By Wendeen H. Eolis
Poker Player Newspaper
September 10, 2013

This year the World Series of Poker Europe pays special tribute to women with its first ever Ladies Event. It will also cater to world travelers and romantics alike with a change of venue from the French Riviera to the suburbs of Paris. The accommodations are expected to delight all who love the City of Light and adore its energy in the fall.

The WSOPE Changes

Port of Call For the first four years, the tournament lived in London, centered at Harrahs’ Leicester Square Casino at the Empire. It outgrew its space before the first main event!

In 2011, Mitch Garber, CEO of Caesars Interactive—the Caesars company responsible for the WSOP brand—spearheaded the exploration of a change of venue from England to France. Garber picked up the phone and went straight to the top source for intelligence- -Lucy Denos. She is the seasoned poker room director at Casino Barriere de Deauville where the EPT has held Court for years. Talking with Garber from her perch on the French Coast of Normandy, Denos explained the lay of the land.

Garber liked what he heard. His WSOP team got busy signing up Casino Barriere as a partner for a WSOPE event—in a matter of weeks. The WSOPE moved with suitable fanfare to Cannes later that year and encored its festivities at Casino Barriere’s posh digs in the South of France again in 2012.

Together with Barriere, this year the WSOPE drove the Tournament northward to the luxuriously appointed Barriere Enghien-les-Bains Casino. It is a few kilometers outside Paris. The new venue gives the 4 WSOPE its first opportunity to showcase its wares in territory that has been the longtime stomping grounds of the World Poker Tour.

Ladies Event Promoted at 2013 WSOPE

Speaking of WSOPE firsts, the most discussed decision of the WSOP organizers may be its brand new WSOPE Ladies Event. The Ladies Event is the most controversy-provoking tournament on the annual stateside WSOP schedule. It has engendered endless debate as to its merit with various pros including several high profile female poker players looking upon it disdainfully. The complainers see such events as diluting the value of WSOP bracelets.

The new tournament will debut as the opening event of the WSOP-E festival this year. Not deterred for a moment by criticism for catering to the ladies in this way, the WSOPE’ Ladies Event will be the first bracelet event of the fourteen day WSOPE festivities. The tournament organizers either are determined to make a special welcome for women or are sending a deeper message to card room management and the poker community: they are clearly walking the walk in efforts to attract more women to major live tournaments and accompanying cash games.

Queens among Poker Kings

The limited participation of women (hovering around 4.5 per cent among all major live poker tournaments worldwide) notwithstanding, the WSOPE main event arguably has produced more notoriety and acclaim for a woman than any other event in poker history since Barbara Enright’s accomplishment; she became the first woman to reach the final table of a WSOP Main Event in 1995.

The inaugural WSOPE was won by Norwegian teenager Annette Obrestadt; the plucky young lady picked up her first place prize of one million pounds to become the poker heavyweight champion of the world, hours before turning nineteen years of age.

Most Tournament Combat Will Take Place in One Room

The WSOPE is also showing attention to customer service in yet another first at the WSOPE and it is an important upgrade for pros and other serious players who are there to tend to their “business.”

Under the leadership of Ty Stewart, Executive Director of the WSOP and Senior Vice President of Caesars Interactive, poker players will find the work day easier to navigate and attention on their accomplishments significant.

The 7th annual WSOPE puts all regular tournament proceedings within one room– another first for a WSOP Europe event- The festivities are expected to be streamlined like never before.

Stewart credits Jack Effel as The Man for every player– every step of the way in his current role as VP of Tournament operations. And he looks to Seth Palansky who took over the reins as WSOP’s Communication Director when Thompson moved over to Caesars Entertainment C-Suite to push poker media to make a fuller commitment to coverage of entire tournaments while targeting and cultivating mainstream media for unique feature stories. Palansky steps lively in this role. If history repeats itself for the high spirited Caesars Interactive Entertainment WSOP Team, the Company will prove that progress continues and change is invariably for the better when Garber’s team is on the go.

A Bit More History

Benny Binion, founder of the WSOP, never dreamed about poker tournaments the way Caesars (formerly Harrahs) did when it acquired the WSOP brand at the end of 2004. Benny saw the WSOP as a family-like affair; mostly an array of players who knew him and his sons Jack and Teddy as well as each other –for years.

