Within 30 minutes of the close of registration for the WPT World Championship, President/CEO Adam Pliska strode into the media center, looked the reporters in their faces, and pointed to the $2.5 million elephant in the room.
“We knew the risks,” he said of the WPT’s eye-popping $40 million World Championship prize pool guarantee.
Pliska called to a staff member across the room and asked for the amount the buy-ins had fallen short of the guaranteed amount. Within a few minutes, tournament director Matt Savage offered the exact amount. The buy-ins were about $2.5 million short, and the WPT would be picking up the rest.
“In my mind, we’ve succeeded,” Pliska said.
The WPT stretch goal
In 2022, the WPT surprised the poker world (and itself) by nearly doubling the announced $15 million guarantee at the World Championship. So, according to Pliska, in early 2023, WPT staffers met and asked themselves, “what is going to move the needle” in growing the game of poker. They decided on a $40 million guarantee, knowing all-too-well they had a tough hill to climb.
“When you’re doing a stretch goal, you’re essentially buying an options contract in the future,” Pliska said.
So, over the course of a tumultuous economic year worldwide, the WPT worked with partners, developed a wide range of marketing strategies, and barreled into autumn on track. Around that time, the World Series of Poker announced a $15 million guaranteed bracelet event in the Bahamas scheduled to overlap with the WPT World Championship.
Pliska said he couldn’t quantify the impact that had on the World Championship, and regardless of what any postmortems reveal, it didn’t change the reason the WPT made its decision.
“You don’t know what the economy is. You don’t know if somebody else is going to create another event. But at some point, you need to make a big move,” Pliska said. “When you set a goal, you always want to reach it. But to hear the feedback that we continue to get and to know that we’re on track, if we’ve contributed two or three million dollars to that and the growth of poker and doing it better, then that is a small investment in the long run for what were doing.”
Facing the competition
Pliska told reporters, when the WPT considered its previous World Championship and the year ahead, the company was keenly aware of the competition, but not in the way the reporters might have thought about it.
“Who are we competing against? We’re competing against ourselves,” Pliska said. “I did not want to find out the first year was a fluke.”
Pliska said the ultimate goal was to make this year bigger than last year, and that happened by approximately $8 million. That, Pliska said, is step one. The second step, was making sure they’re serving the WPT customers in a way that will make them want to keep coming back.”
“We’re growing this franchise and we want to make this something that lasts for many many years, and it’s definitely a marathon,” Pliska said. “The other thing is, we’re committed to truly take feedback from the players and make the best tournament experience possible.”
Asked if the WPT planned to return to the Wynn next year, Pliska didn’t blink.
“We are committed,” he said “We’re not going anyplace.”