Share this on

With his sharp suit, trademark specs, and ZX Spectrum style laptop, Warren Lush has been a mainstay on the live tournament circuit for many years.

The man behind the partypoker PR machine has been instrumental in turning the likes of Tony G and ‘Mad’ Marvin Rettenmaier into two of the most influential poker stars of their generation, and I was fortunate enough to sit down with him and fire off a few questions.

This is what the ‘Minister Without Portfolio’ had to say.

How would you describe partypoker’s return to the U.S. online poker market?

“There have been a lot of growing pains, but the early signs are encouraging. This is regulated online poker in the United States so you have to expect a few teething problems, such as geolocation, but it is great to see regulated online poker in the U.S!

“From a personal perspective, the people that we brought on at the beginning in New Jersey have been excellent. Jamie Kerstetter, and Scott Baumstein are really great people and great ambassadors, and I am happy with my choice to get them on board.”

What were you looking for when hiring ahead of the New Jersey launch?

“We wanted local knowledge of the Borgata & New Jersey poker community. I wasn’t after a massive social presence, or someone who has sponsorship expectations stuck in 2005. We have to be more realistic about the size of the market. The days when people got paid stupid sums to put on a patch at the WSOP and WPT are long gone.

“Jamie moved to Mexico, post Black Friday, and moved back to New Jersey when regulation came in. She is a New Jersey girl who is well known in the community. With Scott, you get this New Yorker, who has moved to New Jersey to restart his online poker career and that’s a nice story.

“Scott is one of the guys who came over to Europe in the early days, post Black Friday, who were grinding online and following the EPT and WPT. He also did commentary work, and that certainly put him in the shop window. Jamie and Scott are much more than just sponsored pros, they are involved in the business and are consulted on poker room decisions.

“We took a new approach in New Jersey and I am very pleased with that. Jamie has been on the front page of the Philadelphia Enquirer and on TV. It’s more difficult now to generate buzz because there is just one story in New Jersey right now – and that’s the closure of Atlantic City casinos and how the city can regenerate. That said, these two players have made some serious breakthrough with their profile in these past 12-months.”

And the appointment of Ken Daneyko?

“With Ken, it’s an excellent complement to the NHL New Jersey Devils partnership. We brought Ken along for the charity event, at the partypoker WPT World Championships at the Borgata, and he ended up winning a real side event! Ken coming on board seemed like a no-brainer to me. He loves poker, is very passionate, interested in the people on the scene and the customers, and gets on well with the pros.

“He plays online whenever he can and he loves the game. I would love to see him come to partypoker WPT Montreal in November, this year, and be Mr. Devils in Montreal Canadien land but he has his hockey season commentary commitments. I know he is gutted to miss the chance to be enforcer in what is likely to be a bumper field in one of the most popular World Poker Tour events.”

What does a successful year look like for the Minister Without Portfolio?

“Essentially, my number one concern is press coverage. But I am the go-to person for the professional poker community in the business, so end up involved in all sorts of things. I am also involved with the Alpha8 and the higher stakes players. A lot of what I have been trying to do since Jeffrey {Haas} came on board is to support with PR his approach about engaging more with the forums and communities, and I enjoy that.

“I still think too many people, without direct experience of poker, fail to define correctly what people call – to say the dreaded word – a ‘recreational player.’ Things haven’t been easy on a technical front in recent months, but it is best we stand up and admit we have had problems; tell people what we are doing about it, and impress on them that we are trying our best to resolve it all in a transparent fashion.”

How disappointing was it behind the scenes when the technical issues affected the inaugural Garden State Super Series (GSSS)?

“Obviously, it was disappointing. We had momentum online and things were going well. But it was a technical problem beyond the control of someone like me as an individual. I think we did the right thing by the players in fully refunding and upping the guarantees the following Sunday.”

Are your eyes on PokerStars inevitable return to New Jersey?

“You have to remember that the PokerStars marketing budget, product and customer service will be hugely significant. We will see what happens.”

Looking at what happened to Ultimate Poker – how important has your land-based connection with The Borgata been for you?

“The Borgata is the home of poker in Atlantic City and New Jersey, and the relationship is clearly important. It has a fabulous poker community. It’s a place that poker players love to go too – it’s a hotbed. There are three places in North America that are like that in my mind: Borgata, The Commerce, in Los Angeles, and the Playground Poker Club in Montreal. It’s a poker paradise if you want a game at any level.”

