Prosper Masquelier interview

Prosper Masquelier interview

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Meet the ISPT Wembley CEO.

Meet Prosper Masquelier, the visionary Frenchman who dared to dream of stadium poker. Bluff chats to the man who brought the game to a completely new stage.

Tell us a bit about your background, Prosper. You were an actor?

I’ve had many lives, but poker has always been a part of me. I grew up in the south of France where, as you know, our family has been in the gaming industry for a long time. At the age of 19 I wanted to be an actor or comedian so I went to Paris and trained at drama school for two years. After that I started to make videos, some funny things. I did a big production in France, like Big Brother, a famous and successful reality TV show. I learnt a lot of things about TV production. That's how I came into the entertainment industry. After that, I did a couple of music productions. I took all the people from The Voice, X Factor – those kinds of shows – and did some great shows in France. We did concerts for 20,000 people. It was very funny. Maybe one day I'll do a movie about this production because it was crazy. These were people who were just starting to sing and feel like big stars, performing music in front of thousands of people. And after that I did my first TV production.

When did you start to play?

I grew up with poker through my mother and my father, who has been the director of a casino for a long time. I love the game. I was fighting with my father one day and he said, “Show me that you're a man!” so I gave him my house key, my car keys and said, “I'll show you that I'm a man.” And I came to the UK and I started as a dealer at the Tower Casino in Blackpool.

Every night I made a lot of chips. I went to the Grosvenor Casino in front of the Tower – there are two casinos in Blackpool, The Tower and Grosvenor – and every night I went to the Grosvenor to play poker. There was a tournament there every night. I took all my money and spent it on poker tournaments. One night I remember I saw Simon Trumper on Late Night Poker. For me, it was crazy. I'm passionate about poker. When I saw that the English people put poker on TV, I was sick in my room. Wow! Poker on TV!

After two months, I decided to go back to France and do the first ever poker TV show there. So I found a channel, a good partner and I got some poker celebrities together. Poker wasn't really popular at the time in France.

When was this?

It was 2004. I took some celebrity friends, singers, actors, and I invited them to a poker party. We shot it and we put it on TV and it was a big success. We did around 50 or 60 programmes during those three years. After that, the poker industry changed a little bit; the law was a little more complicated so we stopped the programmes. That’s when I organised the Partouche Poker Tour. After a few years, I decided to leave Partouche because I was not on the same wavelength as the owners of the company. I was very, very disappointed about what happened last year with the guarantee because it was a great tournament – for me, the most beautiful tournament in the world. The area is so nice, the prize pool is big and Partouche hosted the players very well. It's like my baby! I created it.

Then, two years ago, I decided to begin a new project; one never seen before and much more innovative: the ISPT.

Tell us about the initial idea. We guess you're a born showman…

I wanted to breathe fresh air into the industry. Lots of people are doing great jobs all around the world, but nothing new was happening. The key point is simple: to launch the Olympic Games of Poker. After all these years of great play, poker has to be known as a pro sport now. Like Soccer, we needed to have an ambitious stage and a big event, to get away from the usual indoor and air-conditioned environment. You can play all around the world, hotels, casinos – all these places are all the same. What a boring scenario for so big an event! With the ISPT, I had the idea to create a tournament that every player will remember. In 10 years you can say, “I played at Wembley,” and feel you have shared an incredible and unique experience. A poker rock concert!

Are you are a Marseille fan?

Marseille is the French Manchester! They won the Champions League in 1993. For me, it was a dream come true. Bernard and Laurent Tapie, my partners, were the owners of the team then. What a great achievement to get there! Magic…

How difficult has it been to launch the ISPT?

The first time you do something, it’s always a really great, adventurous time. From the beginning, we knew we’d need to fight for this project, with the technology issues, size, format, venue… the ISPT started from scratch. And now, we are very proud to unveil the tournament with all our great partners, Dusk Till Dawn and Genting in the UK, and all our network of friends.

Was part of the problem that when you came up with the idea the Tapies were looking to buy Full Tilt? If that had happened it would have been much easier to get thousands of qualifiers.

