For the last 15 years, I have been a professional poker player, but I think that time may be coming to an end soon. While I have certainly had my share of frustration and downswings, poker is the best job I have ever had. It has allowed me to travel the world, meet fascinating people, and make a living by my wits on my own time, something very few people get a chance to do these days in a world of cubicles and cashiers. I have enjoyed my time as a player, but now I’m making a switch and moving to the other side of the rail. And I’m learning a new perspective.

I thought it would be fun to share some of that perspective with my friends here at Cardplayer Life and give you some insight into how the world of tournament poker works from the other side. In starting my new tour, Next Level Poker, I’ve come to understand why things run the way they do and what poker rooms and poker tours do to make a tournament happen.

Next Level Poker

In addition to being a player myself, I’ve talked to a lot of tournament players about the new tour and how to make sure we are successful. Let’s look, one at a time, at the things that players want from a poker tour.

You want better structures?

We all do. But when a casino offers a longer tournament structure, it means more hours that they have to pay dealers and floor staff. There’s even more to it. Tournament dealers are paid in half hour “downs”. If a tournament includes 200 downs, and $2,000 was collected as the 3% of the prize pool that typically goes to staff and dealers, that means dealers will receive $10 per down.

If we increase the length of the structure by making the levels longer, we might end up with 300 downs instead. This does cost the house extra money, but not so much that it would really bother them. The people who would be angry in this case are the dealers and staff who now have the same 3% stretched over 50% more working hours. That means that dealers will now only receive $7 per down. Dealers usually already make less money dealing tournaments than cash games; if that number goes down even farther, we can expect some very grumpy dealers and floor people.

The casino itself will also see their profits cut by this structure, plus they’ll have grumpy dealers and floor staff working extra hours and making more mistakes. When a big tournament series comes to town, the casino often offers a room discount to dealers from out of town, who work so many hours that they don’t gamble much. The room, which would often be filled by people paying full price and gambling, is instead filled by dealers who get a discount and don’t gamble. This is yet another hidden cost of running a large tournament series that most players don’t think about.

You want good dealers, right?

I know I do, and that means that you have to treat them well. If a tournament series doesn’t pay well, they don’t get good dealers. If they don’t get good dealers, players stop showing up and they aren’t invited back next year. A lack of good dealers can ruin a poker tour. So if you want good dealers and good structures, you have to pay for them. And how do you pay for them?

You want less rake, don’t you?

This was always a big one for me. The rake is a killer. Smaller buy-in events can be unbeatable if the rake is too high and even in bigger events the advantage these days is small enough even for a strong player that the rake takes a big bite out of your profits. But we must remember that we are not just needing to pay for good dealers and good structures. The house needs to make money or they won’t run these things at all.

The problem with making the house happy is that we are competing with some of the most expensive floor space in the world. You can rent retail space cheaper in the Mall of America or in midtown Manhattan than you could rent it in most casinos! Slot machines make 10X as much money per square foot as poker and we are taking up floor space that could be filled with slot machines.

You want big fields, too?

Well, then we have to account for the poker tour company itself. Very few rooms can bring in really big fields without a tour that helps to promote the event and bring in their fans from the surrounding area or further afield.

As the owner of a poker tour I can tell you that there are more expenses than you would imagine. Advertising is the obvious one, but I need to get there and bring my staff. I need to maintain my website and pay for hosting and domains. I need to pay for travel for myself and my business partners. I need software to track my expenses and an accountant to do my taxes and a whole host of other standard business expenses.

Licensing in every new state also costs money as do my signage and trophies, a camera for good pictures, and software and cameras for a livestream broadcast – that’s all on me. I created Next Level Poker in a unique way that helps keep many of these expenses down using cutting edge technology and a host of industry sponsors, but there are still bills in my mailbox every week and there’s always something new to buy.

It’s not all bad news…

There is some good news. There are a lot of very smart people in the industry working on solving these problems and making poker tournament series more affordable to run. Technology is helping us solve some of these problems in new ways. I can quite literally do a high-quality live broadcast out of a backpack. That’s something that took an entire film crew just a few years ago. I put a lot of work into figuring it out, but a few years from now my competitors will catch up and do something similar and the prices for all tours will come down. Until then, we will be a better deal than anyone in the industry because we don’t have to travel with a special table or a film crew. That means we can charge venues less and they can in turn charge less rake and/or offer better structures.

The reason that poker exists in many casinos is that people who come in to play poker will often play other games or bring people with them who play other games. To a casino, dedicating that expensive floor space to poker is worth it if the poker player also accounts for some action at the slow machines or dice tables.

There are many people in casinos across the country who love poker. No one really loves slot machines except the people who make money from them; even then, they love the money, not the game. But poker has people who truly love the game and want it to do well. Having allies in the casino industry is incredibly valuable. Without them, the game might have died before the poker boom ever started.

And the fields in poker tournaments continue to grow! While cash game growth has been stagnant and the U.S. is full of slot machines with empty seats in front of them, poker tournaments just keep getting bigger. More tours, more events, and more players all add up to something interesting for card rooms. If they can get enough people into their venues, maybe some extra slot machine seats will fill up and in turn make that convention center space worthwhile.

Maybe Next Level Poker can help!

I started Next Level Poker with the idea that we could help grow the game and create something that was good for everyone. Something that was new and different and fun. Something that offered a better value to working pros and more fun for recreational players. We use our own structures, so players know what they are getting when they come to our events. We pay out a larger percentage (around 1 in 6) so that more recreational players can win a little money and leave feeling good about their game and the way they spent their weekend. We negotiate house fees that are lower than most other tours, in some cases drastically lower, and we make sure that dealers are taken care of.

I hope that I can make a few bucks for myself and my business partners along the way. But if I don’t? Well, poker has been very good to me.

And I needed to know something: If I create a tour that gives players what they want, will they support it? Or will they go wherever the biggest fields are or play wherever the superstars are being paid to show up? Will they simply go to whatever series is closest to home, or will they come support our efforts to change the industry and give them what they want?
Whether I make a million dollars or not is irrelevant. I’ve already done that playing poker. But if I can take the game to the next level, I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something.

Check out our homepage to learn more about Next Level Poker. More info also available on our Facebook page.

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