Jeffrey Pollack Bids Farewell to the WSOP

Harrah’s Interactive says no plans to replace Commish

by , Nov 13, 2009 | 2:30 am

photo: BJ Nemeth

A shocker but not really … Jeffrey Pollack and Harrah’s are breaking up.

The WSOP Commissioner, President, and Twitterer in Chief‘s last day with Harrah’s and the World Series is today.

“I’ve made the decision after four years of successfully leading the WSOP as a global sports and entertainment property,” he says. “[Today] is my last day. Friday the 13th.”

Pollack — who has never played a poker tournament — took over the reigns shortly after the 2005 WSOP, the first year Harrah’s ran the 35-year-old tournament series bought from Binion’s.

The list of accomplishments under his aegis include drawing more competitors from more countries (putting it on par with the Olympics in terms of numbers), supporting women in poker, helping Don Cheadle and Annie Duke build Ante Up for Africa into a Hollywood A-list charity event, and working closely with players (via the Players Advisory Council) to steadily improve what is undeniably the biggest and arguably the best annual festival of poker tournaments in the world. He credits his team for incorporating TV broadcasting (most recently securing a new long-term contract with ESPN), new media, sponsorship, licensing, and summer-time side events that have made the Rio a real home for the WSOP and part of sure-to-endure poker lore.

“I’ve achieved everything I set out to do and more,” Pollack says.

WSOP 2005

WSOP 2006

WSOP 2009

In his 4 1/2 year stint, Pollack shepherded the World Series through it’s biggest boom year, 2006, and then its recovery period after the UIGEA. In 2008, WSOP-parent Harrah’s went from a publicly traded company to a private one, and in May of this year, created a new corporate step-parent — Harrah’s Interactive Entertainment — with attorney-turned online gambling exec Mitch Garber at the helm.

“All organizations change over the years,” Pollack says.

The new boss, Garber, of course, has navigated through the same turbulent industry waters … as the former CEO of PartyGaming (the WSOP’s biggest online gaming partner in 2006) and before that as Executive Chairman of FirePay and president and CEO of its parent, Optimal Group, an online gambling payment processor that settled two weeks ago with the US government for pre-UIGEA transgressions for $19.2 million.

A WSOP spokesman says: “We appreciate Jeffrey’s contributions over the past four years and wish him the best in the future. The World Series of Poker remains the market leader with this year’s tournament exceeding all expectations, and we are well positioned for the future. There is no intention at this time to replace the Commissioner role.”

Pollack describes the split amongst suits as amicable but “bittersweet”. The team he worked with — Ty Stewart, Seth Palansky, Craig Abrahams, Jack Effel, and many others — are all staying on board. Pollack is not sure what he will do next. He says possibilities include media, sports, entertainment, poker, and gaming.

“I’m very bullish on the future of poker. The industry is just hitting its stride,” he says.

“Maybe I’ll even play the main event next year.”

Read Wicked Chops for more on JP’s tenure at the WSOP.

26 Comments to “Jeffrey Pollack Bids Farewell to the WSOP ”

  1. Pauly

    Jeffrey Pollack was a vital asset to the poker industry and his contributions are too great to quantify. He will be missed.

  2. brdpoker

    He’s done a lot for the game… the next commish has big shoes to fill.

  3. Mean Gene

    Sounds like they aren’t going to replace him. I think four years of dealing with poker players bitching all summer qualifies Pollack for either a Nobel Peace Prize or a six-month stint at the funny farm.

    Every year during Pollack’s reign the WSOP got better and it seemed like he always kept an open mind and actively sought out new ideas and new voices. With him gone and no new commissioner on the horizon I hope Harrah’s hasn’t decided they can afford to coast.

    Jeffrey was also a friend of the WSOP media corps, and I hope his departure doesn’t lead to a change in how we’re allowed to cover the event.

  4. Kevin Mathers

    Seems the question to ask is who will become the de facto Commish:

    Could it be Garber, Palansky, Stewart or one of the other WSOP suits who remain?

  5. Anonymous

    I’m been quiet about this for awhile, but now that Pollack is gone, here it is.

    Pollack ran the WSOP on the if-come. I always felt he was being somewhat disingenuous when he said that his only goal was to make the WSOP the most player friendly tournament possible. His belief was that if he made the WSOP a participant/media/etc friendly enviornment then the money will flow. All of you praise Jeffrey but they are from your own self-serving perspectives. But at the end of the day, he had to answer to Harrahs and the incremental money did not flow enough in their eyes.

