Adam Pliska's $40 million bet on his WPT World Championship team

WPT President Adam Pliska
Paul Oresteen
Posted on: September 01, 2023 16:03 PDT

World Poker Tour CEO Adam Pliska's team designed the WPT's audacious $40 million World Championship guarantee with one goal in mind, and Pliska says that had nothing to do with three-betting the competition.

This week, the World Poker Tour announced a guaranteed $40 million prize pool for the WPT Championship at the Wynn in December. In 2022, the WPT guaranteed $15 million for the Championship event and ended up with a prize pool just short of $30 million.

So, when it came time this week for the WPT to announce it was about to make the biggest guarantee in poker history, Pliska and his team knew critics would say their audacious move was a counter-punch to the World Series of Poker's brand-new December WSOP Paradise event in the Bahamas.

"When you're making a move like this, it doesn't happen overnight. This has been happening since the beginning of the year,” Pliska told PokerOrg. “Obviously, last year, we were delighted by the turnout. We’re really happy how things turned out. So you know, what are you going to do for the encore?”

Tournament Area & Live Stream Set Joe Giron/Poker.org

Sweating the guarantee

Make no mistake. A guaranteed prize pool isn't a guaranteed win for the WPT or its CEO.

"I didn't know how last year was going to turn out when we had $15 million (guaranteed)," Pliska said.

In 2022, Pliska sweated the numbers every day. He paced up and down the Wynn hallways until the prize pool cleared the $15 million guarantee, and he didn't stop pacing until the final number was north of $29 million. He figures he'll be doing the same thing from now until sometime in December.

“You will see me doing the same thing: pacing even more in the Wynn hallways,” Pliska said, "but I look at it as a long-term investment.”

As he paces, the CEO and the rest of his team will all be thinking about the same thing.

“Could there be an overlay?" Pliska pondered. “There could be an overlay. You're going to have to take that (risk) just like in any other business. It takes a while to build a franchise, but we're fully committed. We're ready to put down $40 million and make that our stand.”

The rising tide and the WPT boat

No matter how the narrative about the WSOP, the WPT, and the winter poker war unfurls, Pliska is sanguine about his decisions and the people on his team who helped him make them.

“For many, many years I told people I was happy that the World Series got a certain number or whatever - absolutely! This is good. It helps us all," he said. "We all make a contribution to this. We're all reminding everyone that they like to play poker, and it's fun. If it is competition, then that makes you better. Even if it's just looking and saying, what worked better?"

That's where Pliska and the WPT seem to have a head start. In 2022, the WPT established itself as a partner with the Wynn. That partnership and a big promotional campaign turned the 2022 World Championship into a blockbuster.

“The players came out, and they supported us. They made the event great,” Pliska said. “Wynn has been a truly great partner. You always want a partner that complements you. I feel like the eagerness on both sides to raise the bar and have the highest standards is great. Working with Wynn, I feel like we get to be on the A-team.”

Wynn poker room Vegas (Image source: Flickr)

It's not a gamble--it's an investment

When it comes time for real talk, it's time to ask the real questions:

Is a $40 million guarantee for real?

Does the WPT actually expect to hit that guarantee, even when the WSOP will draw players and their money to the Bahamas just a few days before the WPT World Championship?

“A $40 million announcement may seem like a big announcement for the day to push it out and get attention, but it's an investment,” Pliska said. “We can do a $40 million guarantee because we have players who support things like Club WPT. We have our feeder and funnel program. Now we have casinos from all over the world sending players to this event, and this was our dream.”

In less than a year, the Wynn has become a successful WPT partner. Together, they crushed 2022’s World Championship by nearly doubling the guarantee, and then this summer’s Everyone for One Drop event at the Wynn saw a $10 million guarantee swell to $16 million.

"I've been (with the WPT) from the days before going public, and I can tell you that the relationship with Wynn is so dynamic and is so great that I can't imagine this Championship moving for a very, very long time, if at all, because we've got a lot of fun things that we're going to be doing together," Pliska said.

You can't win if you fold

Adam Pliska does everything he can to credit his team--his staff, his Wynn partners, and his players--with the WPT's success, but he won't put them on the line if the $40 million bet doesn't turn into a winner.

What happens if the $40 million guarantee ends up costing the WPT money?

What happens if there's an overlay?

And what if that overlay is huge?

"If we miss the guarantee - I'm the guy. I'm the guy you have to look to,” Pliska said. "I will say this: I've been around for a very long time. Everybody knows I 100% believe this. This is an investment. If you want to start a restaurant, if you want to start a great franchise, you have to be willing to take risks. We are willing to lose money if it's necessary, but we're going to do everything that we can to make sure that that's not the case. We're going to make this the most enjoyable month in poker."