Since 1970, the World Series of Poker (WSOP) has been held at Binion’s Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas. On Thursday, the world’s most prestigious poker tournament begins a new era at the Rio, whose parent company, Harrah’s, bought the WSOP from Binion’s last year.
The task of organizing the WSOP for Harrah’s falls to Howard Greenbaum, who oversees the race and sports, poker and keno operations at Harrah’s Las Vegas and the Rio.
Given the World Series’ rich history and pure logistics of administrating six weeks of high-stakes poker, the task is a daunting one.
"It’s overwhelming," Greenbaum says. "But the Rio is set up to handle all the various aspects of the World Series — accounting, security, food and beverage, signage, hiring the staff, retail services — the World Series will touch all these departments, so from that standpoint it is a tremendous team effort."
Greenbaum adds that observing how the tournament was run last year helped in fashioning guidelines for Harrah’s inaugural year at the helm.
"Last year was really an observation year," he says. "We learned a lot, and this year we made a conscious effort to make sure this tournament will be one we can get our arms around."
Rather than make wholesale changes, Greenbaum hired many of the staff members that ran the tournament the previous year.
"As late as last week we were actually waiting for the action to begin — we were that prepared," he said. "So at the last minute we were basically training staff and reviewing rules and calls,"
Greenbaum hopes the result will live up to the World Series of Poker’s esteemed heritage.
"The WSOP has 35 years of tradition and has always been known as every man’s tournament," he says. "It is a place where professional players and amateurs share in the camaraderie of the event itself. It is our highest priority to execute flawlessly a well-run tournament and event that will create lasting memories and possible life-changing dreams for all those who participate."
Greenbaum added that the Rio has created a "fantastic" venue for the tournament — 63,000 square feet of upscale convention space in which 200 poker tables will set the stage for non-stop action.
As a testament to its distinction, the WSOP continues to expand. This year, 45 different tournament events will be contested over a six-week period, culminating with the No Limit Hold’em World Championship.
Last year’s main event drew a record 2,576 players with winner, Greg Raymer, walking away with a $5 million first place prize.
Those figures will easily be topped this year, Greenbaum says.
"We’re projecting a final field of 4,000 players, but it can be virtually any number," he said. "No other poker tournament in history has ever approached that number."
Besides rewarding the overall winner with a prize in excess of last year’s $5 million, the championship event will make every final table player a millionaire; return prize money to 10 percent of the field; and pay the last money finishers at least $15,000 as a reward for five days of effort.
Even though the championship’s prize money is reaching "rarified air," Greenbaum says it’s available to all comers.
"It’s an event anyone can enter, anyone can win, and anyone can enjoy whether they win or not," he said.
In addition to the upcoming World Series of Poker, Harrah’s earlier this year launched its World Series of Poker Circuit — monthly poker tournaments held at various Harrah’s casinos throughout the U.S.
Circuit events are "mini World Series" tournaments with reduced buy-ins and prize structures, though winners will compete in a World Series Circuit Championship following the WSOP in July.
"The decision to launch World Series Circuit events was based on our desire to introduce the World Series brand to customers at our properties outside Las Vegas," Greenbaum says. "We plan to extend the schedule next year, and perhaps host at least one event overseas."
Although it’s too early to assess any bottom-line results for Harrah’s investment in the World Series of Poker, Greenbaum believes interest in poker worldwide should continue.
"With new markets here in the United States, and with television right now, it’s going to continue to grow new customers," he says. "And we know that the online sites are having record numbers of people playing online as well”¦ Maybe, it obviously will slow down at some point here in the United States, but it will still continue to grow world-wide."