The Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood, Fla., electrified the poker world at its World Poker Tour event in April by announcing it will host a tournament with a $10 million prize pool on Aug. 22-29. That main event will be part of a 33-event series called the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open beginning Aug. 8. Buy-in for the main event is $5,300 and will feature unlimited re-entries, which means the event will need 2,000 entries to cover the guarantee.
The South Florida facility is calling it the largest guaranteed payout in the world, and outside of the World Series of Poker Main Event and the $1 million buy-in One Drop charity event (neither of which offers a guarantee), this prize pool will be about three times more than any live poker event ever hosted in the United States.
As I sat with the property’s chief operating officer Larry Mullin to discuss the event, I thought of several F-words associated with such an unprecedented, bold move: fortitude and, more likely, fear of failure. But Mullin came back at me with the only F-word on his mind: fun.
“We asked ourselves ‘What was the customer missing?’ The answer kept coming back to ‘a big game.’ So how do you raise your game other than to put big money out there and have players come and have fun with it,” he said. “As a global brand, we need to put on global events that will draw people to come from far away to experience what we are doing here. So that is another objective, but at the same time, locals are welcome first.”
Said Mullin: “Poker is just one of the great things we have here; we want to be a destination for people to come visit, so it’s using poker in a different way than what the property was used to in the past. Our job is to think of as many ways as we can to make the Seminole Hard Rock as fresh and interesting as we can make it.”
Outsiders looking in may try to find many reasons for the Seminoles to fail by falling short of the guarantee, such as catastrophic weather or stiff competition, but Mullin said they’ve looked at all of the possibilities.
“Sure, we know it’s a weather season, but that’s the best time to try and get people to come here, when things are slower.” As for the competition: “We aren’t naïve . . . We looked at the possible competition and the dates, but felt that this is the best time for us to do this.”
One positive aspect the Seminoles have going for them is the five other properties they own in Florida, three of which have large poker rooms that will host satellite events all summer: Seminole Hard Rock in Tampa, Seminole Casino Coconut Creek and Seminole Casino Immokalee.
“We’re going to offer guaranteed tournaments for over 100 satellite seats, more than we’ve ever done. CoCo should be running them simultaneously with us and Tampa is a key to our success, some great poker players up there, a solid base,” said William Mason, Hard Rock Hollywood’s director of poker, who went on to explain why the satellites were a win-win situation for everyone involved. “Pros like to see the recreational players get in and see the satellites grow. Florida poker is a little different than anywhere else; players here are willing to take a chance and that’s why the action is the best down here.”
He addressed my earlier comment about some people wanting to see failure in their future: “Anyone in Florida should not want to see us fail. This makes the Florida market the best in the world and Floridians should want this to be the best in the world.”
And while poker players always like an overlay, they usually don’t mind seeing the poker room have to reach into its pockets and come up with a shortfall. Most smart players realize a successful event of this magnitude makes the future considerably brighter.
“We want them to succeed, so that they will come back and do it again,” said David Tuthill, a Florida State student who finished eighth in the L.A. Poker Classic this year and was featured in the May issue of Ante Up. “I couldn’t be more excited, but when I heard about it I was absolutely shocked. This has always been a great stop on the WPT, but this $10 million event could be one of the best tournaments ever held in live poker history.”
WPT champ Ravi Ravaghan agreed and said the timing was perfect. “There’s not much happening at that time in the poker world and players will welcome a huge event in August.”
Mullin sees this event getting bigger and better, though he cautions that future plans will be contingent on the success of this event.
“Let’s make it successful, then we can make it even bigger,” he said. “If the tournament does as well as I think it can, I’d like to double it.”
Exciting words for poker players around the world, and for South Florida locals looking to grab the brass ring. Mullin concluded our conversation by inviting people to watch closely for more announcements about what may be involved with this ground-breaking event. That brings us back to the all-important F-word: “I believe that there will be a lot of things coming out over the next couple of months that will give people a flavor of what our tolerance for fun is,” he said.
— Big Dave Lemmon is Ante Up’s South Florida Ambassador. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.