ON THE BUTTON: WPT CEO Adam Pliska on the World Championship, Online Poker, & What’s Ahead

The World Poker Tour wraps up this week with the company’s World Championship coming to a close on Tuesday at Wynn Las Vegas. The United Kingdom’s Benny Glaer takes a massive chip lead into the final table on Tuesday, filmed for television with the action streamed live on the WPT’s YouTube and Twitch channels.

The series also featured the WPT Prime and Ladies Championship, both also streamed and filmed for TV. Players were treated to numerous other events and the festival earned high praise overall.

Many referred to the WPT World Championship as a mini World Series of Poker and believe the event filled a hole in the winter live poker schedule. Online poker also offered a chance to send numerous qualifiers to the series. Other casino partners also got on board with live qualifiers as well.

WPT CEO Adam Pliska recently sat down with PokerScout to discuss the series, what’s ahead, and the company’s growing connection to online poker.

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How did the idea for this series come about? Is it something you’d planned for a long time and didn’t have the budget for until the purchase of the company in 2021?

I think for a long time, we would have loved to have transformed the championship and give it more weight. The purchase certainly helped. But there’s also a number of components that are kind of coming together.

First, in terms of qualifiers, we now have a partner and that would be WPTGlobal and ClubWPT, and they sent over 50 qualifiers. That’s been great and just taken off. We’ve also been bringing in the ambassadors. We’ve been doing these special events throughout the year, and to have a place to kind of showcase that and bring people together, it’s been something we wanted to do.

We started to sketch this out maybe about a little over a year and a half ago. And then we literally just went to the casinos and started pitching the idea that we were going to do something and we wanted them to be united behind it, because we needed support from all the casinos because they were having to send players here.

 And so that really started in full force by October of last year. Then by the beginning of the year, we were working diligently with Wynn and by February, there were almost daily discussions.

Were you guys ever concerned about meeting the $15 million guarantee for the main event?

Well I was (says laughing) because it’s not unlimited entry and it was something new. It’s one thing to say, ‘Come to the WPT Championship’ and you know what it is. It’s another thing when you don’t know what it is.

And so in this month before, we’ve had great events, hoping that if we add all these other components, we would get to $15 million. In my mind, we would have failed if we didn’t hit $17 million. But then as we got closer, the response was very good. I think everything was hitting on all cylinders.

At that point, I started to realize, ‘okay, I’m not going to have to worry so much about this.’ By the time we started here, I wasn’t worried about $15 million.

But I did tell the group, I really wanted to hit $20 million for 20 years. We absolutely would have put $20 million (on the guarantee) if I was sure that we’d hit $20 million. I would have loved to say I knew this all the time. But that’s not the case.

So then by the time we started, I told the group, ‘knocking it out of the park would be $22.5 million.’ So the idea that it was almost $30 million was just phenomenal. I did a commercial saying, ‘thank you players for 20 years and $20 million.’ Before the day started, it was already $25 million, so that got scrapped.

What have you been hearing from players?

The response from players has truly been tremendous. And there’s a couple elements that have surprised me. It’s not only enthusiastic response, it’s an enthusiastic, constructive response.

It’s so positive and overwhelming, it’s almost so much that we’re filtering through that people are also throwing in their other ideas and stopping us and saying, ‘hey, it’d be great if you did this.’

We’ve never in 20 years received anything to this degree from the players, even in the early days in seasons one through three, which were incredibly exciting.

Any ideas you’re considering for next year?

I think I have a meeting two nights from now to start talking about next year. Throughout the week we’ve been still doing our normal debriefs. We come up with all of the things that we can do better and are taking in all the ideas. There’s a number of things we’re thinking about.

The first thing I have to consider is making sure we get more space. I think we could have accommodated more, but we just need to make sure that we get more players.

A look at some of the WPT World Championship action at the Wynn Las Vegas. (photos courtesy WPT)

How big a role is online poker starting to be for the WPT? It seems like the company is geared more toward that aspect of the game recently.

It’s an essential role for us. That was the other component that made it easier to do a $15 million guarantee, which for the WPT is still hefty. But the online support is great. I think the online qualifier support is going to double next year. 

Among WPTGlobal, ClubWPT, and the feeder and funnels (live qualifier) system, there was probably $2.5 million (in the prize pool). And online poker is another touchpoint. Just like ClubWPT has been a touchpoint in the US, especially amateur players.

Here you have a platform (WPTGlobal) that can take a broader group of players Internationally, and keep us in touch and really offer some great things on that site. It’s tremendous, and cash games as well.

And you see that in the shows we’re taping. Now we are taping three shows, the Ladies Championship, Prime Championship, and World Championship, but we’re also taping cash games (at the Wynn) as well. And you’re seeing the cash games are becoming a bigger part of our tour schedule.

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In the past, the tour has partnered with online sites like partypoker. Have some of those deals gone away?

No, it’s just that WPTGlobal’s been an exclusive partner this year. But we were open (to others) in areas. Winamax sent people (to the WPT World Championship). When you have a major commitment from WPTGlobal and you’re doing something brand new, it’s much harder to go in and say what it is.

I think next year, (online sites) are going to be wanting to send people. I already have been getting messages about home game groups who’ve been asking, ‘can we now send this for next year?’ I think that’s great. We were able to do a lot of fun things with the ClubWPT qualifiers during the week. I think that’s good.

Many players see the WPT World Championship as like a WSOP or EPT in the winter. A little different, but your own big festival. Is that something you appreciate and want to grow?

The one thing that you definitely felt in the room is that reunion effect. You felt that in the past, mostly at the WSOP. But you had this great reunion effect. And we’re definitely going to capitalize on it.

I do think it’s sustainable and we have big ambitions to continue to grow this. We’re absolutely going to capitalize on that reunion effect. We love it. It was so good to see it.

And this is just a great way for us to bring all of our partners together and showcase what we’re trying to do throughout the year. So I think we’ve kind of set a tentpole on the ground.