▲ Rodman and pals are sure to have safe hands whether the chips are up or down, but will they come? Photo courtesy Ramada Casino
[Edited: This article was edited on May 20, 2013, at the request of Phoenix Entertainment after plans to bring a number of NBA stars to Jeju fell through. Although the players were invited to attend, for a variety of reasons they did not take up the offer. Phoenix Entertainment aplogizes for any confusion caused.]
There are hopes to turn Jeju into a center for poker. Sang H. Park, CEO of Phoenix Entertainment, spelt it out.
“Our goal is to make Jeju a gambling mecca...we want to bring the biggest tournaments here...WSOP [World Series of Poker], Poker Stars, Red Dragon, we already signed up WPT [World Poker Tour] and ATP [Asian Poker Tour]. We want to bring the big tournaments to Jeju.”
Park says these represent the top of the poker world.
'“We already signed a major deal with Beijing Ourgame Ltd - they took over from Hangame in China with over 300 million users. They held the first China WPT tournament last year and they are going to hold another one in Hainan this October. The top 250 people [from there] will come to Jeju to compete in the first Jeju tour event [in December],” said Park. “With that in mind we are going to open our first small tournament on May 30 - The Phoenix Game,” he added.
Non-Korean poker punters are free to “buy in.”
“You have to buy in so whatever their needs, they can complete. 150 people will be the max...we are building a special casino room for the event,” he said.
The Phoenix Open will be held on May 30 and it will be an exclusive event - just 150 will enter with a small number of spectators at the [hosting casino] - “the best on Jeju...look at the view,” said Park.
The event will serve as promotion for the main event in December. Park, who made his fortune in the US building a monopoly of health clubs among other ventures, returned to the country of his birth and always harbored a soft spot for Jeju.
“I always had a dream to make Jeju more known throughout the world and I think that poker can be one event to do that...for the WPT event [in December] we will have around 1500 people coming - 600 players plus wives, girlfriends.”
Park estimates 300 players from China, 100 from Japan, 30 to 40 non-Koreans from the Seoul area and others from Macau, Hong Kong, Philippines and Malaysia. Koreans citizens will be barred from the event due to legal restrictions. I asked if this might mean little benefit goes to the Jeju people.
“Bringing the poker to Jeju brings attention to Jeju. We are bringing foreign dollars and foreign people. Will it benefit people here? Absolutely. The dollars they bring here they will use here,” he said.
“Our affiliated company, Ourgame, did a survey of 120 people...believe it or not, not one person had heard of Jeju. That shows how much potential there is for growth...The infrastructure, the weather, the environment are all here...it is still very inexpensive...,” he said. “Jeju is within a two-hour flight of around 500 million people...Jeju has so many beautiful things to offer.”
Park recognizes that public perception of poker in Korea represents an obstacle to growth. His mission is to to change this. “I think that poker is a game...a sport. In the US poker is on ESPN and there are 27 countries at the Mind Olympics where poker is played. It cannot be called gambling, it is a sport,” he said.
Despite the challenge, poker is rising fast in Asia, not least in China: “it is booming, it is huge.” There is an effort industry-wide to change the perception of poker, from gambling to leisure: “it is a family attraction...it leaves a bad image, but bringing families...and making a tourist destination, that’s what we need to accomplish...as CEO that’s my goal.”
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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