the World Series of Poker can be tough
Ryan McLane, Casino City
not easy running the World Series of Poker.
about the official playing cards began pouring in just one
hour after the 2007 Series began. WSOP officials had contingency
plans in place for a variety of possible first day disasters,
but not the card design.
players couldn't tell the difference between sixes and nines
from certain seats. So within 24-hours, WSOP officials had
the U.S. Playing Card company shipping 200-300 new set-ups
a day. Four days later, every single card was replaced.
tested those cards on focus groups, sent them to the Player's
Advisory Council and had near unanimous agreement on the
design," said Gary Thompson, media director for Harrah's.
"But when we put them into play on a 12-foot table,
it became apparent rather quickly that we had a problem.
You plan and plan and plan, but there things just come up."
than 50,000 poker players are expected to participate in
the 2007 WSOP. And the Rio, which requires 4,600 employees
to run its day-to-day operations, adds another 700-800 workers
to help make the WSOP run smoothly, said Geno Iafrate, an
assistant general manager at the Rio.
extra employees come from all around the world, serving
as dealers, cage personnel, food and beverage servers, managers
and customer service staff. Each poker player has their
own set of special requests, forcing Iafrate and other WSOP
team members to plan incessantly in order to deploy their
workers in a manner that maximizes customer satisfaction.
doesn't always work, but as Thompson said, there is no way
you can please 50,000 people. "All you can do is your
prepare for the 50,000 pound gorilla and the 100,000 pound
gorilla shows up," said Howard Greenbaum, the vice
president of specialty games for Harrah's properties in
Las Vegas. "The frustrating part is not being able
to get it perfect. But believe me, it's rewarding to see
the team gel and put together the best poker product in
commissioner Jeffrey Pollack started his career in crisis
management, working as a political consultant whose main
focus was putting out fires.
service issues can break out at any time at the WSOP, and
when they do, they're usually big unexpected fires. That's
why Pollack trained his management team months in advance
on how to handle the unknown.
officials opened up the registration cages one day before
the 2007 event began, learning from last year's mistakes.
They had hoped to eliminate lines and create smooth registration
lanes. A new computer system was added to handle registration
procedures. And the staff felt ready to handle the rush.
registration wait times for the 2007 WSOP's first day ended
up being more than three hours long. More than 3,000 players
fought to enter Event #3, the third largest live poker tournament
in history, creating a mess that required immediate attention.
meet weekly in the months leading up to the WSOP to handle
the unknown," said Joe Scibetta, director of customer
service at the Rio. "We thought we had the situation
under control, but it became apparent that something needed
to be done."
previous years, Harrah's allowed third parties to pick up
tournament entry tickets for pre-registered players. That
allowed representatives from PokerStars or Party Poker to
pick up tournament tickets for their entire player contingency.
But the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act forced
Harrahs to require that players register themselves. Now,
players needed to show their own identification. And this
was causing the backup.
jumped into action, splitting the registration line into
three lanes. Walk-up registrants, the quickest of the three
transactions, were shuttled into one line, while the pre-registered
players were herded into another. Here, Scibetta placed
employees with extensive registration experience, whittling
down transaction time from five minutes to a little more
than two. Lastly, a third lane was created for players with
VIP cards. Scibetta also called for back-up, bringing in
double the employees to handle registration.
end result – no more lines with above average wait
will always be lines when you're running the largest poker
tournaments in the world," Scibetta said. "But
we responded to the issue quickly and I haven't heard many
complaints since that first day. The next big issue will
be the Main Event, but I think we're ready."
2007 seniors event caused another major issue. Greenbaum
and WSOP Tournament Director Jack Effel planned for a 10
percent increase from last year's 1,100 registrants. But
registration for Monday's event soared beyond 1,800 players.
realized that we were going to be about 20 tables (and dealers)
short," Greenbaum said. "So we got on the phone
and called in additional staff. In the meantime, the floor
supervisors jumped into the pit and dealt the tournament
themselves. About 30 minutes later, the new dealers arrived
and things were normal once again. These things just happen.
You have to deal with them as they come."
said things will never be perfect.
have a couple of textbook examples of how you listen to
the customer and how you respond on a very large scale,"
Pollack said. "That's how we want people to measure
our success. We're never going to get it 100 percent, but
if we keep moving closer to perfection everyday, that's
into the groove
personnel do not work together year round. They come from
several different Harrah's properties and outside casinos.
The group has a plan and a management structure, but very
little experience working as a team when the WSOP begins.
a basketball team with no pre-season or season at all being
asked to jump right into the NBA finals and play perfectly,"
Greenbaum said. "It's a little different because our
NBA final is 45 days long, but I'd say it takes about a
week before we hit our groove."
and Pollack also said it takes about a week.
the fourth or fifth day, we've usually seen the day-to-day,
handled a few problems and can finally settle down a bit,"
bracelet events draw the most attention, but Effel said
the Series is much more than just 55-historic tournaments.
