Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Are you there, Caesars? It's me, Dan.

I've written several articles about Caesars' handling of the World Series of Poker, some critical ("Six ways Caesars screwed up the WSOP") and some not ("How Caesars saved the WSOP"). I see myself as uniquely qualified to critique Caesars' performance for several reasons: (1) I'm a longtime poker player, (2) I've been playing in the WSOP for 14 years, having played in 44 events, (3) I'm a marketing guy and (4) I have a lot of operations experience, some in casinos. So with that having been said:

Dear Caesars,

It's me, Dan. I know you've heard me complain before, but since we have a long-term relationship, I hope you hear what I'm about to say in its intended spirit, which is entirely constructive.

First, let me compliment you on a few things. You pulled off an impressive coup two weeks ago, running the largest tournament in the history of poker tournaments with surprisingly few logistical problems. You've improved the bathroom situation to an extent. And I can't say enough good things about your adoption of the "no flop, no drop" rule in cash games.

But before your head gets too big, I need to tell you that you have a very, very long way to go before your handling of the World Series of Poker moves up into the acceptable range. I know that gaming restrictions prevent you from changing much this year, but I hope you'll listen not just to me, but to the thousands of players who have rightly skewered you on social media. We're not just whiners. You've got work to do. 

Let me start by telling you that I know poker players are easy to ignore as a group. We whine about everything. Regardless of how good a job you do, we're always going to believe that you're just in this to fuck us. It's not a great starting position for a relationship. But we're the pretty girl and you want us at the prom, so get ready to know what it's going to take.

1. You came into this relationship at a disadvantage. Not only are we whiners, but we're predisposed to believe that you don't know poker, you don't give a rat's ass about what players think and you make decisions in a vacuum. I don't necessarily believe all of those things, but you need to know that this is the filter through which I'm going to judge you, as are my fellow fickle poker players. It's going to amplify the things you do wrong, and minimize the things you do well (unless they're amazing).

2. You have a lot of tangent points with your players, key of which are registration, cashouts, food venues and bathrooms. If you can create good experiences in each of these areas, you'll have leaped a giant hurdle in creating good feelings among your players. Unfortunately, even though you've now been at this for twelve years, I'd give you no higher than 5 on a 1-10 scale in any of these areas.

3. The first contact you usually have with players is registration, whether online or in person. Online registration is conceptually a very smart idea, but you've implemented it so poorly that it is just not worth the effort. It saves players no time, and in some cases causes them to wait even longer than players who just walk in cold. This is not terribly hard to fix - all you need to do is (a) come up with a means by which players can pay online (like PayPal), and (b) allow players to print their own tickets. Given the volume you do in a very short period, I suspect PayPal would be happy to work with you on rates. And your players may even be willing to pay some or all of that. I'd happily pay an additional 1% not to have to stand in line for an hour or more.

4. Cashouts have been a disaster this year, which is surprising, because in the past they've just been poor. I never expected that it could get worse. Now, I cut you a little slack because you ran the Colossus and had more people cashing out than you have registered for many events. But that excuse is only good for two days. I made my fifth trip today and was finally able to cash out, and even though there were only two people ahead of me, it took close to an hour.

One of your supervisors told me a few weeks ago that your typical cashout takes 12 minutes. That's unacceptably long, and having cashed out today, I can see where at least some of the problems are. One very obvious one: there's no reason why you need to scan every player's ID every time they cash out. It doesn't help a lot, but if it cuts a minute out of the process, that's an 8.5% improvement.

Related problem: you have, for some inexplicable reason, instructed your cashout clerks that every player cashing out must have their player's card. This makes absolutely no sense. I needed my player's card to register, so you know I have one. You know who I am, because you have (needlessly) scanned my ID dozens of times. If I have my card number, that should be more than sufficient. There's no legal, gaming or practical reason for this; in fact, when I asked a supervisor why this was a requirement, she very honestly replied, "I have absolutely no idea."

It would also help if you suggest that your cashout people not act like jackboot soldiers. When I finally sat down today to cash out from the Colossus, and told the clerk that I had my number but not my card, he said (this is an exact quote that I transcribed while I sat there), "I don't need the number, I need YOUR CARD, SIR. Go get a player's card and get back in line."

5. There's been a lot of discussion over the past year about I know it's been somewhat less than the stellar performer you expected it to be when you launched. I can't speak to the rest of the year, but I can tell you that you've completely, and I mean completely, missed the boat in properly tying to the live WSOP. Three examples:

(a) You have thousands of players in Las Vegas for the WSOP. Many of them, like me, will play cash games and satellites at the Rio, but we would also play in satellites online - if you'd schedule them. It's crystal clear looking at the satellite schedule that the people who created it aren't talking to you guys. Let's use today as an example. It's Wednesday, and on Friday you have one of your biggest events, the Mega Stack. There are exactly ZERO satellites for the Mega Stack (OK, there was one at 4p. 4p, really?). Tomorrow, the day before the event, there are two. You should be running dozens. You don't have to guarantee them all, which I assume is the reason there are so few.

(b) In addition to the satellites I mentioned, you have started running satellites that award two $500 lammers. That's a great idea. Why not extend that great idea and run satellites that award ONE lammer? You could run more of them, even with a one-lammer guarantee, and they'd fill up.

(c) In a classic case of the left hand not having any idea what the right hand is doing - I won an online satellite two weeks ago for an event the following day, and didn't receive anything (no email confirmation, no call, nothing) about how to claim it. So I emailed support at about 1a, and immediately received an auto-responder saying you'd get back to me within 24 hours. I got no response, so I called the support line at 9a. The first response from the woman who answered (who had to consult someone else) was, "Follow the instructions in the email we sent." Well, OK, but you didn't send one. "Oh, OK, hold on." A few minutes later, she returned and said (seriously), "We'll have someone get back to you within 24 hours." When I explained that the tournament was in 3 hours, she asked me to hold again. When she returned, she said, "Just go over to the WSOP and go up to the second floor." I explained to her that there was no second floor. Her response: "I don't know what to tell you. That's what they told me."

When I went to the Rio, there was absolutely no one who had any idea how to process my win. I got lucky and ran into Johnny, a guy who was very helpful last year, and he was a superstar. He stayed with me until they got my ticket, which took close to an hour.

I sympathize with the difficulty in running a huge poker event - I've run a few, including the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. There are thousands of little details, any one of which can trip you up. But we're not talking about those details here - we're talking the big things, the ones you guys should have spent 10.5 months out of every year since 2004 getting right. Yes, you've improved some things. But you've also made some worse. And until you get the big things right, your customers (because that's what we are - we're players, but we're your customers) are going to continue to hold your feet to the fire.

In closing, I'd like to remind you of something that you will probably laugh at. The WSOP is the gorilla that makes 900 pound gorillas look like capuchine monkeys. But so was Ashton-Tate, who in 1986 was in a virtual tie with Microsoft for the world's largest software company. Or here's one you've heard of: America Online. Or Paradise Poker, who owned the online poker market with more than 80% market share in 2002, and was effectively gone in 2004. 

You know what killed those companies? Arrogance. It can happen to you, too.

We've had a good run at this relationship. I hope it survives, because I do still love you. But you better get some counseling.


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