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WSOP prepares to say farewell to the Rio in Las Vegas

6 November 2021

For a poker fanatic, there’s nothing like the first time you walk into the Amazon Room at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas for a World Series of Poker event.

The massive ballroom, which has hosted some of the most enthralling moments in poker history since the Rio first started hosting the WSOP back in 2005, can be a staggering scene with the bright lights of the featured table on one side and hundreds of tables lined up across the way. The chirping noise of players clacking their chips is constant. Random “All in!” calls from dealers regularly cause commotion. Banners of Main Event champions hang from the rafters, reminding every player why they are here each year, chasing poker immortality.

“It really has become one of the more iconic settings in poker,” says Norman Chad, the popular TV color man who has called the WSOP action since 2005. “For poker fans who have never been here before, I always tell them it’s like a baseball fan walking into Yankee Stadium for the first time. It can stop you in your tracks.”

But despite a memorable 17-year run, the Rio is closing in on its final days as the home of the World Series of Poker. Executive Director of the WSOP, Ty Stewart, confirmed with Casino City on Friday that an announcement is coming “very soon” about a new home for the WSOP, beginning next year.

Most reports have the world’s most prestigious tournament moving from the Rio one mile east to the Las Vegas Strip where another Caesars Entertainment property like Bally's - Las Vegas or Caesars Palace will become the new host.

While most in the poker community we spoke to indicated they are more than ready to move on from the Rio, many also said it will be bittersweet.

“The Rio has become a home. It will be hard to imagine not being here,” Stewart said. “We changed the whole vision of the World Series of Poker here. We took it from something that was an event just about the pros to something that was for everybody. We increased the footprint from 20,000 square feet to 200,000 square feet. There have been so many high-water moments for the event and the brand here at the Rio, so, yes, I do get nostalgic. I really can’t believe we are moving on.”

The WSOP got its start back in 1970 at Binion's Horseshoe, known today as Binion's Gambling Hall, in Downtown Las Vegas when Johnny Moss beat a field of seven players. The event remained downtown until 2005 when it moved to the Rio, a year after Harrah's Entertainment (now Caesars Entertainment) bought Binion's Horseshoe and the rights to the World Series of Poker brand.

“I remember I missed Binion’s a lot and we were only there two years,” Chad said. “So it took a while for the Rio to grow on you. And also grow against you.”

Yes, the Rio most certainly does have its share of warts, shall we say. Many players don’t like the food and beverage options. The bathroom situation can cause a lot of heartburn during breaks in the action and there have been many complaints that the guest rooms are outdated.

“I’m ready to move on, for sure,” said Jay Farber, who finished second to Ryan Riess in the WSOP Main Event in 2013 and scooped $5.17 million in the process. “Put us on the Strip at a nice place with a nice hotel and decent amenities. Other than the fact that I played a poker tournament at a table that happened to be inside the Rio, I have zero sentimental feelings for this place.”

Nevertheless, you can’t argue the fact that some of the game’s most indelible moments took place inside the walls of the Rio. The first Main Event champion to be crowned inside the Rio was the unforgettable Jamie Gold, who stunned the poker world by outlasting 8,773 entrants in 2016, which, to this day, remains the largest field in Main Event history.

In 2008, much to the dismay of many in the poker community, the November Nine Era began, introducing a three-month “pause” in between when the Main Event’s final nine players were decided and when the champion was crowned. During the November Nine, the final table was moved down the hall to the 1,500-seat Penn & Teller Theater and, for those who were there, the electricity generated inside that theater will never be forgotten.

“It was electric,” remembers Chad. “We had to do our standups for TV at the beginning and the place was packed. We couldn’t even hear ourselves. There were so many people in there, wearing different t-shirts for their guy, and chanting. That was a great moment for poker.”

Dennis Phillips, was one of the members of the inaugural November Nine in 2008 when he finished third. Peter Eastgate prevailed that year and become the youngest Main Event champ in WSOP history at 21 years old and, like Chad, Phillips cherishes the memory of that final table.

“The energy it created was incredible,” said Phillips, the man who became famous that year for wearing his trademark red St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap at the table. “To have that much noise and that many people crammed inside a theater for a poker tournament...it was something else.”

And you can count Phillips in the camp of those who, while ready to move on, will remember the years of the WSOP Era inside the Rio fondly.

“It will always hold a special place in my heart,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of hours here and I really know my way around the place. I remember my first year, Mike Matusow took me through some of the back hallways so we could avoid all the crowds and we went through places I never knew existed. It’s definitely going to be different not having it here. It will be missed, but I think it’s best that we move on to the Strip.”

Added Chad: “The Rio has held up pretty good, all things considered. Poker players tend to complain a lot so you know next year, wherever we are, there are going to be people complaining about this and that. But, overall, I really like the idea of having the World Series of Poker right in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip. If it can’t be at an iconic place like Binion’s, there’s probably no better place. But, yes, it’s bittersweet to leave the Rio.”
WSOP prepares to say farewell to the Rio in Las Vegas is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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