The WSOP runs 24 hours a day with anywhere from one to six
bracelet tournaments, cash games, single-table satellites,
mega-satellites, evening tournaments and ESPN final tables
running concurrently. The Bluff Sequestrium was also added
hired 750 dealers and 60 floor supervisors to run daily
poker operations. The hiring process began in late 2006
when Effel received hundreds of applications. He also hand-picked
several floor managers from different Harrah's properties
to round out his team.
WSOP day never really ends. Dealer, managers and table staff
need to make decisions 24-hours a day. Effel's nightmare
is not having enough personnel, but so far, the 300 tables
have passed the test with "a little bit of something
have an amazing system," Effel said. "Our floor
managers handle setting up the tables, rotating the dealers
and spreading the different offerings for the day. When
issues arise they can't handle, they run them up the chain
to my assistant directors and if need be, to me. We've been
able to handle every tournament and have started most of
them on time with few complaints."
can be tough to come by.
to attrition, only 625 of the original 750 dealers the WSOP
hired for this year's tournament are actually working, Effel
said. Dealers are classified as either A, B, or C dealers,
with C dealers being basic employees who can essential deal
only Hold'em. "A" dealers are the best, employees
who can handle the 16 different poker variations offered
at the 2007 WSOP. Effel structured the tournament schedule
in a manner that prevents the harder variations from running
at the same time, but at some junctures, the squeeze on
the dealer-related staff is tight.
what we've created is a poker player's paradise," Effel
said. "There's something here for everyone, but having
that type of spread takes more man power than people realize."
more than just poker, however.
has other concerns as the Rio's assistant general manger,
like keeping the regular casino running and finding places
for all the guests to stay.
casino doesn't shut down because the WSOP is here,"
Iafrate said. "It's a big deal, but it's just one piece.
We need to make sure everything is running smoothly."
Rio is 95 percent full year-round, so his staff needs to
change their regular marketing strategies to ensure there
is enough space for the 50,000 poker guests. When the Rio
is full, players are moved to other Harrahs' properties,
like Caesars, Bally's or the Flamingo. Every player who
registers for a WSOP event receives a room discount.
any customer-service business - restaurants, Disney Land,
anything, the difference between success and failure is
organizing the chaos," Iafrate said. "Keeping
the customer happy by putting in the maximum amount of effort
makes all the difference. We do that here."
average day for a WSOP official is intense.
begins his day somewhere between 9-10 a.m. He handles 300
emails by the time the media credential room opens, and
then he spends most of the afternoon handling media inquiries
and player complaints. If there's an important final table
running, he sticks around late into the night to ensure
the media has everything it needs.
are no days off for people like Thompson. The grind can
be tedious, especially when large events like the $50,000
H.O.R.S.E tournament and the Main Event require 24-hour
attendance. Thompson maxed out his vacation time two years
ago and has taken two weeks vacation in the last five years.
have to pace yourself because it's a long 45 days"
Thompson said. "But this is what we prepare for and
there is no greater joy than watching it all come together."
for the 2007 WSOP began on day one of the 2006 Series.
insisted that members of his team note problems they encountered
during the 2006 event. Eventually, the resulting document
was simply named "The List."
staff whittled down the list to 15 priorities during post-WSOP
debriefings and subsequent weekly meetings throughout the
off season. The priorities, like tournament structure and
registration procedures, were the focus of the staff in
the weeks leading up to the 2007 event.
2008 list started as soon as this year's WSOP began.
year's planning started several weeks ago," Pollack
said. "We never stop planning for next year."
adds to the list daily, as does Effel, Greenbaum, and Iafrate.
Each official briefs their staff in the morning and afternoon,
asking for feedback. A decision is made on the spot whether
or not the concern can be solved this year, or will be put
on the list for 2008.
card debacle, the lack of air conditioning in the player
tent and the registration-line issue were examples of on
the spot corrections. But other 2007 complaints, like the
structure of the Limit tournaments, may need to wait until
next year because it would cause such an impact on the way
this year's events are played, Thompson said.
training is definitely on the list," Pollack said.
"We've done a much better job of training dealers this
year, but it's an area we can improve on."
said one area of concern is managing the conflicting needs
of the amateur and the professional.
common complaint from poker professionals in 2007 is the
boring structure of the Limit events -- especially the long
low limit levels early in the tournaments. This has translated
into many pros skipping the early levels, or multi-tabling
other events. But Greenbaum says the amateur is happy to
get more play, wanting more table experience for their money.
WSOP officials are considering changing the structure of
the higher buy-in (professional laden) events next year,
while keeping the lower buy-in (amateur laden) events the
mechanisms serve as a complement to the list. Staff members
listen to player complaints daily. Surveys are sent to every
WSOP participant who has an e-mail address. Advice from
the Player's Advisory Council and the newly formed International
Player's Advisory Council is solicited during and after
the WSOP. And Pollack held the first WSOP open town hall
meeting this week to hear player concerns en masse.
pour over the data, prioritize the issues we hear over and
over again, and then make a change if necessary," Thompson
said. "We spend hours and hours making decisions that
will enhance the experience for the customer because that's
who this is all for."