South African poker player and Monster Jam Poker Tour CEO, Marc Joseph, found time to chat with Somuchpoker about the growth of poker in his country and why everyone should come out and visit.
*All photos courtesy of Monster Jam Poker Tour
SMP: What’s the poker scene like in South Africa?
Joseph: When poker started in South Africa it was pretty much just one big Main Event, lots of buy ins, rebuys, and add-ons. The first real live tournament started back in 2006. They had a million dollar event at a great venue called Suncity, it was absolutely fantastic. We had like 239 runners for an event that ran on the weekend. Since then, poker in South Africa has very much been on the up. We’ve had amazing stuff going on. I got involved around 2009, then in 2015 we developed a company called The Monster Jam Poker Tour.
SMP: Can you introduce the Monster Jam Poker Tour to our readers?
Joseph: So the Monster Jam Poker Tour started as a conceptual idea which we presented to casino group Sun International. We put on something for them, they liked it, and we subsequently got into a contract. We had six to seven stops a year at their entire footprint across Africa. We’ve now sized it down to five really big stops a year. What started out as the Monster Jam Poker Tour has changed within the last year. We now have a sponsor, Sunbet. It’s the sports betting of the online arm of Sun International. We’ve rebranded to the Sunbet Poker Tour powered by the Monster Jam Poker Tour.
SMP: On average, how many days are your events?
Joseph: We generally start on a Friday then end on the following Sunday so around nine or ten days.
SMP: What kind of guarantees and prize pools do you generate?
Joseph: With our new partners our guarantees have been amazing. We’ve had three legs already this year, the first one at Times Square Casino in Pretoria. We guaranteed 9 million rand and that ended up being around 20 million rand (~US$ 1.2 Million). The next stop was at Suncity in the northwest province, and the third one at KwaZulu-Natal which is a beautiful tropical province at the Subaya Kingdom casino. The last three stops have totaled around 3 million US dollars.
Our next stop is in the Eastern Cape at a magnificent venue called Boardwalk Casino in Port Elizabeth. It will probably be our smallest stop of the year. After that we head to Cape Town which is much anticipated and much awaited.
SMP: What range of buy ins can players expect?
Joseph: The buy ins are very similar to Asia. Our Main Events run about a thousand dollars, our high rollers are about 2500 dollars, super high roller about 5400 dollars.We run around 8 and 12 events in those ten days. So it’s pretty strong. Lots of side events. Lots of guaranteed events.
We have this crazy event, we call it the “Little Slam”. It’s a small buy in tournament, runs about US$ 300. Basically it’s ten percent the cost of the high roller but with the same structure. Same amount of chips, same blinds. Players get a chance to experience a complete high roller structure. It’s super deep, it goes on for days, it is awesome. We get massive turnouts. We get fields near the 300 mark and players absolutely love it and love the opportunity to feel what it is like to play a high roller event at a fraction of the price.
As for our Main Events, they are amazing. Players who come here will also get some great exposure. We have this live stream and it is strong. It’s getting bigger and better all the time. Lots of money invested in it. We’d eventually like to get this loaded up on PokerGO so the whole world can see this product. We just want everyone to come down and just try it out and enjoy it.
SMP: Is there tax?
Joseph: No tax on gaming. Since it is already taxed in the casino it is a great opportunity for players to come, play poker, and take your winnings home, tax free. All our games are held in casinos. Everything in South Africa is absolutely regulated. The gaming boards are very strong.
SMP: Are there options for players outside of South Africa to attend your events, especially the Main Event?
Joseph: Unfortunately in South Africa, online poker is not permitted so there’s no way to win online. We’ve tried for sometime and maybe if I get the opportunity to hook up with an online company in Asia that’s prepared to run satellites and opportunities for people to qualify to come down to South Africa, we’d love to talk and do a deal with companies that can operate in territories that’s legal.
SMP: What promos do you have for players within South Africa?
Joseph: Inside South Africa we allow players from different provinces to qualify into the next stop. We also have a strong association with The Hendon Mob and the Global Poker Index. We run a leaderboard. We are currently running a promotion called “Race to Vegas”. It is basically a Player of the Year, everything is powered, all the points scored goes to GPI and THM system and our top 10 players will get an opportunity to come with us to the WSOP, and the top 3 will win tickets into the Main Event, two weeks accommodation, flight, and expense money. The other 7 will get flights, accommodation, and spending money. So it is a great opportunity for players that play on our tour.
SMP: Where do you see Monster Jam Poker Tour in the years ahead?
Joseph: We really believe our product is strong. It is right up there with the best. It compares to anything that’s got a name behind it. We pride ourselves in beautiful poker rooms, top class dealing, tournament directors that are all TDA approved. Every time we have an event it is just a progression, it’s a step forward, it’s a step bigger. It is by far Africa’s richest poker tournament event, richest prize pools, it’s awesome. In the next 4 to 5 years, the space will really be global and everyone will be wanting to come down. Right now we are opening up all these poker rooms all around South Africa, they’re sort of like satellite rooms. They will then be progressing into satellites, and cash, and poker tournament rooms.
SMP: Are there cash games?
Joseph: Cash games in South Africa are legal as long as they are in the casino, in a regulated environment. But right now casinos haven’t really taken up this product but now that we are opening these rooms, we are gonna start making cash games really good in South Africa. We understand how it works, we understand what players want, we’re gonna make really big games.
SMP: How would you compare the level of poker in South Africa to Asia?
Joseph: At WPT Prime Cambodia, you have some very good players and the Chinese are known to be loose and wild and crazy and they are going mad. There are a lot of strong American players, European players who everyone knows are very tough. You get a table that’s pretty mixed up. I’ve met a lot of Indian pros and they are pretty good and they keep wrapping up trophies. So coming to Asia, it is not that easy. You gotta study your table draw, pick your opponents, know where you can get your chips or who is gonna take your chips.
Now poker in South Africa is pretty good. We have some strong strong players. When you come to South Africa be assured that you are gonna be in for some very tough poker. It’s not just clean up and help yourself. Our players are strong, they are competitive, and they want to play against the best in the world. So if you think you got what it takes, come down and try them out.
SMP: Is South Africa open to tourism?
Joseph: It is absolutely open. No masks anywhere. Full stadiums for sporting events. South Africa is open and welcome to everyone. I’d like to invite as many people from across the globe to come to Cape Town. It is one of the most sought after cities to visit in the world, it is absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking. We will be there around November / December, glorious time to be there, hot summer. It will be our first time there so we are super excited. This is an opportunity for us to get global poker citizens to visit the beautiful South Africa.
Before the year wraps up, Monster Jam Poker Tour / SunBet Poker tour has two more events lined up. The first one takes place at Boardwalk Casino in the city of Port Elizabeth. The series runs from September 9 to 18 featuring nine tournaments, highlighted by the Main Event ZAR 2 Million (~US$ 120,000) guarantee. Kicking off the festivities is none other than the Little Slam.
Following that event, the tour ends the year with the much anticipated festival in Cape Town from November 25 to December 4. Set against a gorgeous backdrop of mountains, sky, and sea, the ten-day festival promises to be the biggest of the year with hefty prize pools to be expected. For more information, head to www.monsterjampoker.com.