to the next level: bring in some of the biggest names in all of the entertainment, not just poker.
“We need to get people outside of mainstream poker that will drive an audience here, like Mr. Beast, Kevin Hart … people like that who play poker but aren’t in poker. That’s the goal for lineups,” Feldman said. “There’s a difference between getting games together and getting the BEST games together, and I’m trying to get the best games possible every day.”
Who else is streaming poker?
This approach of bringing in viewers from outside the poker world seems to be a driving factor for these casinos, who are looking to rebound after lengthy closures due to COVID-19. Reaching out to a broader audience is necessary, and with many parts of the entertainment industry slowly moving over to places like Youtube and Twitch, having an online presence seems to be crucial for survival.
The proof is in the numbers. Live at the Bike has 187,000 subscribers on its YouTube channel. Hustler Casino Live has just 68,000, but some of their videos have surpassed or are nearing a million views — a number that the Bike hasn’t come close to reaching. A recent check on viewership during the high-stakes games that each stream runs on Fridays showed that Hustler’s stream had nearly 10 times the viewers of Live at the Bike.
Poker streams aren’t reserved for Southern California either. Stones Gambling Hall had a prominent poker stream that became infamous after the Mike Postle cheating scandal broke. Maryland LIVE also had a poker stream before the pandemic but has yet to pick up operations since. The Lodge Live is another recent poker stream launched at the Lodge Poker Club in Texas, which has seen a recent boom in poker tournaments since the club was recently purchased by Doug Polk, Brad Owen, and Andrew Neeme.
With many people still working and staying mostly at home, not everyone is willing or able to travel to their local poker room to get their poker fix. As such, more casinos are seeing how bringing the action to their audience in the comfort of their own homes can help keep them engaged in the game, and help lure them back to the felt when they feel comfortable venturing out again.
Only time will tell if the strategy pays off, but with the new ideas they’re bringing to the table, the producers at Hustler Casino Live believe their live stream will help them stand out from the increasingly crowded poker streaming market.