POKER LIFESTYLE

Interview with WPT Voyage Poker Operations Director Emily DeLaine

Poker’s spring break is upon us as the first ever WPT Voyage is primed to set sail. Excitement is peaking as hundreds of poker lovers have descended upon the Port of Miami, ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime aboard the Virgin Voyages Valiant Lady.

The World Poker Tour has chartered the entire ship, and it’ll be transformed into a floating poker palace, as we cruise through the Caribbean, with exciting ports of call in the Bahamas and Cayman Islands. As for the poker? Well there’s a whole team of people working behind the scenes to ensure everything runs smoothly. And an A+ experience is what poker players the world over have of course come to expect from the WPT.

To get a better sense of all the poker-oriented preparations that have been going on leading up to the WPT Voyage, we reached out to Emily DeLaine, a longtime industry veteran who is fulfilling the role of WPT Voyage Poker Operations Director. Emily kindly took the time to answer my many questions about how an event of this size and scope all comes together.

As we’re all looking forward to enjoying an amazing WPT Voyage over the next week, I think it behooves us as a poker community to express our tremendous appreciation to Emily and the entire team behind the scenes who’ve worked and will be working so hard to ensure we have an amazing time. I hope this exclusive peek behind those scenes gives us all that deeper sense of appreciation.

Emily DeLaine

I’m pretty certain I remember seeing you working as a dealer at the WSOP. Tell us how you first got into poker and working on the “other side of the felt”.

That is a bit of a strange story. I think most dealers get into it because they like to play, I was going to graduate school in Oregon and thought dealing poker would be an excellent part time job. The hours are ideal. Little did I know a decade later I’d be thoroughly entrenched in the industry.

I worked in a little card room for two years and then I decided to deal the WSOP in 2015, because graduate school does not pay well. After that I was hooked and have been traveling with my poker family ever since.

Since November 2021, you’ve been self-employed doing Poker Staffing and Coordination. What led to your choice to set out on your own and start a business like that?

In 2019, I dealt my last WSOP while pregnant. I did not know what to expect in terms of working gigs. I remember I took some time off, but the following year I was preparing to work Hard Rock in April and we all know what happened. Covid. While Covid was a devastating time, my silver lining was being able to stay home with my newborn for over a year.

It wasn’t until WSOP 2021 was looming that I realized I just could not do the grinding hours that dealing requires for big events. So, I decided to apply as a Dealer Coordinator (DC) that year. It worked out well and I have been enjoying working with staff ever since. I work as a DC a few times a year and then I have been staffing WPT at Sea and the WPT Voyage since we started last year. It’s been a blessing for me being able to work remotely for part of the year as I just recently had my daughter in September. So, I guess being a mom changed everything for me, like it does for most moms.

That being said, I love dealing and I still do when I can make it work. I even dealt this past January at Borgata because Kellie De Celis gave me a family-friendly solution to working with a then 3-month-old, which is why I wish more women were in poker room management.

As we were coordinating this Q&A session, you told me that you’ve been working on this project for over a year. How did you first come to get involved and what is your official role and job title?

I first started working for Kurt McPhail with WPT Cruise in 2017 as a dealer and then later as the DC on the Mediterranean cruise in 2019. When we started back up after a Covid hiatus, we moved to Virgin Voyages for the 2022 WPT Cruise and the idea for WPT at Sea and WPT Voyage was born.

WPT Voyage poker tables

I hit the ground running and with my extensive network of event dealers, it made sense for me to take on staffing along with other poker logistics I could help with. So, I am the WPT Voyage Poker Operations Director. I am responsible for making sure the poker happens onboard!

Just so that we understand “who does what”, to what extent do you regularly liaise with WPT staff? What duties do they fully entrust to you and what duties fall under their purview?

WPT have an amazing team that are fantastic to work with. Warren Woodall has been heading up this project, and he has been gracious enough to involve me with a lot of planning projects from tournament schedule, to ship space layouts, to the brand new chip sets that were beautifully designed just for the Voyage.

WPT Voyage poker tables

But my main responsibility is the staff and making sure the poker tournaments run smoothly with the right people in the right places. WPT of course has done so much behind the scenes I probably don’t know the half of it. They do all the marketing, running satellites on WPT Global and Club WPT, organizing non-poker entertainment, and helping with booking an entire ship of poker players.

I noticed that you posted recently on the Women’s Poker Association Facebook page that you’d be happy to answer any questions that cruisers/players had ahead of the WPT Voyage. Clearly, in order to do that, you not only need to be in the know on the operations side of things, but also to have been aboard the Valiant Lady before. How many times have you cruised on Virgin Voyages, and what have those experiences been like?

I have been on my fair share of Virgin Voyages this past year and I will say, I was never a fan of cruising before, but Virgin really is a game changer in terms of luxury and relaxation. I have had a behind the scenes look at what is happening on this voyage both from Virgin and WPT, so I thought I could offer my brain to the women traveling with us. I know women tend to be planners and as an anxious packer myself, I thought I’d help where I could.

Emily DeLaine WPA post

WPT VOYAGE LOGISTICS

What does a poker dealer’s day look like once boarding the ship? When are they working? How do shifts get assigned?

This is really an unprecedented experience for most. Since we have poker running 24/7 unless we are in port, the dealers have been divided into shifts to cover those times, but there may be some lulls between working hours.

