World Series of Poker Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack said he wanted to explore new challenges when he resigned this month after four successful years at the helm of the tournament.
Some wondered whether a high-stakes bluff was being played out.
It seemed strange that Pollack, 45, would depart following the World Series of Poker’s second-most lucrative event in its 40-year history. Even in the recession, Pollack delivered a successful tournament for his bosses at Harrah’s Entertainment, which has owned the World Series of Poker since 2003.
Earlier this year, Harrah’s placed the World Series of Poker under the purview of Harrah’s Interactive Entertainment, a division created to expand the tournament overseas and online. Former PartyGaming Chief Executive Officer Mitch Garber was named CEO of Harrah’s Interactive, taking control of the tournament’s future growth. He also gained authority over Pollack.
Therein lies the rub.
Pollack departed Nov. 13 with only compliments toward Harrah’s. He didn’t have any comments about the new structure.
Harrah’s Interactive released a statement thanking Pollack for his efforts but saying there weren’t plans to fill the commissioner’s role.
During Pollack’s run, World Series of Poker participation grew annually, hitting a record 60,875 entries in 2009. The number of events grew and the prize pool for players was a combined $675 million in his four years, nearly double the total prize from the first 36 tournaments combined.
Harrah’s averages a 6 percent rake on World Series of Poker’s event entry fees. The 55-day tournament attracts throngs of players and spectators into the Rio during June and July. The tournament is one of the few profitable ventures for the casino operator, which reported a $1.62 billion net loss in the third quarter.
Pollack took the World Series of Poker mainstream. A survey firm rated it the seventh-most admired sports brand. Corporate sponsorships deals with Miller Brewing Co. and Jack Link’s Beef Jerky were signed. A new deal with ESPN was inked, assuring the tournament will be televised through 2018.
Some in the poker community complained that players were secondary and the tournament was more about Harrah’s increasing its bottom line. Card Player magazine editor Jeff Shulman was the most public critic, saying Harrah’s made poor decisions that kept 500 players from participating in the Main Event.
Pollack created a players advisory council and he and Shulman seemed to patch up their differences.
Questions now surround the 2010 World Series of Poker. Pollack left a solid foundation. But has Harrah’s allowed permanent cracks to invade the concrete?
Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Sundays. E-mail him at email@example.com or call 702-477-3871. He blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/stutz.