Rumors of the impending sale of the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino have been swirling for years around Las Vegas and social media. In 2018, Sin City blog VitalVegas claimed the World Series of Poker would be relocated to the Caesars Forum, a $375 million convention center set to open up behind the LINQ, Harrah’s and The Flamingo in 2020.
The blog recently doubled down on their claim that the Rio was soon to be sold, tweeting that the “sale of Circus Circus should not distract from the fact Rio deal is finally being consummated!”
WSOP Vice President of Corporate Communication Seth Palansky responded to quickly assure poker players that the summer series would be returning to the Rio:
Can 100% confirm @WSOP will take place at the Rio in Las Vegas in 2020
— Seth Palansky (@SethPalansky) September 14, 2019
Card Player interviewed Palansky, a 12-year veteran of the WSOP, to learn more about the rumors surrounding the home of poker’s largest and most prestigious tournament series moving forward.
Erik Fast: Can you elaborate on why you were able to say with such certainty that the WSOP will remain at the Rio in 2020?
Seth Palansky: Well I mean, that’s been our home for a long time. I don’t understand why anyone questions that. There have been rumors on the Rio for, I don’t know… I’ve been here 12 years and there have always been rumors that the Rio is being sold. It doesn’t matter. The Rio is our home and that’s where we’ll be. We’re not looking to hold it elsewhere.
And people have to understand in the convention business, you have to block out. We need 62 days blocked out to be able to hold the event. It’s not easy to get 200,000 square feet of convention space. You need years in advance to do that. If you were to recall the early days at the Rio when we started there, we were working around other conventions going on at the same time. The World Series of Poker footprint was much smaller.
So it’s a big Jenga puzzle, all that stuff. These things are figured out years in advance, so there was never any doubt to us that the WSOP would be at the Rio this year. Just trying to keep the rumor mill from going nuts.
EF: Reading between the lines, is there essentially already a contract? I mean to say, has the WSOP already reserved that convention space?
SP: Oh yeah. The convention space is booked years out. In fact, people should feel confident that the 2021 WSOP will be at the Rio as well. These things are booked and resolved years in advance.
EF: So even if the Rio were to be sold, you are saying that it wouldn’t necessarily affect where their WSOP was held over the next couple of years?
SP: Yes. I mean, the only thing I’d say to that is, yes, that’s how we approach it. Yet, if there was a new owner in place, owners can decide whether they’re going to honor contracts or not. Right? They can decide to allow something to happen or not and can decide to be embroiled in litigation or not. We have agreements with the people operating the Rio, and therefore we feel confident.
EF: Why do you think it is that so many people are so certain about this move being on the horizon, and yet nothing has happened so far? Do you have any kind of insight on that?
SP: No, I don’t know. I mean, it’s fair. There are sales of properties regularly in our industry. There are ownership changes at companies. I think the thing that’s picked up the rumors in the last several years has to do with Caesars building the Forum Convention Center, the new convention center that’s going to go behind Bally’s and The LINQ.
So maybe it’s just, ‘Oh, here’s a brand new place that’s a perfect home for the WSOP.’ But the reality is, we’re not the most lucrative business, by any stretch, to be tied up in a convention center space for 60 days. When you look at the economics of the business, having three, four days conventions in and out all the time, is a better model for the operators of these venues. So the forum was never a realistic choice for us.
And to be quite frank, we love the Rio. It’s off-Strip. It has easy parking with easy in and out access, and it’s away from the congestion. We’ve been operating there for a long time, and have a good team in place. It’s not easy to set up and put on an event of this magnitude. People sort of overlook the logistical challenges and the infrastructure of things, like the trussing and all those things that are in place; the wiring for surveillance cameras. All this stuff and all the retrofitting that’s been done in the Rio convention center to accommodate our event, it should not be discounted in terms of how meaningful that is to us in regards to the setup time, and all those sorts of things.
EF: There must be a lot of institutional knowledge and know-how that’s been built up by having the WSOP take place there for over a decade. Also, the Rio is now strongly associated with the WSOP brand.
SP: Yes. So I mean, even if the property were to change hands, you think a new owner wouldn’t want to have the WSOP there, based on what it’s brought into the property for all these years? It’s a known quantity in a slow time period for convention business and the city in general.
So, I just want our customer base to be confident as they make their plans to participate in the WSOP in 2020, and know that we’ll be at the same home we’ve always been.