By Wendeen H. Eolis
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 the WSOP, 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.
By: Wendeen H. Eolis
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
by Wendeen Eolis 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 on both sides of the pond 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.
by Wendeen H. Eolis
Now that Amaya Gaming has completed its purchase of PokerStars, Isai 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. at 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 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!
by Wendeen H. Eolis
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
Calling Out Sexism in Poker — Beyond Maguire, Molly’s Game, and “The Mouth” - by Wendeen H. Eolis
Featured Strategy - Mike Caro: Today's Word is Revenge
World Series of Poker Events 53 to the Main Event (#65)
AND MUCH MORE, Download the new Issue PDF now!
By Wendeen H. Eolis
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
WSOP Branding Machine: The Players are the Stars - by Wendeen H. Eolis
The World Series of Poker: It's Our Woodstock! - by Shari Geller
World Series of Poker Events up to 52
AND MUCH MORE, Download the new Issue PDF now!
by Wendeen H. Eolis
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 WSOP has 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
By Wendeen H. Eolis
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.
WSOP—Checking 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 WSOP Championship 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.