Kara Scott: From a Small Canadian Town to Poker’s Biggest Stages
Two weeks ago, inside the packed-to-capacity ballroom of a posh Beverly Hills hotel, a small-town Canadian girl stood in front of some of poker’s best players and most important movers and shakers and simply put, owned the room.
As Kara Scott looked out at the crowd at the 2016 American Poker Awards, where she was serving as host, she can be forgiven if she took a moment or two to reflect on just far she’d come to get to this point.
Literally. And figuratively.
Scott was born and raised and Northern Alberta, but it hasn’t been home for some time now. She’s lived in London and Rome before moving to Ljubljana, Slovenia in early 2016. It made for 30-plus hours of travel to get to Los Angeles to oversee the third annual APAs. While her new hometown might be tough to spell, Scott feels right at home living in the city of just 280,000 with her husband, Giovanni Rizzo.
“It’s got two l’s and two j’s in it, so it’s a little difficult, but it’s probably the best place I think I’ve ever lived in my life, and I love it unreservedly,” said Scott. ”For a Canadian kid, it’s the best place to live if you’re going to be outside of Canada.”
Having lived in cultural centers like London and Rome already, Scott is thrilled with the change of and has fallen in love with some of the things that make Slovenia so unique.
“They just celebrated 25 years of independence from the former Yugoslavia, so as a country in itself, it’s really quite young,” said Scott. “You see a lot of all wooden bicycles, dudes with really ironic, but not ironic beards, and there’s lot of artists, and their music is super important.“
The Slovenian sense of culture comes from the government showing a willingness to let people live and let live, and that attitude impacts the people of Ljubljana in a positive way and that’s a big reason why Scott has come to love it.
“They have these laws where buskers are really celebrated, and as long as they don’t do anything like get drunk or act disorderly while they’re performing, they can stay in Slovenia and make money, so there’s always music everywhere,” said Scott. “The people are just – I don’t know – there’s this real sense of freedom and optimism.”
While the lifestyle it provides is something Scott really enjoys, at almost 6,000 miles from poker’s epicenter of Las Vegas, it’s not exactly ideal for somebody who spends a good amount of time working in Sin City or Los Angeles.
Scott, an 888poker ambassador, works as the sideline reporter for ESPN’s coverage of the World Series of Poker Main Event. In 2015, she also worked as the commentator for the Super High Roller Bowl and Celebrity Shootout – work that ultimately her win an American Poker Award. Last summer she returned to Super High Roller Bowl, this time to hold down the anchor desk of the live broadcast alongside Jesse Sylvia.
“I loved working on the Super High Roller Bowl and Celebrity Shootout for PokerCentral It was amazing, but we did all of the voice stuff in post-(production). While they would edit three or four shows at a time, I would fly in to LA from Slovenia to do a voiceover for a couple of days, and then fly home and then a couple of weeks later fly back up,” said Scott.
“It was a hell of a commute, but it was totally worth it.”
Standing in front of a room full of people is exactly where Scott thought her career was going to when she was younger, but it had nothing to do with Beverly Hills, ballrooms or award shows, but rather reading, writing and arithmetic. Scott graduated from the University of Calgary with a degree in Education and Linguistics and immediately took off to England to begin her career as a teacher.
Getting work wasn’t an issue for Scott at first, but finding something that she found fulfilling was. In between teaching gigs she found herself picking up other work in a totally different field – television.
“I was a teacher in London, and I’d given that up a couple of times and gone back to it a couple of times. I’d done producing work in TV and film over there and I loved it,” said Scott. She eventually found herself in front of the camera, covering backgammon in 2005, but if you ask her, she thought her first attempted foray into broadcasting only guaranteed that she’d be a teacher forever.
“I remember going for the audition. I’d read about it, and I didn’t know anything about backgammon, but I played a lot of games, so I was like ‘I’m going to go, I’m going to do my best, and you know what? If I don’t get this job, I give up, because I have a lot of debt, and I’m about to kind of lose my apartment, and this is really hard, and I’m just going to have to go back to teaching’,” said Scott.
Knowing nothing about the game probably didn’t help matters much, but Scott left the audition believing she had failed miserably, so much so that as soon as it was done, she found herself in a pub, trying to console herself.
“I was convinced that I had botched it so badly, so I went outside to the bar across the street and I ordered a glass of whiskey, and I was shaking because I was so upset with myself and then I chipped the inside of my tooth with the glass,” said Scott. “I just burst into tears because I was like ‘gah, everything’s terrible’.”
Two weeks later her phone rang and the producers told her she’d gotten the job. Scott was stunned. Not everything was terrible.
“They were like, ‘It was a great interview. It was our favorite interview. You were so good,’ and I was like, Really?” said Scott. Next thing she knew, Scott was hosting High Stakes Backgammon and eventually the World Series of Backgammon for British television. Her work there eventually lead her to working in poker, including a stint on Poker Night Live, a British show.
“I went through a phase of probably ten years of taking everything that was offered because I was like ‘I have to keep working, Don’t know when it’s going to dry up.’,” said Scott.
Along the way she’s been on-air talent for a myriad of productions including Sky Poker, the Super High Roller Bowl, the European Poker Tour, High Stakes Poker and probably most importantly, ESPN’s coverage of the WSOP.
