When Alex Dreyfus announced he was holding something called the American Poker Awards I must admit that I didn’t really “get it.” I was skeptical. What was he trying to accomplish? Why wasn’t he hosting it in Las Vegas? Instead the plan was to have the event in Los Angeles at a swank Beverly Hills hotel. Was anyone going to show up? I certainly wasn’t planning to go.


Having spent the last 10 years in the “poker business,” I was skeptical that those of us in this industry would take the time, spend the money, or make the effort to travel to Los Angeles for an awards ceremony. After all it’s no big secret that we don’t really get along that well in the poker business. The magazines certainly don’t like each other. The TV shows don’t seem to trust each other. The poker players owe each other money. The casinos are all in competition with one another. In short it’s an industry that really isn’t an “industry” in the true sense of the word.


Dreyfus is fond of saying that “poker is an old game but a young industry.” He’s right. The immaturity of the poker industry is something that’s bothered me for a long time. I’ve always subscribed to the philosophy that a rising tide raises all boats but didn’t feel many people in our business tended to agree with me.


To illustrate my point about the poker “industry” I’ll tell a quick story. Ten years ago we were just starting an upstart poker show called The Heartland Poker Tour. Our idea was to make TV poker attainable to the vast majority of poker enthusiasts in this country. At the time the only way to play on TV was to make a final table at the World Poker Tour or WSOP. It seemed to me (and my poker playing friend and eventual business partner) that what the poker world needed was a less expensive way for amateur poker players to live out a dream of playing poker on TV. Made sense to us. Problem was we were almost shut down before we ever got started.


I remember very well the day we got a letter from the World Poker Tour. Before we opened it my business partner and I went round and round discussing what it could be. I think both of us were fantasizing that maybe the WPT, the pinnacle of TV poker, the inspiration to both of us, had written to us to seek out a partnership, or maybe even to buy us!!! Woo hoo!


Nope. When we opened the letter it was a Cease and Desist letter. Apparently the World Poker Tour had several patents pending on it’s TV table and their lawyers were saying we were infringing on their patents and we were facing potential legal action! That was a bad day. Here we were this tiny little TV show from Fargo, ND and this public company, this powerful Hollywood TV show, was taking aim at us and sending their high price attorneys after us. We damn near just closed up shop. That was our introduction to the poker business.


At issue was the backlighting on the table. The WPT had a pending patent on the in-table lighting system. Our solution.plexiglass. In a couple days we re-configured the table and shot our next episode without the in-table lighting. Then we called Steve Lipscomb at WPT and explained how we had fixed the table to avoid infringing on the patent that they didn’t actually have! Fortunately he was pretty cool about it and said it was fine, but we needed to “be careful.”


The Heartland Poker Tour managed to survive and several years later became an accepted tour and TV show, but it didn’t come easy and it didn’t happen overnight. The magazines ignored us for years, as did the rest of the poker media (I use that term very loosely). It was frustrating for a long time as the HPT was often the subject of ridicule in the early days.


I’m hoping that Dreyfus succeeds with the American Poker Awards. I ended up making the trip last week to attend the first ever APA for the singular reason that I’m hoping that the poker industry can take some steps toward working together in a better way. This isn’t the software industry, or banking, or automotive, or any other major world wide business. We’re simply too small to be this divided.


It does seem that progress is being made. During the seminar last week it was noted on more than one occasion that the WPT, the EPT and the WSOP have been working more in concert to coordinate their events. That’s a very good thing. We need more dialogue such as this. Our goal should be to grow this industry with more and more players and more and more mainstream advertisers and sponsors.


Adam Pliska, President of the World Poker Tour, won the AMA award for Industry Person of the Year and I think it was very well deserved. Adam is a breath of fresh air for an industry that needs leadership and role models. He’s smart and thoughtful and just plain nice.


As for the American Poker Awards I was blown away by the enormity of it all. My skepticism was pushed aside as more and more notable players and industry leaders streamed through the step and repeat and into the banquet room. Everyone seemed to have a good time and in the words of the immortal Bill Murray “cats and dogs living together” was the rule and not the exception on this night. I guess it took a guy from Europe (Mr. Dreyfus), to get the Americans on board for the American Poker Awards.


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