Eric Drache’s presence on the list of people due for induction into the Poker Hall of Fame says a lot about the importance of a good eye for public relations and finely tuned marketing instincts in all areas of the casino business.
Drache, it should be noted, has both.
The other inductee, the late Brian “Sailor” Roberts is easy enough to explain. He won the World Series of Poker’s main event in 1975 and was one of the most respected members of the “gang” of Texas poker pros who plied their trade in back rooms across the state during an era when publicity was the last thing they wanted.
But without Drache pulling out all stops the World Series might have taken much longer to become the Big Show it is now.
The World Series was very much in its infancy during the early 1970s when Drache headed west from his New Jersey home. He fancied himself a pretty decent seven-card stud player and wanted to try his luck at what he heard was the WSOP’s “big” stud championship.
Flashing a big grin at his memories of the way it was, he told me, “I didn’t know anything about the seven-stud championship. I just assumed it was maybe a couple thousand people.”
Drache got to the World Series headquarters at the Binion family’s Horseshoe, looked around for the crowd and didn’t find it. So he asked around until he discovered that the big game, which might have filled two poker tables had been rescheduled.
He was told that Johnny Moss (poker’s “grand old man” at that time) had played late the night before and was upstairs sleeping.
The event was not going to begin without Moss’s presence.
Is this any way to run a tournament? Drache wondered.
He went looking for Jack Binion and his dad Benny who had the final word on everything that happened at the Horseshoe. He began tossing ideas at them and they went back and forth until Jack Binion eventually looked at Drache and said, “Look, why don’t you run it, if you think you can do better?”
“I’ll take a shot at it,” Drache said of what turned out to be a life-changing opportunity.
Drache felt that the spotlight should always be on the annually increasing number of entries and the prize money in each event. This facilitated the marketing of the World Series to a fascinated nationwide audience in an extended string of news stories.
Drache came up with the satellite tournament concept during the early 1980s as he considered new possibilities for growing the tournament.
“I stopped to watch a side game one day, noticed that each of the players had close to a thousand dollars.” He asked them what they thought of playing until one player had all the money, in this case $10,000, the buy-in for the main event.
Drache ran the busiest big games and poker rooms in town for a number of years, well into the 1990s – at the Golden Nugget and The Mirage, and partnered with soon to be fellow hall of famer Doyle Brunson in the operation of the Silverbird poker room.
During recent years, Drache’s instincts for a successful “big show” made him a key player in the organization of made for TV poker events that have found homes on most of the major networks.
Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. He can be reached at [email protected].