Interview: Jeffrey Pollack

This July marked the two-year anniversary of WSOP Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack’s relocation to Las Vegas, which he describes as “interesting and eye opening.” Showing up to the Amazon Room on Day 5 of the World Series Main Event wearing a suit but no tie, Jeffrey sat down with me at a recently vacated tournament table in the Amazon ballroom. Pollack is often accused of spinning his answers; however, common sense should explain he can’t guarantee anything nor disclose much due to common corporate confidentiality agreements during a leverage buy-out with new owners on the horizon. While we didn’t toss cards, we did toss ideas about the Amazon Room hosting in 2009, the Gaming Life Expo strippers, the ladies bracelet event is here to stay and what he’ll be doing in August before he jets off to Europe.

ML: Being here (in Las Vegas) sometimes one is just so out of touch with reality and the world, is it hard?

JP: (nodding in agreement) Different rules apply in Las Vegas. I’m very big on vibe and Vegas is a city… Jeffrey is suddenly interrupted by the tournament director’s announcement of a break schedule revision. Vegas is a city… T.D. announces at ninety-nine players they will quit for the evening. One word sums up Las Vegas, Permission. It is a city predicated upon people coming from all over the world to enjoy themselves richly and thoroughly for an intense period of time. And that energy permeates the city. So, when you’re here full time or close to full time you have to absorb that energy. Which, it isn’t a bad thing it’s just different, it’s unlike any other city in the world.

ML: Do you get much time off and if so what do you do?

JP: I take off whatever time I need but out of habit and being a workaholic I probably don’t take off as much as I should. But I will take some time off in August before I go to Europe at an undisclosed location. It will be seaside, I will say that and I will be able to see whales. (Laughing) But not casino whales, actual big swimming whales.

ML: Your goal was to make 2006 better than 2005.

JP: And I did

ML: I think most would agree that goal was attained. How do you feel about 2007 so far?

JP: Absolutely better than 06, for a few reasons. The tournament room finally looks like a hall where tournament champions are made. It has a prestige feel to it, we think that’s a big step forward. Bigger stage for ESPN and the spectators, HD coverage from ESPN, Quicker tournament turn from tape to air from ESPN, 55 bracelet events expanding the offering for poker players, Poker kitchen now inside as opposed to outside and a VIP lounge for the players willing to make the necessary investment.

Last year we didn’t raise very much money for charity; this year combined about 1 million between Ante Up for Africa, Nevada Cancer Institute, Queen of Hearts and Put a Bad Beat on Cancer. We’re now doing what we should to start giving back to the community. Better trained dealers than last year, maybe not subject to as much training as they should have but certainly more than they did have, we still need to make sure the skill level is as high as it could be. If you put all those together I think that makes for a better 07 than 06.

ML: The dealers definitely seem happier this year

JP: Dealers are happier, we still need to make sure the skill level is as high as it should be but we’ll get there.

ML: I do find that you will get different rulings for different dealers.

JP: (nodding in agreement) yep.

ML: A lot of people don’t understand how hard it is to control so many things at once.

JP: We welcomed 54k players into one room over 48 days. Fifty-five different events, it’s a massive, massive undertaking; the fact that there aren’t more bumps along the road is pretty amazing.

ML: You had announced there would be a footprint for an 09 location, but people are going around saying that it’s going to be moved in 09 and you clarified that’s not the case as of yet, so what’s the deal with 09?

JP: I’m not saying it is or it isn’t. I’m saying …08 will probably be the last year that the Amazon ballroom is our primary tournament room. 09 I would expect that we would have a completely new footprint for the wsop. Hopefully, it’s at the Rio but there’s no guarantee. But to that I would say the Rio has been/is an incredible home to the wsop in three short years it’s become beautifully equated with the wsop and I hope we are here for a long time going forward.

ML: I’ve been hearing for two years “Oh they want to move the wsop to Caesars but it’s a parking issue.” I originally agreed with the parking theory; however, there are so many hotels in walking distance there would be a lot less need for a car.

