NOLAN DALLA: WSOP MEDIA DIRECTOR BRINGS IT ON (PART 1)

Poker
By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper
July 6, 2015

Today Nolan Dalla is in high gear for another starting day of the Main Event of the 45th Annual World Series of Poker at the Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The WSOP’s longtime media director has been in residence, at theWSOP, since its inception at the Rio in 2004. His association with the WSOP is even longer; dating back to 2003 during the WSOP’s waning days at Binion’s Horseshoe.

But – The WSOP is just one piece of a busy canvas for this ever-peripatetic writer and quintessential poker historian. Dalla’s personal journey has taken intriguing twists and turns, putting him up close and personal with many of the industry’s most powerful movers and shakers, and then some.

In the weeks leading up to this year’s WSOP, I turned the tables on Dalla for this article. I chatted up the master interviewer, three different times, including one at a dinner with his stunningly beautiful and very engaging wife Marieta — on the occasion of their 25th wedding anniversary.

http://www.pokerplayernewspaper.com/sites/default/files/eolis-dalla-2015.jpg
Nolan, Marieta, and Wendeen do dinner at Giada (LV)

 

Dalla — A Most Familiar Face at the WSOP

Dalla’s job at the WSOP is multi-dimensional. It has evolved over the years. He collaborates with and works under Seth Palansky, Caesars Interactive (CIE) Vice President of Communications; assuring that the WSOP circulates relevant information to journalists, players, and the public. He is also the WSOP’s senior writer, with the notable distinction of hundreds of appearances at the fabled tournament’s final tables. From the traditional multi-week spring/summer WSOP in Las Vegas, to WSOP circuit events across the country, and glamorous international venues, Dalla has been there, done that, and got the t-shirt!

Every year Dalla takes in, absorbs, and breathes out tournament stories in singular detail — frequently providing curious facts and bringing little-known tidbits to the surface.  Dalla states his philosophy on poker: “Behind every player is a story… my job is to bring it out and tell it.”

For the past six weeks, Nolan’s life has focused, almost singularly, on his duties at the WSOP. Harrahs has renewed his employment each year as an outside services provider — recognizing the benefit of his vast relationships and experience. One Caesars executive calls him “an insider who understands the boundaries of an ‘independent contractor’ with the WSOP family.”

On a daily basis, he walks the mile long corridors of the Rio, with an ear to the ground and a highly trained eye, in search of the unique nuggets that separate him in his craft as a writer. He also makes his way to the WSOP gold bracelet ceremony for the presentation of the coveted jewelry to the winner of each event. At the end of the World Series of Poker, Nolan will pack up his WSOP hat for other pursuits, but he is already breathing the scent of next year’s WSOP.

Dalla is One Busy Guy!

Dalla’s  professional career includes mid-stakes poker player, avid sports bettor (and lifelong gambler), deep-diving poker media writer, prolific tournament reporter, energized poker commentator, enthusiastic BARGE contributor, best-selling author of a poker book, classy public relations director, enlightened poker business executive with Poker Night in America, and a loyal company man to powerful clients. A legion of respectful colleagues and poker players supply these descriptions, including the adjectives. And, Dalla’s career extends far beyond the poker world to politics, diplomacy, and his popular blog as a “provocateur” at NolanDalla.com.

Dalla has a passion for writing from a very personal perspective — about people, social philosophies, and a wide range of events including his food and wine adventures. Friends call him a keen observer of the human condition. Foes call him a “high-strung left winger.”  Both true, Dalla acknowledges. His twitter account gives us more helpful hints about the colorful tapestry of his biography. He refers to himself as a “writer, polemic, anti-thesist, socialist, humanist, skeptic, contrarian, free-thinker, blue-collar philosopher, Johnnie Walker Black drinker.”

Proper and Delightful Disclosures!

This reporter is blown away by the amount of poker content Nolan has contributed, which includes articles for almost every major poker publication, since he came on the scene in the early 90’s. Having hand-picked Nolan as a teammate for the first live streamed, real time coverage of a poker tournament – at the U.S Poker Championship in Atlantic City in 1999 — I learned a bit about Nolan’s work ethic, first hand. He was a terrific commentator, but by the end of the collaboration our respective nerves were frayed. He was less than subtle, and I was more than miffed, when he told me he had little appetite for a reprised gig, if I were in the saddle!

Our paths continued to cross. We soon forgot our differences and broke bread together. Collegiality evolved into friendship that has taken us to savored restaurant meals around the country, each time our travels have intersected — for more than a decade. So, I was surprised to learn, while involved in the interviews of Nolan for this article, that I was just beginning to peel the onion, in earnest.

Interviewing Nolan is a Trip!

Nolan was in midstream on a house renovation when I popped into town this past spring and offered to monopolize his time with rapid-fire questions a la Vanity Fair’s “Proust Questionnaire” I inquired; he answered. Hear him in his own words:

What are some of the things you stand for?

Truth. Everything else is secondary.

What else?

Curiosity. All progress starts with being curious. So long as you are curious, you’re never bored and possibilities exist for improvement.

What are some of the things you stand against?

Hypocrisy, evil, oppression – most abundantly exemplified all organized religions.

What is the most overrated virtue in society?

Fame, followed very closely by fortune. Neither are particularly correlated to happiness.

What living person do you admire the most, and why?

I most admire the people whose names we often do not know. The caretakers and caregivers of those who are aged, or sick, or in pain. I admire those who fight diseases, volunteer in less-developed countries, those who write and speak out against evil and oppression. I don’t so much admire famous people such as government leaders or popular artists as much those who are far less famous doing all the really tough jobs that the rest of us aren’t brave enough to do.

What historical figure do you admire the most, and why?

My short list of great writers and thinkers would include Leonardo de Vinci, Socrates, and William Shakespeare.  As for action rather than words, I’d say Spartacus for leading a slave revolt against the Roman Empire knowing full well the odds were stacked so heavily against him, but he fought and died anyway for the basic human right to be free and gave others that hope.

What living person do you despise?

Let’s start with North Korea’s crackpot leader, who is the personification of evil. Then, toss in all the sheiks and royals in the Arab world oppressing their people. Benjamin Netanyahu certainly belongs on the list. In America, it’s an eight-way tie between Sheldon Adelson, Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Dick Cheney, Charles Krauthammer, Jennifer Lopez, and Tony Kornheiser. How much more time and space do I have?

If money were not an object, what profession would you choose?

A dictator would be nice. I’d say Pope, but that would throw the Catholic Church into chaos, wouldn’t it?

What is it about yourself that you are most proud of?

My capacity to change; to evolve in light of evidence and learn more and keep an open mind that possibilities exist beyond my current ability to absorb them.

What is it about yourself that you’d like to change?

Time. I need more time. I would like to have more time not only to do what I want but to do the things that need to be done.

What is it about you that might surprise people?

That I’m half Italian in blood, but 100 percent Italian in spirit. My paternal grandfather came to the U.S. from the Trentino province in Northern Italy which is in the Alps. I’m convinced the passion and love I have for food and music is genetic.

What’s the most exciting thing you’ve ever done?

It’s a toss-up between meeting Marieta and getting a “yes” the day I asked her to marry me. That’s pretty exciting hearing that someone you love agrees to spend the rest of their life with you. What can be more exciting than that?

What’s the most unusual time and place you’ve ever visited?

Witnessing the Romanian Revolution in 1989, from the balcony of the Communist Party Central Committee Building in Bucharest, where Nicolae Ceausescu had been speaking just hours early before he fled the scene in a helicopter off the rooftop. That was about as amazing as it gets seeing the Iron Curtain come down within just a few hours.

Name a place you’ve never visited where you still want to go.

A different galaxy.

Favorite book, favorite movie, and favorite musician?

Book: “The Power Broker,” by Robert Moses

Favorite movie: “The Godfather”

Favorite musician: Van Morrison

Favorite author: Christopher Hitchens

Favorite Painter/Composer?

Cezanne and many of the other impressionists. Also Jackson Pollack, for entirely different reasons.

What upsets you the most?

My inability to be more than I am, and do more.

What bores you?

Repetition. Reality shows. And baseball.

My favorite quality in a man or a woman:

A sense of humor.

Do you believe in an afterlife and why do you believe it so?

I do not believe in any god or gods. I am a secular humanist. It’s up to humankind to solve our own problems and make our own advances without the intervention of some invisible and non-existent Sky Daddy.

A Few More Details Before We Move On to Part 2

A lifelong gambler, Nolan is an Italian Texan. He grew up in Dallas. He worked his way through college playing poker and betting sports. A graduate of the University of Texas in 1984 and a masters candidate in public policy administration at UT-Arlington, a year later, Nolan cashed out of poker and left graduate school. He grabbed a government service position for five years, before returning to his hometown of Dallas—unemployed.

The yet-to-become poker journalist re-discovered poker. He racked up enough winning sessions to support himself over the next few years playing poker in Texas and on road trips to Las Vegas–with extra monies from bartending stints flowing into his till. Nolan may still have plenty of gamble in his bones; at Caesars he holds a Diamond Card!

But, we have barely scratched the surface of Nolan Dalla’s story; working with Nick Behnen at Binion’s Horseshoe, writing the Stu Ungar biography, getting involved in  Mike Caro’s examination of poker cheats, taking calls from Isai Scheinberg of Poker Stars, attending BARGE events for years, weighing in big time against casino mogul, Sheldon Adelson, and more. Come back for Part 2.

Editor’s Note: Wendeen Eolis is CEO of EOLIS, a legal consultancy, a public servant of longstanding in local, state, and federal government assignments, and a competitive tournament poker player in spare time. She was the first woman to cash in the main event at the World Series of Poker and the first woman to do so twice. See her wikipedia listing, and eolis.com press clip index for more information. This article is her exclusive property. She can be reached at:eolis@eolis.comTwitterFacebook and LinkedIn or at the website: www.eolis.com.