What’s your opinion of the congested live tournament scene, and should live tournament organizers do more to work together and iron out the kinks?

“There should be co-operation and I know that there has been co-operation. In the past my understanding was this didn’t happen, but I know the WPT talk with the EPT for example. At the moment you have EPT London, and WSOP-APAC, and they are two big events that have clashed. It’s the responsibility of the big poker organizers to get together and forward plan as much as possible, in co-operation with each other. I agree with what the likes of Matt Savage and Alex Dreyfus say about that with an eye on the bigger picture.”

As a PR man, how disappointed are you with Dan Colman?

“He came into the Premier League as a last minute replacement for Greg Merson, and I remember Vanessa Selbst telling me that we had just increased the level of competition in the event ten-fold. That’s how highly Dan Colman is rated – and look what he went on to achieve.

“It’s a bit of a shame really, he didn’t do interviews in Vegas, but the bottom line it is his choice. He’s a grown man and entitled to do what he wanted after he won, but some of us in the industry would have liked to see him co-operate with the TV interviews. You have to admire what he has done though, and the ability he has. After meeting him on a personal level, he’s always been great too. I still laugh at the banter between him and Sorel Mizzi at the Premier League.”

The WPT UK event is on the horizon and once again there is a big field expected for the WPT500 – is this new price point the way forward for live tournament operators?

“I suspect this to be the case. When we had massive online poker liquidity around the world we could fill $10k’s easily. There are new price ranges now, and the $500 buy-in is a key one of those. To invest $500 for a million guaranteed is excellent and aspirational. Poker is just adapting to its times, and its regulatory environment. partypoker WPT UK Nottingham will be great. Rob Yong has such passion, and my colleagues in the poker room have created many different ways that players can to qualify online.”

You have just parted ways with Marvin Rettenmaier.

“He’s going to be the next Ed Sheeran. Marvin and I had a great relationship, and I couldn’t have asked for a better start when he signed. He won the first event he entered {the WPT World Championship after eating at Noodles in the Bellagio every day}, and then the next in WPT Cyprus to become the first back-to-back champion, and he is a very popular player in the live community and the U Mad hat suits him. He still wants to play live all of the time too! How many air miles can he get? I would have liked him to play more online. With the contract expiring you sit down and are realistic about things and parting ways was obvious.”

What other sponsored players have really been worth their weight in gold?

“I think Kara {Scott} is a fantastic ambassador for poker. She is an excellent TV presenter, and great with customers. We use her as a face on the mobile app, and we have enjoyed an excellent relationship for years now. When we had Tony G, we ripped up the copybook PR style, and just went for it. Even now, as a friend, I attended a House of Commons Select Committee with him on the future of basketball in the UK, and I was involved in his European Parliamentary Election campaign. He is a sharp businessman, and I think he is going places in politics and has a natural aptitude for it. He also has a new dog coming to Brussels – big news :).

“I loved working with him, in poker, because he was not afraid to ruffle some feathers – some people still think his dog wears a WSOP bracelet as a collar! He was great for TV because people wanted to watch him and he put on a show even though sometimes I was in the firing line on the rail. I like to see Hellmuth, Devilfish, Tony G, Mike Matusow and Luke Schwartz on a table!

“Mike Sexton is a legend and I was honored to be at his induction into the Poker Hall of Fame. Without Mike most of us wouldn’t be in the positions we are today and you always have to remember that.”

I also notice you have been involved in the darts.

“I have been doing the darts for a long time, including when I used to work for Sky Sports and Ladbrokes. A number of the players play poker at a decent level. Michael Van Gerwen is a very good poker player and he beat-up Roy Brindley at the World Grand Prix in Dublin recently. We have used some pro darts players in our events before, and I am sure you will see them used again in the future. Keep your eye on World Champion Michael Van Gerwen playing poker, he is developing into a very good player.”



Related Articles

Lee Davy

Life can be viewed as the sum of the parts or the parts themselves. I believe in the holistic view of life, or the sum. When dealing with individual parts you develop whack-a-mole syndrome; each time you clobber one problem with your hammer another one just pops up.