Women in Poker Hall of Famer Lupe Soto has been at the forefront of promoting women’s advancement in the game for decades. Among her numerous initiatives was founding the Women’s Poker Association (WPA), which she’s been presiding over for the last few years. To learn more about the history of the WPA, check out Lupe’s article here.
Lupe’s term as President has now come to an end, and we caught up with her to hear some of her top highlights from the last few years, her thoughts about the current state of women in poker, and her plans for the future.
The embedded interview is followed by a transcript. Many thanks to the new WPA President Tara Windsor-Smith for her assistance.
Hey everybody this is Robbie Strazynski for Cardplayer Lifestyle and I’m here with Lupe Soto, the founder of the Women’s Poker Association and of course a Women in Poker Hall of Famer. How are you today, Lupe?
I’m great. I’m so excited to be here!
Well, a little birdie told me that your term as WPA President has come to an end. So, I figured now would be a good time to catch up with you, talk some about the WPA and your plans moving forward. Sounds good to you?
That sounds great.
Obviously, everyone knows the name Lupe Soto. You’ve done a ton in the poker industry over your career, you founded LIPS, you founded the Senior’s Poker Tour, and all manner of work in the online poker space, and of course you’re probably best known as a fierce advocate to grow the game, specifically for women. What was your vision when you first set out to found the Women’s Poker Association?
It was interesting. When you’re in the trenches of women’s poker and you’re kind of pounding on the doors and trying to get operators to understand the importance of having programming for women so that we can grow the game and all kinds of other reasons. But it was very difficult to do when you’re a proprietary kind of entity. Which I was. Which is LIPS. LIPS is definitely a for-profit business. It’s a poker tour for women. So when you go and share a message under that umbrella, everyone thinks you want something from them. So it’s like yeah, of course I would like your poker room to be a LIPS stop at some point, but that was difficult to separate from the message.
So there was an attempt in about 2009 or something like that. I can’t remember exactly when it was. I got together with a couple of my girlfriends who also had a passion for women in poker and we decided to try the Women’s Poker Association. The challenge with it is that it started to look like a tour. And that was not the objective. And I also believe that the minute you become a tour or another entity that is competing with an operator, there’s a tendency not to have a very open dialogue.
So we had to go back to the drawing board. Just completely wipe that idea out. And having the association become a non-profit was really the way to go. Simply because, now nobody’s after any dollars, the only dollars that are raised are for the good of the association, and for the betterment and improvement of it overall.
So that was game-changing.
Right. So I believe the president’s term at the WPA officially is three years. Can you share with us some highlights from your time at the helm of the WPA? Maybe you’ve got some particular achievements that you’re most proud of?
So in the first two years of my five years with the WPA, was in the Executive Director position, in that role. So I didn’t have a vote on the Board. I had a voice, but I didn’t have a vote. So when Bonnie Carl, who was the president at the time, stepped down, I knew that the transition was critical. So I said, ok, I will accept a position as president. But I’m really wanting this to be bigger than me. So I wanted to do one term, which was three years.
I’d say some of the highlights, in our overall mission, one of our missions was to educate women in poker. And having created a partnership with Poker Power, which is another organization that’s mission is to teach women how to play poker, and to instruct women as to how poker as a game translates into real-life business practices and things we can utilize in our regular daily lives. That was a huge thing for me.
Secondly, I think the Raise It Up program, to introduce that into the industry and to ask the industry to embrace it. We are asking all operators and all players to elevate their experience at the game by respecting their players when they’re playing, and to make it more fun so that we can grow the game. So the Raise It Up program is another thing that I’m extremely proud of.
And I would say the third thing, and these are just the top three things that come to mind. For years and years, the men in the game would say “I like LIPS and I like that women are playing in the game, and how can I help and what can I do?” And that’s when the Purple Tie Guy program came through. Purple being the color of the WPA, and ties being the thing that is iconic for a man, the Purple Tie Guy was born.
Absolutely. You have some real feathers in your cap. And of course, I am a very proud Purple Tie Guy myself. I am happy to always support and be an ally of the WPA.
The Board of Directors in particular, but of course all WPA members, are so thankful for everything you’ve done. The time has come to pass the torch once again, so to speak. Of course, even with passing the torch, there’s so much more work to do. With the poker community perhaps more aware than ever before, very much in part due to the work you’ve done, of the need to bring more women to the game, what sorts of milestones for women in poker would you like to see next?
I would like to see every operator on the planet have a program – wait a minute – let’s have a discussion! What are you doing to bring women into the game? What are you doing in your own house, in your own poker room, or your own business, or whatever it is, to bring women into the game. I would like to see that next thing happen, where there’s a conversation about what they’re going to do, and put a little bit of money into it. Even though they’re not looking at what’s happening, they’re only seeing a number. If you look and you see how many women…Maybe there’s the numbers in the highest levels.. If you ask me. If you’re playing in the World Series of Poker Tournaments, those are the highest levels of our game. Correct?
