"Sometimes you just gotta shake things up." — World Poker Tour President Adam Pliska
Major changes are taking place on the World Poker Tour next week. For the first time ever, the tour's season-ending event will be held outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. The Season XII WPT World Championship will begin Monday, April 21 at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
The World Poker Tour Championship spent its first 11 seasons at Bellagio in Las Vegas, once considered the poker mecca of the world. More than $60 million has been handed out in the event since 2003, making it by far the most lucrative event on the WPT schedule. For years, it was a must-play tournament for poker's biggest superstars.
Lately, though, it came down to a simple game of math. Attendance for the event has dwindled every year but one since 2007 when Carlos Mortensen defeated a field of 639 to win nearly $4 million. Only 146 participated in last season's event, the smallest turnout since Alan Goehring topped a field of 111 in Season 1 (2003).
That, combined with some player feedback about Bellagio, resulted in major adjustments to the WPT Championship. As World Poker Tour President Adam Pliska told PokerNews this week, "Sometimes you just gotta shake things up."
"The numbers in the Championship were down and people were noticing that," Pliska said. "The WPT Championship is something special. With so many other changes that have happened on the World Poker Tour, at some point you have to tend to the championship. It's a focal point."
In September, the tour announced Borgata as the new home for its flagship event. Why Atlantic City? Pliska says the stars were aligning and the timing was right, especially with the parent company's new presence in New Jersey's burgeoning online poker marketplace.
"The moving of the WPT Championship is as much about celebrating legalized, regulated gaming in the United States as anything else," Pliska told PokerNews. "What we need now in the poker community is to celebrate that as much as possible in order to spread it into multiple states and every state. I think this could open up a lot of opportunities for people to play in WPT events."
With the formation of a partnership between Borgata and bwin.party, the WPT's parent company, Pliska and his team discovered new ways to inject excitement into the WPT Championship. Five seats to the tournament have been given away through satellites at nj.partypoker.com, in addition to qualifiers at BorgataPoker.com and even DraftKings.com, the official fantasy sports partner of the WPT.
The biggest change to the tournament itself, though, was the brand new price tag of $15,400, down from the original $25,500. The championship event will also carry a $5 million guaranteed prize pool, with at least $1.35 million going to the eventual champion. The last time the WPT Championship prize pool hit $5 million was in 2011, which was also the last time a player won over $1.35 million when Scott Seiver emerged victorious.
Pliska wouldn't share his expectations in terms of entries, but he says he'll be pleased once the guarantee is met.
"When you're changing tradition, I think you've got to reevaluate things. And we have," Pliska said. "There had been a lot of push to keep the Championship at a level that is prestigious, but at the same time bringing it down to a more accessible level. So that's what we did.
"We'll try this, take player feedback and see how it goes."
Another big change that Pliska discussed is one that hasn't happened yet. In the 12 years of the World Poker Tour, there has never been a female champion in an open event. Coming from a television production background, Pliska wasn't shy about his hopes for a woman to win the WPT Championship next week, especially after Vanessa Selbst's heartbreaking runner-up finish at Borgata last fall.
"It would be a great moment," Pliska said about a female champion. "When Vanessa was so close at Borgata, you could just feel the energy in the room. Everyone was thinking, 'Oh my gosh, it's happening, she's taking it.' But poker is like a Greek tragedy. You never know when things are going to change."