TAJ POKER ROOM FALLS FOR THE BORGATA

Poker
By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper
March 30, 2015

The Trump Taj Mahal Casino (‘Taj’) poker room drew its biggest crowd in years, for its closing weekend, last month. The nostalgic full house bore respectful witness to the downfall of Atlantic City’s once most iconic card room.

People were there for a host of different reasons during the last step of transition from boom to bust. Poker executives of the Borgata Hotel and Casino were part of the mix. A reciprocal visit by Taj executives to the Borgata poker room soon followed – with variable greetings from players and personnel.

A Curious Cast of Characters

Vincent Alonge, the Director of Poker Operations at the Borgata, and a former Taj Poker Shift Manager, made the trip back to the Taj to wish former colleagues the best and “to say goodbye to the poker room” he had called home for eighteen years.

Mabel Louie, Executive Poker Host at the Borgata since day one, also visited the Taj’s people-packed tables, during the final hurrah. For Louie minding her business — attending to customers — is a never-ending daily priority. On this occasion, however, her focus was mostly on the sadness of so many needed jobs that were about to be lost.

Tab Duchateau, Borgata’s Tournament Director moved around the room alongside Alonge; following Alonge’s mantra of study, listen, and learn. Duchateau builds tournament fare, attracts competitors from hither and yon, and revs up the tournament engine with a regular and frequent timetable for a buffet of varied events, in contrast to the Taj, which allowed tournaments to deteriorate into an irrelevant side show.

The triumvirate of Alonge, Louie and Duchateau was mindful that the Borgata poker room stands on the shoulders of a Taj poker team that drew full houses for more than a decade of booming times. The trio also stood together, gratefully, for employment at the Borgata, which has adapted to a dramatically changed poker world over the years — one that thirsts and thrives on tournament competition.

Tom Gitto, the Director of Poker, at the Taj, was overseeing the end of an era. But, in this down moment of a pending closure, Charlie Rando, Taj VP of Casino Operations Rando was looking up. Together they were already focusing on a business plan to re-open Taj poker come July 2015, with Gitto at the helm. In the interim, Gitto has returned to his Taj roots on the casino floor, eagerly awaiting the chance to settle the score with his company’s archrival.

Carl Icahn, a corporate takeover specialist was in the wings. Icahn, the owner of the Atlantic City Tropicana Casino and Resort, is poised to take the Taj out of bankruptcy. His reorganization plan calls for cancelation of a Taj employee union contract, which is currently the subject of litigation. The Taj obtained a favorable court ruling last month. However, if the ruling is reversed by a higher court, Icahn has the right to back out.

Except for its final weekend, all but the most stalwart loyalists had long since migrated from the Taj poker room to other card rooms down Miss America’s Boardwalk and beyond it. The Borgata, in the more upscale Marina District of Atlantic City, has been the chief beneficiary.

In the wake of the Taj poker room shutdown, Rando and Gitto were left to take stock of the failed poker operation and dream of reprising its glory days.

Taj Bosses Make Surprise Visit to the Borgata

The Rando/Gitto, team hit the ground running, with a ballsy field trip to the Borgata. Their plan was to get an eyeful of the competition that clobbered its business, while giving an earful to Borgata poker patrons and staff. Rando and Gitto made good on their plan.

They pressed the flesh with former Taj customers and reportedly grandstanded their message; plans for a revival that will give the Borgata poker room a run for its money.

Gitto was previously Alonge’s boss at the Taj — for more than 15 years. Rando had worked at the Borgata during its opening days. Neither Rando nor Gitto called Alonge or anyone else on his management team with a “heads up,” in advance of their visit.

There is nothing quite like a spontaneous reunion with old friends to present your new agenda!

Rando, Gitto, and Alonge; Intersecting Lives

Rando and Gitto are native sons of Atlantic City. They share family ties dating back to their childhood. Rando and Gitto’s older brother were good friends. Alonge was born and bred in New York. An Atlantic City transplant, in 1985, he found work as a limousine driver; make that Donald Trump’s driver.

Rando was once a cop. His casino industry career, of more than thirty years, has taken him on a hopscotch path to Las Vegas, Louisiana, and Delaware, as well as some half dozen Atlantic City casinos, where he is most at home. “Complicated issues ring his bell,” notes a former colleague.

In 2012, the Taj called and reeled him in. Industry colleagues say Rando is known and liked all around town. He remains well connected with casinos near and far, including the Borgata where he has an extra special connection.

Gitto got his start in the gaming industry at Resorts in 1980. He moved to the Taj for its opening in 1990. He was a member of the Taj poker team from inception in 1993 to the closing of the poker room on February 15, 2015 – save a few weeks of unemployment in 2012.

Gitto started at the Taj as a table games floor supervisor, then moved to the poker room, and up the ladder, to Vice President of Poker Operations. During a bout of economic jitters, the Taj stripped him of his officer title and drastically reduced his compensation. Gitto soldiered on as the Director/Manager of Poker, keeping the critical elements of the job he loved.

The Company’s hard times eventually led to termination of his employment, just before Rando came onboard. Rando promptly brought Gitto back as Poker Director, explaining, “I believed he had the knowledge base and experience needed.”

Rando asserts, “Gitto is the best poker room manager in town.” On the closing of the poker room, Rando stood by Gitto, putting him in a position as assistant shift manager on the casino floor.

Alonge transferred from the driver seat of Trump’s limo, to a poker dealer seat at the Taj, on its opening day in 1993. Alonge became a poker room supervisor a year later, and then a shift manager. He remained at the Taj as a poker room shift manager until the fall of 2011, when he went to the Borgata as an executive poker host — with a future.

Two years after joining the Borgata poker team, he landed his current role as Borgata’s Director of Poker.

In combination, Rando, Gitto, and Alonge count almost a hundred years of experience in the casino industry, and no shortage of shared highs and lows in the business, along the way. Each of them found true love in the workplace. Their wives know more than a thing or two about the casino business.

Rando’s wife is a table games dealer at the Borgata. Gitto’s wife and Alonge’s wife are former poker dealers at the Taj. Alonge’s wife continues to deal poker, in town, but unlike the policy at the Taj, the Borgata’s anti-nepotism policy precludes her from working in the same department as her spouse.

The Borgata reunion about to occur would allow for so many topics of conversation!

Borgata Poker Room Show

Rando and Gitto made their way, down the marble floor that leads to the Borgata poker room, taking in warm greetings from onetime colleagues and customers. They carried themselves “as if they had the world on a string, not a poker room that bit the dust,” observed one longtime employee, who recognized the duo as they nonchalantly approached the entryway to the high limit area.

The arrival of the twosome sent poker room personnel scurrying to alert Alonge. He got the message, quickly, but decided to finish his afternoon round of customer visits at the opposite end of the poker room, before moving into position to greet the two men.

In the meantime, Rando and Gitto moved in on their intended targets — the bigger stakes players in the high limit section. Gitto shifted gears; he got into pitching mode; thanking former customers for their prior patronage, and promising a grander-than-ever Taj poker room, within a matter of months, according to one eavesdropper. A player, in a limit hold’em game told this reporter, “The welcome mat offered by fans was broad but subdued.” He added, “Naysayers were more noticeable and more vocal.”

Several players and staff, queried for this article, called Gitto’s visit inappropriate, given the apparent objective. One player, who watched the unfolding scene, from an Omaha game, quipped, “Those guys sure were priming the pump, shamelessly.” Another longtime Borgata customer called out the Taj executives as “poachers who should be thrown out of the room.” A nearby Omaha player reportedly shook his head and mumbled, “Wrong time and wrong place for this.”

Alonge and Louie Mambo with Rando and Gitto 

Dressed in a gray suit, dark grey shirt, and a multi-colored tie, Alonge emerged center stage — with a broad, welcoming smile. Louie, the Queen Bee of the poker room, sashayed into place at Alonge’s side, ready to follow his lead — whatever that might be.

Alonge extended his hand to Rando. He welcomed Gitto as a long lost friend and then stood pat; chatting amiably with the two men, for everyone nearby to see and hear. A proud member of Borgata’s executive team, Alonge never had a better opportunity to show off to his former boss. Invoking the Borgata core principle of excellence in customer service, he offered his special guests a guided tour of the property.

Louie, an Asian-American stunner, smiled as broadly as Alonge, and sent the three Italian surnamed bosses on their way. Turning on her stiletto heels, Louie promptly headed back to the business of taking care of her customers.

A Tour Connects Three Good Men

Alonge, Gitto, and Rando strolled around the property. Alonge was more than happy to boast about his employer and the “amazing support he gets from top management.” The conversation then turned more personal between Alonge and Gitto. The two former colleagues recalled better times at the Taj; recounting events, tales from the felt, and funny player stories. It was a jaunt down memory lane.

Near the end of the visit, his guests made their objective clear; they were aiming to take back their former customer base. Alonge did not miss the opportunity to hit them between the eyes. He stated, pointedly, “The poker department at the Borgata is a fully integrated part of the Company’s business.”

Rando and Alonge Sing Gitto’s Praises

Later, Alonge reflected on the get together – especially with Gitto. He recalled sage advice he received from Gitto over the years. Alonge tells this reporter that Gitto coached him only intermittently, but that each counseling experience was full of wisdom that has had a lasting impact on him. He elaborates, eagerly: “Tom helped me to understand the importance of getting to yes with a customer. He explained different ways to find common ground when personal feelings toward the customer might otherwise send you in the direction of saying no.