    Believe it or not, running a poker tournament is a break-even proposition. The rake from a poker tournament pays for the poker tournament. The money is made from the ancillary revenue that poker tournaments create. If you just play in the tournament and then leave, you are of no value to the casino.

    Based upon my sources at Harrahs at levels higher than Jeffrey, Harrahs is frustrated with the WSOP. There were approximately 62k participants this last year and the overwhelming majority did not stay at a Harrahs owned property. The overwhelming majority did not spend money at a Harrahs owned restaurant beyond the $10 food comp that you get for entering a tournament. And, the overwhelming majority did not gamble in a Harrahs casino.

    From Harrah’s perspective, they are spending all of this energy and resources to put on a poker tournament that is not generating hardly any incremental net earnings for them.

    Unless the poker community starts spending some serious ancillary money at Harrahs, I predict that Harrahs will sell the WSOP in the next 5-7 years.

  6. BJ Nemeth

    Anonymous — I’m a bit confused after reading your comment. You said he was “disingenuous” when he claimed he was trying to make it a player-friendly tournament, but then you imply that Harrah’s was unhappy because he didn’t focus enough on revenues.

    It seems to me that your second point supports the first more than it disproves it.

    I think it’s disingenuous of you to claim that we are only praising Jeffrey Pollack from our “own self-serving perspectives.” I want what’s best for the WSOP, so yes, in that sense, I am praising him from my own self-serving perspective.

    What’s *your* self-serving perspective, “Anonymous”?

  7. Kevin Mathers

    In response to “Anonymous”, Harrah’s should be asking themselves what they need to do to get more players staying at their properties and gambling in their casinos. That wasn’t Jeffrey’s fault.

  8. BJ Nemeth

    Location, location, location.

    In the pre-2005 days, players gambled at Binion’s and stayed in downtown casinos because it was so damn convenient. At the Rio, the valet seems to be half a mile closer to the WSOP than the casino, decent restaurants, or any of the hotel rooms. At that point, it’s just as easy to stay at the Bellagio as it is to stay at the Rio.

    Even as a reporter, I felt I could drive-thru In-N-Out Burger as conveniently as I could eat at a restaurant out in the Rio Casino. (Not the Poker Kitchen and not the Sao Paolo diner, which only serve in a pinch.)

    If Harrah’s wants people to spend more money at their casino, they need to hold the WSOP at a different casino — possibly Caesars Palace.

  9. Mean Gene

    I don’t know how you can hold Pollack responsible for people not staying at Harrah’s-owned properties. I know that the Rio, an off-Strip casino without THAT much to recommend it, is packed for the seven weeks of the WSOP. How many of those people would be there if they weren’t playing in the tournaments or checking them out?

    So far as the other Harrah’s casinos, do they offer discounts/deals for WSOP players? Are there buses shuttling players from Caesars to the Rio? Maybe it was Pollack’s job to make deals with the online sites to house their qualifiers in Harrah’s hotels, but I thought Harrah’s took a hands-off approach to the online sites. If that wasn’t Pollack’s call then THAT would seem to be a major reason why, say, PokerStars took over the Palms across the street instead of Caesars.

    From my own anecdotal evidence I saw lots of players eating at restaurants in the Rio and playing in the pits. Of course after too many 14-hour days in the Amazon Room the last thing you want to do is hang out at the Rio, so it’s understandable that they might want to go elsewhere to eat/gamble/debauch. If they chose to go to non-Harrah’s casinos, how do you hang that on Jeffrey Pollack?

    I mean he could say “look, the WSOP brought 62,000 people to the Rio. SIXTY-TWO THOUSAND PEOPLE. And those are just the paying customers, that doesn’t count fans, railbirds, gawkers. We got them in the door and they paid their juice–what they do afterwards is someone else’s responsibility”. There’s also all the advertising and exposure Harrah’s and the Rio receive from the ESPN broadcasts to consider as well.

    The problem, if it is a problem, is that the Rio is fairly isolated and if you don’t feel like going to the Voodoo Lounge or Buzio’s you have to drive to go somewhere else. And I think we’d all agree that there’s A LOT of competition in Vegas for your entertainment dollar.

    I don’t know why you’d need a 5-7 year window for Harrah’s to sell the WSOP. They’ve have four HUGE years in a row, and every year the fields have gotten bigger. If Harrah’s can’t make a reasonable profit now, is that really going to change in the future? Well, one thing that COULD change is the US legalizing online poker, which would allow Harrah’s to cozy up with the online sites. Unless Harrah’s launches their own site and declares jihad on the already existing rooms.

