World Series of Poker announces 2020 dates at the Rio, but future home to be determined

World Series of Poker announces 2020 dates at the Rio, but future home to be determined

  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
December 12, 2019 11:52 AM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
  • Other

The World Series of Poker on Wednesday announced the 2020 dates for its 51st annual poker extravaganza, which awarded a record $293.2 million in prize money during its 2019 run. The tournament, which will be held at the Rio in Las Vegas, begins on May 26 and concludes 51 days later, when the annual world poker champion is crowned July 15.

Where the World Series of Poker will be held in 2021, on the other hand, is an open question, one that may not find an answer until the final hand is dealt next summer.

Caesars Entertainment, which owns the World Series of Poker, is in the process of being sold to Eldorado Resorts in a $17.3 billion merger. In June, when the transaction was announced, Eldorado CEO Tom Reeg twice referred to the World Series of Poker “an iconic brand” on a conference call with analysts.

Final Table of the 2019 World Series of Poker’s Main Event/Courtesy WSOP

Speculation at the time was that the Reno-based company was comfortable owning the annual Las Vegas poker tournament, whose roots extend back to the former Binion’s Horseshoe casino at 128 E. Fremont Street downtown.

Meanwhile, Caesars closed the $516.3 million sale and leaseback of the Rio – home to the World Series of Poker since 2004 – to New York-based Dreamscape Companies last week. Caesars will continue to operate the Rio for at least the next two years, even after the merger with Eldorado.

Seth Palansky, vice president of communications for Caesars Interactive, which oversees the WSOP brand, said the Rio will continue to be the home of tournament. The event utilizes 500 poker tables and covers 200,000 square feet of ballroom space inside the Rio’s convention center, taking over the entire facility for seven weeks.

“The Rio is our home for now and continues to be a very good situation for us,” Palansky said. “With new ownership now in place at the Rio and the expected change in ownership with Eldorado, we will have to understand the goals and vision of these stakeholders and its impact on the venue for future WSOPs.”

The World Series of Poker is credited with boosting the off-Strip Rio’s visitation numbers and both its gaming and non-gaming revenue streams from May through July.

WSOP Plans

Last year’s tournament – the golden anniversary of the event – drew a record 187,298 entries from 118 countries. The WSOP gold bracelet events had an average prize pool of $3.3 million. Last year’s $10,000-buy-in no-limit hold’em Main Event drew 8,569 players – the second largest field of all time – and a prize pool of $80.5 million. Germany’s Hossein Ensan, the winner, took home $10 million.

Tournament officials are still determining the overall line-up for the 2020 World Series of Poker, but said the first event, a $500 buy-in that drew more than 28,000 players last year, will start on May 27. The Main Event will begin on July 1, and the $1,000 buy-in Seniors no-limit Hold’em Championship, which drew almost 6,000 players a year ago, will start on June 18.

“We can’t wait to open our doors for the 2020 World Series of Poker,” said World Series of Poker Executive Director Ty Stewart.  “Summer can’t come fast enough, and we look forward to welcoming poker players from all over the globe back to the Rio.”

Palansky admitted it will be a challenge to top last year’s attendance, which grew 51% through the efforts that went along with celebrating the World Series of Poker’s 50th year.

“Even in our wildest projections, we weren’t close to expecting that huge a turnout,” Palansky said. “So if we get similar or even fewer overall this year, that is okay.”

Rio is maxed out

Meanwhile, the World Series of Poker has maxed out its footprint at the Rio. The tournament will be held over the same time frame as in previous years and officials are looking at ways to “better accommodate” the large influx of guests, which includes both players and poker fans who come to watch the action. The Rio’s casino poker room is moved to the convention center during the tournament for satellite events.

“The World Series of Poker is unique. It is operated as the tournament series for the players,” Palansky said. “We still offer all the games. We offer the widest price points. We try to have something for everyone and (to) spread variants of poker that others haven’t spread in a decade or two. That is important to us. That is the fabric of the WSOP.”

The sheer size of the WSOP tournament, however, will make it a challenge to find it a new home, should it be forced to leave the Rio at some point.

Caesars is constructing the $375 million Caesars Forum, a 550,000-square-foot conference center expected to open in 2020, behind the company’s Linq Promenade on the Strip, a shopping, dining and entertainment district that includes the 550-foot High Roller, currently the world’s largest observation wheel. The facility is adjacent to the Caesars-owned Linq Hotel and Flamingo Las Vegas.

Many of the World Series of Poker’s circuit events in the U.S. are held at non-Caesars properties, as is the World Series of Poker Europe, so the tournament could conceivably be moved to a non-Caesars-owned Las Vegas resort.

“Anywhere that can accommodate our needs can be a good location and host,” Palansky said. “With so much new convention space coming online in this city in the coming years, we aren’t too worried about finding a new home, if we even need to consider that at all.”

Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.