Loyal readers, you knew this issue had to be revisited, didn’t you?
When the World Poker Tour made its Season 9 announcements in the summer of 2010, there were several exciting additions and changes to the WPT that garnered the interest of media as well as fans. There would be more tournaments, Kimberly Lansing to return as more of an anchor than a hostess, and Matt Savage to play the role of executive tour director.
But most eyes were on the Royal Flush Girls, a selection of models who were going to be staples at each tournament stop of the season. Their collective role? Welcome players, handle the money presentation prior to heads-up matches, and stand around in tight dresses.
I was skeptical - and fairly perturbed - about the decision when it was announced. However, I was assured by several WPT insiders that the women would be integral in further engaging players in the tournament experience, possibly through on-site challenges or fun events at the stops on the tour. To my knowledge, none of those plans came to fruition, and the general role of the Royal Flush Girls has developed into, well, standing around and looking beautiful.
This has all become sadly apparent in the broadcasts of Season 9 of the World Poker Tour on Fox Sports television. The first few episodes have aired, and the perpetuation of female stereotypes and an antiquated view of a woman’s role in the poker industry are visible throughout the shows. While Kimberly Lansing has been a refreshing and stark contrast to the Royal Flush Girls, as she settled into the role of anchor with nothing but talent and professionalism, her addition to the show is thrown by the integration of women in tight club-style dresses and bikinis.
During one of the episodes centered around the Legends of Poker event in Los Angeles, the Royal Flush Girls were shown frolicking on a Southern California beach, wearing skimpy bikinis, tossing around a beach ball, and giggling. And during the first episode of the Borgata Poker Open, the ladies were filmed in bikinis at the resort’s pool, again in bikinis, again giggling, and this time seductively emerging from the pool. What do these segments have to do with poker? Absolutely nothing. It seems their sole purpose is to buy in to the “sex sells” mantra and play to male viewers. In doing so, though, it not only disregards female viewers but plays to the lowest common denominator of the male audience by suspecting that poker and money and fame are not enough to capture and keep their attention.
The Royal Flush Girls can be seen throughout the WPT shows doing things like waving to the camera, watching the final table action in clothing one would never wear to such an event, and putting the money and winner’s bracelet on the table before heads-up play. In one episode, one of the women was asked about her own poker play and what she likes about poker players. And it has been mentioned by commentators Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten, in their promo-style testimonies about sponsor ClubWPT.com, that the Royal Flush Girls participate in that site; membership includes access to photos of the women, as well as their video diaries and chats.
In this writer’s humble opinion, the WPT made an unwise decision to spend money on the Royal Flush Girls. Not only could that money have been put to better use by adding to the prize pools or giving something tangible back to the loyal players, but the funds are being used for a total of six women, all of whom are being paid for photo shoots, TV appearances, standing around tournaments for their duration, and contributing to ClubWPT. In the past, one hostess - like Shana Hiatt or Sabina Gadecki - fulfilled some of those duties and would have likely been happy to increase participation each season. Now, there is a group of models that collectively contribute less to the overall experience than one qualified person ever could.
Despite all of the progress made with positive changes to the WPT for Season 9, the addition of the Royal Flush Girls to the WPT has reversed that course by several years. The women who do watch the show will do so out of loyalty to the brand and dedication to poker, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them tune out completely because of the “girls” in bikinis and the frivolous camera shots of women that represent nothing about poker but stereotypes and archaic views. While many segments of the poker industry are trying to find ways to entice women to the tables, encourage them to compete, and strike down those old-fashioned labels, the WPT has chosen to travel in the opposite direction.
As I’ve said before, I’ve long been a fan of the WPT and (full disclosure) a former employee of the company. I’ve always pulled for the company to succeed and thrive in this competitive industry. Changes in 2010 led me to believe that they were on the right track, with one exception. And that exception has proven all too discouraging as FSN broadcasts the latest season of the WPT.
The Royal Flush Girls are likely extraordinary women. Obviously, they are beautiful, and their resumes show that some of them have intelligence that has led to great accomplishments and can take them in amazing directions. And I don’t begrudge them for getting paid for their modeling skills. I only roll my eyes at the WPT for using them in such a way as to roll poker back to yesteryear.
See also: He Said: Does Poker Need Cheerleaders?