Alonge is equally quick to defend Gitto against wholesale attacks. Remembering his own experience at the Taj, Alonge says, “During the golden years, it was hard to keep up with nearly out of control demands.” He observes, “In the leaner times, Tom was constrained by budgets and management policies.”  By all accounts, the Taj has looked upon poker as a stepchild — for years.

Rando, for his part, enthusiastically endorses Gitto as “the man for the job,” referring to their current efforts to rejuvenate the Taj poker room. Rando clearly regards Gitto as the person to make it happen. Rando says with certitude, “As long as I am around, Tom Gitto is my choice.”  Lest there is any doubt in anyone’s mind, Rando tells this reporter twice, “I think Tom is the best poker room manager in this town. “

Some folks may remember Gitto’s earlier days at the Taj, as a party boy who mixed it up with players and personnel. But colleagues and customers who have watched him mature over the years, claim that Gitto is strongly guided by his religious faith; noting that he takes work issues, assistance to employees, compassion for friends, and the vows of marriage with his second wife, very seriously.

Author Note: Gitto declined to speak substantively for this story, except to make one global statement, “You can say that when I am wrong, I own up to it and apologize.” Gitto has previously described himself to this reporter as a person whose life is defined by his deeply religious convictions and God’s grace. He was true to his faith in expressing regret for any conduct in customer relations matters that left an opportunity for improvement.  

The Taj Was “The Nuts”

In its heyday, The Taj rocked like no other card room in the country. Under Gitto’s management, the golden years of poker got into full swing. He made the most of Donald Trump’s visits to the poker room, chatting easily with Trump and his entourage — including the latest beauty in his life. And, to the delight of customers, The Donald pranced around the room, engaging players in small talk.

The room was always jumping. Princes, business moguls, and poker pros anted up in games where the turn of a card could produce thousands of dollars on any round. Sightings of the rich and famous were routine. A segment of the Rounders movie filmed there. The Donald’s initiative — the United States Poker Championship, begun in 1996 — built big fields of dreams.

Bookies and sports bettors, loan sharks, and desperados were part of the mix, too, as long as they were discrete when shimmying up to players to collect debts or to plead for a buy in. And, railbirds from all walks of life could catch the action, either within a few feet of the tables or from the outside windows that rimmed the poker room.

No matter the glitz, glamor, and grandeur of Trump’s poker parlor, it was at the same time a tribute to the natural beauty of egalitarianism. There were no high limit “platforms,” no private rooms within the poker room, and no velvet ropes to separate the nosebleed games from those that hosted retirees in tennis shoes and other purely recreational players at the 1-5 limit games. In those days, poker players still cared most about how each seat played the chips. In the late 90’s they also cared, increasingly, about fresher air at the tables.

Gitto Brings in Fresh Air!

Gitto’s accomplishments go beyond the stewardship of a mammoth-sized poker room, packed to the gills, with action off the page, for more than a decade. His greatest legacy to the poker world may be his fearless initiative to end smoking in the poker room.

In January 2000, The Taj became the first major poker room in America to put in place a corporate policy that prohibited smoking in the card room. His proven success, in the face of fiery resistance by skeptics, pushed casinos across the country to catch up with the cool new trend.

Gitto was a savior for providing smoke-free air in the poker room!

Gitto’s Achilles Heels

Gitto’s efforts to curb abusive conduct were less formidable. From the beginning, Taj poker room management, imported from California, adopted the west coast’s renowned laissez–faire attitude toward player conduct. And under Gitto’s management, there was little visible effort to change that mindset until faced with an incident that produced chaos and a threat to call in authorities.

Gitto stepped up to the plate, plastering metal signs around the room that laid down a new law: a zero-tolerance abuse policy. Civility among players, however, remained mostly optional, unless a formal complaint was made. And poker room personnel rarely seemed eager to apply the ominous warnings of enforcement, except for the benefit of employees.

According to several former players and staff, previously loyal customers fled the Taj in continuing waves, as lean times wore on. Players have cited the provocation as worsening abuse, a growing nucleus of “undesirables” at the tables, too many bedbug incidents in the hotel’s bedrooms, and mice openly sharing customer floor space.

Trump Entertainment/Taj Mahal Casino on the Ropes

The jig was up for the Taj poker room, by December 2014. The Taj posted poker revenues of $145,000 compared to $1,412, 000 for Borgata the same month. In announcing the poker room’s closure, Trump Entertainment Resorts, CEO, Robert Griffin reported that the Taj poker room had become unprofitable. He offered a ray of hope for a reopening, “hopefully by July 4, 2015.” More recently, word on the street indicates a “due date” of July 17, 2015 for rebirth of the Taj Poker Room.

Rando is both an optimist and a realist. He keeps moving forward, steering away from any conversation of failure. At the same time, he acknowledges uncertainty as to the future for the Taj, the poker room, or even his own role. Rando asserts, “We went to the Borgata looking for pointers” on their successful operations. He expresses appreciation for Alonge’s hospitality, saying, “I like him. I think he handles his job very well.” Our conversation ends with a reminder that the heart of the successful Borgata poker room is transplanted players from the Taj – players Rando and Gitto want to bring back to their home.

Icahn Likes Poker

If the Icahn deal goes through, the Taj will have a poker aficionado at the top of the food chain. Icahn has played poker for as long as friends can remember; he supposedly amassed poker winnings that became seed money for his early investments. He has since become a billionaire! In 2003, as the new owner of the Atlantic City Sands Hotel and Casino, Icahn stepped right into the poker room. Taking a page from Trump’s successful U.S. Poker Championship Tournament, he raised the stakes. In the fall, he hosted the Sands’ “Million Dollar Challenge: Showdown at the Sands.” It targeted business moguls and top poker pros. He got it televised on Fox Sports.

At the end of the day, the hype was bigger than the tournament or the ratings for the show. But the event was a breakthrough moment for the concept of “high roller” poker tournaments. Only time will tell if he has the appetite to back the plans for a new poker palace at the Taj. Meanwhile at the Borgata, the beat goes on and “the show never ends.”

INTERNAL MANAGEMENT CHANGE AFOOT AT POKER STARS

Poker
By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper
December 10, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: From the Continent to the Isle of Man and across the ocean to North America, word on the street is that the latest round of musical chairs inside Poker Stars has ended with Michael Hazel, Rational Group’s CFO, taking the seat at the head of the table.

According to two PokerStars associates, Hazel who formerly worked for Microsoft Corporation has received the nod as new Chief Executive Officer of Rational Group (Poker Stars), a crown jewel in the expanding empire of Amaya Gaming.

Earlier this week, Hazel, who was hired by PokerStars before the infamous Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act became law in 2006, served as Rational Group’s Chief Financial Officer at the time the Company was acquired by Amaya. He remained in this role in the first months of the acquisition, but was known to be a contender, as was Rafi Ashkenazi, the COO, for the top job at PokerStars.

An alumnus of Microsoft Corporation, Hazel worked on both sides of the pond. Hazel’s knowledge and experience in American business is viewed as a special plus, by one of the investors who notes Amaya’s efforts to penetrate into the online gaming market in America. Another highly placed financial colleague calls Hazel, “a no drama guy, who knows his stuff.” Neither of these two sources was prepared to confirm or deny Hazel’s reported promotion this past week.

Another PokerStars associate compares Hazel’s credentials against the last two non family members at the top of the pyramid of the PokerStars Scheinbergregime, saying, “Hazel’s temperament and fair mindedness as well as his bean counting credentials make him the most ideal choice since Isai Sheinberg stepped away from the operation of PokerStars.

More as this story develops…….

WILL AMAYA ACQUIRE POKERSTARS’ MIDAS TOUCH?

Poker
By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper
August 4, 2014

Now that Amaya Gaming has completed its purchase of PokerStarsIsai Scheinberg and his son Mark, for whom he founded the company, are totally out. Daniel, Baazov Chairman and CEO of Amaya, and the architect of the PokerStars deal, is totally in.  And today, U.S. gaming companies are better positioned to compete against the online behemoth, than ever before.

Not coincidentally, the management change has put PokerStars  back in line for prompt licensing consideration by regulators in New Jersey. Less expected, however, are the kind words a Caesars executive bestows on the Amaya CEO. But, before a relationship between Amaya Gaming and American poker players moves forward in earnest, with plans to hook up online gaming in America from shore to shore, the Company will need to go through more than a few hoops.

PokerStars Train Rolling Across America

Things are  looking up  in New Jersey as PokerStars prepares to settle down, “suitably,” in  Atlantic City. The PokerStars partnership with Resorts is the talk of the town. New Jersey regulators are reportedly convinced that Poker Stars now deserves a welcome mat and are all but drooling over $$$ projected for the State. Wise casino executives, from the marina to the boardwalk are past their frustration over the anticipated competition; looking instead for the silver lining.  Only die-hard naysayers are still warning, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings!”

In contrast, California is an unending battleground in the igaming world. Should PokerStars be admitted to the gaming party or should Poker Stars be excluded by a “bad actor clause;” that is the ongoing question. Casino industry lobbyists and legal experts at opposite ends of the pole have been opining on how to proceed with online gambling legislation. One side of the legal argument revolves around the Constitution. The other side invokes states’ rights that may effectively trump the Constitution. For lawmakers it is a classic case of Fiorello’s song, “Politics and Poker.” One online poker bill has just died on the vine. A second one threatens to face a similar fate, likely to push the debate down the road into 2015.

California, here we come—maybe

Earlier this month, longtime Whittier law professor and gambling law expert I. Nelson Rose took on Constitutional scholar and Harvard Professor, Lawrence Tribe. Rose rebutted Tribe’s legal opinion concerning the two online poker bills pending in the California legislature. Tribe challenges the “bad actor” clause in proposed legislation. Rose defends it. Tribe is advocating for a client. Rose is engaged in  an intellectual exercise .

