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10 questions with World Series of Poker TV personality Lon McEachern

27 September 2021

By Gary Trask
Norman Chad and Lon McEachern will be back together in the TV booth at the 2021 World Series of Poker.

Norman Chad and Lon McEachern will be back together in the TV booth at the 2021 World Series of Poker.

Like the rest of the poker world, Lon McEachern is counting the hours until the cards go in the air for the 2021 World Series of Poker, which, after a one-year, pandemic-induced hiatus, returns on Thursday when an 88-event live schedule kicks off from the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

Along with his partner Norman Chad, McEachern has literally and figuratively become the face of the WSOP after calling the action on TV for nearly two decades, although even after all of these years it still doesn’t feel like actual “work” to him.

“I love my job, I really do,” said McEachern, whose first broadcast for the WSOP came via a freelance assignment in 2002 when he did two on-air hours with then-color man Gabe Kaplan. “I missed it desperately last year. I love being part of it. It’s the best job in the world and I can’t wait to get back to Vegas and have the best seat in the house for the greatest poker tournament in the world.”

Casino City caught up with the 64-year-old last week to discuss a wide range of topics concerning his career, his poker game, the WSOP and, of course, the return of his partner in crime on the telecast this year.

10. It was announced in April that CBS Sports signed a multi-year rights agreement with PokerGO as its new WSOP television partner, replacing ESPN. What does this change mean for the broadcasts?

For us, it’s pretty seamless. Norman and I are actually employees of PokerPROductions/PokerGO. I don’t know what went on behind the scenes, but the production team moved over, so we moved with them. We’re working for the same people.

So, I don’t think from a viewer’s standpoint, they’ll notice much of a difference.

9. What about for you personally? Will it be strange not being in front of an ESPN camera after all of these years?

Yes, it will be strange. There’s a lot of people at ESPN that I’ve worked with for a long time and I have a lot of long-time ties to ESPN. Sure, we’ll miss those people and miss being a part of what I felt was the No. 1 sports network in the world forever.

But times change, budgets change, priorities change. Again, I have no inside knowledge on how it all happened, but I think this was a bad time of year for ESPN to have live programming, other than football, basketball and hockey. I’m hearing they didn’t want to do any re-runs and that they wanted to do the live events and those plans didn’t mesh with PokerGO plans and what the World Series wanted it to look like. To their credit, CBS Sports stepped up and we’re happy to be on a big stage like that once again.

8. CBS Sports will feature 15 hours of Main Event coverage and 36 hours of 18 additional Gold Bracelet events with a mix of live coverage and post-production episodes. Do you prefer broadcasting the live version of the events or going back and creating the post-production episodes that have been so popular for so long?

For me, it’s the best of both worlds. From what I understand, we’re going to broadcast every day of Main Event and that will be seen live on PokerGO. Afterwards, we’ll post-produce 16 to 18 shows from the Main Event like the older days when we did the episodic, taped shows that can run whenever. I’m really happy with that. I believe those are the shows that people have to come to expect from us and really enjoy.

It’s really two different styles of broadcasting. I love live TV for the edginess of it and for the in-depth preparation you have to do for it. It’s a different energy. I always equate it to when I used to work the news desk during election night. You have all kinds of different information coming in from different precincts. This is very similar, but it’s chip counts coming in from different tables. It’s a lot of scattered information that we try to present in a cohesive format.

But I think when Norman and I can go back and produce a taped show, we are going back to our strength. Instead of writing a deadline newspaper article, which provides its own style of adrenaline, we’re crafting a novella out of what we have. It’s a different kind of skill set and you get a different kind of pleasure from it. I hope at this point I’m better at both of them.

7. Once you arrive in Las Vegas and the shows start to air, what is a typical day like for you at the Rio?

We love roaming the floor, meeting people, looking for stories, but over the last couple years since we’ve been doing more live TV and we’re calling the action all day long, our time out on the floor is limited, and we miss it. That’s Norman’s bread and butter. He loves getting out there, as do I.

I think the plan for our schedule is to call the first six hours of each day of the Main Event, so hopefully after we’re on the air we’ll be able to wander around and catch up with the people we’re following.

I don’t anticipate a lot of late nights, which is nice because after 20 years you don’t want to be up until 1 or 2 in the morning every night. We have a couple of days off scheduled to help us preserve some energy because we are going to spend a lot of hours on air. But every day I will be checking in, receiving notes, staying in touch with the producers.

And hopefully there will be some morning golf on my schedule while we are out there because Vegas is very, very nice in the fall.

6. In addition to being an avid golfer, you’re also no stranger to the poker table. How did the pandemic affect your playing schedule?

I just recently got back to playing live poker. I used to play a lot at Stones (Gambling Hall in Citrus Heights, California), but they’ve dropped their tourney schedule and I don’t think there’s any plan to bring it back. I’ve made a lot of good friends at Thunder Valley Casino Resort down the road, so I’ve played there some in recent weeks.

I’m vaccinated. I wear a mask when I play, and I feel pretty comfortable. I try not to feel like there are monsters under every bed, although that’s how I tend to play poker. If there’s an ace on the board, I’m folding (Laughs).

