"Is that an import?" | PokerStars' slick return to the American road course

Brad Willis
Posted on: November 10, 2023 07:43 PST

From Harry Reid airport to Resorts World on the Strip, everything screams F1. Photos of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez are everywhere. Off-strip dive casinos have already set up fenced-in parking lots to watch the races. In the walkways of Resorts World, full-size F1 car replicas sit like they are idling in the paddock. It all feels very international, and that makes sense since there isn’t a single American driver on any of the active F1 teams. America may often believe it exports the best of sport and entertainment to the world, but there is no denying that the Las Vegas Grand Prix is an import on the grandest scale.

This is the kind of thing that will occur to you as you make your way through the lavish and well-appointed Resorts World complex. In less than 24 hours on the property, you can get happily lost in its labyrinth of restaurants, clubs, and casino games. If you get just lost enough and wade through the armies of Amway Achievers and Military Influencers in the convention center area, you will find what the many signs and LED boards all over the hotel have been guiding you to discover.

And, damned if it doesn’t feel like another important import. 

Welcome (back) to America

It’s possible this was all a Jedi mind trick executed by a savvy PokerStars exec upon finding me wandering the hallways outside the first North American Poker Tour event since 2011.

“Look how much it looks like an EPT (European Poker Tour) event,” he said.

Whether I was unduly influenced by the power of suggestion isn’t really the matter here. The important thing is: it’s true. I’ve been to countless EPTs, and for whatever reason, it never occurred to me until yesterday that compared to most tournaments in America, the EPTs have a distinct atmosphere and attitude. It’s nothing most folks will be able to put their finger on, but it’s there.

It begins with floor-to-ceiling branding the moment you enter the tournament area. It continues with full LED walls of video highlights. Tourney clocks and chip count screens are high and visible on pillars (and supported by PokerAtlas in a way that should happen in every poker tournament room around the world).

Spenser Sembrat

Everything is clean, slick, and again, feels very much like something that hopped on the boat with Team Red Bull to bring some European sophistication and energy to America.

Turns out, that is exactly what it is.

Knock-knock. PokerStars calling.

It’s not as if people in America forgot about PokerStars. At the player party reception Thursday night (which felt not only like an import but an import from another damned dimension) you could have heard people recalling the old-school PokerStars parties at the WSOP with Nelly and Snoop Dogg. Back then, it would have been impossible to walk through a poker room without finding a bunch of people who played on PokerStars. And let’s just call it what it is: for many years, there wasn’t a larger single category of WSOP Main Event players than the ones who fell under the heading “PokerStars qualifier.” I’m working from only memory here, but I think there was one year that the Main Event had more than 2,000 entrants who qualified on PokerStars.

Spenser Sembrat

And then it all went away, didn’t it?

It all went away on the morning after the last NAPT PokerStars brought to American soil. No one ever really forgot about PokerStars, but around these parts (unless you live in one of the few states where PokerStars is licensed), talking about PokerStars was akin to an American football fan talking about Formula 1 a few years ago. It’s one of those exotic things they have in other countries, but not something we get much of around here.

“Look at this,” said someone else from PokerStars, pointing around the tournament room. 

There was an implication in this direction, one that said, “Yes, PokerStars left more than a decade ago because it had to. And yes, since that time, the World Poker Tour and the WSOP have laid foundations so large they look like unscalable walls to anyone who might dare challenge them on the tournament circuit, especially in Las Vegas. But, maybe…no, not maybe…simply put: why would PokerStars be afraid of going toe-to-toe with the current American goliaths when PokerStars can produce this kind of experience in America with only a couple of months of preparation?

Here and gone, or here to stay?

The construction and aggravation found around Las Vegas to support the Las Vegas Grand Prix feels like it’s been going on forever. In just a couple of weeks, the race will be over and the F1 will be off to Abu Dhabi. But the sharp-eyed will note, even after the race is over, the F1 machine will still be here. The pits and infrastructure around the race are not temporary structures. They were purpose-built with the intention of bringing the race back here again.

And here inside Resorts World, there is a good chance we’re seeing the same thing. This NAPT reboot began with a $1,600 buy-in, but if you listen closely, you will hear talk of larger buy-ins coming to NAPT in the future.

And you will hear talk about this event coming right back to Resorts World.

And if you keep pulling on that thread, you might just find this slick new import feeling a lot like something that’s always been here.