Tribe relies on the Constitution to assail the “bad actor clause.” He says it is a pointed effort to cut out his client, PokerStars, from the re-emerging industry in the U.S. Proponents of the California-based bills, generally, make no bones about seeking to bar Poker Stars from entering the U.S market, anytime soon. And California lawmakers seem to have plenty of like-minded company from Nevada to Pennsylvania. But Rose’s article sidesteps pointing fingers. He looks at the subject matter academically. He zeroes in on states’ rights, and police powers that provide for a state to protect its citizens, to make  his argument that the bad actor clause is legally justified.

Rose’s Grandstanding Makes Sense!

Rose opens his article, recently published by Gaming Law Review and Economics (July/August 2014) with the words, “Larry Tribe is wrong!” At first blush, it sounds like mere showmanship against one of the most erudite and acclaimed U.S. constitutional scholars. Rose’s initial self-aggrandizement may tempt the reader to toss the article aside, immediately. And, online poker players, faithful to Poker Stars can only hope that Rose has little between his ears. But Rose’s article is hard to dismiss.

Rose’s analysis is thoughtful, and well explained, even for lay persons. He asserts, “Gambling comes under the state’s police power… to protect the health, safety, welfare, and morality of its citizens.” He  cites one case after another to show that the Courts repeatedly confirm nearly unrestrained power of the individual states. A State’s right to suppress gambling is a well-worn tradition!

Several other lawyers, queried for this article point out that state laws and public policy treat gambling as illegal in this country, except where states license and regulate it. They say that limiting this activity is a generally acceptable principle. Therefore, a state’s requirements for a license are less likely to appear unfairly onerous.

The Tenth Amendment Stirs Rose’s view of States’ Rights 

Now enter into the mix the Tenth Amendment. According to Wikipedia, “The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, states the Constitution’s principle of federalism by providing that powers not granted to the federal government by the Constitution, nor prohibited to the States, are reserved to the States or the people.” Stated another way, the Federal Government can pass laws on things the Constitution specifically gives it authority to do, and otherwise the individual states are empowered to legislate as they see fit. So it would seem that the Tenth Amendment supports Rose’s position on a state’s rights.

Judicial interpretation – if you care!

The United States Supreme Court, United States v. Sprague (1931), declared the Tenth Amendment “a truism.” Where did that get us? The lawyers consulted for this article generally agree that Courts rarely declare laws unconstitutional for violating the Tenth Amendment.

“Bad actor” clause stirs Tribe’s Constitutional Argument 

An active lobbyist for PokerStars, Tribe comes to his constitutional attack against online gambling legislation that would effectively excludes PokerStars, from another direction. He perceives the bills as incorporating punitive action without trial. He also complains about the bills’ arbitrary cutoff date for U.S. facing online gambling sites in America to cease operations here. PokerStars continued its operations  in America after enactment of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. The law was intended to end online betting in America.

Rose Knows the Gambling Business!

Rose notes that in America, gambling is an activity that traditionally faces restraints—in the interests of society. And, he suggests as a practical matter, the individual state’s police powers trump the Tenth Amendment. Rose’s analysis is compelling, say several  gaming lawyers, echoing Rose’s position which inherently opposes PokerStars efforts to enter the California market. According to a lawyer formerly associated with PokerStars, the Company has previously consulted with Rose.

Most of the Indian tribes and commercial casinos across the country welcome Rose’s legal stance, if only because it is compatible with their resentment of PokerStars’ success in the States post UIGEA (2006) which  clearly barred processing of online gaming bets made by American-based players.

How Does Amaya Get Past  New Jersey

Unlike American-based casinos that stood down after UIGEA,  PokerStars profited handsomely, until shut down by the U.S. Department of Justice , in 2011. In the period of its operations from late 2006 – April 2011 Poker Stars  developed an astoundingly loyal American market base. Even if the Constitutional issue posed by Tribe proves to be nothing more than a distraction, the political questions live on in legislatures around the country and maybe in Congress as well.

Praise and Challenges for Amaya Chairman

While lawmakers sort out competing needs among their constituents, online gaming competitors and vendors will likely scrutinize  PokerStars’ business principles under Amaya management. Amaya  Chair Dan Baazov is no stranger to the American gaming industry. Mitch Garber, the CEO of Caesars Interactive Entertainment (CIE), which owns the World Series of Poker, tells me, “I like and respect Dan Baazov.” CIE’s executive offices in Montreal are a stone’s throw away from Amaya headquarters.

Thus the stage is set for the cold war between PokerStars and Caesars, of past years to begin to thaw. Will the rest of the casino industry soon put bygones into a new perspective?  Attorney Tribe supports that notion on legal grounds. Rose concedes in his article – after presenting his legal position – that Amaya will likely succeed in entering the online gaming market, one way or another. And American casinos have already gotten their way on one point, inadvertently – a more level playing field.

When push comes to shove, the banks are now PokerStars’ most elite players. It is up to the politicians and regulators to figure out how to license, regulate, and tax online gambling fare across America. It is up to Amaya to figure out how to bring home the beacon to service the debt and maintain the level of customer service that turned Isai Scheinberg into King Midas with the golden touch.

Author’s note: This article has been updated to provide additional information  particularly including the most recent action on the online poker bills by the California Legislature.

CALLING OUT SEXISM IN POKER: BEYOND MOLLY’S GAME

Poker
By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper
July 18, 2014

The bloom was still on the rose of the poker boom when James (Jimmy) Woods strolled into the Commerce Casino, just outside Los Angeles. We met up for coffee and then walked over to a no limit hold’em game with “open seating.”

Tobey Maguire was in the game. So were Leonardo (Leo) DiCaprio and David Schwimmer. The rest of the players were a mixture of local pros and other recognizable regulars. There was no fanfare – no handlers holding court, protectively, no velvet ropes to keep gawkers at bay, no caviar on the side tables for the celebrities.

Except for the cast of Hollywood characters at the table, it was a typical, no limit hold’em game in  the country’s biggest card room. The blinds ware relatively small. the buy-in was uncapped, and thousands — not hundreds of thousands – of dollars changed hands in the course of the night. Like the rest of the players at the table, the Hollywood pack seemed to care mostly about how people were playing their chips and the odds of a reversal of fortune on the turn of a card.

Way before Before Molly’s Game

In the mid 80s, when I first sidled up to a poker table, the WSOP was the one tournament that meant something to any poker player worth his salt. In that era, poker players were accustomed to seeing the likes of Gabe Kaplan and Telly Savalas at the World Series of Poker, but generally, movie stars were not aficionados of public poker rooms. Very few women took seats at the tables. During the three week World Series at Binion’s Horseshoe; blue language and vulgar comments were part of the game – except when a lady was at the table. Benny Binion, had no patience for such bad manners! Neither did Jack Binion. And good old Texans jumped right in if a guy got out of line when the fairer sex was present. But not so much in many other card rooms where  male players viewed women as intrusive on their boys’ nights out.

New York’s Mayfair Club did better than most. In the mid 80’s the Mayfair began its evolution into the hottest underground poker den in America. There was an egalitarian spirit at the table. Originally, a bridge and backgammon club, the Mayfair attracted some of the best and the brightest game players in the world; a slew of them were poker players; some  were women. Once poker was an option at the Club, word spread like wildfire among local game players and sports bettors.

In no time flat, the Mayfair’s ambience roped in low limit poker players from all walks of life. Pros, Wall Street whales, and a smattering of celebrities were part of the Club’s regular ebb and flow. There was one big no limit game; I decided to make high stakes no limit hold’em  my game. Few women dared to take a shot at pulling down a four or five figure pot. Most of the time I was the only woman at the table.

Needling fellow players and “coffee-housing” (harmless trash talk) were encouraged. Cursing was discouraged. The F bomb was never acceptable as a regular part of the conversation. Disparaging whispers about women and fish were routine but down and dirty abuse at the table was verboten.

And, Molly Bloom the poker hostess with the mostest, and author of a new book about high stakes poker games, in hotsy-totsy enclaves, was just a kid in Loveland, Colorado.

The 90s takes poker up a notch

In the 90s, screenplay writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien discovered New York’s Mayfair Club.  The Mayfair was the inspiration for their 1998 film,  Rounders, starring Matt Damon, Ed Norton, and John Malkovich. In the years that followed, increasingly, celebrities made their way into poker rooms. Damon took a fancy to the game. His close friend, Ben Affleck also got into poker; first at Foxwoods, in small no limit games, later in Atlantic City’s high stakes mixed limit games – with Jennifer Lopez at his side. After their break-up, more often alongside Maguire, and DiCaprio in California – the poker capital of the world. Woods, caught the poker bug, independently. He eagerly, made visits to tournaments and cash games on both coasts. and Schwimmer was a frequent player, too.

The movie stars generally behaved in poker rooms as they would in any other coed domain, where manners count and unwritten rules of basic etiquette frown on being disrespectful or making fun of women for sport. As to the rest of the poker players, across America, they were as orderly as required by the game runners and poker parlors personnel; few public card rooms muzzled provocative commentary.

The Poker Boom Years in the Oughts

With the advent of online poker, the average age and social skills of poker players dropped, dramatically, during the next decade of the “oughts.” A small influx of never-seen-before women of varying ages  began to take seats at casino card room tables. If they wanted to play poker, they wee forced to adapt to a new lexicon of acceptable curse words and more table chatter that portrayed women as nuts and sl—s .

Of course, some women in the poker world never have looked upon a poker table as a place to be a prim and proper lady! One-time poker star and runner-up contestant on Celebrity Apprentice, Annie Duke was among them. At one Ante Up for Africa charity poker event, the  outspoken Duke, came running to our table where Matt Damon was the center of the universe. Mugging for the cameras, she said to him in earshot of the well-heeled crowd, “You are such an attention w—re!”

