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THIS AND THAT FROM THE HALLS OF THE 2005 WSOP

By Wendeen H. Eolis

Poker Player Newspaper

July 25, 2005

Having rolled over 1200 plus players on day one at the 2005 finale of the World Series of Poker, I was one of the estimated 1850 remaining contestants in the competition

that boasted 5619 participants at the starting gate, in three separate day one flights. My exuberance, however, was short-lived.

Move over Phil Hellmuth, Jr.!

You do not have a monopoly on cracked Aces against an opponent who tries his luck at beating a far better hand. Three minutes into the proceedings, my prospects for a quick double-up turned to extinction. I returned to the pressroom to take stock and begin writing about the richest and most prestigious poker tournament in the history of the game.

Two days before the beginning of the final event, I showed up on the scene, rested and relaxed, and ready to sail into combat. No sooner than I arrived at the Rio’s Convention Center, where the festivities were lodged, the 2005 World Series of Poker quickly revealed itself as a poker event unlike any other I had ever attended. Harrah’s stunning innovation of the WSOP Lifestyles Poker Show has captured a previously unimaginable land of opportunity for savvy players, vendors and media.

Howard Greenbaum, the vice president of specialty games for Harrah’s, talked about how his brilliant idea for a poker trade show “grew legs” inside the Harrah’s organization. He explained that after the 2004 World Series of Poker, he went to Atlanta, Georgia to receive the Horizon award on behalf of the company for the WSOP’s contribution to up and coming sports programming. While in Atlanta, he visited a trade show that sent his head spinning; from there he began his mission to develop such a concept for the poker community.

At first, Harrah’s shunned the idea, but Greenbaum persisted, gathering steam with the help of Harrah’s marketing and convention executives, that he quickly brought into the fold of his new-fangled thinking. Together they made a credible presentation to senior management. The end result was the 2005 WSOP Poker Lifestyles trade show, that just concluded its mind-bogglingly successful four-day run. The showroom featured 88 exhibit booths in addition to the more expensive booths that were available in prime locations that immediately surrounded the poker tournament room.

While on occasion, scantily-clad ladies seemingly overtook the trade show, leaving one to wonder if this was an adults only bachelor lounge, the larger picture was a remarkable aggregation of serious options, offered by some 88 purveyors that cater to the poker industry. The products ran the gamut-from hundreds of poker books and instructional videos to logo tea-shirts, and all manner of poker apparel, along side finely made poker tables, chips and cards, and poker jewelry that ranged from kitsch to clever.

Naturally, ragingly successful Internet poker sites made big splashes along with a slew of lesser known lights that took places on this extraordinary poker stage, as did a wide range of established and start up poker media that displayed their wares. The WSOP Lifestyles Show has offered an unparalleled opportunity to the cream of the crop.

In one of its most clever moves, Harrah’s decision to block off the fastest access route into the tournament area, diverting poker players’ paths to their competitions so as to pass through the trade show arena was a stroke of genius from the perspective of the vendors that had paid a pretty penny to participate here.

Well-known poker commentator Jessie May set up stakes for one of his daily WSOP shows in the middle of the Poker Lifestyles convention room, inviting yours truly to comment about the extraordinary happening that was enveloping us. “How did this come about?” he asked rhetorically. He prodded me to flesh out the events that have made poker hot as a pistol: the World Poker Tour’s televised poker programming that displayed players’ hole cards as the action progresses, guerilla marketing efforts of select Internet-based poker sites, and the fairy tale win that the aptly named Chris Moneymaker posted at the 2003 grand finale of the WSOP. In my continuing conversation with Howard Greenbaum, in the vast Lifestyles viewing room, I asked about the challenges that faced the Harrah’s team in readying this World Series of Poker for players and media as well as the massive number of poker-related vendors that were in residence here.

Mr. Greenbaum was candid about the need for various improvements, but pointedly impatient with what he considered nitpicky gripes, chief among them my suggestion that there were extensive customer complaints over the limited food comps distributed- particularly the $10 discount coupons that were allotted to each player in the $10,000 event. On the other hand, Greenbaum was quick to assure me that the insufficiency of nearby rest room facilities was a top priority for change next year.

Extending generous praise to the entire Harrah’s team and its outside media relations consultants, TBC, looked like a proud father, noting that only a year ago he had taken on substantial responsibility for coordinating Harrah’s newly owned World Series of Poker. No one with knowledge of the inner workings of the event can deny Greenbaum’s exceptional leadership contribution to the phenomenal success of this year’s WSOP.

Greenbaum has asked each department of Harrah’s that has been associated with the WSOP to participate in a candid critique of this year’s event, in search of useful improvements for next year. Taking me back to the food and beverage issue he had scoffed earlier in our conversation, Greenbaum promised that next year, a wider range of restaurant options will be offered for the use of the food coupons that are distributed to tournament players daily. But Greenbaum also says, “Times are a changing”, and that players who still expect fully comped meals in private dining rooms during this event are out of sync with the reasonable expectations of a public company that has a significant commitment both to its customers and its shareholders, alike.

In addition to catering to vendors and players, this year Harrah’s has had to deal with unprecedented media interest; managing the process has required near super human effort and teamwork between inside and outside media relations personnel. More than 500 reporters sought media credentials amid plans to search out hooks for unique stories.

With a commitment to broaden the landscape of coverage, Harrah’s limited each media outlet to three credentialed representatives and offered a welcome mat to esoteric publications and little known media outlets, with hopes of reaching previously untapped markets as well as expanding the WSOP brand through major media all over the globe.

Occasional complaints of abrasive treatment by Harrah’s media arm TBC notwithstanding, Dave Curley, Director of Media Relations, and the rest of his TBC team managed the process for the most part with extraordinary aplomb. He offered: “At the end of the tournament, we will be happy to reflect upon the policies we instituted this year and how they may be improved upon for next year.” That said, Curley emphasized that for this year he was “committed to developing and enforcing fair rules across the board, and to accommodating as many media outlets as possible.”

As I prepared to take my leave from Harrah’s, Greenbaum informed me that, contrary to rumors that were floating all around, next year’s WSOP will take place once again here at the Rio Suites Hotel. I can hardly wait for another chance at a “life-changing experiences on the WSOP Tournament trail.

Wendeen Eolis is CEO of EOLIS International Group a legal/business consultancy. A longtime confidante and advisor to Rudy Giuliani, she also served as first assistant to Governor George E. Pataki. She is consulted by law firms, companies, and governments around the world. In her spare time Wendeen became a poker ace; she was elected to the WPT’s Inaugural Professional Poker Tour and has cashed in five WSOP events. She has written articles for various law journals as well as the poker industry. Visit eolis.com for info on her book, and availability as a speaker.