So, on the night of November 6th, I was home on the east coast in cozy sweater and sweat pants, the newly-minted Mrs. Wise asleep in the next room. I was alternating between my twitter feed, event coverage and the ESPN3.com delayed stream of the November Nine when a tweet came up that started a philosophical discussion.
The tweet in question is since deleted so I’m not going to name the poster, but I’ll go so far as to say it was from a ‘she’ who is widely respected amongst poker media. Here’s what she wrote:
@annonymousladytweeter Only female presence onstage were "ring girls" who wore hot pants and walked N9ers onstage.
Which was responded to by Jen Newell, another medioso I greatly respect (I voted for her as best blogger in the Maven awards), with:
@WriterJen You expected something different? RT
. . . which the original tweeter responded to with:
@annonymousladytweeter @WriterJen Of course not, totally standard #wsop #sausagefest2010
BJ Nemeth, the world’s greatest tournament reporter, tried to argue that based on individual merits, there weren’t any women who were more qualified to be on the stage than Jack Effel and the other sausages with men hanging off of them that were already up there. Of course, he did it as a bull in the ladies’ china shop and was quickly dismissed from the conversation. I couldn’t help but pick up the gauntlet, though with a bit more delicacy. I wrote in twin tweets:
@GaryWise1 I'm kind of curious about what other female presence there would be at the table? Has any individual woman risen through the ranks to earn that kind of placing? Chicken/egg, I know . . .
Instead of rehashing the entire convo, let me say that while I was focused on the lack of potential for non-ring girl female presence on stage, the ladies were far more focused on the ring girl presence on stage. The whole thing got me thinking about the ring girls’ place at the affair. Where those thoughts have lead me on the issue might surprise you a bit.
I think the first question that needs to be examined here is ‘why are there ring girls there at all?’ I don’t work for Harrah’s and don’t have access to their inner mindset, but it probably comes down to
1) catering to a mostly male fanbase and 2) Giving the WSOP a Las Vegas brand.
The ring girl/showgirl is an icon that caters to both desires in one shot.
While the male desire to see scantily-clad women is never going to be quenched, I do have to wonder why WSOP is so fixated on the Vegas brand. It made sense for a time; the event epitomized the city and vice versa, but hasn’t WSOP outgrown the limited image the town provides? Hell, WSOP itself has expanded to London, let alone all of the places the circuit hits. It does feel a little obsolete to be bringing in Wayne Newton, Frankie Avalon and all of the shiny little beads and feather one woman can fit upon the skimpiest bikini available.
This ain’t the old boys’ club no more.
Of course, WSOP isn’t exactly the only industry entity that’s guilty of sins of the flesh. Find me a TV hostess with cellulite and I’ll show you a talking rabbit. The WPT’s introduction of the Royal Flush girls earlier this year, after five years of proving with their ratings that poker TV ratings are not about ‘hot babes showing a little cleavage’, felt a little bass-ackwards to me. The NAPT tried out the poker-ignorant Joanna Kruppa as hostess with unintentionally comical results. The list goes on.
The question then is whether the WSOP should be behaving in a way that’s more responsible to ladies when the bottom line may well be on the . . . line. You have to think that their many financial advisors have told them that Vegas branding is the way to go and that they need to appease the male masses and of course there should be hot girls as a result. Can we really ask the WSOP to make a philosophical choice that could nudge them in the wrong direction financially?
Surprisingly, my answer is yes.
After my chat with Jen, I was converted on the following logic; the WSOP holds itself up as steward of the game. WSOP asks to be held with special status for each of the following:
*It’s championship is recognized as the unified world title
*It’s Hall of Fame is held up as poker’s hall of fame
*It’s bracelets are poker’s ultimate trophy
*It’s rakes are as high as any live event on the calendar.
There’s no question WSOP has special status within the industry. A few years ago, there was talk of Stars and FTP banding together to create opposition for the WSOP, but they didn’t. Know why? Because the WSOP is special. With us considering it to be as such, shouldn’t we expect WSOP to hold itself to a higher standard?
I think I speak for most men when I say we want more women in the game. I know poker isn’t as female friendly as a lot of ladies would like it to be and frankly, I don’t blame any woman who chooses to stay away from the live tables. The truth is though that the bohemian men you’ll find there are giving license to any sort of behavior because the industry that houses them doesn’t give them any examples to be bettered by. I think it’s time for WSOP to take one small step in providing a basis for equal treatment in the poker world.
No, I’m not advocating the use of scantily clad men. It’s time to get rind of the ring girls. Get rid of them. To those who call poker a gentleman’s game, I challenge you to help it become a ladies and gentleman’s game. If we want more women to come, we have to show them that they’re wanted on individual merit, not on the basis on which we judge the ring girls.
Did I just try to talk the WSOP out of showing me leg and cleavage? I think @annonymousladytweeter and @WriterJen won.
Gary Wise has been in the professional gaming industry for fifteen years, making his living as a player, writer, manager and consultant. He's a regular contributor to ESPN.com's Poker Club, can be heard spewing his opinions on PokerRoad.com's The Poker Beat and his Twitter feed is @GaryWise1.