August 19, 2008
This is the second and final piece about the World Poker Association’s rise and unraveling, and the significant progress of the World Series of Poker’s Players Advisory Council.
Pollack Hunkers Down to Upgrading Customer Experience
In January 2006, WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack launched the Players Advisory Council (PAC). He promised, “No topics are off limits.” The group met frequently before the 2006 WSOP to discuss such basic issues as — food quality, offensive smoke in hallways, and much more about the potential for the new collaborative relationship. The WSOP team quickly saw a goldmine of advice and expertise in the initial group.
Nevertheless, during the summer of 2006, the WSOP team lost ground in player satisfaction with Harrah’s/Rio Management. Pollack saw the bright side while focusing on improvements; the tournament itself drew unprecedented player participation, “positive vibes” flowed among thousands of mesmerized customers, and the WSOP also earned staggering income for Harrah’s.
The Commissioner walked the halls regularly, expanding his outreach with WSOP executives and staff and also with players. Behind the scenes the WSOP team was brainstorming ways to extend the brand and “enhance the customer experience” with broader help from the Players Advisory Council.
A visit from Pollack while he was in New York after the WSOP, led to my joining PAC and helping to organize a sister Council for European players (IPAC) in the spring. PAC added several additional representatives and advanced dramatically in 2007, with players offering input on structures, payout changes and rules.
WPA Becomes Organized
Although Jesse Jones successfully recruited hundreds of members during the 2006 WSOP, it was not until spring of 2007 that a WPA Board of Directors was elected. Upon learning I was one of the nine elected directors, I decided to review the organization’s website. Some of the content gave me pause. Jones was speaking only for himself, but presenting material as if the board had fully ratified every aspect of his personal vision. I called Jeffrey Pollack who had also run for the board and had just been elected. I suggested that he review the website. He withdrew the next day — prior to the first Board meeting. I decided to proceed after receiving assurances from Jones that he would work collaboratively in policy making and decisions.
The first meeting of Directors took place in April. Jones was elected Chair. Yours truly was elected Vice Chair. The devoted group labored for more than seven hours trying to get a full understanding of Jones’ personal vision which was as unfamiliar to most of the Board as it had previously been to me—until I toured the website.
It turned out that Jones had a grand plan for tournament poker players (and only tournament poker players)—to empower them like never before through a governance system that would put tournament poker, worldwide, under WPA’s ruling umbrella.
Within a few months it was clear that Jones was not only a fervent supporter of his personal vision but also reluctant to participate in modifications recommended by other board members.
The WPA Board was increasingly hampered by conflict arising from Jones’ desire to pursue his ideas strictly on his own terms and fast track his proposals into done deals, regardless of other opinions.
In December 2007, Jones resigned from the Executive Committee. He remained as a Board member and critic. In February 2008, Jones gave up his position as an officer. He was accorded the title of Chairman Emeritus. Yours truly stepped into the Chair.
Once in the hot seat, I moved quickly with two initiatives for the remaining three-month term: 1) WPA’s first annual conference with a membership meeting and elections of officers and additional board members and 2) development of a highly capable board to meet the challenges of membership retention and growth and the expertise to create a viable long term business plan.
The 2007-2008 Board sent to the membership a sterling slate of Board candidates for the 2008-2009 year; expanding the Board’s number, diversity and collective poker prowess and business skills. The new Board was elected May 28. I was reelected as Chair. I looked forward to a collegial group building on the mission of promoting poker as a sport with improved playing conditions and concrete membership benefits. However, shortly after the elections, Jones was in the halls of the 2008 WSOP, promoting his personal vision mostly through criticism of the leadership—especially the Chair.
WPA Board Unravels
Among the estimated 1400 members listed in the WPA membership directory, an estimated 1100 voting members were asked to make renewal dues payments in 2008, but only 135 (estimated) elected to do so as of mid-June for the June 2008-2009 membership year.
At the June 10 Board meeting I resigned, after concluding that Jones’ views on how to handle critical membership issues, coupled with his pervasive negativity would be a recipe for probable failure of the association. For the record, I should say here that I tendered my notice of resignation before I considered the consulting assignment I am doing in connection with the upcoming presidential election. Jones “warmly accepted” my decision to resign, and immediately announced his desire to be reinstated as Chair asking the others to remain— with a passionate plea for their continued loyalty.
Return to “Jesse’s Organization”
My last act as Chair was to nominate Jones to retake the reins of the association. I urged the full support of his nomination after the Board voted (unanimously except for Jones’ abstention) to return membership dues payments made for the 2008-2009 year. Nine of the 11 voting board members walked en masse, returning the WPA to its roots as Jesse’s Organization.
After his month-long membership drive at the 2008 WSOP, Jones took in only nominal dues revenues. In July, he declared that all unpaid renewals would be converted to lifetime memberships, effective immediately. It is yet to be seen how and whether he can attract voting Board members to assist him in a bid to empower poker players based on his personal formula. At this time, the WPA is an inconsequential organization.
PAC’s Winning Formula
In contrast, PAC has matured productively. Issues of personality are checked at the door. Intellectual differences are bridged by a commitment to progress. Pollack and his team rarely exercise management prerogatives summarily, ever-mindful of retaining respect for the collaborative effort.
By all accounts the 2008 WSOP was the best-run tournament in its history. WSOP Management opened the access door. PAC Participants have been encouraged to provide input. And WSOP’s PAC has gained visible influence in charting the future course of the WSOP. The comparative analysis of WPA and the PAC provides a history lesson for future poker player advocacy.