The curtain has fallen on the Rio era as the host casino for the World Series of Poker, and in barely six months, the 2022 WSOP will get underway at its new home, the adjoining and Strip-adjacent Bally’s and Paris casinos. As the last days of the 2021 WSOP wound down, Poker.org checked in with several veterans of the Rio scene, to get their thoughts on the WSOP’s Rio run and hear what they’re looking forward to about the move east on Flamingo to the new host properties.
Contrary to some of the pieces published, Poker.org never encountered anyone truly remorseful about the WSOP leaving the Rio. There was some disappointment, particularly among those who’ve enjoyed major success at the Rio, but there’s also the reality that the aging facility was reaching the end of its viability as the WSOP’s host site. The venue’s ease of access was long its biggest plus, but come 2022, the new WSOP, at Bally’s and Paris, will display both strengths and weaknesses.
Shulman enjoyed 2021 series, still looks forward to move
Longtime CardPlayer Magazine publisher Barry Shulman knows the Vegas poker scene like few others. He’s also become something of a WSOP regular, and he wasn’t at all wistful about the Rio’s WSOP run ending. “I think, you know, it’s great,” he said. “They had a lot of challenges this year because it was hard to get staff but they did a fabulous job on things considered. And it’s always fun to play the World Series. And one of the things I like that they’ve done so well on is they have different types of events for different types of players, high-limit, low-limit, women’s, hi-lo players, and mixed games. They’ve done a really good job. I’m delighted to be here.”
Shulman awaits the 2022 WSOP as well, with one possible topical exception. “I’m looking forward to the [events]. I’m not looking forward to the traffic. The Rio is real easy to park at, but I’m looking forward to a nice clean venue,” an acknowledgment of the Rio Convention Center’s age.
Gates’ life changed due to WSOP Rio experiences
Garry Gates, the fourth-place finisher in the 2019 WSOP Main Event, has been around the Rio and the WSOP far longer than many poker fans realize. As a long-time industry veteran before his deep Main Event run, Gates knows the WSOP and the Rio inside and out. Gates has been around the Rio scene since 2007, and admits its been a part of his existence.
“You know, Haley,” he told this writer, “I was thinking about that on the drive over yesterday.” (Gates lives in nearby Summerlin.) “It’s been almost 14 years, I think, that I’ve been coming in and out of this place and it changed my life.
“I have so many fond memories of this building and you know, meeting some of my best friends in my life and, you know, it really did change my life. So, I’m going to miss this place, but, you know, I’m excited to see what they do next year.”
Haellert will miss Rio’s convenience
The familiarity and convenience of the Rio isn’t something enjoyed only by Vegas local pros. It’s been an anchoring presence for players from across the world for many years. Belgium’s Kenny Haellert, a longtime traveling pro and tourney director, has been a familiar face at the Rio for a dozen years. And he admitted he was a little sad to see the Rio’s days as the WSOP host venue ending.
“I’m probably a little bit disappointed,” Haellert admitted. “It was always a very convenient area like or a convenient venue to come to. It’s a bit off-Strip to get to a big parking lot.”
Next year, that accessibility might not be as easy. “I mean I can’t say too much about the new place because I haven’t seen it, so we’ll see how that will be next year. But yeah, there’s definitely some disappointment, and obviously I have very good memories about this place. Maybe it’s time to make some good memories about WSOP in the new place where we will move to next year.”
Carlton will miss WSOP at Rio, but also happy to return home
Everett Carlton is another long-time, long-distance visitor. The St. Paul, Minnesota native has been a WSOP regular for nearly two decades, and most years he drives out from the Midwest for part or all of the series. Poker.org caught up with Carlton just prior to the start of his heads-up duel against Benny Glaser for the title in the $10,000 Razz Championship. Glaser entered that duel with the chip lead and successfully held off Carlton to claim his fourth career WSOP bracelet, while also denying Carlton his very first bracelet in what was still Carlton’s 67th career WSOP cash
“It’s going to be sad to leave,” Carlton said, as he waited for a late-arriving Glaser. “But also I’m looking forward to getting home. “I’ve been taking care of my 91-year-old mother during COVID. So I’ve been locked down with that –that’s the only exception — no going anywhere.” Carlton also drove out to Las Vegas as part of his COVID precautions. “I drove here and I’m driving back Monday and I’ll resume. I got a couple of caregivers back there that jumped back in, so I’m looking forward to it.
And about next year? Carlton can’t wait, despite the parking uncertainties. “I like it here,” he admitted. “It’s easy to park and easy to get in and out. So I can’t imagine it will be a better situation, but we’ll see what happens when we get many players.”
Kessler hopes for convenient parking and food
If you were looking for a nuts-and-bolts take on the WSOP’s days at the Rio coming to an end, there were few better sources than the Chainsaw himself, Allen Kessler. “I have a lot of memories at the Rio,” Kessler told Poker.org. “That includes several final tables including three heads-up for bracelets, versus Todd Brunson, Brian Rast, and Frank Kassela. There’s a comfort level here, since I’ve been playing a full schedule here for the last ten years or so.”
Like others, though, Kessler wondered most about the parking at the Rio, which might be itself unusual, since Kessler doesn’t drive much. But he still recognized the accessibility issue as being among the 2022 WSOP’s largest hurdles, adding, “If they can work out the obvious parking situation, I think the Bally-Paris idea can be a success.”
Kessler noted some of the plusses as well. “It’s walkable from several Strip properties and there are so many good food options nearby that you never have to leave the venue.”
Featured image source: Haley Hintze