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Amazon Room loses its charm at World Series of Poker

6 July 2014

LAS VEGAS -- This is the 10th year the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino has hosted the World Series of Poker. For the bulk of those years, the Amazon Room was the living, beating heart of the WSOP.

You could hear the chips clacking before you walked into the room. Friends, family and poker fans crowded the rail, standing just inches away from famous players and loved ones alike. And there were tables everywhere. The WSOP felt big in the Amazon Room.

Players joked and laughed. They were playing in the Amazon Room! Heartbreak and bad beats reverberated through the room, as did shouts of triumph. For players who started their tournament in the outer rooms of the WSOP, reaching the Amazon Room was a major tournament milestone. You hadn't really played in a WSOP tournament until you reached the Amazon Room. The Amazon Room was special. And everyone knew it. At least, everyone knew it until this year.

The Amazon Room isn't special anymore. The Amazon Room has become poker's biggest sound stage, enabling the production of a high-quality, immensely profitable televised event for ESPN.

Large swathes of tables in the Amazon Room have been replaced by areas with significantly fewer tables, significantly more room for TV cameras and operators to move around and significantly more distance between the audience and the players. In addition to the main TV stage, there are now four TV-friendly tables in the middle of the Amazon Room and another six in one corner. The room's unique charm has given way to the needs of the television audience. The beauty and joy of more than a thousand people playing poker at once have yielded to the modern needs of broadcasting, live streaming and reaching a global audience. The WSOP -- and the Amazon Room by extension -- have embraced progress and modernity. And that's OK. The world changes, and the WSOP needs to change with it. But it's important to mourn what has been lost -- because much has been lost.

One of the special TV-table areas in the Amazon Room.

One of the special TV-table areas in the Amazon Room. (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

Weighing in at 39,060 square feet, the Amazon Room isn't the biggest room the Rio has to offer. That honor belongs to the mammoth Pavilion, which boasts 54,910 square feet of space. But the Amazon Room had been the perfect space for the WSOP. It was large enough that there were poker tables as far as the eye could see. But intimate enough that the banners of past WSOP champions hanging from the rafters were in reach, much like the Main Event title players were seeking. When the Amazon Room was stuffed to its gills -- which it had been for most of its 10-year run -- it held nearly 130 tables. It was a thing of beauty.

There wasn't a lot of room to navigate between tables. Just enough space for the massage therapists to do their work and photographers to take a few pictures. And a producer and cameraman to race around the room shooting video. But that was it. And as a result, the WSOP Main Event felt like a poker tournament that happened to be televised -- and not an event built for television.

Fans on the rail had easy access to about 34 tables, not including the featured TV tables. So they could watch some of their favorite players from up close. When you're standing on the rail, you can reach out and touch the players closest to you. You're right on top of the action. You can see the cards, hear the players talk and live every moment as if you were at the table. And there were always a few prominent players in those outer tables. Fans were excited that they were "this close" to their favorite players.

In its current configuration, the Amazon Room holds 95 tables. Fans have access to 17 tables on the rail. But nobody of significance sits at those tables now. If you're a "notable" player, you sit at a table that's set apart from the rail so the TV cameras have room to operate. Or you sit at tables where the audience needs to sit in the bleachers or grandstands to watch you. The "friendly confines," to borrow a phrase from baseball, are gone. So is the buzz. The only time the rail goes two deep now is during the money bubble or when friends and family fly in as the field closes in on the final table. It wasn't always like that.

You will have to grab a seat to watch the players in this section of the Amazon Room.

You will have to grab a seat to watch the players in this section of the Amazon Room. (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

Joe Hachem, the first Main Event champion to play in the Amazon Room (though he won his title in Binion's because the final table was played there), kicked off the Main Event today by asking the dealers to "Shuffle up and deal!" His Main Event run was made famous by the chants of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi Oi Oi" by his supporters. In 2005, those chants came off as boisterous, authentic, organic shouts of support from his rail. In 2014, those chants would seem like they were manufactured for television.

The production values and quality for the WSOP Main Event are the best they've ever been. And the WSOP added capacity a few years ago by taking over the Pavilion and the Brasilia Room (20,022 square feet). Those are all good things.

The Pavilion is now the room with poker tables as far as the eye can see. But it lacks the history of the Amazon Room. And with cash games, satellites and deep stack tournaments running there in addition to WSOP events, it lacks that special feeling. Maybe in time, the Pavilion will feel as special as the Amazon used to. I hope so. Every game or sport needs its iconic locations -- places people immediately identify with the game. Baseball has Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium. The NBA has Madison Square Garden. College basketball has Cameron Indoor Stadium. The NFL has Jerry-world.

These places are important for fans and players alike. There's something special about playing in or attending a game in those places. The WSOP used to have a place like that. It was the Amazon Room. They need to find (or create) another special place like that again soon. Poker needs it. The Main Event deserves it. And if they don't do it, someone else will.
Amazon Room loses its charm at World Series of Poker is republished from CasinoVendors.com.
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Best of Vin Narayanan
Vin Narayanan

Vin Narayanan is the managing editor at Casino City. When he's not writing or editing stories, he likes to play Chinese Poker, Badugi, Razz and any other "non-traditional" poker game. He also thinks blackjack is his best game and loves game theory.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for USATODAY.com, USA WEEKEND and CNN.

A proud graduate of Michigan State University, Vin can be found on most nights and weekends trying to find a way to watch the Spartans play football or basketball.

Vin Narayanan
Vin Narayanan is the managing editor at Casino City. When he's not writing or editing stories, he likes to play Chinese Poker, Badugi, Razz and any other "non-traditional" poker game. He also thinks blackjack is his best game and loves game theory.

Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for USATODAY.com, USA WEEKEND and CNN.

A proud graduate of Michigan State University, Vin can be found on most nights and weekends trying to find a way to watch the Spartans play football or basketball.