    One last point–are we really sure that the WSOP only breaks even? I could believe it if its true, but do we have any numbers/projections to play with?

  10. Poker Shrink

    Harrah’s as a private corporation is under no obligation to disclose just what profits or losses are generated by the WSOP brand. I would, however, point out that much like the hundred million dollar motion pictures, creative bookkeeping has a lot to do with just how profitable the WSOP division is.

    For instance, every time a play is given a bottle of water at the tables, the Rio food and beverage division is credited a dollar and the WSOP division is debited. The Amazon room is cleaned each morning, a plus for convention housekeeping, a deduction from the WSOP bottom line. So the question is not whether the rake pays for the tournament, but rather how does a six week WSOP compare to other clients who might occupy that space during the same period. Including, of course, setting up and tearing down the displays, banquet rooms etc.

    Might be an interesting question to ask another hotel convention property: What if we could guarantee six weeks of uninterrupted customer walk-thru with zero interim set-up costs. There are so many interesting questions that will never be publicly answered: dealer’s tips, floor staff compensation, and the biggie: How much does the WSOP gross before the creative bean-counting?

  11. chrisC

    I can say from being there that they certainly make money. I don’t know who you are “Anonymous” but I know when I went I played in two events, but was mostly there to be a part of the “world series” I booked the trip for this reason alone. I did not stay at one of their properties, but I spent plenty of money there.

    The World Series of Poker is a brand like it has never been before. This credit goes to the work that Pollack did. Ask

  12. chrisC

    -hit wrong button-

    10 people if they watched any of the event and you will get an overwhelming reponse of yes.

    My point is that the WSOP generates plenty of money in a city that has been suffering through this economic climate. They would be foolish to sell this event to anyone. Also I do love the idea of having it as Ceasar’s.

    Dan M. Please email me if you get the chance I have a few questions for you and I don’t have your email anymore.

  13. DanM

    ***every time a play is given a bottle of water at the tables, the Rio food and beverage division is credited a dollar and the WSOP division is debited.***

    Just one point of order here, it’s a little more cut-throat than Shrink suggests within Harrah’s. The WSOP had to by their water from either the Rio, or maybe it was Rio Convention Services, but the price they paid per little half bottle … I had heard $4!

    Switching to those big Ozarka-like tanks in the press room was at least a 5-figure cost savings.

    RE: Anonymous
    We have three semi-regular anonymous commenters here on Pokerati that I allow … one because he’s protecting his job (and I know exactly who he is) … and this Anon, whom I don’t really know who he is, but even when he’s off base he generally raises some decent points … doesn’t get all flamey.

    But he is posting as anon (without leaving me a reachable email address) so feel free to flame him a new one just for fun!

  14. DanM

    ***If Harrah’s wants people to spend more money at their casino, they need to hold the WSOP at a different casino — possibly Caesars Palace.***

    BJ, with all due respect, You’re so wrong. I can hardly think of a better place to hold the WSOP, as it has grown and continues to do so. (Have you self-parked often at Caesar’s? Not fun!)

    This is not about the Rio, as far as I can tell … When I read between the lines, it’s all about online gambling. That simple. In with the new boss, out with the old.

  15. BJ Nemeth

    You don’t need to trash my Caesars idea with any respect whatsoever, Dan. I know absolutely nothing about Caesars’ ability to hold the WSOP. No respect necessary!

    All I’m talking about is the proximity of the casino’s gambling and restaurants to the WSOP itself. In that respect, the WSOP fails miserably, and it affects the bottom line at the Rio.

    Compare that to the days of the WSOP at Binions, when winners were often seen at Craps or Blackjack mere minutes after winning a bracelet. That rarely happens at the Rio. Sitting down in a cash game doesn’t have the same impact.

    When the WSOP was at Binions, even players who lived in Vegas would reserve rooms in various downtown casinos for convenience, and they would play, eat, and live in the area of Fremont Street. (Even walking from a different downtown casino was *far* closer to the WSOP than walking from a hotel room at the Rio.) Now, most of the players hit their cars and leave the property, spending their money elsewhere.

    This is convenient for the players, but bad for the Rio’s bottom line.

    I have no idea whether or not any of this factored into Jeffrey Pollack’s departure. But I know it definitely affects the Rio’s bottom line, and they want more of that money to be spent at their property.

    Online gaming is definitely a factor going forward, but again, I have no reason to believe that online gaming factored into Jeffrey Pollack’s departure.