The golden era of Molly Bloom’s poker games was on the horizon.

Molly’s Game: Beyond Imagination

The poker festivities described in the new blockbuster book, “Molly’s Game,” by Molly Bloom became the hottest tickets in town in the latter years of the oughts. Business titans mixed it up with movie stars and the occasional well-known poker pro.

Dubbed the “Poker Princess,” of Hollywood and New York, Bloom operated  private, exclusive, high-stakes poker games until the Government shut them down. Her game got hit by a sting operation that targeted big fish in sports betting businesses and organized crime.

This past spring Bloom resolved the criminal case against her with one year of probation.

Ms. Bloom’s games were always carefully laced with celebrities the likes of Maguire, Schwimmer, Di Caprio, and Affleck. Movie icons attract billionaire businessmen into the fold, she explains. Bloom catered to Spiderman Maguire because he was a regular who encouraged other A-listers to join the fun. And for a good while, Maguire helped to keep Bloom’s business a captivating affair.

According to Bloom, Maguire was a big winner and a poor tipper who messed big-time with her sense of dignity. Showing him as a cad toward women, she cited an incident in which Spiderman insisted she bark like a seal for the reward of a $1,000 tip. She found it in herself to decline. She got the tip anyway. It was not the first example of Maguire’s penchant for humor at a woman’s expense, in a poker room, nor the last.

Maguire is part of a sizable demographic of men who push the boundaries of “arguably acceptable” conduct outside brothels, male locker rooms, and bedrooms – by mutual consent.

“Mike the Mouth” Reflects a Popular Mindset

In recent years, at the World Series of Poker, women have learned that many floor people and most dealers are inclined to turn a blind eye toward foul language, vulgarity, and disregard for the presence of women — as if it is disruptive of the fun of the predominantly male customer base.

This past summer, at the WSOP, poker pro, Mike Matusow (Mike-the-Mouth) was apparently a poster boy for spewed epithets and vulgar comments, at no one in particular. He reportedly insisted to tournament officials, that his verbal assaults were not directed toward anyone, and therefore were well within the rules of proper decorum — at least for a poker star who has established himself as “The Mouth.” One might say he was just being true to his brand!

Matusow reportedly ranted, raged, and celebrated, pounding his fists on the table as part of his act, periodically, over a couple of hours, before the WSOP issued a 20 minute time out, conduct penalty.

Allyn Jaffrey Shulman, a lawyer and a WSOP bracelet winner, was a witness to the antics. She served up her version of the facts in an article for CardPlayer Magazine. She wrote dispassionately, but she did not mince words. And,  the unpleasantness, of Matusow’s monologues came through loud and clear. So did the implicit sexism that is rampant  in poker–one of the last bastions of scratch and spit and take-your-political-correctness-and-shove-it-arena of rugged male individualism.

Underground Games: Women Usually Take Insults in Stride

Women who find sexism an issue in a public card room, may well find underground games tougher challenges. Molly Bloom’s book is instructive. Her posh poker parties were about money, power, and raunchy storytelling about women. The all-male table of players bragged about “hand jobs” and bedding broads – in front of Bloom and her female assistants.

The environment is much the same today in many underground card rooms in New York. Few of the  women, present, as players or house employees, take exception. Colorful profanities – and gritty words that disparage women – are treated as fair game. Most of the women try to tune out the contempt, at least until it gets totally out of hand.

Women Recreational Players Revolt — Quietly!
Recreational players are the key to growth of the poker economy. Women are a significant part of that demographic but they have been notably slow to venture into public card rooms. There are indications that only a low percentage who try their luck there, return very often – if ever.

A dozen women – avid recreational  players – talked  to me about their public card room experience for this article. The report card left a massive opportunity for improvement. The top gripe was that men insult women’s poker abilities – at the table. Raunchy conversation came in second. Cursing was the third most stated complaint. The specifics of the conduct that keeps women away from public card rooms and big tournaments is not entirely clear – from this small sample. But, the interviews suggest that by-and-large, women fear putting themselves in an abusive environment and hold the card room operators, not the players, responsible for their plight.

Among the several hundred players in the WSOP tournaments held in the mid 80s, women accounted for an estimated 2% of the field. This summer, the WSOP attracted 82,360 players. Women accounted for less than 5% of the participants. As the pre-eminent force in the poker world, the WSOP is positioned to take the lead in rethinking the boundaries of male fun at a poker table, and how to make poker equally hospitable to women. And maybe “the time hath come” for all poker rooms to put this mind sport and game of skill on a faster track to making women feel more genuinely welcome. Women can wish!

WSOP BRANDING MACHINE: CHANGING OF THE GUARD

Poker
By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper
July 1, 2014

Until moments after the 2009 WSOP final table proceedings in the fall, Jeffrey Pollack was the public face of the WSOP. And then, suddenly, he announced his resignation and rushed off to take interviews that controlled the immediate spin on his departure. He said he was ready to survey opportunities in new pastures and pleased to have contributed to the growth of the WSOP brand.

Despite the happy state of affairs effectuated by the Pollack-Stewart collaboration, the collegiality between the two men had begun to wane at least a year earlier. A corporate reorganization of CIE was also afoot. Although Pollack had recommended a strong initiative in the online gaming market, and sought to add this responsibility to his portfolio, Caesars Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman was zooming in on Mitch Garber, the recently departed CEO of Party Gaming, to lead such an effort.

Mitch Garber Steps up to Bat

Pollack’s unveiled opposition to Garber as his potential boss made for an awkward situation once Garber was plainly in line to take the reins of CIE (initially Harrahs Interactive Entertainment), including Pollack’s most treasured domain, the WSOP.

In the spring of 2009, Garber became CEO of CIE. With Garber’s blessings, Pollack assumed the title of President of CIE, briefly. But, Garber was running the show and relying on others as he built his team. In the fall of 2009, Pollack resigned. Garber tapped Stewart as his replacement.

Stewart Shines Brighter under Garber

Initially, Stewart had brought in sponsorships and had arranged licensing deals with Caesars properties. Under Garber, he expanded the licensing distribution beyond Caesars’ properties. His portfolio was also enlarged to include oversight for all WSOP television productions and management of the tournament as a whole. He could have picked up the title of “Commissioner of the WSOP.” He chose to retire it instead.

If you listen to Ty — just for a few minutes – you find out that he does not suffer pretenses. He happily mocks them and the people that live by them. Unlike others, who bask in the glory of Wikipedia listings that burnish their image, Ty says, “No thanks,” to these ruffles and flourishes. He opted for the title of WSOP Executive Director. In fact, he reigns as the Grand Pooh Bah of the WSOP!

Today, under his stewardship, CIE distributes licenses for branded WSOP gaming events far beyond the annual WSOP at the Rio. There are circuit events at Caesars properties across the country and others that include the likes of the Crown Casino in Australia, The Bicycle Club, and Casino in California and FoxwoodsResort and Casino on the tribal lands of the Pequot Indians in Connecticut.

Players Depend on the WSOP Collaborators to Play Nicely in the Sandbox

Stewart concedes, “There is inherent tension between short-term profitability for operators and long-term protection of the brand.” He turns impish in admitting he needs to pick his fights judiciously. He acknowledges, “Finding the balance is art and science and ongoing negotiation in what is now 20 + licensees.”

While players are generally unaware of the internal turf wars, the outcomes of internal battles invariably affect them. For the most part, the interests of the players and the WSOP brand seem to be in alignment – even when Stewart makes some chancy judgment calls and presses hard to inject change and new ideas, others perceive as hair-brained.

In talking about the development of the schedule this year, Stewart says, “The modern era WSOP embraces having something for everyone. He has studied the WSOP’s history backwards and forwards. He looks to it with respect and for inspiration. He fought hard to make the “no limit hold’em” 1.5k buy-in “millionaire maker” the centerpiece for the first weekend against operator fears of depleted entries and a corresponding drop in revenues.

His challengers worried about the impact of the million dollar guarantee; the possibility of first place eating up too much of the prize pool to maintain the flattened payout structure to which everyone has become accustomed in recent years. With almost 8,000 runners, everyone is hailing this year’s “Milly Maker” as the belle of the ball. It is but one record-breaking event in a slew of them, and we have barely reached the second week in the tournament.

Late in the planning stages, the WSOP added a “Monster” tournament to provide another no limit hold’em 1.5k buy-in with a slow, super deep stack structure – a recreational player’s dream. This type of tournament attracts players who come to “stay” (last longer) as well as those who come to compete seriously for the coveted WSOP bracelet. Licensees, focused on immediate profits, have found a gold mine in the smaller buy-ins that are yielding monster fields – in no limit hold’em..

At the other end of the spectrum of buy-in options, is the return of multiple 10K world championship tournaments in diverse disciplines. For a few years after the recession of 2008, the WSOP accelerated the smaller buy-ins promoting more participation among non-pro enthusiasts.

Effel who serves two masters, the Rio and the WSOP, has a unique understanding of the issues. He acknowledges, “Ty is pushing the envelope in search of enhanced long-term value for the brand.” Stewart says, “10 K is a magic number for WSOP and has been since 1972, when the only prelim event was 5 card draw.”

Some players have questioned the reinstituted 10ks. The complainers say these events responded to pros in pursuit of bracelets with fewer competitors in the field. Stewart takes sharp exception to anyone who suggests that WSOP caters to particular players or special interests. He says, “I consider the 10ks to be part of a package deal with the 1500s – making it simultaneously harder and easier to pursue a mixed game bracelet.”

