The Season XII WPT World Championship, which began on Monday April 21, at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, New Jersey, has seen some major changes in its structure.
For the first time ever, the tour’s season-ending event will be held outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. The World Poker Tour Championship event spent its first 11 seasons at the Bellagio in LV, which was once considered the poker mecca of the world.
However, as World Poker Tour President Adam Pliska put it, “sometimes you just gotta shake things up.
“The numbers in the Championship were down and people were noticing that,” Pliska said. “The WPT Championship is something special. With so many other changes that have happened on the World Poker Tour, at some point you have to tend to the championship. It’s a focal point.”
For years, the WPT Championship at the Bellagio was the must-play poker tournament of the season for the game’s biggest superstars. More than $60 million in prize money has been won in the event since 2003, making it the most lucrative event on the WPT schedule by a mile.
However, attendance for the event has been dwindling every year bar one since 2007, where Carlos Mortensen defeated a field of 639 to win nearly $4 million. Compare this to last year’s event, where only 146 players participated. This was the smallest turnout since the debut season of 111 participants in 2003.
This decline, coupled with player feedback about the Bellagio, resulted in some major adjustments being made to the Championship Event this year.
In September, the tour announced Borgata as the new home for its flagship event. Pliska says Atlantic City was chosen due to the parent company’s new presence in NJ’s burgeoning online poker market.
“The moving of the WPT Championship is as much about celebrating legalized, regulated gaming in the United States as anything else,” Pliska told PokerNews. “What we need now in the poker community is to celebrate that as much as possible in order to spread it into multiple states and every state. I think this could open up a lot of opportunities for people to play in WPT events.”
Pliska and his team decided to take advantage of the online poker market for this year’s Championship. Five seats to the tournament have been given away through satellites at nj.partypoker.com, in addition to qualifiers at BorgataPoker.com and even DraftKings.com, the official fantasy sports partner of the WPT.
In another move to make the tournament more accessible, the $25,000 price tag was slashed to $15,400. The championship event will also carry a $5 million guaranteed prize pool, with at least $1.35 million going to the champion. The last time the WPT Championship prize pool hit $5 million was in 2011, which was also the last time a player won over $1.35 million.
“When you’re changing tradition, I think you’ve got to reevaluate things. And we have,” Pliska said. “There had been a lot of push to keep the Championship at a level that is prestigious, but at the same time bringing it down to a more accessible level. So that’s what we did.
“We’ll try this, take player feedback and see how it goes.”
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