While the mid-summer work for ESPN gives Scott the chance to cover poker’s biggest event from Day 1, those episodes are taped and prepared after weeks of editing. Covering the WSOP Main Event final table means working live in front of potentially millions of viewers at home. At first, Scott dreaded the thought of being on live TV and not being perfect. Even with years of TV experience now under her belt, Scott got the butterflies even thinking about the idea.
“I was really scared. I was excited though. I started to get a little bit of stage fright at that point, and so that scared me,” said Scott. “They used to call me ‘One Take Kara’ and it was important to me to maintain that, and I’d start to make mistakes because I was putting too much pressure on myself and my mind would go blank.”
Scott worked with a friend of hers from London that helps actors deal with stage fright and it worked. She’s gone from worrying about being on live TV to enjoying it more than anything else she does.
“The World Series in October or November really is my favorite because doing it live is amazing and you just have no room for error. I guess I don’t have time to over-think it. Whereas if I know it’s being recorded, and can do another take if I want to, then I have a tendency to sabotage myself a little bit and get it wrong,” said Scott.
The November Nine broadcasts also gave Scott the chance to do something a little bit different from the sideline reporting. Like any poker tournament, the WSOP Main Event final table has extended breaks between each level. Scott is tasked with keeping the audience’s attention even when there were no cards being dealt by reviewing the previous level and going over hands with top pros like Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth.
“I think the highlight for me is probably the first time I sat behind the anchor desk for the ESPN show. That was amazing. I was really proud that they kind of trusted me to carry a 10 or 15-minute segment. It felt like doing something like SportsCenter,” said Scott. ”I love my job being a sideline reporter as well, I do, but that just kind of felt like, oh, there is somewhere for me to continue moving and it’s nice to know that I had somewhere to expand into.“
She’s since expanded her roles again. In 2015, Scott became the first woman to do play-by-play for a North American poker broadcast when she called the action for the Super High Roller Bowl on NBC Sports Network. Scott sees it as a natural extension of everything she’s done in her career to date – even the stuff from before the TV work.
“I love the play-by-play. I’ve never been the analyst, because I don’t want to be the analyst. That’s not my role. I’m not a poker expert. I’m a broadcaster who plays poker and loves the game and is around it all the time, so I can talk about in a certain way,” said Scott. “It’s part of the teacher in me. I like to make sure people are where they’re supposed to be, doing what they’re supposed to be, keeping them on track. It feels like a very natural role to me. I love that.”
While she humbly shrugs off the “trailblazer” status of that role, Scott believes that the world of poker is changing – albeit slowly – to be more accepting and inviting of female players and she looks to Twitter and Facebook as a key part of that transition.
“I think the advent of social media means that we’re hearing people say thing that they were always saying, but now it’s louder, because we can all read them. They’re there, which is both good and bad, but it’s kind of nice to have a voice for people who are in the minority,” said Scott.
While females are vastly outnumbered on the live the tournament scene, Scott sees a day coming where that number is closer to the actual population representation, but don’t count on it happening overnight.
“I’ve always thought that it was going to take a little while, like a slow build to that, because bringing women into the game was great, but they come in and they’re still amateurs when they’re playing the game, so it wasn’t going to be this boom of all of a sudden we’re winning all the bracelets and it’s going to be great,” said Scott.
Looking back at the women who have come before her in poker, Scott marvels at how they’ve managed to constantly support each other, even if professional and personal differences exist and the struggle hasn’t always been easy. Sitting in the audience at the Women in Poker Hall of Fame ceremony last summer gave her some perspective.
“I know Linda Johnson and Jan Fisher pretty well, and I adore them, but I don’t know a lot of the other women from the Women in Poker Hall of Fame and seeing how close they all are, it made sense,” said Scott. “I kind of want to see some of that for my generation, or even the women who are younger than me, I want to see that we kind of reach out and support each other. I think we do in a way that I didn’t see five years ago.”
Looking at the generation of women playing the game today, Scott has no difficulty pointing to some she admires.
“There are so many really interesting women that I really adore. Danielle Andersen, I’ve been friends with here for a few years now and we always meet up and have breakfast or lunch,” said Scott. “I am just starting to be friends with Julie Anna Cornelius, who I think is lovely. Jamie Kerstetter, because we’ve worked together (at partypoker), I always just had a real respect for her game and her commentary.”
Looking ahead at what projects or challenges she wants to tackle next, Scott points to one day doing a show with an all-female play-by-play and commentary team, and she’s already got her partner in mind.
“I want to do a show with Maria Ho as the analyst, and me leading it. I think that would be awesome,” said Scott. “I think we’re at the time where that’s okay. I don’t think people would find it so weird, especially because she’s such a highly regarded player, and she proved it over and over again that this is who she is.”
Scott has also proven herself multiple times in her career and no longer worries about having to go back to teaching geography. She’s reached a point in her career where she’s able to pick and choose what jobs she wants to work or projects she wants to be involved in.
“My dad always used to tell me, and he told me this when I first started, when I was doing nothing but standing in the background of a mobile phone commercial, a 12-hour day of walking by while my shoulder showed in the shot, and he was like ‘One day you’re going to have to start turning down good jobs, because you’ve got other good jobs’.”
“And it happened,” said Scott.