JP: It is easy to get in and out of the Rio; since it is a stand-alone structure we can sort of own it for the 48 days in a different way than any other property. So being here has its charms and advantages.

ML: User friendly…

JP: Yeah

ML: Let’s talk about the infamous tent. Do you see a future for the tent?

JP: Not a good one. I give us a ten on intentions behind the tent I give us a one in terms of on result. We tried. We outgrew the Amazon last year and we thought this would be a good fix. It wasn’t. I don’t know if there will be some other ancillary structure but I’m pretty sure if there is you won’t see any tournament play in there. We haven’t come up with a plan yet but the tent, as it existed for this year will not be back for tournament play for next year if at all.

ML: Could you use another ballroom for satellites because I know a lot of players who come to the World Series want to be in the energy of this room?

JP: Yep, it’s interesting, one thought I’ve had is that maybe we should run all of our satellites at Harrah’s, Ballys, Flamingo or Caesar’s but the challenge there is that I think the satellites here do well because of the energy, the vibe and the reflective glory from people playing in the tournament. It’s a tough one.

ML: I liked the tent.

JP: You liked the tent. (Knowingly)

ML: I think it would be best for satellites or cash games where people are not there for long and or have the option to get up.

JP: (nodding in agreement) we may do that. Or maybe we’ll have some other temporary structure, a log cabin, I don’t know, igloo.

ML: A yacht? A zeppelin?

JP: A big yacht or some buses. I don’t know, we’ll figure it out.

ML: Maybe a double-decker with a tournament table on top.

ML: “Games, Girls and Gear,” will the Gaming Life Expo keep this name for next year and if so could we have some male strippers for the ladies…possibly, some of the Chippendale dancers?

JP: If the GLE comes back next year I suspect it would just be “Games and Gear” based on this year’s experience. Some elements of that show were not The Rio’s prouder moments.

ML: I didn’t really find it that offensive.

JP: Well, you’re an open-minded Texan.

ML: I’m the only one. No, just kidding. I’m Jewish too. Actually, I converted.

JP: Really? Welcome to the Tribe. How does all of the guilt feel?

ML: It’s less now.

JP: That’s unusual.

ML: Well, I have kids (to pass it on to…) Do you have kids?

JP: No

ML: You’re married right?

JP: Yes

ML: Let’s see…so no more strippers?

JP: No, they won’t be back.

ML: No? No Chippendales? (Disappointed)

JP: No. Not my style…not my….No.

ML: There were some complaints about the ladies event having a make-over, what are your thoughts on that?

JP: Yeah, there’s been miscommunication on that. What happened was the Queen of Hearts team, led by Lisa Tenner, is a wonderful group of women that play and donate winnings to charity. To make it a little more fun for the team members, Lisa arranged a sort of morning make up session. No one was forced to do it, I believed every team member welcomed it and enjoyed it and since when is make up and women and poker an ill-advised combination?

ML: Well, I was under the impression that first place was awarded not only the money and bracelet but also a make over package.

JP: Yes, first place was awarded the money, the bracelet, a Corum watch, a signed WNBA Sparks jersey, VIP introduction and court-side seating at a WNBA game and a New You seminar weekend at a Harrah’s property. The New You is a new show about health, beauty and wellness that’s launching on NBC this year. So, this was part of a promotional partnership we have with them.

ML: Did Lisa Tenner get it (The New You) donated?

JP: I got it donated. I think some people just heard the creator of The Swan was there and some people were obviously offended by that.

ML: There are also rumors …

JP: I love rumors. (Smiling)

ML: I know that’s why we’re here. You’re going “On the Record.” This is the no spin zone.

JP: [laughing]: Ha, Good luck.

ML: There are rumors that this year was the last bracelet for the ladies event.

JP: Absolutely not true. As long as women continue to turn out in droves, which they have for this tournament, this was the largest women’s tournament in history. This was the first ever million-dollar tournament. I love it; I think anyone who is offended by it is improperly embracing a sense of political correctness with little regard for the history of the tournament. If women were offended by it they wouldn’t play. I think it’s something that’s unique to us; it’s no different than saying women shouldn’t have their own basketball league or softball league. Women here, unlike other sports, are able to compete against men in any tournament. But there’s nothing wrong with celebrating women in poker through a specialized event. It is one of my favorite days at the tournament and as long as I am commissioner and women continue to turn out it will be a bracelet event.

