The growth of poker over the last decade has presented new opportunities for poker players—sponsorship and endorsement deals, writing opportunities, television appearances and a plethora of tournaments at any level and size that could be desired. Throngs of new players have descended upon poker rooms and tournament sites, as evidenced by the record-setting numbers in the last few years at the World Series of Poker, World Poker Tour and European Poker Tour events.
With growth comes change, and amidst the change is the desire for some continuity. Rules and regulations for tournaments vary among casinos, television productions and charity events, and there has been no regulating body to organize poker players and establish comprehensive tournament procedures and rules.
The World Poker Association was founded by Jesse Jones, long time tournament player and poker enthusiast. According to Jesse, “Poker needs an organization that brings order, structure, unified tournament rules and procedures, and player benefits to a fast-growing game.”
He incorporated the WPA in November of 2005 as a non-profit association. In 2006 Jones was single handedly responsible for bringing hundreds of members into the fold and in March 2007, the WPA got into high gear with an elected Board of Directors to guide its growth. Under Jones’ stewardship as Chairman and with substantial assistance from Vice Chair Wendeen Eolis and Treasurer Harry Thomas, who together serve as the Executive Committee, the WPA has hit the ground running. It is already a well publicized, highly-regarded and recognizable organization with a website that was launched in March of 2006.
From those first steps that Jones took to unite the poker playing industry in small steps, the WPA has grown to become a world-wide organization, with a prestigious nine-member board of directors that oversees a dozen committees and subcommittees for its special projects. The Board includes six-members from the United States, two from Europe, and one from Australia. Its global reach was shown when the WPA held its September 2008 meeting in London, the first meeting held outside of the United States.
The mission statement of the WPA reads as follows: To promote professionalism in poker worldwide that supports the highest standards of ethical conduct in tournament poker activities.
Simply put, an association that is committed to professionalism in tournament poker, worldwide will increase poker’s legitimacy around the world, establish the standards to serve as the recommended model for all tournament organizers, and have the ability to offer benefits for its members, such as health insurance plans, travel discounts and other resources currently not available to poker players. The WPA will maintain relationships with media and charitable organizations, provide information to members, take a stance in governmental affairs that impact poker, and continue to further the integrity, longevity and success of tournament poker.
The WPA is steadily growing and boasts more than 1,300 members. The Board of Directors consists of a diverse, international group of recognized poker players and poker industry leaders who meet regularly in various locations throughout the world.
Chairman Jesse Jones is a retired financial planner and commercial real estate investor. Vice-Chairperson Wendeen Eolis, is the CEO of a legal consultancy and an internationally recognized poker player. Treasurer Harry Thomas is a real estate developer and long-time high stakes poker player and World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet winner. Joseph Hachem, Secretary of the Association and 2005 WSOP main event winner at the World Series of Poker chairs the critically important Membership Committee. The Board also includes Thomas Kremser and Marcel Luske, both representing the European contingent, and Americans Lou Krieger, Paul Wasicka, and Annie Van Bebber.
In addition to membership there are numerous committees that work on behalf of the WPA—Dealer Relations, Ethics, Government Relations, Media, Membership, Tournament Rules, Charity, Budget & Finance, Elections & Bylaws, International and Website – all of which are comprised of dedicated members of the Board of Directors.
Some 130 founding members of the WPA are listed on the website, including many of the most prominent names in the poker world.
During the 2007 World Series of Poker, the WPA adopted a Code of Ethics that will serve as guidelines for all members. This code will be presented to the membership for ratification at the 2008 membership meeting. The Ethics Code is a comprehensive set of standards regarding relationships among players and between players and dealers, player-management relations and external relationships with poker-related businesses.
In addition, the WPA has established a travel discount program via an agreement with Holiday Systems International to offer special lodging, car rental, and cruise discounts to WPA members. More benefits are in the works, and committee members are looking into numerous programs and affiliations that will aide in the travel and lifestyle needs of tournament players.
Currently there are two tiers of membership for players; one for professional members and one for supporting members. In both categories, members are required to pledge their commitment to upholding and complying with the Association’s Code of Ethics.
Membership criteria for organizations and recreational players are currently under review by the Board of Directors. Eolis says “every poker player who cares about promoting professionalism in poker and of getting our voices heard by poker management around the world is well advised to join the Association.” Hachem adds, “Everyone involved in tournament poker should and will have a voice through the WPA.”