Stewart reacts strongly to further probing about the return of several 10K championship events. He justifies his decision thusly: “I am not apologizing for breaking with tradition and encouraging 8,000 entrant 1ks even though for most of our history the only thing you could play for 1k was a satellite, and I am certainly not apologizing for embracing tradition to spread buy-ins that only the most accomplished players can post.”

Stewart is a Senior Member of the CIE Executive Team

Stewart is flying high in a job that suits his personality to a tee. He lives and breathes with creative juices, persistence, and perseverance “for the good of the players, the game, the broadcast, and the success of the company,” says Garber, his direct boss. Greenbaum says of the WSOP team, “There is a lot of yin and a lot of yang, and genuine collaboration when unique issues arise.”

Effel says, “We call Ty the big idea man; he is a cool guy who always has the best interests of the players in mind.” Another Caesars colleague says of Stewart, affectionately, “His underlying vibe with the WSOP is one of a precocious kid with a baton—toiling seriously and enjoying, heartily, the fruits of loving labor.”

Greenbaum and Stewart Stand Side by Side

By all accounts of players queried for this article, Stewart has gained the respect of celebrity pros and tournament enthusiasts of all stripes. Stewart tells me I can quote him again, as I have before, on his guiding principle: “In my observation of tournament organizers, too often they present themselves as above the players, which is so far afield from my strategy of being in the foxhole with them.”

As Stewart prepared for the opening of the WSOP this summer, there were myriad details to finalize. He says the easiest one was selecting the person most deserving of a tip of the hat and a bow of thanks for all he has contributed to bringing the WSOP to life at the Rio. He tapped Howard Greenbaum, the old school gaming executive who played a pivotal role in preserving the WSOP and helping it to grow at the Rio.

Squabbles amid their collaborations aside, Greenbaum calls Stewart “an amazing partner” and Stewart returns the respect. They both tell me they have one overriding common goal – a positive experience for the player.

Update:The monster stack (single entry) tournament drew the largest number of starting players in one day at the WSOP — ever, seating 7,762 players in all.

Author’s Note and Disclosure: The author is personally acquainted with all of the parties referenced, and Eolis International Group has had occasional business dealings with Caesars and CIE.

WSOP BRANDING MACHINE: PLAYERS ARE THE STARS

Poker
By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper
June 9, 2014

Hours before the curtain rose on the 45th annual World Series of Poker, last minute wrangling amongst the collaborators was at a fever pitch. Behind the scenes, the organizers and the operator of the fabled tournament were still debating the planned theatrics to open the festivities. Time was running out to settle the latest tiff among the organizers. Players are rarely aware of the internal machinations, but they are often caught, unwittingly, in the cross hairs of the competing entities. In this case, a bit of free money was in the mix. The players were victorious!

 

Corporate Structure Creates Madness

Welcome to the world of complex corporate relationships that thrive on poker’s biggest stage. At the WSOP the customer is the buyer and the product. The corporate maze of Caesars Entertainment (Caesars) and its related businesses is even more complicated. Here, you cannot tell the players without a scorecard.

A thumbnail sketch of the inter-connected cast of characters that impact on your experience at the WSOP follows: the WSOP is owned by Caesars Interactive Entertainment (“CIE“), which is a subsidiary of Caesars Growth Partners, LLC, (“Caesars Growth”) which is a joint venture between Caesars Acquisition Company (“CAC”) and Caesars Entertainment Corporation (“Caesars”). The Rio All Suites Hotel which operates the WSOP is wholly owned by Caesars.

And — Caesars holds the controlling shares of Caesars Growth; 58%. 42% of the shares is owned by CAC. Mitch Garber is the CEO of Caesars Growth Partners, CAQ and CIE and has a notable equity interest in the businesses he oversees. Garber sums up for me a crucial point in these entangled connections: “The WSOPhas no economic interest in the Rio, but the Rio has an economic interest in the WSOP.”

For those who crave a more finite understanding of these relationships or further details that make more sense of the fancy structure, you are on your own! For the rest of us, suffice to say that the WSOP branding machine and the Rio operating team have natural reasons to lock horns as each seeks to pursue their own respective interests in the course of their collaborations.

Key Players on the WSOP Team: Stewart, Greenbaum, and Effel

Ty Stewart, the Grand Pooh Bah of the WSOP and Howard Greenbaum, the longtime Caesars (formerly Harrahs) executive who oversees the WSOP tournament operations from on high could not be more different personalities. Each has played a separate critical role in the development of the WSOP. They share a penchant for working their magic largely behind the scenes.

As to which team member has the last word in a WSOP-related matter, it depends. Stewart is the Executive Director of the WSOP and a founding investor and Senior Vice President of CIE—the highest ranking member on the business side. Howard Greenbaum, Regional Vice President Specialty Gaming at Caesars Entertainment and the ranking member of the Rio directly connected to the operation of the WSOP. But as a practical matter, Jack Effel, Director of the WSOP and Vice President of International Poker Operations is the man on the ground who makes the rules for the competitions. Jack is the ultimate “meeter and greeter” in the tournament rooms and the final decision-maker in the day-to day WSOP tournament operations.

One of his friends tells me to think of him as the “Mayor of the WSOP.” Jack warms up to this title. Stewart says, “Effel is The Man” in the tournament arena, noting that “Effel is the guy with the gaming license – not me.” Greenbaum says he relies on Jack to run the operation of the tournament, while making clear he is always ready to get in the trenches if Jack needs his help or support.

The Opening of the 2014 WSOP

Stewart, as the WSOP’s Grand Pooh Bah, and Greenbaum as the Rio’s top specialty gaming honcho represent two decidedly different styles. One executive on the scene explains in poker terms: “Greenbaum is a nit and Stewart is loose aggressive.”

The 11th hour deliberations before the opening of this year’s WSOP were exemplary of the sparring that is part of the ongoing heads-up battles that take place throughout the planning and execution of each annual WSOP. This time the duel centered on Stewart’s way out “big idea” of showering the Rio tournament arena with dollar bills spurting forth from cannons, allowing revelers to scramble for the free money.

Greenbaum, the Rio’s worrywart-in-chief, was more of a mind to pour water over the proposed 2014 WSOP New Year celebration. He contemplated one potential calamity after another that might come to pass – with the Rio holding the bag for potential liability. At the end of the day, Stewart and Greenbaum came to terms. The show made a splash with Stewart smiling like the Cheshire cat that swallowed the canary and Greenbaum satisfied that the Rio was prepared for any conceivable eventuality.

Howard Greenbaum — Special Friend to WSOP

While there are plenty of issues that crop up among the WSOP collaborators, there is no dispute as to the significant role Greenbaum has played in creating the backdrop and setting the stage for the WSOP as it has been modernized by CIE. And similarly, everyone who is anyone knows that Ty Stewart is the heart and soul of the WSOP brand as we know it today.

Greenbaum, knows the casino business inside out. He has been a fixture at the Rio during the WSOP ever since Harrahs acquired the brand and mad the Rio its operational home. Garber notes the Rio has been up for sale for an extended period and remains on the block – though not aggressively of late.

Greenbaum is lovingly protective of the Rio. He is also well-schooled in responding to “fix it” messages from the top. Such was the case to the benefit of every player who cherishes the yearly WSOP proceedings.

It was Greenbaum who stepped up to assume the leadership for the WSOP following Harrahs’ acquisition of Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in early 2004. The “Shoe” was in shambles at the time of the acquisition, but the gutsy Greenbaum rolled up his sleeves and became a key player in saving the tournament from disruption or demise.

The 2004 WSOP was the last one played in its entirety at the “Shoe.” Greenbaum was one of the chief advocates at Harrahs for taking the WSOP seriously and treating it as a potential gem for Harrahs’ crown. He has been intimately involved in the planning and collaborations that bring the WSOP to life at the Rio each year since, and a force to contend with when it comes to arrangements at its facilities.

WSOP Food Prices

As the operator Greenbaum focuses on revenue for the Rio—not only from the “rake” but also from all of the other revenue producing amenities including the poker kitchen and the other food and beverage outlets. Players are heard grumbling about food prices — especially in the poker kitchen. Effel pipes up on this subject that the Rio is only trying to break even on PK’s grab and go offerings. And Stewart suddenly comes out swinging on behalf of the Rio, too, explaining that the Rio regime allows players to order meals from outside facilities and trot into the Amazon room with their own food. He also points out that the WSOP made the case for healthier alternatives in the poker kitchen, this year. Stewart quite obviously pursued self-interest in this matter. He has lost 40 pounds, and won a weight loss bet with poker pro Gavin Smith this year. Stewart apparently intends to remain a perfectly fit specimen!

Stewart’s Winding Road to Caesars:

Stewart joined Caesars Entertainment (formerly Harrahs Entertainment) after a seven year stint in the marketing group of the NFL. He says he had the dream job at the NFL but he couldn’t resist the edgier world of poker and the intriguing opportunity to help the game grow globally.

Stewart was born in Eugene Oregon. He grew up in Pennsylvania. In high school he was a stand-out athlete and the lead scorer for his team with more than 1000 points to his credit during his high school basketball career. Stewart was graduated from Penn State University with a BA in 1995. No sooner than he exited his last final exam, he walked down the aisle to take his high school sweetheart as his wife. He then promptly swept her off her feet and carried her straight back to Oregon where he earned an MBA. His graduate degree from the University of Oregon’s prestigious sports marketing program was his ticket into the NFL’s marketing group.

Borgata is in Stewart’s Picture

A series of career broadening moves and promotions while part of the NFL marketing team put Stewart front and center on recruiter lists – way beyond football. Caesars was actually his second “interview” for a poker marketing job; his first was at the Borgata. Stewart liked what he heard in his all day visit with Borgata’s president and other high level executives. But, twenty four hours later he learned that longtime acquaintance, Jeffrey Pollack had just been appointed as vice president of sports and entertainment by Harrahs, with a top priority to grow the WSOP brand. He called Pollack. In a matter of a week they clinched a deal.

