Borgata’s Poker Ops Manager Talks ‘The Return,’ What’s To Come

Written By Hill Kerby on February 1, 2023 - Last Updated on April 10, 2024

Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Atlantic City’s premier poker destination, made waves by running its first major tournament series since before the pandemic. And by all measures, the week-long series was triumphant, with four events producing just shy of $9 million in total prize pools

The Return – A Borgata Championship Event (also presented by BetMGM Poker) was the highlight, drawing 1,142 entries at a $5,300 price point last month. This produced a prize pool greater than $5.5 million and awarded a $1 million top prize.

Now that the dust has settled, Borgata’s Poker Operations Manager, Kellie DeCelis, spoke to about exceeding expectations at ‘The Return,’ what poker means to Borgata and the possibility of more events in the near future.

Borgata management listened to players’ feedback

Borgata may have bided its time jumping back into the tournament scene, but it wasn’t sitting idly. Management was proactive in finding new ways to improve the overall product, much to the acclaim of its players.

This included NJ online poker satellite events.

The buy-in doubled from the usual $2,700 Main Events during its Poker Open series ($3,500 during WPT events) and nearly doubled its $3 million guarantee, too. The structure also changed for the better, thanks to feedback from several professionals

“Tournament players really want to play more extended levels. In building the structures for this event, we initiated conversations with professional poker players across our region, and we took their input to heart,” said DeCelis. “Based on the response, this event was incredibly successful.”

Upholding a world-class reputation

Borgata has long established itself as one of the top poker venues on the East Coast, even with a three-year hiatus from the major tournament circuit. Though it had experience in logistics and operations, a resort of such stature had to make sure it upheld expectations.

Furthermore, Borgata held the events in a new location, adding more to the equation. DeCelis said:

“Borgata has held tournaments in the Event Center and the Signature Room in the past. The Central Conference Center is located right outside the Poker Room and provides the capacity we were looking for, allowing us to fit 40 tables into the room without feeling crowded. This was an organic event we built and a true demonstration of the strength of what Borgata offers. It was a significant amount of work, which is proven in the display of our final product.”

DeCelis added her stamp of approval, citing the amount of preparation that went into all aspects of running an event. 

“Ensuring that we maintained the reputation Borgata built over the last two decades regarding poker is a phenomenal accomplishment,” DeCelis said. 

Poker is a part of success formula

Slots and table games are the primary revenue drivers of all Atlantic City casinos, most of which don’t even spread poker these days.  Harrah’s Resort and Tropicana AC are the only other properties with poker rooms. 

Borgata’s is by far the largest with 52 tables. The MGM-operated hotel casino is the market leader when it comes to casino revenue. For 2022, total revenue from slots, table games and poker was $724.4 million. Hard Rock Hotel & Casino finished a distant second with $492.3 million.

January’s results, which will include The Return, are due out later this month.

But with or without a major tournament, poker continues to be a big piece of Borgata’s winning formula.

“Borgata is the premier gaming destination on the East Coast and best in class when it comes to gaming in Atlantic City. Our formula of success includes poker, which is only getting better as we get more creative,” DeCelis said. 

Major tournaments are a significant part of the picture. Beyond poker, players come because of Borgata’s full slate of amenities, including dining, five-star hotel rooms and a world-class spa. As a result of all of the above, players come, and DeCelis said that overall traffic at the resort is noticeably more significant during tournament series.

And its ‘future looks bright’

Poker players may be quick to praise a great event, but they are even quicker to look for the next one.

Sean McCormack, MGM Resorts’ Director of Poker Strategy, teased immediately after the event that ‘The Return’ was just ‘The Beginning.’

With that in mind, the next series could come as early as spring with the return of the Spring Poker Open. If it doesn’t happen that soon, at least one more event will run this year, with the expectation of a full schedule in 2024.

DeCelis did not specify any upcoming events but concluded:

“​​While we are celebrating the success of The Return, the Borgata team is always looking to the future, and the future looks bright.”

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Hill Kerby

Hill Kerby comes from a background of poker, sports and psychology. He brings all of that expertise into his writing, where he contributes content in the growing legalized sports betting, online casino and gambling industry.

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