The comps flowed freely for rooms and food, the buffet was sumptuous –surrounded by ice sculptures and the cash games were big and juicy—especially Jack’s private game which played in the middle of the casino. There was little concern expressed for profits from the tournament back then; poker was acknowledged at Binion’s as a phenomenal marketing tool for a gambling house. It seemed to work perfectly— until a family feud turned the property and therefore it’s WSOP into a tottering entity.

Harrahs Takes Over the WSOP

Harrahs took over the WSOP brand just in the nick of time to save it from unknown potential calamities. The 2005 WSOP began at Binion’s and its final table was held at the Rio All Suites Hotel, Harrahs’ designated property as the new WSOP home.

In August, 2005 Caesars brought Jeffrey Pollack on board as VP of Marketing. The Company endorsed the former NASCAR executive’s desire to take on the title of WSOP Commissioner. Pollack ran with the ball, putting together a stellar branding and marketing team.

By 2006, Harrahs was pinching itself over its acquisition. The branding prowess of the new WSOP team, was becoming obvious– Stewart, the unsung mastermind. The 2006 WSOP drew over 8,000 entrants to its main event. First place prize was a staggering $12,000,000.

Harrahs Spreads its Poker Wings

The WSOP team continued to push the envelope. No sooner than Harrah’s announced it had acquired London Clubs International (LCI), in late 2006, the WSOP honchos hit the ground running with a plan to cross the pond with a tournament proposal in hand. In 2007—it was poised to set down stakes for a spectacular poker event to show off the art and drama of the WSOP outside the United States.

Pollack hardly needed to hold the baton. Stewart was hitting his stride. Gary Thompson, communications director for the WSOP, was a natural at whipping up the media. (He now sits in the ivory tower of Caesars Entertainment as the Director of Corporate Communications, and as one of his many accomplishments, Thompson was the Managing Editor of Poker Player in the mid- 1980’s.). Craig Abrahams the Harvard Business School Graduate who interned for a year and then joined the WSOP was joined at the hip to the rest of the team in executing the mission of a WSOPE. (He now holds the lofty position of Caesars Interactive Chief Financial Officer).

The Obrestadt Effect

The initial WSOPE was a resounding success. But even the group of creative thinkers that made up the WSOP’s stellar marketing team could not have dreamt up Obrestad’s triple barreled, record-setting performance.

More than 150 reporters from all over the world took notice of her astonishing eight day performance in the final event and embraced her as the new media darling of the European poker world.

In one fell swoop, Obrestad permanently destroyed any vestiges of a felt ceiling over the heads of female players. After a grueling five-day series of battles, she raised her hand as the heavy weight champion of poker in Europe with a million pounds in hand.

The Cyberspace Explosion

While Chris Moneymaker, an unknown accountant from Tennessee, turned winnings from a $40 cyberspace competition into a “lucky” win at the 2003 WSOP main event, Obrestadt’s feat at the 2007 WSOPE reinforced the growing proof that cyberspace card rooms offer an incomparable, fast-track training ground for young poker players.

Obrestadt had reportedly scored hundreds of thousands of dollars of winnings, in online tournaments— against large fields of players that spanned six continents from America to Australia—prior to taking her seat at the WSOPE Main Event. Her win put a brilliant spotlight on the WSOP brand in Europe.

Obrestadt Builds Momentum for WSOP and WSOPE

The story of Obrestadt’s historical WSOPE Championship performance is seen by many as having played a big part in the WSOP’s marketing momentum going forward— especially abroad. The WSOP brand was fast becoming a jewel in the Caeasrs’ crown.

Commissioner Pollack left the Company in 2009 to become an entrepreneur. He left behind a title that is now defunct, but the team assembled, while he was its steward, has gone on to do great things.

Mitch Garber who became CEO of Caesars Interactive Entertainment, in 2009 moved the WSOP into high gear. The WSOP now counts 62 events, on its annual tournament, the WSOP Tournament Circuit runs almost year round, The WSOP has become truly global with international events having been held in England, France, and Australia. And, coveted sponsors are solidly behind the WSOP brand.

Winners Behind Every Door

By all accounts, this year’s WSOPE has the earmarks of a winner for Caesars, Casino Barriere and WSOPE players. There will be eight bracelet events in the offing with events commencing on October 12 and ending October 25, 2013.