Stewart Connects with Jeffrey Pollack at Harrahs

Stewart joined Pollack at Caesars a month after Pollack’s arrival, in September 2005. Pollack also clinched a deal sweetener for himself, the title of Commissioner of the World Series of Poker. While Pollack was front and center in C-Suite meetings, as the creative genius of the WSOP marketing team and the WSOP’s top management honcho, Stewart was known inside the department to carry more than his fair share of the weight.

In the spring of 2008 Stewart was the architect and the principal mover behind the WSOP’s decision to adopt the November 9 final table concept, allowing the WSOP and the elite finalists plenty of time to hype their plans for the televised ultimate hand to hand combat.  TV ratings went through the roof. Pollack and Stewart closed an updated WSOP television deal with ESPN through 2017.

Note: in Part 2 of this article: WSOP Branding Machine: Changing of the Guard.

Author’s Note and Disclosure: All of the parties in this article are known to the author, personally and Eolis International Group has had business dealings with Caesars Entertainment and CIE.

WSOP GRAND POOH BAH: TY STEWART

Poker
By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper
May 30, 2014

In the days leading up to the opening of the 2014 World Series of Poker, Ty Stewart, the Grand Pooh Bah of the World Series of Poker, was beaming. A five day trip had taken the WSOP Executive Director from Las Vegas to Macau where he eyeballed poker action in the stratosphere. He then traveled onward to Atlantic City for the WSOP National Championship, and back to Las Vegas to open the 45th Annual World Series of Poker – with a bang.

WSOPChecking Out the Action in Macau

While in Macau, Stewart drooled over the possibilities for a future WSOP Macau-based event. He more than hints at his plan to nail down a deal that moves the WSOP APAP from Australia to Macau, in 2016.

WSOP Checking into Atlantic City: On Miss America’s Boardwalk

By the time Stewart arrived in Atlantic City, the WSOPChampionship was underway. It was his  concept to “reboot the Circuit competitions into a year-long platform, culminating in a nationally televised bracelet championship. And, Stewart took delight in seeing his idea — a final table competition on the legendary Atlantic City boardwalk — come to fruition.

German hotshot poker pro, 23-year old Dominik Nitsche, nabbed the bracelet along with $218,000. He also brought the Championship to a finish, hours earlier than expected. So, Stewart toyed with the idea of ditching his scheduled reservation for the next afternoon and taking a red-eye flight home to Las Vegas that night instead — to gain one extra day of preparation for the opening of the 2014 WSOP.

WSOP-Las Vegas is the Perennial Hub for the 45th Time

Mr. Stewart was holding close to the vest, plans to open the six-week WSOP summer festival with a blast of 10 cannons showering the tournament arena with thousands of dollar bills — like confetti. These hijinks were slated to take place as a prelude to the first “shuffle up and deal” command of the season by Howard Greenbaum, Regional VP Specialty Gaming at Caesars Entertainment Corporation.

Breaking Away from WSOP Duties

On the cusp of the WSOP action about to burst open, I figured it was pick’em as to whether Ty would be able to keep our dinner plans at the Borgata, last Saturday night, before heading home, but he did not disappoint.

A towering presence at nearly six feet five inches, Stewart’s arrival at the Borgata was a lock to get noticed. He showed up in red white and blue — that is red trousers, a natty blue and white checked shirt, and red shoes. His casual and colorful attire did more to highlight his playful personality than his formidable stature and position at Caesar’s Interactive Entertainment.

I suspected there might be added incentive beyond our our scheduled rendezvous that kept the WSOP Grand Pooh Bah in town for a few more hours.  And I was right! Mori Eskandani, his good friend and WSOP television production partner was on the calendar for a golf date at dawn the next morning – before Ty was scheduled to take off for Las Vegas. Ty looks upon Mori as a father figure. He he also relies on Mori for perspective on the history of poker and the progression from old school gambling to television fare for mainstream sports viewers. Their date would be business and pleasure. They got in seven holes of golf with a push, before Ty embarked on the last lap of the trip.

Stewart Makes Waves at the WSOP Opening

Stewart hit the tarmac in Las Vegas in plenty of time to fine tune his wardrobe decision for the opening blast at the WSOP. As the curtain rose on the festivities, he was in rare form; seersucker suit, orange shoes coordinated with an orange silk print tie from the House of Hermes.

The WSOP opening was a blast as planned. The theatrics of dollar bills raining down over the vast arena went off without a hitch to thunderous applause from the players. A few of Stewart’s more conservative colleagues sighed quietly, relieved that a gimmick malfunction was not the rain in the room, instead of Stewart’s planned downpour of dollar bills up for grabs.

2014 WSOP is Virtually Guaranteed to Produce Hair-Raising Stories

Thousands of poker players are making the pilgrimage to the WSOP in “Sin City” with dreams of making good this weekend, The “Millionaire Maker” beckons in a reprise of one of the most successful offerings from the Ty Stewart branding machine. The winner of this $1500 buy-in event is guaranteed a million dollar payday. Yours truly  intends to be in the hunt.

The beat will go on non-stop for six weeks, with the Main Event taking a hiatus once the final nine players are determined. The finalists will reconvene November 10th and 11th to play down to the winner.

Stewart observes, “Dreams are dealt every day at the WSOP.”  He notes that they provide the makings for stunning stories. He says, “We need more of these stories to be told – as they unfold.”  Recognizing that there are moments of frenzy, shock, and awe as winning and losing hands are exposed, Stewart urges media to be on the lookout. We agree; it is the trials and triumphs of players, from all walks of life and the four corners of the world, that makes the WSOP  one of the greatest shows on earth.

Ty Gives me the Big Story on Chase

Minutes into our three hour visit, however, Ty teased that he had a great story and a better show to share with me, explaining that poker would not be the centerpiece. I told him I was happy to take a break from poker patter. He backed up for a moment, saying “Don’t get me wrong. I love poker and I love my job.” Ty went on to wax poetic about the opportunity he has been given to put his imprint on the WSOP brand. Then came the revelation that “all of this pales in comparison” to the pride he takes in the life he has with his wife Sarah and his son Chase.

Sarah was his Ty’s high school sweetheart. They married the day after their college finals at Penn State, and eighteen years later they still cherish the decision. Ty looks upon his son as his most important accomplishment.  With iPhone in hand, he boasts exuberantly about Chase. He shows one video after another of the kindergartner playing basketball, football, and more — brilliantly. “Quite the little athlete,” Ty says, smiling ear to ear.

Ty does not stint on planned carve-outs from a super-charged work schedule to assure plenty of quality parenting time. He ticks off 10 big sporting event trips he shared with Chase this past year, including the Kentucky Derby, the Super Bowl and a round of golf at Pebble Beach. He shoots pictures and videos galore of father–son experiences. And take a look at Sarah at the Derby, front and center with Ty and their pride and joy.

Today Ty is back in the saddle, cooking up a few more surprises for home court delivery during this year’s WSOP summer festivities. He says, “Do you like money—cause if you do the WSOP is the place to be!”

POKER PLAYER NEWSPAPER TAKES FORWARD STEP

Poker
By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper
May 19, 2014

Last week, Stanley Sludikoff, publisher of Poker Player Newspaper, addressed card room personnel in an open letter saying, “For the past 30 years PPN has faithfully served card rooms across the country with a print edition available every two weeks.” He continued, “Costs to provide this service have escalated past a point of feasibility in our current business model.” He announced, “Accordingly, effective immediately, we will be publishing Poker Player Newspaper exclusively on the Internet at pokerplayernewspaper.com.”

It was a painful step but also a potential winner for the MENSA man and member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Make no mistake, about it — at 78 Sludikoff is still going strong, fearlessly and immensely confident about Poker Player Newspaper’s future.

A businessman and one time blackjack enthusiast, Sludikoff published diverse gambling books for decades. Among them are a collection of stories by Doyle Brunson “According to Doyle,” the ultimate “Book of Tells” by Mike Caro, and the pre-eminent work of gaming law professor I. Nelson Rose, “Gambling and the Law.” Sludikoff  also brought blackjack expert Ken Uston’s tale of “Million Dollar Blackjack” to the public. A library of sixty five books have been published as part of his Gambling Times business.

As the publisher of Gambling Times Magazine and Poker Player Newspaper, Sludikoff has reveled in his position as “Panderer To No One.” For Poker Player Newspaper readers this has meant more valuable content because Sludikoff believes that his writers have the right to write about facts and express opinions in the context of legitimate facts without regard to his own personal views. He refrains from editing that smacks of manipulation to suit himself. As a publisher he respects the bread and butter advertisers provide, but editorial content is not stymied by advertiser relationships, as it is so often in trade print media.

PPN’s time sensitive content at pokerplayernewspaper.com has drawn a loyal customer base. A new level of concentration on this platform will make possible expanded subject matter to include the broadest and most timely editorial material.

Sludikoff says the PPN website is in the process of expanding its mandate to serve as a key focal point for breaking poker news and the place to go for poker strategy by experts who stand the test of time.

Profiles of players and feature stories on card rooms as well as more strategy articles for everyday players are planned. So are thoughtful takes on the business of poker and the executives that create and maintain our poker world.

The effectiveness of the transition is dependent not only on Sludikoff’s tough decision to cut the costs associated with print, but also on the commitment of card rooms, poker media advertisers, and readers to insure the continuation of robust circulation of Poker Player Newspaper.

