Before the August tournament, only three other ones had generated that level of money during the year. These were the Guangdong Ltd Asia Millions Main Event with a $15.3 million prize pool, the 2013 World Series of Poker Main Event with a $59.7 million prize pool, and the One Drop High Roller event with a $17.8 million pool.
What made the Seminole Hard Rock Poker Open different from the rest of these tournaments, however, was the fact that a property was actually guaranteeing an eight-figure prize pool. To many industry insiders, this seemed like a crazy idea. However, the buzz quickly built up over the months that followed the April announcement, with Seminole even putting in extra effort to advertise the event in places such as Las Vegas, where the casino purchased billboards during the World Series of Poker. By the time the date of the event had finally come, nobody doubted that the casino would make good on their guarantee. In fact, with the sheer number of players attracted to the large prize pool, Seminole was easily able to generate enough funds for the payout guarantee.
“A million just isn't enough anymore,” Jon Aguiar, a World Series of Poker bracelet holder, said during his Day One flight. “Throw out a 10 million-dollar guarantee, you have to go. Everyone has to go.”
Just as Aguiar predicted, everyone came. 2,384 people happily paid the $5300 buy-in, which created a prize pool of $11.92 million, twenty percent higher than the $10 million guaranteed. Blair Hinkle, who eventually placed first in the tournament, walked away with a prize of $1.7 million. Every player who made it to the six-seat final table was rewarded with no less than $378,000.
While many industry insiders were shocked by the success of the Seminole tournament, the casino's own Head of Poker, Bill Mason, fully expected that it would attract the biggest players and easily generate the required funds for the prize pool being offered.
“With the Hard Rock, you’re looking at a venue that's complete,” Mason said. “We've got activities, we’re in South Florida so the lifestyle is unlike anywhere else — it's fast paced, and people want to come to Florida.”
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One of the biggest factors contributing to the tournament's success was its timing. By August, there had been enough time between the tournament and the WSOP events to give players a much needed rest. It was also planned to start right before the EPT season, so by the time August rolled around, the biggest players in the industry were hungry for cash. It was a great opportunity that Seminole used to attract a record number of players to the tournament and generate the substantial prize pool.
When asked if this tournament was a one-time event or did the Seminole Hard Rock Casino plan to run a similar one in the near future, Bill Mason answered, "I definitely believe that there's going to be more opportunities like this to come. We've made a bigger commitment, and once this is over we’re going to take a look and see what we can do even bigger and better."
By the look of things, the casino executives were very happy with the tournament results. In fact, in October of this year, they announced that another $10 million guarantee poker tournament was scheduled for April 2014. This event will be an official stop of the World Poker Tour and will be broadcast on television. Matt Savage, who is the Executive Tour Director for WPT, suggested that the event will follow the same re-entry format as the August tournament with the WPT one-hour blinds structure until day three. Mixed-game side events may also be added, but this hasn't been officially announced as of yet.
Unlike the previous $10 million tournament, the schedule for the April event will be less friendly to players. By timing it in early April, the event will be competing directly with the EPT Sanremo tournament (April 14th-20th) and the Monte Carlo Casino European Poker Tour Grand Finale (April 23rd-March 3rd). Players within the United States may also opt to focus instead on the WPT World Championship in Atlantic City, NJ (April 22nd-26th). The April 2014 schedule is so hectic, with so many tournaments planned to begin during the month, that the WSOP chose to push one event all the way back to October 1st.
Many experts worry about the sustainability of guaranteeing such huge prize pools, especially in months during which other major poker events are also planned. The first event worked out well due to the combination of timing, successful marketing, and location. The second event, however, can no longer rely on the novelty aspect that the first event took advantage of, and the scheduling is sure to keep many players away.
The August tournament was the first $10 million guarantee, and it attracted the biggest players in the industry. Simply put, it was an event which couldn't be missed. In order to continue that same success with the April tournament, the Seminole Hard Rock will have to create additional buzz to not only attract players across North America but from Europe and beyond as well. We'll all have to wait and see if the casino's gamble will still pay off this year, despite the changes in scheduling.