We’re proud to bring you this special interview with Bill Rini, Head of Online Poker at WSOP.com. Bill has been working in the poker industry for many, many years and brings a wealth of experience to his current, prestigious position. Bill was kind enough to take some time to answer a few questions we had about him, his position, WSOP.com, and U.S. online poker in general. We hope you enjoy!
Hi Bill, thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions – good to be speaking with you, sir. So, for those who may not be familiar with your involvement in the poker world, could you please give us a brief rundown on who you are and what your professional experience has been thus far (in the poker world)?
I got involved in online poker over 10 years ago. Like many, I started out as a player but my background was in software development in the online space, and I had worked for large eCommerce and entertainment companies, so I was always more intrigued by the business side of online poker. From my previous experiences I knew that there were many opportunities to create a more personalized and dynamic product which would broaden the appeal of poker to more people.
Through connections I had with some of the early employees at Tiltware, the company who designed Full Tilt’s software, I joined Tiltware as a program manager. It was really a fast-paced time back then so I worked on projects ranging from redesigning the payment systems infrastructure to being responsible for the Mac client.
Tiltware later decided to relocate to Ireland and I opted to accept an offer from PartyPoker in Gibraltar to join them initially on the product side but eventually heading up the online poker room’s day to day operations.
I was with Party for about three years and I really enjoyed the experience but my real passion was for the US market which was still closed to online poker at the time. To me it was always a question of “when” not “if” the US market would open up so I decided to take some time off and travel around the world a bit until the regulatory situation in the US became more open to online gaming.
Black Friday set off a lot of activity in regards to the US markets and I came back to the US in 2011 because it seemed like many of the pieces necessary for online poker to become legalized were finally coming together.
You were named Head of Online Poker for WSOP.com back in September 2013, shortly after online poker became legal in the state of Nevada. What made you decide to make the jump from where you had been working prior, for the World Poker Tour?
It’s actually quite a complicated story that goes back many years and is really boring but I had been in discussions to join Mitch Garber and WSOP.com before taking the role at the World Poker Tour. At the time though, WSOP.com was being run from Montreal and it would have involved some difficult immigration issues for my wife who is not a US citizen.
Ultimately, the WPT’s parent company, bwin.party, decided not to launch the WPT brand in the US and in the meantime WSOP.com had moved their operations to Las Vegas.
What’s your standard workday like?
I’m not sure we have a standard workday. We’re always working on something new.
What’s your standard workday like leading up to and during the World Series of Poker?
Our cycle tends to run year-round. As soon as the WSOP finishes we meet up with the team and do some analysis of what worked, what didn’t work, and what can be done better next year. August, September, and October usually involve fleshing out plans and prioritizing for the next WSOP. The bigger items will go into development following that and then in January we start working on the details like satellite schedules, promotions, budgets, and so on for the summer.
April and May are sort of the big crunch months for us as we get everything into the pipeline and queued up for the series. It’s a crazy period but the team here is really great and everybody comes together to make it happen.
While lots of attention is on Nevada online poker right now, WSOP.com of course operates in New Jersey as well. What would you say are the biggest differences between the two markets (besides player pool size of course) and how does WSOP.com go about addressing these differences and effectively catering to the different markets?
There are a few major differences between Nevada and New Jersey that really illustrate why they each have unique challenges in terms of being effective in each market. First off is the age difference. Nevada skews much older than NJ in terms of active players. Second, and maybe more importantly, is the population densities in each state.
Nevada is squarely centered around Las Vegas. Nevada has 2.8 million residents and over 2 million of those people live in Clark County. Your advertising dollars are much more effective when people are concentrated in a fairly small area like that.
New Jersey is much more spread out so it’s more difficult and more expensive to reach the same number of people. Along the same lines, two of the most populated areas in New Jersey are close to borders with other states which large populations so your advertising is susceptible to bleed where you’re paying to reach a certain number of eyeballs but many of those people may not be able to play on the site because they don’t live in New Jersey and aren’t willing to travel there specifically for the purposes of playing online poker.
Just a couple months ago, Nevada and Delaware actively began sharing online poker player pools. When do you foresee Nevada entering into a similar agreement with New Jersey and what’s preventing it from happening sooner?
Unless something is imminent, it’s really just speculation when it comes to timing so I really can’t say when.
We are really pleased with how it is working between Nevada and Delaware. We have no influence on having other states do the same. It takes governors, regulators and changes to regs. We will certainly espouse the benefits of it and help educate stakeholders how it looks from a tech standpoint, but otherwise there isn’t any insight we have.
What sort of logistical and technological challenges face WSOP.com in terms of enabling shared interstate player pools and how well-equipped is WSOP.com to handle those challenges?
Having already commenced sharing liquidity with Delaware I think we’re better positioned than any other site to share elsewhere. We have a good grasp on what issues need to be reconciled between the various jurisdictions. That’s especially true if you’re talking about Nevada and New Jersey where we have existing operations in both states and understand the regulatory process in each state.
For us, it’s less about challenges as much as it is making sure all of the intricacies are attended to.
A couple weeks ago, you launched WSOPstats.com, which will act as the official statistical database for WSOP.com online players. Why do you think online poker players would value such a resource and what specifically do you hope for WSOPstats.com to accomplish?
Everybody likes to be recognized for their accomplishments. I don’t think the “why” portion is a huge mystery. We already have leaderboards, races, and other types of ranking systems and players often tell me that they love the extra motivation it gives them.
I’m not sure we have a neat pigeonhole in terms of what we hope to accomplish with WSOPStats.com. Our main goal is simply to provide something that will be engaging to players. It’s not something easy to quantify but we believe that increased engagement is good for the game.
Obviously, the big WSOP.com Nevada news is that it will take center stage in a few weeks, hosting the first ever official WSOP online bracelet event (#64). What sort of turnout would constitute a success in your opinion and are there future plans to include more than one online bracelet event on the schedule during the World Series of Poker each summer?
Payout schedule for the Online Bracelet (Event 64) http://t.co/M4OYwtw6TE— Bill Rini (@billrini) June 10, 2015
I don’t want to draw a line in the sand for what makes Event 64 successful. It sort of reminds me of the 25 Seat Scramble last year. I remember sweating that all the way until the last registration posted. We missed by $3K and at that moment I was really disappointed that we didn’t cover. But everyone in the poker community thought that that was fantastic and the poker media declared it a huge success.
Logically, I know that it was still the largest online poker tournament in the regulated US markets ever held but I always think we can do it bigger and better so I’ll keep the predictions to myself and let the poker community decide whether or not it’s a success.
As far as future bracelet events, like I said earlier, when the dust settles on the 2015 WSOP we’ll sit down tear this year apart and see what we can do better.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers before we let you go?
Not at the moment. We’re constantly plugging away at creating a great experience for players so check back.
Thanks again, Bill, for your time.