• Journey to the World Series of Poker
• A big meeting in its basic elements
Fast forward to July 2015 – The World Series of Poker. What most novices don’t know is that the WSOP is actually a series of 68 different events, culminating into The Main Event. Throughout the past year, I found out that a large number of people have the WSOP on their bucket list. It was never on mine, but it was definitely on my husband’s. Unfortunately, my winning seat wasn’t transferrable. Nevertheless, my husband spent the year coaching and mentoring me, handing me a constant barrage of poker books, apps, and recordings.
When I walked into the meeting space at The Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino (host of the WSOP since 2006), one thing occurred to my planner brain as I struggled to take in the spectacle of it all. The World Series of Poker is really just a big meeting. A huge, potentially life-changing meeting giving away millions of dollars, but at its very core, still just a meeting. I don’t know why that came as a shock to me, but it did. Break it apart into its basic elements, and there’s registration, seating, staging, production, staffing, sponsors, speakers, an emcee, and decor.
I got a chance to meet with Freddie Onsaga, Director of Sales for Encore Productions. Every year, his company sponsors the MPI Foundation Event by providing all the equipment and staffing to run The Big Deal at MPI-WEC. Other sponsors are Caesars Entertainment, which provides the grand prize WSOP package, and Hilton – a Caesars partner company. What I didn’t realize was that Freddie’s company, based in Las Vegas, is the official production company for the entire WSOP. Yes, the one that ESPN reruns practically nonstop every night.
Preparation for the WSOP begins each year immediately after the current tournament ends, as you might expect. I spoke with our gracious host, Bill Greaves, Executive Director of Catering, Conventions and Events at The Rio. (As an aside, when the hotel underwent a major renovation in 2005, adding their current convention center, I was one of the first meeting planners in-house with a group, and Bill was likely my CSM at the property – small industry, indeed!)
While the WSOP is a major coup for Caesars to own and operate, from an industry perspective, it’s got to be frustrating for the sales team (who, by the way, were all fabulous to my whole motley crew of friends and family out in Vegas to support me). It takes all their ballroom space out of commission for other meetings & events for three months. They can’t operate a single non-WSOP meeting or event in the ballrooms of The Rio while the 68 tournaments take place.
I bet you’re wondering how I played in the tournament. Well, I sat down with poker professionals and held my own for nearly 12 hours, losing all my chips just before midnight to – get this – an ancestor of the man who founded the WSOP. I guess that was a reputable way to end my WSOP career. For now.
Would I do it all again? You bet. Hopefully, by the time you read this, I’ll be the first two-time winner of The Big Deal, and on my way to play in the 2016 WSOP!