During its trip to Florida to cover the WPT Tournament of Champions, Somuchpoker took some time to chat with Adam Pliska, the current CEO of the World Poker Tour.
Somuchpoker: The poker environment is changing a lot, so how would you see the WPT growing in terms of your goals for the next year?
The poker boom never stopped. It just moved
Adam Pliska: We have a brand that represents the idea that anyone at any level can get on the train; you have a chance to compete at the highest levels with people who take the sport seriously. For years I’ve been asked about the poker boom. The poker boom never stopped. It just moved. You see what’s happening throughout Asia, you see what’s happening in Latin America … and you realize that poker is evolving quickly, so a big part of our job is to make people feel welcome at every level, help them be a part of this ecosystem, and feel like their story can be told, have a good experience, a professional experience, get better and take their shot.
Our goal is to anticipate every evolving market and cater in that way. For example, it might not be evident why social poker is helpful for the ecology of poker, but it is. Because, when you have five minutes and you’re on a bus and you’re playing some social poker, you’re thinking about it, then, you may come to an event like this and play. Same with the TV show – the World Poker Tour television show is still seen by probably 70 million people, and because it airs so much, it reminds people that this is a sport.
SMP: Could you tell us more about what the Chinese market represents for the WPT ?
Adam: We’re an Asian company. Our parent company, Ourgame is based in Beijing, we’re listed on the HK stock exchange. Ourgame has 600 million registered users and 35 million active users in the poker product alone, and the WPT has over 40 staff members in Beijing working on our social gaming products.
So, to answer your question, we’re not sitting here saying “here is our version of Texas Holdem, and this is what you need to do”. On the contrary, what we’re doing is we are taking a very successful market and we are working with people who know the market and understand the changes and the needs, and so, it allows us to respond better. So that’s what we’re going to do. We’ll always find local partners from now on, or else we’ll stop.
One of the great things is that when you take our events in Sanya in China, you’ve seen that grow in the last five years. And to watch the professionalism, the degree of fan engagement and the enthusiasm grow in China … you can’t walk away without being inspired! What we need to do is make sure that the WPT is also going to provide a structure so that people in the region can play and feel that they are also moving up.
SMP: Another market that is also promising in Asia is the Indian market. We heard that you will also start to approach this market with a partnership in Goa. What can you tell us about this?
Adam: There’s many ways to go into a market. Sometimes we have specific areas that are saying “hey we have never had a WPT event, bring it in”. And we do that. We may also offer digital content. 12 or 7 years ago, we made a deal simply to license our television show in the Philippines and allowed them to use the film.
People understand the brand, and so this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to make sure that digital content is down there and make sure that we continue to send over 60 qualifiers from Indian partners to other events. We will continue to work together and eventually you’ll see some tournaments.
SMP: You mentioned the Philippines. The last event there was January 2016. When is the next one?
Adam: What I can tell you is that we will definitely come back to the Philippines; it’s not only a great market with demand for poker, it’s also an incredibly enjoyable place to have a poker tournament. The people are warm and gracious. We’ve had our events in Solaire. That’s been very nice and there’s a new large hotel coming up, so we will certainly make an announcement towards the end of the next few months.
SMP: Australia is also undergoing many changes regarding online poker. The APPT and ANZPT are not there anymore, but on the other hand, we see great live events in Australia, with the Aussie millions and the WSOP in Sydney. So, is it not a part of the world that you are also interested in?
Adam: We’re absolutely engaged in discussions right now. Before, the World Poker Tour investor was real money gaming company Bwin.party. That’s no longer the case. So, even if we operated independently, people looked at us as the arm of an online gaming company. We weren’t. We didn’t operate in that way, but we did have a common parent. Now we don’t have that issue, and so the World Poker Tour can go into areas where there might not be sufficient encouragement for an online website. I can’t be as definite about when we’re going to make an announcement about Australia, but I can say that it’s of high interest to us and we’d love to be down there.
SMP: Currently you have PokerStars, 888 or Partypoker, they structured their online brand very well with their live tours. You are different; the WPT has social sites currently linked to the product.
Adam: A lot of the social gaming revenue that we take in is what allows us to fund a lot of the things we do, including spending a lot more money on TV than anybody else in the industry. We feel like any of those guys in this champions club satellite tournament would agree that we can bring one social player. This addition of social gaming players is really a happy thing for everybody. They come to an event like this and they see any of those guys on that table and they’re excited. They want an autograph, they want a photo. But also, the social gaming player feels he went in and had his shot. We bring fresh people into the market via social gaming. It just makes for a better environment it makes for a happier environment.
SMP: …And you can target markets which are closed (US market – Chinese market). Currently, they are the two biggest markets in the world. Real money poker sites have customers in China but if they do a live tour in Mainland China, they may have problems like we saw in the past.
Adam: I have tremendous respect for people running online sites, because what they’re doing is sailing a schooner ship when the waves are going up and down, with the wind changing over the tides. That’s not where we’ve cast our lot; we’re more in the bay on a motorboat. The great thing about online gaming is those winds can change in the right direction and things can be fantastic for their business, but the advantage we have is certainty. You don’t have to worry about the strategy and laws can change, so we can spend a lot more investment and time concentrating on getting our product right and correcting our mistakes. I honestly think it’s just a different world.
Interview by Craig Bradshaw