If you are listing the important moments in the history of poker, the development of the World Poker Tour would have to be a part of that list. Founded back in 2002 by Steve Lipscomb and backed by billionaire entrepreneur Lyle Berman, the WPT has gone on over the last twenty years to become one of the preeminent tournament poker organizations on the planet. Over that twenty years, there have also been some ebbs and flows to the organization’s tournament selections.
In the beginning, there was a bit of emphasis on trying to put the “world” into the World Poker Tour moniker. For those that might not remember, the early years of the WPT saw the circuit hit the high seas (the PartyPoker Million was originally on the schedule as a part of a cruise), the island of Aruba, the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, and the (late, lamented) Aviation Club in Paris for the WPT Grand Prix de Paris. Of late, however, it seems that the “world” has become the more predominant part of the equation, leaving one to ask are the States of America still a part of the “World” Poker Tour?
Strange Scheduling Over the Years
Those heady early years of the WPT were quite memorable. The WPT would take viewers to exotic locales where card sharps of all nationalities would vie for millions of dollars. Add in stops at such locations at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles, and even the East Coast poker palaces of Atlantic City and Connecticut, and it made for a heady time for poker viewers and poker players alike. 2006 would bring a change, however.
Everyone knows what happened in 2006…the UIGEA. The passage of laws in the U. S. preventing the financing of online gaming accounts seemed to coincide with a near-elimination of poker tournaments outside of the U. S. on the WPT schedule. In 2007, there were only two events outside the U. S. (the WPT Turks & Caicos and the WPT Spanish Championship), and the following year only the Spanish Championship was on the schedule (Fallsview Casino Resort in Canada was on the roster, though). These foreign events dribbled on through the next few years, while the U. S.-based tournaments dominated the broadcast schedule of the quickly growing WPT.
In the past couple of years, it has been tough to tell just WHAT the WPT is doing. In 2022, only one of the tournaments on the ten-event schedule Main Tour schedule was outside of the U. S., the WPT Australia. In 2023, however, this has some caveats; the Main Tour still holds the singular event in Australia (on an eight-tournament slate), but the WPT Prime schedule seems to have drawn the majority of attention. It has fourteen tournaments on its schedule, with only one – the WPT Prime Championship at the Wynn Las Vegas – slated to be held on U. S. soil.
It’s Not Personal…It’s Just Business
What has occurred with the WPT that a predominance of its tournaments now is held on foreign soil than in U. S. casinos and card rooms? It is good ol’ “American capitalism” that is the culprit behind this move.
Since 2006, the WPT has been extremely brilliant in realizing that there is a wide world of people outside of the U. S. that enjoy the game of poker. While the States are the third largest country in the world, there are literally billions of people in Asia and South America that are just beginning to discover the delights of the game of poker. Thus, the WPT is striking into these areas with superbly run tournaments in far-flung locales around the world.
In the past two months, the WPT Prime has journeyed to Italy (San Remo, which seems to have been forgotten by everyone in the poker world), France (Provence) and is currently nestled into Taipei City, Taiwan, for the WPT Prime Taiwan. The final three stops of the year are heading for Lichtenstein and Madrid before their end-of-year stop in Las Vegas. As an aside, those six tournaments on the WPT Prime are two more than on the supposed “Main Tour” for the WPT.
When you have new markets and new money, you need to capture that as quickly as possible before the competition makes its way into the battleground. Adam Pliska and the WPT know this fact well and, as such, they are traipsing the world to embrace as many new markets and new customers as possible. It is the epitome of that line from The Godfather, where Michael Corleone states to Sonny, “It’s not personal…it’s strictly business.”
Can We Balance It Out?
No matter which way it goes, the World Poker Tour should balance out the schedule a bit. The Main Tour has become quite scant as far as tournaments go, while the WPT Prime has become a focal point for the organization. Perhaps merging the two would be the best bet for 2024 and maximize both the prestige of the U. S. operations and the stretch of the tournament circuit to worldwide entities. With the COVID pandemic in the rearview mirror, the WPT’s moves on the global stage are to be commended and embraced, rather than segmented between two entities.