If you’re playing in Main Events of poker tours, that’s an elevation of the game. If you start looking at the smaller buy-in kind of stuff, or even in cash games in poker rooms, there are women everywhere playing.
And you’ve seen that before. I think if you look at mixed games, there are a lot more women playing in mixed games than you’ve ever seen before.
So I do think that we are making progress, and I think that the conversation needs to be active every year. “What can we do?” “How can we do things?” That would be my parting thing. What can happen next?
That would be a wonderful thing. Speaking of parting words, do you have any special well wishes to Tara Smith? She was the Vice President of the Women’s Poker Association, now she’ll be stepping into your shoes. Anything that you’d like to wish her?
It’s not just Tara. I love Tara. I’ve known Tara for many years. She worked with me in LIPS back in the day. She got recruited away from me. Because she’s a rock star. And we don’t pay anything and she got paid really well. And she’s now working with an amazing company in her professional life. And she still has the passion for women in poker, and she’s such a rock star. Excellent hands. The Association, and the leadership that’s now in place. Our Board of Directors are simply amazing women. And there’s not just the Board of Directors, there are all the advocates out in the field that are representing women in poker and representing our association, they’re doing amazing work.
So I’m really excited about the next generation of women. I believe that it’s going to be wave after wave after wave of success from this point on. I’m just so proud of them, and the work that they’ve done, and the commitment. Because this is an all-volunteer organization. Nobody gets paid here. And as you know, volunteer jobs are schlep jobs sometimes. And even if it’s just stapling papers together sometimes, or licking stamps, or whatever the heck we need. These women are stepping up to the plate. From the smallest of tasks to the greatest of tasks. So I’m just extremely proud of them and I know they’re going to do a great job. And that the current Board that’s in place are rock stars.
Wonderful. While you’re not going to continue leading the WPA from the president’s seat, I have a hunch that you’re still going to be continuing to advocate for women in poker and growing the game in other ways. What are your upcoming plans with LIPS and your other ventures?
LIPS is always going to be my baby. It’s my passion. Right now, this is like the last chapter for me. I feel like 20 years ago, it was to bring women into the game. Then to add more things, I felt like I really started to understand the industry: who’s out there, who’s doing what, and what’s not being done. And now I feel like I want to use this next chapter as a culmination of everything. I’ve been given an opportunity that I’m so excited about. So I have a plan for the next chapter for me, and the next chapter for me is to introduce a new tour. And that new tour is open to everyone. It will have a Ladies event and it will have a Seniors event. So both SPT and LIPs will still be involved. But I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to grow a legacy and a namesake for Mike Sexton.
So, I am going to be launching the Mike Sexton All-American Poker Circuit.
So we’re currently in talks and we’re seeking out 10 launch properties across the States who want to be a part of this. There are very few people in this industry who deserve this kind of recognition, and Mike is definitely one of those people. So now we have Mike’s name being edified, and we’ll have the All-American Poker Tour as, I mean, red white and blue, honey. It is the Eagle’s Nest if you’re a champion. We’re talking draped in that stuff, and Mike is a Veteran. So it was really important to us to have an event in there that honors first responders and veterans. And we will have that in there. And that is also a fundraiser for Poker Gives. So it’s really a culmination of Mike’s legacy and what he’s given to this game, and the good that he’s done and to be able to continue that on. So that’s the next chapter!
Beautiful. So exciting to look forward to that and so exciting for you to have that wonderful thing to look forward to. I’m sure it’s going to be super-successful with you leading the charge there.
Lupe, before we let you go, do you have any parting words for the WPA membership, or perhaps for the greater poker audience of both men and women who will likely see or read this interview?
I think the most important thing is that our mission in the WPA is to really actively eliminate the barriers to growing our game. So if you are an operator, have a conversation about what you’re doing for women in poker. If you’re a poker player, have a conversation with yourself about how you behave at the poker table. And what is ok, and what isn’t ok. And be an advocate for a better game. And be an advocate to be a better player, not just in your skillset, but also in your persona.
You know, just be friendly, be welcoming. Make sure that if you see somebody that’s new at the game, just introduce yourself. Just say Hi. And just remember to not be critical. I just think being welcoming, being friendly, and respecting the rules, and supporting the staff that’s there to serve you. To me that’s highly important. Treat the dealers correctly. And if you have a problem, don’t sit there and berate a dealer. Stand up and go talk to the floor. Take it away from the atmosphere of the game. Let’s elevate the game in all ways.
Such an important message. Not a better note to end off this talk. Lupe, I just want to thank you again for joining me here today. And I also want to chime in with my best wishes to you in all your future endeavors. Specifically with the Mike Sexton All-American Poker Tour. It sounds super-cool. And a huge thank you for everything you’ve done and everything you continue to do to grow the game of poker that we all love so dearly.
This has been Robbie Strazynski, for Cardplayer Lifestyle; thank you all for joining us.