The World Series of Poker has become so successful that it seems all organizers need to do is turn on the lights and step out of the way.
But they know sitting still doesn’t guarantee continued success, so they are collecting information as the series of tournaments reached its midway point, trying to gauge what works and what doesn’t.
They also know the danger of over thinking, and rather than making massive changes — fixing what ain’t broke — for next year and beyond, they are more interested in tweaking.
The numbers for this year’s series at the Rio Convention Center are strong, with 40,039 entrants, one of 13 records broken through 31 of the 62 scheduled events. Thanks to the participation growth, the total prize money is up by more than $5 million from last year to $54.1 million at the halfway point.
Benny Chen took home his share of the pot, winning a hair under $1.2 million in the $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em Millionaire Maker.
Millionaire Maker was added to this year’s tournaments and did better than expected, creating hopes next year could be even stronger. The Seniors No-Limit Hold’em Championship drew a record 4,407 entrants.
“What we kind of learned this year, the big events are working,” WSOP executive director Ty Stewart said Tuesday. “We have to balance the staging for the super events within the series as well as keeping excitement for the daily events we have.”
And it’s those daily less-publicized daily events, with buy-ins as low as $75, that are in many ways the lifeblood of the series.
“The modern World Series of Poker has something for everyone,” Stewart said. “Our vision is to celebrate the game at all levels and give players a compelling reason to visit Vegas each summer no matter what their bankroll is.”
The WSOP also is trying to broaden its reach beyond the United States, making strong inroads into the Pacific Asia realm to add to its footprint in Europe.
“There’s a lot of exploding interest in Asia,” Stewart said. “Asia is definitely an area that we’re monitoring, and over time we’re likely to have a model around the world similar to what we have here with the circuits where we have the grassroots track as well as the big event.”
This big event proved its staying power during the economic crisis and questions over online poker regulation and what effect government intervention might have on the game.
Rather than take a step back, however, the WSOP strung together its two strongest years entering this one.
With the economy on a little bit of a rebound, as well as a move in Congress to legalize online poker, players have continued to flock to the Rio, sparking optimism the good times will continue.
“We aim for shock and awe,” Stewart said. “We want a player to walk into the Rio Convention Center and have their jaw hit the floor with the poker tables as far as they can see. We want the players to take pride in the fact that the WSOP presents poker bigger than they ever thought it could be.”
The planning for next year is taking place now, with daily departmental meetings and regular conversations with players.
“Probably the most valuable feedback that we get that helps us do better in ’14 happens right now,” Stewart said. “We’re already talking it out, so when we break for the summer, we already have a very good game plan for ’14.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.