Choctaw Casino and Resort is a breed of property unlike any other frequented by major tours in the United States. Set 90 minutes north of Dallas, just over the Oklahoma/Texas border, the casino draws some of the largest fields on both the World Series of Poker Circuit and World Poker Tour on a regular basis.
The fourth edition of the WPT Main Tour arrived in Choctaw on Friday to kick off an event expected to draw 1,000 entries. In the first three volumes, the prize pool hit $3 million each time. The largest turnout was in Season XIV when 1,175 entrants created a prize pool of $3.989 million.
There is no special secret to what makes Choctaw so popular, says tournament staff member Bill Bruce. The combination of amenities and action make it a must-stop for locals and professionals.
When players enter the Grand Theater, they are welcomed by one of the greatest spectacles in poker. Banners from all major Choctaw Main Events since 2011 hang from the rafters with close to 100 tables lining the floor. The experience of playing in Choctaw is one-of-a-kind thanks to the amenities of the property and top-notch tournament staff.
“Choctaw is a great venue with lots of things for the players to do when not playing poker or gambling,” Bruce said. “There is a new modern movie theatre on property, bowling, laser tag, a terrific pool layout, large workout center and a wide variety of restaurants.”
Bruce heads the group of traveling tournament staff with long-time World Series of Poker tournament supervisors Troy Iverson and Brian Freitas by his side.
The first-impression lays the foundation for a powerful tournament experience, according to Bruce.
“Additionally, Durant, Oklahoma is centrally located to draw poker players from all over the U.S. to compete with local players and players from nearby Dallas,” Bruce said. “So traveling pros get to play in tournaments with a healthy mix of local players and locals get to experience the atmosphere of big-time poker close to home.”
The local players in the Oklahoma/Texas corridor make up a monster share of what keeps the poker economy solvent at Choctaw. Over 100 players qualified via satellite for the $3,700 WPT Main Event. Satellites operate around the clock in the Grand Theater alongside the over 40 events that compiled the prelim schedule. None of the events on the schedule topped the $500 buy-in mark but drew massive fields.
Eric Rivkin took down a $350 event with a $500,000 guarantee that put $759,786 in the prize pool thanks to 2,746 entrants.
A quality satellite schedule is one of the first items on the agenda of Bruce and Choctaw Tournament Director Jimmy Sommerfeld.
“I think how you design the schedule of events is what create a large number of satellite seats that are awarded to the big buy-in Main Events,” Bruce told USPoker.com. “Sommerfeld and I, with input from our tournament team, design unique schedules for each event that provide a variety of opportunities for players to win a seat in the Main Events.”
A combination of locals and professionals are usually represented each season come the WPT final table. Season XIV winner Jason Brin made the drive over from Greater Kansas City area to win $682,975. Texas pros Mina Greco and Andy Hwang joined him with Darren Elias, Jake Schindler, and Alex Lynskey representing New Jersey, Florida, and Australia, respectively.
Last season, Jay Lee used his $593,173 in winnings to open a bar in his hometown of Austin, Texas.
Bruce works with Choctaw year-round and watched the property expand its offering of WSOP Circuit stops from one to two last season. The traditional January stop is complimented by November’s venture. Both drew well in the recent season of the Circut. A total of 908 came for the $1,675 Main Event in the fall and another 1,249 followed in the winter.
Is there a second stop for the WPT in Choctaw’s future? Bruce isn’t ruling it out.
“I believe there is great respect for the WPT brand and the product that they put forth for poker players. Should the opportunity present itself for further collaboration I’m sure all parties would definitely be open to considering that option.”
WPT Executive Tour Director Matt Savage added, “[The second stop is] definitely a possibility. The WPT is proud to call Choctaw Casinos a partner!”