With record-breaking live events in the books, the World Poker Tour is setting itself up for what Matt Savage, the tour’s Executive Tournament Director, believes will be a massive comeback year.
“It’s been a very busy year despite having less live events. We’re looking towards the future but at the same time, we broke some records for events,” said Savage in an interview with CardsChat News.
WPT on the comeback trail
Next month, the WPT DeepStacks returns to Choctaw casino in Oklahoma five months after attracting 964 entries in a $3,500 event. Running from Nov. 5-8, the $1,100 WPT DeepStacks gives regional players a cheaper option to the WSOP Main Event, which starts on Nov. 3.
Savage says the numbers from the last Oklahoma event, along with large fields in other events around the country, are encouraging for the WPT, especially after the tour was forced to cancel some previous events due to COVID.
In July, the WPT Venetian attracted 1,199 players, a record-breaking field for a $5,000 buy-in, says Savage. He also saw 1,165 players enter Seminole Hard Rock Tampa for $3,500. While neither of those events was filmed for broadcast, Savage says the WPT plans to tape “five to seven” tournaments for broadcast next year.
In the meantime, the WPT returns to TV this month with four episodes of cash games that were filmed at Gardena Casino in Los Angeles just last month. They will be aired on Fox Sports Net on Sundays in October.
A Savage view of the future
In addition to catching us up on the latest doings at the WPT, Savage also took some time to share his views on the poker industry today, and where it’s headed in the future.
CC: With Choctaw, was it a conscious decision to compete with the World Series of Poker Main Event?
MS: I would say no. I just think it’s a different area of the country. Texas has been off the hook with a lot of new players and all the private rooms that they have down there. I think that Choctaw feels there are enough players that will come up and play in that event that don’t need to worry about the events going on in Vegas.
And with the conditions as they are at the World Series of Poker, I think that people feel that Texas is a good drawing point for a big-field event like the DeepStacks event at Choctaw.
CC: What do you mean by the conditions at the WSOP?
MS: (chuckles) I think you can figure it out … you want me to tell you? I think that Texas and Florida are not following all the same protocols that maybe other places in the country are. I’m a proud Nevada resident, but I think that protocols are a little more stringent than other places in the country.
We have things that we can do and can’t do. In the end, our partner casinos are the most important to us. They’re the ones that set up the regulations and protocols of what they have to do, and we have to abide by them.
CC: You think we’re on the cusp of another poker boom. Where do you see WPT’s role in the next one?
MS: Yeah, I do think we’re on the cusp of another poker boom only because I believe, over the years, we’ve become more sensitive to women poker players and making it so that it’s a friendly atmosphere.
My focus has always been on satellites and the recreational players that play in our game. I think they are the life-blood of our industry. So, hopefully, we’ve learned some things in the last few years and we will make changes necessary to make sure that they’re comfortable to come in and play in a new environment that we’re going to have coming out. And I do think there will be a second wave of poker players coming back to play the game.
CC: Have you seen many people leaving this industry?
MS: I think there have been some people that have taken different jobs. I think it’s mostly the front-line people, the dealers, that we have problems with getting to come back to work. But I feel like they will.
Poker dealing is a good job and it [regulations] makes it very difficult for them because they have to abide by what their employers want and yet, there are places in the industry and in the country where poker is booming where maybe they found permanent jobs. So there’s not going to be as many traveling dealers as there were in the past.
But like I said, if you run the operations correctly and you pay the dealers correctly, I think that people will come back.
CC: What are your thoughts on the WPT being purchased by Element Partners?
MS: It’s exciting. Anytime somebody’s going to put up that much money for the World Poker Tour, it means that they’re committed to making sure that we survive. So, there’s a lot of excitement internally because we know that they have put a real commitment toward our product, which means we’re going to be around for a while.
They have big goals. They really want us to be the premier brand in poker, which I feel like we already are. But that’s just my biased opinion. I know they want us to get bigger and better And moving toward the future, I think you’re going to see some exciting things down the road.
CC: What brings you back? What keeps you at it?
MS: The people. I’ve met so many great people over the years. And I think that fact that we really care about the players — and I like to say that we’re the player-friendly tour.
You know, I’ve missed a lot of people. Things have not been easy for poker. I look forward to the next chapter. I think that, with everybody going online and being at home, we’re going to see a second boom with people coming out and wanting to play live poker again. We’ve already seen that in some of our events. I think we are very well-positioned to see that next boom, and I think we’re going to have a big wave of players that are going to come back and enjoy the World Poker Tour for years to come.
CC: How many more years do you plan on keep doing this?
MS: That’s a great question. I was just talking to people about this yesterday. I love the poker industry. I get reinvigorated a lot of times when things happen, and I’m reinvigorated now because I think there’s defiantly a place in the casino industry for poker.
To me, poker is best played live. I have a lot of passion for it. I really think live poker is the best poker, I would love to see it rebound, and I want to be a part of it when that happens.