So Stan asks each and all, “Please help us to inform poker players that the familiar Poker Player Newspaper has an exclusive home on the web here at pokerplayernewspaper.com.”

While the current changes were necessary to respond prudently to current financial pressures in the print media industry, Sludikoff says, “I am eager to continue PPN’s reliable longtime service as the ‘Players Voice’.”

He adds, “At this point in my life (of nearly 79 years), given my desire to pass the mantle as well as to work through the economic pressures as expeditiously as possible, I am looking for a working partner/investor or alternatively for a full buyout of my family–based Poker Player business which has operated since 1982.” There is an opportunity, here!

Sludikoff tells his partners and his customers, “I have to say, I appreciate the loyalty of our team, our advertisers and  all of our card room readers over the years, and am hopeful that a print publication will be part of Poker Player Newspaper’s future.”

For myself, let me say “Thank you” to Stan for insuring, as a writer, that I have enjoyed genuine freedom of the press for the past 12 years. I look forward to the continuing opportunity to share unique stories with my loyal readers.

BORGATA TOURNAMENT DECISION IGNITES DEBATE

Poker
By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper
April 22, 2014

During the past week, since the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement issued its final order concerning the first event at the Borgata Winter Poker Open (“WPO”)last January, players have been arguing fiercely about the fairness or unfairness of the rulings. Chatter has turned into full on posturing. Tournament participants are  communicating with friends, Borgata representatives, the DGE, poker tournament directors around the country, media, and – lawyers. Movers and shakers far across the poker planet are also popping up with takes on the decision.

A Quick Review of the Borgata Counterfeit Chip Caper:
The opening event of the WPO was suspended and ultimately terminated by the DGE before the third day was to commence, after determining that counterfeit chips had been introduced into the tournament. The DGE order provides for the disbursement of the undistributed remaining prize pool (which was frozen during the DGE investigation), together with the revenues earned by Borgata in buy-in fees. The DGE determined that Borgata was a victim of criminal conduct, not negligent and not liable for any other payments, in this matter.

DGEOrder and Borgata Statement
One fuzzy issue in the order relates to the distribution of revenues earned by Borgata ($288,000+). They are referenced in a “whereas clause” as monies provided to players “in consultation” with the Borgata. The Borgata statement references the inclusion of the buy-in fees in player distributions as a voluntary contribution on the part of the Company.

The order can be seen here: http://www.nj.gov/oag/ge/2014news/BorgataWinterPokerOpenFinalOrder.pdf
The Borgata’s statement which clarifies details of the allocation of monies can also be seen here:
http://blog.theborgata.com/

Borgata Stands Its Ground
Sitting in the Borgata’s Sun Room Lounge at the Water Club, last Thursday, Joe Lupo, Borgata senior vice president for operations reiterated to this reporter, the Company’s steadfast top priorities; integrity in its gaming fare and unexcelled customer service.

Lupo is the quintessential company man. He is also the man behind the management decisions that have resulted, over the years, in Borgata making an enviable name for itself in the poker world. It fell to Lupo to brief top Borgata and Boyd executives on the fake chip debacle and to oversee discussions and implementation of new layers of security for poker tournaments. Lupo has neither flinched nor hidden from sight since the counterfeit chip “imbroglio.” He acknowledged, however that he was looking forward to a short restful vacation with his wife this week.

Disgruntled Players Look to Lawyers for Relief
Late Easter Sunday, while Lupo was presumably settled in a lounge chair, Bruce LiCausi was riding up the Garden State Parkway in Northern New Jersey, sharing the substance of a planned press release as part of an exclusive interview. LiCausi, is counsel for the plaintiffs in Mustarel v. Marina District Finance Company, Inc. et al. (Borgata), “a proposed class action lawsuit filed in Atlantic County on behalf of tournament participants.”  His opening salvo in the conversation made his position crystal clear: “The DGE’s Final Order of April 14, 2014 is not the final word for our clients.”

LiCausi is passionate about his cause; He says he wants to obtain justice for tournament players that were robbed of the purported opportunity that induced them to buy into Event 1 of the WPO — some of them multiple times.  LiCausi argues, “If the State of New Jersey is going to permit poker participants to be cheated out of games prematurely, so long as some nominal prize money is won, we may as well go back to the days when Atlantic City gambling was controlled by organized crime.”

LiCausi’s voice starts out calm and cool in our conversation, but it becomes fiery when challenged on the legal basis for his proposed class action lawsuit. On occasion he has faced down lawyers in big law firms, and he has shown the grit to take on unpopular cases in the name of justice for all. He counts his share of creditable winners against tough odds.

This matter is as high profile as any that he has ever handled, but he makes clear it is part of a busy canvas.  A  solo practitioner, LiCausi brings 30 + years of legal experience to the table. He looks upon the DGE decision as a well-thought out effort to mitigate damages and limit liability both for DGE and Borgata. He allows his outrage on behalf of players in the canceled Borgata tournament to become full blown. He claims, “There is little reason to trust the DGE’s and/or Borgata’s comprehensive analysis of the rigged tournament, given the obvious goal of limiting their liability,” And he notes, “The conflicts of interest here are obvious. The Borgata is seeking to absolve itself of liability at the same time it is proposing a method of compensation for players – goals that are inherently in conflict.”  He is aghast at the DGE, “for working closely with a casino it is supposed to be strictly regulating, to dispose of a matter that is deeply embarrassing to both of them.”

Poker Community is Divided on the Merits of DGE Decision
The DGE order has prompted a wide range of opinions within the poker community; both heated and low keyed discussions that sometimes even stir debate over the choice of words this reporter has used in describing the decision. Such was the case after PPN published a headline that called the decision “stunning.” Kevin Mathers, a prolific twitterer and poker forum moderator who places himself among the relegated who apparently was unable to get any concrete information to post about the coming decision ahead of others referred to information about the decision, “As a tournament player, I appreciate the blood, sweat and valuable time involved in reaching the final three tables of a tournament that featured 4810 buy-in entries. So, like many of the players consulted for this article, when I learned about the decision, I was stunned by the equal payouts to all of the players in the top 27 spots.”

From live poker rooms to cyberspace–based poker forums, the outcome of the DGE investigation has been supported by some and challenged by others and advocated accordingly. The backgrounds of the commentators are diverse. They include pros and enthusiasts, tournament directors, card-room personnel and poker forum participants. At the popular twoplustwo.com website, there are hundreds of pages of posts concerning the Borgata chip investigation. Various members of the forum have taken part, respectfully, on both sides of the decision debate, showing substantial thought behind their posts.

Post #4338 in a thread on the Borgata Chip Investigation
One of the most detailed posts in support of the DGE decision is noteworthy for its fearlessness toward others who seem to have too much time on their hands and use forums to snipe, petulantly, at people and events that annoy them. Fromaggio opined at unusual length; pertinent parts of his post are offered below in contrast to the position held by Attorney LiCausi:

“OK, here are my comments on the ruling: It seems to be reasonably fair, and well thought out – largely along the lines of what I anticipated. I did expect that there would be a slowly increasing payout according to stack size for the final 27, but instead they chose to pay everyone the same. I can’t really argue against that, however, since (a) the larger issue was dealt with: ensuring that all the affected players who busted out receive refunds, and (b) the nominal final 27 are making out pretty well compared to other players who are just as deserving.”

He continued, “Now, I understand why some in the final 27 would be unhappy, but it’s all based on an illusion…”  He followed up, suggesting, “One could make the argument that many of the lucky final 27 were unfairly advantaged in this settlement,” saying “I think that would be correct. All in all, it seems like a reasonable balance.”

Fromaggio apologized to those who might be angry with his post, and chastised “unaffected players,” who might be part of “a world where loudness and entitlement seem to win more often than not.” He called it “refreshing to see logic and fairness prevail for once and praised DGE and Borgata, “for not caving to the hordes of opportunistic profiteers.”

Gaming Law Experts Weigh In
Several gaming law experts interviewed for this piece have echoed similar sentiments to those expressed by Fromaggio. One lawyer conversant with some of the DGE’s deliberations has gone further, saying, “The extensive research behind the order will give lawyers eager to punch holes in the decision more than a bit of agita and it will give disgruntled players less of a chance to succeed than they may be led to believe.

Research concerning the ultimate tournament result histories statistics for players reaching 27th place was recently brought to the attention of this writer; if further validated, it could be a compelling foundation for the DGE decision that was rendered. For those who may not view the decision as stunning in its fairness, now, they may think again, if it reflects compatible research when the rubber meets the road.

How much defendants or plaintiffs will spring for an expert to conduct in-depth relevant research data and present his/her conclusions in court is anyone’s guess, but the gaming law pundits queried, express doubt as to Borgata’s openness to settle claims arising from the cancellation of the tournament, given the decision in hand — including the research reportedly completed already.

Borgata and Its Poker Players Move On
The Borgata, meanwhile, has established a hotline to respond to player queries as to how the DGE decision affects his/her rights (if any) with respect to payouts being made under the regulator’s final order which was disclosed publicly, last Monday.

Some 2100+ of the 2800+ players (for the 4800+ buy-ins) were eligible to obtain refunds of their buy-ins and those refunds have been sent out, according to a Borgata representative. Those deemed “unaffected” have received no refunds. Those who cashed from 450 down through 28th place have also been sent their allocated prize monies; they earned their awards prior to a determination of a compromised tournament.

Borgata is reportedly making overtures to sweeten the pot for a few of the top chip leaders, but it is likely that confidentiality requirements will keep actual deals, if any, under wraps – at least for a while. For players in the WPO Event 1 who remain aggrieved, it is yet to be seen if there will be any substantive fights or merely “words full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” Counsel for the plaintiffs in the proposed class action lawsuit now moves into the next phase of litigation.