Who wants to be a millionaire?
Apparently, a lot of poker players.
The board showing the number of entrants for the Millionaire Maker no-limit Texas Hold ’em event at the World Series of Poker continued to grow throughout the day Saturday until a record-shattering field of 6,343 officially was announced late in the evening.
The last player standing from the group will take home $1 million when the final table is concluded Monday night. The final tally easily surpassed the record for number of entrants for a live $1,500 buy-in tournament, which was 3,929 at a World Series event in 2009.
That is the kind of impact tournament organizers sought when they came up with the concept of awarding such a prize early in the six-week event.
“It was two-fold for us. We wanted for the opening weekend to do something that really drew people in,” said Seth Palansky, vice president of corporate communications for Caesars Interactive Entertainment, which owns the WSOP. “We did a poor job last year of getting people in the door early. We ended up having a great summer, but we thought, ‘Let’s make sure we kick off bigger.’
“Caesars Entertainment has a big thing companywide where they’re recognizing trying to do things to award $1 million to individuals. Us on the poker side saw that as an opportunity to create this Millionaire Maker event and tie it to opening weekend and try to blow the doors off.”
The final number exceeded expectations and had the massive poker rooms and hallways buzzing throughout the Rio about Event No. 6 of 62.
“When we originally drew it up, we hoped we could get 5,000 or so, which was sort of a lofty goal,” Palansky said. “When you’ve only done 3,929 before, to think you can get 5,000 is kinda crazy to begin with. So far this is incredible.”
It’s not just novices hoping to make a big score, either.
“There’s a huge number of pros. A million dollars is a million dollars. That’s meaningful to anyone. The fact of the matter is, it’s three days of work to get that,” Palansky said. “A lot of pros think, ‘Well, a lot of new people will be playing, so it will be easier for me to come through.’ ”
Mark Dube is a 23-year-old computer science student turned poker pro.
The Massachusetts resident says he has racked up more than $50,000 in online profits and recently made a big score with a $77,000 win at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn.
He hopes to play in about 10 events while in Las Vegas for his first World Series, and the Millionaire Maker was the first he entered.
“The huge field and obviously the million dollars that’s out there,” he said of what appealed to him about this tournament.
Dube’s trip got off to a slow start as he was bounced early from the first session.
“Just kinda got grinded down,” he said.
He didn’t have to wait long to seek redemption, though. Players eliminated from the early session were allowed to pay another $1,500 and get in on the second session. Dube planned to do so.
“I can’t miss this chance. There’s too much in that cash pool,” he said. “Hopefully I can get something going in the second heat.”
That’s good news for WSOP officials, who couldn’t be happier with how the first big weekend is going.
“Absolutely ecstatic,” Palansky said. “From an operations standpoint, we’re only a few days into the World Series of Poker, and to have things run so smoothly and get all these players seated and comfortable and tournaments started on time, we’re thrilled. It’s a great turnout and a great sign. We’ve been up, up, up in participation early on, so all signals are pointing to a great summer.”
Beyond the big prize pool, Dube had another reason to be pleased with the hefty turnout.
He said he had a proposition bet with a friend that more than 4,100 players would enter the Millionaire Maker.
“I smashed that one,” he said.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.