It would have been easier if we’d got Full Tilt on board a year ago. But we started this event before Tapie looked at Full Tilt. It's independent. This industry is so complicated. The market now is very mature. You have the big players, PokerStars, Full Tilt, PartyPoker... It's very hard to sit down at this table. We are here to move the market. We are here with a new brand, to be an open brand. All the people in this industry are closed. PokerStars has the EPT and nobody can be associated. PartyPoker has the WPT. What we want to do is to be like the Olympic Games for poker. We want to have an event that’s open to every website. We can help them promote their brands. We want to move this market because, after 15 years, this market is old, operators are tired and there aren’t many new things. What is important is that we want to do a great event, something that will stay in the memory for a long time. That's our idea. If I have one customer go home and say, “Wow, that was an amazing event”, I'll be happy.

Prosper 2

Along the way there were changes to the concept. Initially, people were confused about the way it was going to work. Do you think you made mistakes when you were promoting it?

We made a lot of mistakes but we learnt from them. We listened to players. We listened to the poker community. It's like going into labour. ISPT is a test and helps us learn how to build an even greater tournament. Many of our ideas were at the edge of technological possibility. The Wi-Fi situation for day 1, for example. Maybe one day it will be possible as we met a lot of companies. I met a company that can provide very strong Wi-Fi and maybe one day they'll be able to do it. I don't know if the poker community wants to play online in the stadium, though. I think they want to play live. That's the dream of all poker players. To start online and one day play a big live tournament. We did what our players wanted and we will do it as well as we possibly can.

I'm very confident. During my travels I went to a lot of tournaments to see the players, to talk (to them) and now I have this feeling that the Wembley event fits perfectly. Players enjoy the format, they enjoy the structure. If you arrive with the average stack you have more than 250 blinds. You have time to play.

It was a very grand idea. Was it difficult to make people believe that this could actually happen?

“It's not possible” is not in my vocabulary. If a man has been to the moon, we can organise a big poker tournament in a stadium. When you do a new project, sometimes at the beginning you have a lot of people saying “bullshit”. Like I told you, the poker market is very static. It's very complicated to move the operators.

I deeply want to thank Dusk Till Dawn and Partouche for their full support. Also, all our network of friends who organise great poker events all around the world: PokerFest in Romania, Pravets Casino in Bulgaria, Estoril Casino in Lisbon, RPT in Ukraine… And ISPT has a dream team of players: Francisco Costa, Erich Kollmann, Gregor Reinhart, Gerald Karlic, Michael Mizrachi… many great players have supported us from the beginning. I hope that our event will bring them luck and I will be honoured to see them win.

I would also like to thank Florian Lang, CEO of MyPokerSquad – the leading funding platform for pro poker players – for all his energy and creativity. He’s been a massive partner for the ISPT and brought us a lot of players. I think that MyPokerSquad is a key future partner for poker. A Poker 2.0 platform. This website will increasingly help players to get sponsored as it enables anyone to buy stakes in tournament players. It’s a real poker community; social gaming at its best.

We’re very close to success. I'm confident about the next couple of weeks. Every day we’re registering more and more players from around the world. My bet’s on the UK to win. In fact, I’m going to have a side-bet immediately with Tony G on the nationality of the winner.

Prosper 3

What happens next?

The process has already begun for the next events. ISPT is the first international event that will bring poker to a new level at every single show. We are now dealing with two options for 2014. OK, here is a scoop for you: Prague in the Czech Republic and Sao Paulo in Brazil. As the Olympic Games of Poker, we’ll travel the world entertaining poker fans everywhere. Stay tuned…

So is the ISPT sustainable without someone like Full Tilt or PokerStars behind it?

Yes, because we've invested a lot of money for the first event and Wembley is the most expensive stadium, maybe in the world. And of course we will enter a new phase. Now the ISPT will not need to invest a lot of money as we did over the last few years. The brand is well known. If the event is a success, as I wish, people will be talking. So for the second event, we will, of course, invest in marketing but maybe not as much as we did this year. We have some good surprises coming too.

Tags: Prosper Masquelier, ISPT, Wembley