PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – The Bahamas is nearly unbeatable in the late fall and winter, especially for Americans on the East Coast of North America and those across the globe in the Northern Hemisphere.
It’s part of the reason why the island nation is becoming a hotbed for sporting events around this time. The nation hosted the Battle 4 Atlantis and Baha Mar Hoops men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments, the Don’t Blink Home Run Derby, the Hero World Challenge, the Bahamas Bowl and, for the first time ever, the World Series of Poker Paradise.
It appears to be a growing trend and something of which World Series of Poker officials wanted to take advantage.
“There seems like there’s always a big attraction,” Ty Stewart, the senior vice president of the World Series of Poker, told Fox News Digital. “We want to be that signature gaming attraction on the Bahamas, and we know that we will be. I think everyone needs to differentiate and the Bahamas are a brand like Las Vegas is a brand. It helps create something meaningful to bust through the screen.”
The World Series of Poker Paradise was held in the Grand Ballroom of Atlantis Bahamas on Paradise Island on the far side of the Coral tower. When you walk into the resort through The Royal, you’re met with sprawling mosaics across the top of the foyer where hotel guests check in. Christmas trees, menorahs and other décor line the hallways toward the guestrooms and into the casino.
Walking through the casino, prospective players get a chance to look at those trying to leave the island a little bit richer than they came. The Crystal Court Shops feature high-end luxury storefronts from Balenciaga to John Bull and Tory Burch. Past the shops and through the Coral side where families wait to start their own adventures, players were dealt their first hands.
The grand ballroom is enormous. Two sides of poker tables and players help create an aisle in the middle of the event. The sound of clinking poker chips is akin to the sound of waves crashing on the beach. The sharks, however, sit across from each other, reading each other’s facial expressions to see who’s hiding pocket aces and who will get lucky on the river. There’s also millions of guaranteed prize pool money on the line.
Much like Tiger Woods showing up for the golf tournament this month, the poker stars were out as well. Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth and Jamie Gold were among those to take part in the event. Basketball Hall of Famer Tony Parker and musical artist Hoodie Allen were also in attendance. FOX Sports host Nick Wright and WNBA champion head coach Becky Hammon came through as well.
Parker, wearing a pastel blue and white windbreaker featuring the World Series of Poker logo on the back and GG Poker emblazoned on his let breast, agreed the Bahamas was becoming the place to be, especially to escape the bitter cold.
“I think it’s a good idea,” he told Fox News Digital when asked about the Bahamas becoming the winter sports paradise. “The weather is nice and everybody loves and enjoys coming to the island. I think it’s a great choice to push for this and having all these sporting events.”
In general, Parker is a big fan of the World Series of Poker. He added that he thought it was a “great idea” to have a main event table in the winter.
“I just think it’s a great idea to have everybody come to the Bahamas and be competitive and have another big tournament,” he said. “I think it’s great to put together this event. It has been a great time coming here with my friend, and we are enjoying everything. It’s been pretty cool.”
But what took so long for the World Series of Poker to hop to the Caribbean?
“The Bahamas has a [particularly] interesting history in poker,” Stewart said. “They have hosted some of the bigger tournaments in the world for almost 20 years. There were a couple of factors there. But for us, we just want to be very cautious with our growth. We want to do things great. The summer series has continued growing, continue to break records.
“We want to make sure we have everything lined for us to be great. A lot that was about our partnership with online poker, GG Poker, because they were able to qualify players from all over the world. Being able to have these large tournament guarantees, 50 million in guarantees, at a casino that’s not Caesars owned. We really needed that support to make sure that is event would be to its vision.”
Stewart and World Series of Poker vice president Jack Effel both hoped they could make Paradise as big and intriguing as the summer event in Las Vegas.
“For a poker player, the summer is about one thing and that’s WSOP. And we think that hopefully it will be the same for the winter,” Stewart continued. “That’s [why] it was such a long time coming, and it’s a big decision because [the] last extension was World Series of Poker over in Europe in 2007.
“We want to do things that are traditions every year, so that’s the plan.”