Mid-stakes poker players in the United States were buoyed last month with the news that the North American Poker Tour (NAPT) was returning to Resorts World on the Las Vegas Strip—a first step back into live poker in Nevada for the online giant PokerStars.
The original iteration of the NAPT lasted for two seasons from 2010 but was abruptly halted in April 2011, on the day of doom for online poker, Black Friday. In fact, the NAPT event at Mohegan Sun, Connecticut, wrapped the very day before the authorities all but halted online poker in the United States. Many players, reporters and staff got off planes taking them home from New England, to discover a flurry of messages informing them that their lives had turned upside down.
But after more than a decade focusing on its live operations outside of America, PokerStars had been plotting its return for the NAPT, specifically to Vegas, for a while. It now finds a welcome home in Resorts World, the newest property on the Strip, keen to boost its own profile in the ultra-competitive global capital of gaming.
Long road back for NAPT
According to Leon Wheeler, Director of Poker Operations for Resorts World, bringing the NAPT back represents the successful conclusion of many months of work.
“It has been a long road of preparations and countless Zoom and Teams meetings from several different time zones,” Wheeler says, talking exclusively to Poker.Org. “[It required] getting several different groups together from both companies, from legal to logistics to operation, talking with one another, coming up with a plan and then executing.”
The plan is for a nine-day festival, with tournament buy-ins starting at $250. It suits a card room that Wheeler describes as offering low to mid-range no-limit hold’em cash games and a variety of mix at all levels, plus daily tournaments. PokerStars will bring with it dozens of online qualifiers, many of whom will have progressed through the card room’s Power Path promotion for a minuscule investment.
The buy-in for the NAPT Main Event is a comparatively modest $1,650, which brings it more in line with PokerStars’ regional tours—the Latin America Poker Tour, Estrellas Poker Tour, France Poker Series, etc.—rather than its juggernaut EPT. However, a $1.5 million guarantee suggests organisers expect a field of more than 1,000 entries, and Wheeler predicts even more through its three starting flights.
“The main event prize pool at $1.5 million is conservative in my opinion,” he says. “There is no reason we can’t double that.”
The schedule also features a $5,300 High Roller and a $10,300 Super High Roller, plus a wide slate of small buy-in side events. These include a Women’s and a Senior’s (50+) event, with generous guarantees. Indeed, it’s notable that PokerStars has placed guarantees on pretty much all events. It does not always do so on many of its live tournaments, indicating that it hopes and expects decent numbers in Vegas.
“I’m especially looking forward to the main event,” Wheeler says. “It presents a challenging scenario with flights spread over three days, and I’m eager for the team to deliver an exceptional performance.”
Steak and poker chips
Wheeler’s career in poker began at what was then the Maxim (now the Westin), and he dealt poker at the Gold Coast and the Orleans before transitioning to management roles. He latterly worked in the poker operations at the Aria and Wynn, before assuring the Resorts World bigwigs during the interview process for his current job that he could attract the industry leaders to the premises.
“The one thing I said I would do is bring PokerStars to this property,” Wheeler says. “I can’t be more excited to see what this partnership brings to our up-and-coming card room…Having PokerStars as a partner brings prestige, financial support, marketing power and operational expertise, ultimately enhancing the event’s reputation and appeal to both professional and recreational players.”
PokerStars has been placing an increased emphasis on off-the-felt activities at its other global tours and Las Vegas, of course, is the leading city in the world for distractions. Resorts World is at the northern end of the Strip, on the site previously occupied by the Stardust Hotel, and Wheeler suggests that visitors should hit the Allē Lounge on 66 (on the 66th floor of Resorts World), which offers views north to Downtown Las Vegas, as well as over the glitziest casino hotels in the other direction.
He also recommends the on-property Famous Foods, which brings together numerous acclaimed food outlets in a high-end street food market. “But my favorite is Carver Steak,” he adds. “I would suggest catching dinner there at least once.”
Insider Vegas tips
Las Vegas is a greatly changed city since the NAPT was last in town, not least owing to the introduction of both NFL and NHL franchises. The Las Vegas Raiders of the AFC West play at the newly constructed 65,000-capacity Allegiant Stadium adjacent to the Mandalay Bay casino. It’s usually possible to find tickets for games and you’ve got two opportunities during the NAPT: November 5th (vs. the New York Giants) and November 12th (vs. the New York Jets).
Meanwhile, the T-Mobile Arena hosts the Las Vegas Golden Knights, who won the Stanley Cup this year in only their sixth season of existence. You can do pregame at Beerhaus, which is walking distance to the arena, but get to your seat well before puck drop for the full experience.
Even in a city renowned for its extravagance, the opening this year of the unique concert venue, The Sphere, has dazzled even the most discerning critic. Irish stadium rock band U2 filled the first residency slot and wowed everyone. “U2 show at Sphere was incredible, it’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen,” tweeted Erik Seidel, who has seen a lot of things.
U2 show at Sphere was incredible, it’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen pic.twitter.com/2QJTAfPgHb— Erik Seidel (@Erik_Seidel) October 1, 2023
You’ll probably need to get either extremely lucky or break the bank to land short-notice tickets for the U2 show, but the so-called The Sphere Experience is a guided tour par excellence, with holograms, robots and a multi-sensory film by Darren Aronofsky on the world’s largest hi-def screen.
First-timers to Vegas will likely find the place overwhelming, but will certainly relish the attempt to get to grips with a city truly like no other. PokerStars Travel, an event concierge service open to all players, can help you out. They’ll have a desk on site and can help with experiences, dinner recommendations and more.
Wheeler, however, has some straightforward, practical tips for players making their major tournament bow at the NAPT. “Get familiar with the property and where things are at, Uber pick up, quick eats, and the less busy restrooms,” he says. And as for the poker: “A poker tournament is a marathon, not a sprint. You can only lose the tournament in level one. You want to keep in mind that your opponents are skilled players too. You can be surprised at how quickly you run out of chips.”