  16. DanM

    ***I think it’s disingenuous of you to claim that we are only praising Jeffrey Pollack from our “own self-serving perspectives.” I want what’s best for the WSOP, so yes, in that sense, I am praising him from my own self-serving perspective.***

    I agree with BJ on this one. Hey, we all understand business is business … people come and go. But really, any praise might actually be a disservice to us. After all, we basically have to build relationships now with a new regime … one that may or may not have pushed Pollack out, and certainly one that didn’t try to stop him.

    It just makes me a little sad that this news reads a bit like an obituary.

  17. BJ Nemeth

    Oh, I also agree with Poker Shrink’s post about the creative bookkeeping — even when they break even, they’re making money a lot of money on the bottom line.

    And I also have sources to back up Dan’s comment that the “$1” bottles of water cost the WSOP far more than that. (As Poker Shrink mentioned, that amount is deducted from the WSOP and credited to Rio Food & Beverage for each bottle of water used at the WSOP.)

  18. Anonymous

    Poker Shrink is absolutely correct. Each department has to stand on its own and there are a lot of cross-charges between departments. Actually, all of the revenue and expenses from poker (i.e. tournament fees,dealers,rake,f&b) goes to the Rio’s G/L not the WSOP. That’s why in the 2nd year, the WSOP department got rid of all of the great food in the VIP Lounge. They were just getting killed with all of the banquet charges from the Rio. Granted, everything was internal and a cross charge, but they were still expenses to the department.

    Jeffrey did a great job from the poker player’s perspective. Just maybe not so from Harrah’s perspective.

    Dan, I love Pokerati and I love reading it. You go so much above and beyond the reporting and you get into the analysis of it. That’s why I contribute. But I do have to do it anonymously due to the role that I play within the poker economy.

    I was going to come up and introduce myself to you at the Final Table but I didn’t make it down. I’ll say hi to you next year at the WSOP.

  19. DanM

    Yeah, we’re still all good Anon … I just have to give my readers a little leeway to see you with a touch of suspicion. I know you’re not hiding from your own idiocy! 🙂

  20. Anonymous

    WTH? I thought I was the only anonymous? How am I supposed to trash BJ’s every thought now?

    By the way, I do think Pollack’s dismissal was about the almighty dollar. He can spin it into moving onto bigger and better things all he wants, but it’s clear that his presence was deemed no longer necessary.

    I guarantee that the top 100 big wigs in the Harrah’s chain of power see poker and the WSOP as nothing more than a necessary evil at best. Those more concerned with the bottom line don’t give a crap about exposure if it doesn’t fill their restaurants, hotels and pits.

    There’s a reason poker was near-dead in the mid-90s. There’s a reason there were only five poker rooms in the city. Even places like the Bellagio don’t appreciate poker beyond Jack and his crew. I’d say the only room in Vegas right now that more than tolerates operating a poker room or running a tournament is the Venetian, and that’s because it’s very likely the only profitable thing in that entire casino.

    As for Caesars, I do agree that it would solve things from a centrally-located standpoint. The only problem is the parking situation, which is abysmal even on a weeknight. Maybe commissioning 10x the number of shuttles and allowing people to still park at the Rio would work. Hell, how about all day ones starting at Rio and day twos moving to Caesars? Or just the final days moving to Caesars?

  21. DanM

    RE: Gene/Media Friendly

    Gene, I feel bad for telling you there was little to see at the November Nine. We had so much freedom to just do our thing this year … and it was great. Truly led to some nice coverage and made doing so a blast. I think it was a win-win-win-win.

  22. Kevin Mathers

    Considering that Wicked Chops Poker has an interview with Pollack in a new location (the Pavillion Center), its future is at the Rio:

  23. Vinny B.

    If the Rio wasn’t truly making money off the WSOP, it would have long since cleaned house. Believe me, they are making huge bucks off of it.

  24. DanM

    I honestly can’t think of a better place to hold it — with the possible exception of the Sands Convention Center at the Venetian, who I seem to remember making a $1 billion(?) bid for the WSOP that Harrah’s turned down.

    Sure, there could be ways for the Rio to make more money off it, but they simply don’t lose coin anytime they bring 60k+ gamble-minded people through their doors over a 6-week period. It even spills over into Caesar’s and their other properties.

  25. Cxuthbert Cxuthbert

    I aswell accept sources to aback up Dan’s animadversion that the “$1” bottles of baptize amount the WSOP far added than that. 

    Hoteis em buzios

  26. Cxuthbert Cxuthbert

    I aswell accept sources to aback up Dan’s animadversion that the “$1” bottles of baptize amount the WSOP far added than that. 

    Hoteis em buzios