For WSOP competitors, Vegas is more about business

Las Vegas has more than 42 million visitors a year, so you could argue a measly 100,000 or so really doesn’t make much of a dent. Especially if they don’t drink much when they gamble.

But many of them will get hours of exposure on national TV. And at least one will leave with a few million dollars. The 48th annual World Series of Poker began this week, at the Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino.

Fueled by the poker boom that began more than a decade ago, WSOP players’ views of Las Vegas are likely quite different than those of conventioneers and other gamblers. In many cases, it’s more of a business trip. And an annual reunion.

Pros such as Matt Waxman, of Fort Lauderdale, like the series because it has its share of “dreamers” – players who have less poker skill, but have hopes of stardom.

“The WSOP gets the most press, which draws in more amateur players, which makes it better in value,” he says. “The massive field size means that almost every day you can win six figures or more. That makes it lucrative and hard to miss.”

Waxman, 32, was ranked among the world’s top 10 players for a handful of years, including being No. 1 for a few weeks on Bluff Magazine’s rankings in 2011.

Waxman, though, tries to keep a balance.

“It’s good to get a lot of leisure time,” he says. To get poker off his mind, he plays indoor soccer, basketball, hikes, and takes boat trips. “The World Series can really drain you. A lot of people get chewed up out there.”

He says he learned the hard way about being mentally prepared for so much poker.

“No matter how talented you are, you can’t fall into those holes, like drinking a lot every night or going to a fancier and fancier restaurant,” he says.

“However, I still really look forward to it every single year,” he says. “It’s a reunification of my friends and coworkers, and there’s a good chance I’ll get to see everyone I’ll normally not interact with.”

Robbie Strazynski, owner of CardPlayerLifestyle.com, identifies three types of players: “One would be a professional player making his living, second would be a weekend warrior type, guys taking a shot playing the Colossus or the main event,” he says. “And the third would be someone who dabbles in poker but gambles at other things, too.”

That said, the WSOP helps poker rooms throughout Las Vegas, who have bigger crowds and juicier games because of the spillover, Strazynski says.

“They might make the Rio their home but there’s all kinds of poker going on,” he says, noting increased action in such places as Planet Hollywood and The Venetian. “They go from one room to the other.”

He notes that the WSOP is also a unique tournament. Most poker events are fueled by a home base of players. So, for example, for a tournament in Atlantic City perhaps half of the entrants would be locals.

“Everyone at the WSOP is from someplace else,” he says. “But it’s the crescendo to the year.”

Poker pro Stacy Matuson (pictured) agrees. “The excitement for me grows every spring leading up, knowing I’m going to be involved and surrounded by hundreds of life-changing poker events and thousands of great poker players to test and improve my skills as a player,” she says. “It’s like the complete Disney World for any poker. Plenty of sometimes-soft games and always exciting, challenging events to choose from.”

Like Waxman, she has away-from-the-table activities, which including hitting the gym or pool and trying to have a healthy breakfast. On days she has tournaments, she heads to the Rio with her phone fully charged, her music stocked, and a full stomach, because the tournaments can last long hours.

“Every summer is a new adventure with the focused goal of trying to win a bracelet or event,” she says. “And there are always memories and experiences that I’ll never forget.”

This year’s main event begins July 8. The total prize pool for all 74 events, derived from players’ entry fees, is expected to surpass $250 million.

Playing in a WSOP event? E-mail updates and thoughts to NickSortal@BellSouth.net; Twitter: @NickSortal