So, yes, I go in with some trepidations, but that trepidation will be less so at the WSOP because they have the vaccine mandate and we’ll be required to wear masks in the hallways. I want to try to get back to normal, but I’m still being careful. In the back of my mind, I’m still being extra cautious here and there.



5. Let’s talk more about that vaccine mandate. Back in late August, it was announced that the World Series of Poker would require all players to show proof that they are fully vaccinated for COVID-19. As expected, this caused some controversy and divide amongst players. What are your thoughts about the mandate?

I’m totally pro vaccine. I talked with Jack Effel (VP of the WSOP) recently and they’re simply following CDC guidelines and Nevada state guidelines. I don’t think they are making up anything on their own. The only thing they’ve tweaked, since it’s a large gathering of people, is requiring masks to be worn in the hallways. Even though at the tables the players can be mask-less and they’re required to show proof of vaccination, anybody can be in the hallways, so they’ll have to wear masks. Other than that, they are just following the guidelines, as they have to.

They will be nimble if things change on the fly. Things may change, especially if, as expected, the international travel ban changes in early November. The WSOP is ready to turn on a dime if things change for the better or to make things right if something goes wrong. But I think we’re all hoping that this World Series will look as normal as possible.

4. The biggest event of the WSOP is, of course, the $10,000 Main Event that begins on November 4, with a champion scheduled to be crowned on November 14. What’s your prediction for the total number of players in the Main Event field?

The Main Event is a true wild card with the international travel ban possibly being lifted right around the time when it starts.

Normally, there is about 70% domestic players and 30% international players in the field. I think they are expecting the international field to be down, but the domestic field should be up, based on the numbers we are seeing around the country.

If you’ve seen the live poker numbers recently from Cherokee or Florida or California, the numbers are off the charts. People are aching for live poker and I would expect that to continue for the World Series.

A lot more people are working from home now so that should help people get away. The weekend events should be crazy. I’ve heard the Rio is 95% or more sold out right now. The number of people that have applied for the CLEAR app to prove vaccination is already over 5,000, which is a good number at this point.

All the numbers point toward a very robust domestic field of players. I think we all initially thought the number of international players would suffer, but maybe that won’t be the case after all.

3. There has been a lot of discussion within the poker world that the increased number of WSOP events and the decreased buy-ins, as low as $400 for live events, tends to “cheapen” the accomplishment of winning a bracelet. Do you agree with that train of thought?

I really don’t think it’s anyone’s business from the outside who hasn’t won a bracelet to say that it cheapens the event one way or another. Because if you’ve ever won a poker tournament, you know it wasn’t easy, no matter how many people were in the field and what the cost was. Once you’re in the tournament and start playing, the buy-in is irrelevant until you get paid.

Now, it does makes it a bigger club of bracelet owners, but I can’t say whether it cheapens it or not. That’s up to the people who have won bracelets. But from the outside looking in, it’s more opportunity for us folks who would love to win one.

It doesn’t matter where or when you win a poker tournament. It’s not an easy thing to do. You have a lot of things you have to overcome. You could win your Elks Club tournament on a Wednesday night or the Main Event and your smile is probably going to be just as big.

2. The WSOP also began adding online bracelet events in 2015. This year, 10 gold bracelets were added to this year’s schedule that will be played on the Nevada and New Jersey poker network and one for players on WSOP.com Pennsylvania. What’s your stance on the online bracelet events?

It really just reflects the change in values, attitudes and economics of poker, which has grown and grown. The online scene has really taken off, even more so in the last couple of years. To have the WSOP still happen last year online, even during a pandemic, is, perhaps, a glimpse into the future.

I was talking with Norman the other day about it and we were like, why not? It can happen, the technology is available where you can have a live event happen all over the world at same time, but you don’t have to be in the same room at the same time.


1. Speaking of Norman, he missed last year’s limited broadcasts because he came down with COVID-19, but will be back this year. In addition, he is offering a piece of his action in the $25,000 WSOP HORSE Tournament, which begins Thursday.

For the buy-in, Norman is seeking $150 from 250 people for what he is calling the “Donkey Caravan” with $50 from every donation going to the Hope for Depression Research Foundation, which funds scientific research into the origins, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of depression and its related mood disorders.

Can you tell us a little more about the Donkey Caravan and the reasons behind Norman’s motivation for it?


I love that Norman is doing this. I’ve been working with him over the last month or so on some different projects and the thing that I’m most happy to see if that he’s coming out of his funk. He’s had long-haul COVID for a while now and he still gets worn down easily. It takes him more time to recover, but he’s getting stronger every day and he’s really starting to come out of it.

He’s talked a lot about depression over the years. He suffers from it, and has for several years. So this gives him an opportunity to help people and make a tangible difference for something he is very passionate about. I think this is a dream come true for him because he loves mixed games and now he’s getting a chance to play a 25k WSOP event against all of the players he’s been making fun of on TV for all of these years.

If he manages to survive, which we all know is probably unlikely, but if he can make a deep run or miraculously make it to the final table, I know I’ll be jumping on a plane to Vegas to be on the rail to cheer him on.
10 questions with World Series of Poker TV personality Lon McEachern is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
 

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Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT