THE BEGINNING OF HIS CAREER
With a strong core business in regulatory affairs, having worked in technology companies, early as 1996, Andre Feldman had his first contact with the gambling market at the opening of bingo halls in Brazil, but only in 2002 did he really start to being involved more effectively in that sector. In 2010, he established relationships with the Caesars casino network in Las Vegas, fully dedicating himself to this industry. Then, in 2015, while working with Caesars as a consultant in regulatory issues, he began to think about poker. When he acquired the license of the brand for Brazil, his first idea was to get out of the theoretical field and prove in practice what it was like to be a gambling operator in the South American giant. At that time, poker was not yet so recognized by authorities and even it suffered from prejudices and faced many difficulties in terms of regulation, mainly in obtaining permission for operating licenses. “I have to admit that it has not been easy, but the first phase to achieve poker recognition as a sport in Brazil had already started through the CBTH (Brazilian Confederation of Texas Hold’em), which helped a lot in the realization of the initial WSOP event in the country,” he states, and also adds: “To give you an idea, we got permission for the first WSOP in Brazil just 8 hours before the event opened! It was a total madness.”
Since then, a lot has changed. Poker has solidified and created strong roots in Brazil, and Andre says he personally evolved too, since he learned so much and gained many friends, and some enemies, as could be expected. Today, more than 11 years after his first contact with the world of gambling, Andre continues to fight for gambling regulation in Brazil, serving large international brands, cultivating friendship with many players in the market and pursuing what he hopes will happen soon: the regulation of the entire gaming sector in Brazil.
HIS EXPERIENCE IN WSOP TOURNAMENTS
About this issue, he tells in detail: “Our first WSOP in Rio de Janeiro was a case of adrenaline. Many said that it would not be possible. I confess I even had some doubts on being able to develop the event. The authorities of Rio de Janeiro have been prevented from carrying out a big event some years before. There have been many years since Rio was a great scene for poker. With my associate Rodrigo Cariola, we convinced ourselves we were going to carry out that event, and we would definitely be making history in Brazilian poker. So we gathered a strong group of people. We had also the support of very competent professionals. We finally did it, and it was a huge public event, in an iconic Copacabana Palace. We created history for WSOP brand in South America. It was a special moment to me, a dream, an honor and a realization. After that, everything was easier, and we hosted another WSOP event in Rio in 2019. It was really amazing to see so many happy faces among the participants, with prestigious Brazilian players. So Rio was again on the poker circuit. But that would not be all. There would be more tournaments ahead.”
You mean the Million South America? Are there plans for the near future?
Our sponsor, Partypoker, brought us another challenge: to organize the Million South America tournament. We did it, resulting in a great event. What was the challenge this time? Both buy-in and prize values that have never seen before in Brazil or even in Latin America. We offered the largest prize in history for a poker tournament in South America. This was one more project successfully carried out and planned as a team with my associate Cariola, who really is a person who fully understands poker. I only took care of the operational side of business. He is the person responsible for the gameplay of the tournament, the main supervisor of the event.
What was your personal path in poker? How did you decide to get involved as an event organizer in Brazil?
I started with poker in casinos together with Caesars Las Vegas, working integrally with this sector. In 2015, as a consultant in the regulatory area, I started to think about poker for real (seriously). In the last five years, poker took me on a ride to Las Vegas, Montreal, Israel, Spain, England, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, the Bahamas, Saint Martin, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Mexico, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. What a fantastic journey has been so far!
How many Brazilian players participate in online poker today?
In our live events, we have more than 1,000 players participating per day. These are 7 to 10 days tournaments on average. At online events, I can’t tell.
In what way did the explosion of online poker occur in Brazil and Latin America in 2020, due to the COVID-19 quarantine?
In 2020, we decided to return to São Paulo for poker events. We opted for the Unique Hotel, another great icon of the national hospitality industry. We have been preparing an incredible experience for poker players in order to try to make history again, but the virus put an end to our plans, at least for a while. But we intend to make the biggest Brazilian WSOP event in history in 2021. It has to be huge, unforgettable, a festival of life and freedom for players and their families, who have suffered so much this lack of relationships, and the absence of live events. Poker is a social experience, an event for the whole family. This is why 2021 has to be a special year! And it will be, since we have is scheduled our São Paulo poker event for October 2021 at the Unique Hotel. Regarding online, due to the pandemic, poker migrated to digital arena. Surely, 2020 was the year of online poker, with records in public participation and prizes. Once again, Brazilians made history in online poker winnings.
What are the main differences between Brazilian players and those from other LatAm countries?
You are asking me to compare events around the world. I just can’t. Each one has its own charm, its appeal, and their unique characteristics. There are many Brazilians playing. Our audience is always loyal and the most animated one! Brazilian player is passionate, and becomes less predictable. This is an advantage in the tables. Lots of foreign players usually say it’s hard for them to ‘read’ Brazilian players’ minds during a match.
How do you foresee the future of poker (online and in person) over the next three years?
I believe that, in the next three years, we will experience the greatest growth and development of the poker industry in Brazil. Due to the great rise of online poker during the pandemic, thousands of new players entered the circuit; many of them never participated in a live, physical tournament. That’s why I consider that the online boom will be reflected in the face-to-face sector as well.
What is your view on possible advancement of the regulation and legalization of gambling in Brazil?
When it comes to the regulation of gambling, casinos and sports betting in Brazil, I think we will have to wait some time yet, at least a couple of years, if all goes well. The first big step was the approval of the sports betting law, which should be regulated later this year, if there are no political surprises. After that, Brazilian Government must still define the model and quantity of licenses, and only after that to proceed with the sale of licenses (at auction). Therefore, before mid-2022, I guess we won’t have any company officially operating gaming in Brazil. But this regulation would already be a huge advancement towards the regulation of the entire sector. I strongly defend the regulation of the full gaming industry, including bingo, casinos and State Federal and even Municipal lotteries (in my opinion, the best way to regulate jogo do bicho). I do not see good prospects for specific gaming bills, which try to regulate just one activity, like casinos, for example. I believe in a regulated market, wide and for all activities, including games of skill like Esports.
To close this interview, of all the places you have visited so far, which ones would you recommend to travel to and discover, based on its landscapes, culture, people, gastronomy and main attractions?
This last question is quite difficult. I am passionate about traveling, wine and gastronomy. The poker audience is very select and demanding. Usually, where there is a poker tournament, we always have good food, beautiful landscapes and magnificent service. However, I must highlight some places. First of all, if you want to see a well-run poker tournament, an example of organization and competence in a fantastic club within an Indian reservation, you cannot miss the Playground in Montreal, Canada. The people there give a show of competence! Rozvadov, at Kings Casino (in the Czech Republic), is a separate, unique chapter. They offer an excellent cuisine, an incredible lounge, and a grand casino in the midst of an awesome landscape. I also highly recommend this place, especially in winter, where there are ski resorts very close to the hotel. The island of Saint Marteen it’s almost impossible to describe. You have to go there and see it with your own eyes. The Maho hotel and the Casino Royale, where the WSOP Caribbean is held, are mind-blowing! The people there are fantastic, in addition to the Caribbean beaches, all a dream come true. Now, focusing on South America, a place nearby Brazil, very beautiful indeed, with easy access, excellent cuisine, and a fantastic and very competent team that makes Brazilians feel at home, is undoubtedly Enjoy in Punta del Este, Uruguay. You have a sum of everything: beautiful beaches, amazing landscapes, good wines, gastronomy and all the best just a few hours away from Brazil. Without a doubt, it has been a great experience to me!