The nice part is that the commute to work is about 2 minutes, so it allows for scheduling to be quite flexible. I believe the dealers understand that and the ones that want to work a lot will be able to and the ones that want to be cut first will get plenty of hammock time.

I’ve made sure to be clear with the dealers that I’m going to do my best to make the schedules run smoothly, but because we’ve never done something like this before, we need to work together as a team. I will definitely be collecting as much data as I can, however, so next time we can make better projections and plans.

When the Valiant Lady is in port (i.e., not at sea), the poker tables are closed. Does that mean that dealing staff have time off to enjoy the ports of call and bespoke activities or are they engaged in different aspects of their job (e.g., doing any sort of set-up, prep, etc.)?

This is a perk of the job for sure. When we are in port, all staff members get to enjoy most of the day to themselves like regular passengers. Fortunately, many of our staff members are existing staff of WPT at Sea so they know the ship well and are very familiar with the port stop at Bimini. Any help with physical setup will be done on Sunday morning, so for most staff this is a “work hard, play hard” kind of situation.

WPT Voyage poker tables

There are over 80 poker tables on board. How many dealers, floorpeople, chip runners, and ancillary poker personnel, does it take to fully staff an operation that large on a cruise ship?

Our total staff for just the poker operations is 150 people, which includes dealers, floor people, registration staff, cage staff, hosts, and massage therapists. That number grows when you include the rest of the WPT family with Club WPT, WPT Global, the Royal Flush crew, and all the talent.

I hired a lot of individuals that can do multiple jobs so that we can be flexible with the fluctuating demands of work onboard. So many variables cannot be adjusted in the middle of the sea, and I’ve gone through many contingency plans when it comes to staffing effectively. I just hope everyone takes their Dramamine and washes their hands regularly!

WPT Voyage poker tables

How is it determined which dealers deal the cash game tables and which dealers deal the tournament tables?

Dealers are assigned based on business demands, so day shift is usually tournament-heavy, and swing shift requires more cash dealers. As a dealer coordinator, I always try to assign dealers to where they would prefer to be, but I also believe if you are a traveling poker dealer you need to be flexible and capable of dealing anything and anywhere. Fortunately, this gig is unique enough that most of the dealing staff can pitch any game; just tell them how many cards and what the nuts are.

The WPT Voyage festivities are set to kick off with a Pajama Meet-Up Game (MUG). Will dealers be similarly outfitted?

Yes! We’ve encouraged it. This event we’ve kept in mind that it’s supposed to be fun and feel like we’re all on Spring Break! So, unlike most gigs, I’ve encouraged the staff to engage with the social scene onboard and have fun themselves.

What sort of unforeseen challenges have occurred in the build-up to setting sail that are unique to a poker cruise, and how have you and your crew managed to work through those challenges?

Wow. So many I can even count. I have learned so much about maritime laws and US customs this past year it makes my head spin. You need a passport? I know how to get you a passport!

What makes this event different is it’s not in a stationary casino space with the departments already running before the event. We have had to measure every inch of the ship to make sure everything fits, and so that we can create the poker spaces out of existing rooms not meant for poker tables.

WPT Voyage poker tables

Also, shipping and onboarding 80 tables, 800 chairs, and 80 dealer chairs is a feat of strength! The entire ops team is already on the Valiant Lady ahead of time to start working the moment they can. It’s a huge undertaking and there are some rockstars coordinating those efforts.

Kurt McPhail of course is leading the team along with Andrea DiBattista, Michele Prouty, Paul Prouty, Adrian Stroe, Jennifer Palmer, and Hector Sanchez. Also, Jamie Herscovitz and Jacob Harvey with Poker Atlas, and Warren Woodall and Madison Evans with WPT Global.

Naturally, there are changes to your role once we embark on the WPT Voyage. What does your day-to-day look like once we’re onboard?

I keep joking with everyone that I don’t have a job onboard because I have all the jobs. I’m sure my days will start early and end late, but I believe I have hired some superstars and I can let them do what they do best.

I will be there to support the team in any way whether it’s giving a supervisor a lunch break, helping a player find the karaoke room, or even getting in the box and pitching some cards.

After more than a year working towards this project, what aspects of the WPT Voyage are you looking forward to most?

I’m looking forward to seeing a bunch of familiar faces in an unfamiliar location. It really is “poker’s spring break” and I am willing to bet isolating this many poker players on a ship in the middle of the sea will bring about a better sense of community that will have a lasting impact in the future.

My hope and vision for the future of poker is more fun and more inclusiveness. I think WPT is on the edge of this frontier and I’m happy to be a part of what should be an event for the books.

It’s almost showtime. By what measures will you quantify having done a successful job?

I’m a classic type-A perfectionist, so I’m fighting not to say “that every tournament runs smoothly with no delays and no reportable errors.” I think if I’m really honest about it, my measure of success will be that everyone has an amazing player experience, that the WPT family grows, and we get to do it again next year!

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Written By.

Robbie Strazynski

Robbie founded Cardplayerlifestyle.com in 2009. A veteran member of the poker media corps, in addition to writing and video presenting, Robbie has hosted multiple poker podcasts over the years, including Top Pair, the Red Chip Poker Podcast, The Orbit, and the CardsChat Podcast. In 2019, Robbie translated the autobiography of Poker Hall of Famer Eli […]

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