Was the WPT Spring Series overlay bad business for Poker Kings?

Jon Pill
Published by:
Posted on 02/26/2021

The WPT’s experiment with Poker Kings didn’t quite live up to expectations. The ¥10 million (~$1.5 million) guarantee on the main event ended up costing the hosts almost half-a-mill in U.S. currency.

The main event had a buy-in of ¥2,000 (~$310). So the organizers would have needed 5,000 entries to break even on the prize pool. And that would still have cost them every penny of rake from the event.

Instead, they got 3,505 entries. This means they had to shell out an extra ¥3 million (~$465,000).

The event was exclusively hosted on the Poker Kings software.

“As the WPT global footprint continues to expand, we are extremely happy that our players in the Asian region will be able to experience the thrill of a WPT event conveniently from their mobile devices,” Adam Pliska, the CEO of the World Poker Tour, said in a recent press briefing.

Unfortunately, the convenience of a mobile device appears at first to have proved insufficient a draw.

The relativity of success

3,505 entries for a first-of-its-kind event shouldn’t have been a disappointment. Especially when you factor in the exclusivity to a mobile app, the relatively high buy-in, and the decision to operate entirely in renminbi. But failing to reach a guarantee has a way of blinding the audience to the event’s other vital statistics. Some of which suggest that Poker Kings might not have made poor choices as a business.

In the run-up to selling itself off, the World Poker Tour has been hugely expanding its brand. COVID gave the organization the impetus to move online.

As the WSOP and other brands followed suit, the WPT stayed ahead of the curve. They put together further deals. One deal took the brand into South Asia with Adda52, another into East Asia with Natural8. The deal with Poker Kings took that innovative spirit a step further by partnering with a mobile-only app.

“The WPT Spring Festival provides the familiarity and prestige of the WPT tournament experience along with opportunities to win huge prizes at all bankroll levels,” Angelica Hael, VP of Global Tour Management for the World Poker Tour, said in the same presser as Plisko.

It certainly did that.

As well as the main event, there were a dozen others. Some events had buy-ins as low as ¥200 (~$31) while the high-roller event cost players ¥10,000 (~$1,550) per entry.

Those other events successfully cleared their guarantees and will probably have turned a tidy profit for Poker Kings. Whether those profits can fill in the hole dug up by the main event… Well, that is something only the accountants can ever be sure of.

The mad men

Poker Kings isn’t the huge brand worldwide that it is in the East. But after a season of watching Dwan and Ivey wearing PK’s patch on High Stakes Poker, that is starting to shift. No matter whether PK met the guarantee, putting on a WPT event is a huge win for their marketing team.

The Main Event was crammed full of notable pros. Phil Ivey, Tom Dwan, Jean-Robert Bellande, Daniel Dvoress, Andrew Neeme, Celina Lin, Scotty Nguyen, and Matt Savage all attended. Poker Kings even managed to get NBA legend Allen Iverson to play. But none of these celebrities have brought the app the kind of headline coverage that taking a $460k bath in the overlay has.

Poker players love overlays. They like the free equity and they love seeing the Man get raked for once.

When you consider the fact that $460k isn’t a crazy outlay for PK’s advertising budget — this is a company that can afford to sponsor Phil Ivey after all — suddenly, the loss seems to have had some of its teeth pulled.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say the overlay was planned. But perhaps this event was more of a success than it appears at first glance.

Image source: Twitter