ML: What are your goals for WSOP EUROPE?

JP: To launch it successfully this year, that’s the only goal. To get it up and running, we will have a number of years to perfect it, but we just want to get the flag in the ground, open up the doors and get them running.

ML: Are you going to call it the WSOPE Beta version?

JP: No, it’s WSOPE

ML: Europe 1.0?

JP: (laughs) right.

ML: Do you think, in a basic economic sense, increasing the amount of bracelets awarded each year decreases their value?

JP: Too many bracelets each year we will commoditize the bracelet which I refuse to do. I think that 55 events is not too many. I think when we throw in the three bracelets that we will give out in London – 58. Assume at some point we go to Asia and Latin America, once bracelet each there – 60. Sixty bracelets world wide each year, I don’t think we’re commoditizing the bracelet. But that being said…we may decide next year not to have 55 events but to have 50 events. We may decide 58 events makes sense. You won’t see us push 70, so I think we still have some room but I’ll never allow the bracelet to be commoditized. It’s a very subjective view, some think that 40 bracelets should be the top number and some may think that 70 is ok. So, as Steward of the brand I reserve the judgment on when we’re close to commoditizing. I don’t think we’re there yet.

ML: This pocket PC is hard to read. I need to put on my glasses.

JP: You’re too young. Increase the font

ML: Yeah, well I’m not there yet, I haven’t used it enough. Hey, I’m 36, I’m not that young. How old are you?

JP: 42. Do you want me to read them for you? (Joking)

ML: (joking) yeah, would you?

ML: Will the Player’s Advisory Counsel (which he started Jan 06) change every year and how does one become involved?

JP: We will continue to expand the council, it’s a very informal selection process, and it’s basically if a player strikes me as having an interesting point of view then I invite them. This summer I have invited Steve Z, Mickey Appleman & Cyndi Violette. I may add a couple more before long.

ML: What exactly do they advise?

JP: This year their work focused largely on the over all schedule, structures, payout schemes, rules, card design (that didn’t go very well but that was not there fault) and some tournament operations. It’s an open book; there isn’t any topic I won’t discuss with the council. They have no formal decision making authority, it’s simply to provide advice and council but we take what they say very seriously and they’ve added tremendous value.

ML: Will you and the council accept question from the public?

JP: Always. To me or to the council. My public email address is and I answer every email personally that goes to that box.

ML: The room is freezing…is that to increase sweatshirt sales?

JP: No, it’s very tough to regulate a room this size and I personally, and I don’t spend a lot of time on the temperature of the room, but I personally err on the side of a little colder is better than a little warmer. It’s easier to warm up than cool down but we’ll never make everyone happy on this issue that’s for certain. I think it’s refreshing, but that’s me.

ML: But it’s so cold.

JP: (laughing) Wear a jacket or sweatshirt. A scarf or muffler.

ML: One complaint was that most of the 5pm events were limit events. You really didn’t get as much play and then you had to come back late the next day to make the money while the noon NL events usually played to the money on day one.

JP: We have to get back and take a look and see if those five o’clock events really work the way they should.

ML: Someone wanted me to ask you why you have this job when you’re not a poker player?

JP: When was the last time someone saw David Stern (NBA Commissioner) on the basketball court. The fans perspective will always be that you have to be a fan to work at a sports league or a team. The fact is in sports the last people you hire are the fans because they are not critical enough. They allow their passion for the game to cloud their business judgment and I’m probably the only true dispassionate member of the WSOP team. Everyone who works on the WSOP is a poker player. I’m not. And I won’t become one and there’s no need for me to become one.

ML: How long will you stay here?

JP: As long as Harrah’s will have me.

ML: Where’s your pink tie?

JP: (laughing) No tie today. It’s Friday, I figured casual Friday, and I may actually be in jeans this weekend.

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Michelle Lewis

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