Poker (and is it a sport or is it a pastime? Depends on who you ask, and more on that later) is experiencing a global resurgence in popularity, and the City of Las Vegas is reaping the rewards. The recent 46th Annual World Series of Poker (WSOP), held at the Rio All-Suite Casino in Las Vegas from May to mid-July, drew players from all over the world.
While 2015 attendance figures are not available yet, the 2014 event attracted a record 82,360 people to the tournament. Seth Palansky, the spokesperson for the WSOP, which is owned by Caesars Interactive Entertainment, says the increase in interest is due to the wane of old stereotypes about the game of poker.
In other words, put away that picture of the dogs playing poker, would you?
“There’s a misperception that the WSOP is about card sharks and poker experts, but really it’s geared towards hobbyists and recreational players,” he told Travel Weekly. “We have PhD mathematicians, we have Harvard law degrees, Wall Street investment bankers and bartenders and librarians. Poker is the great equalizer. When you get your cards and get your chips in front of you, everyone’s equal,” he said.
While the game may still have some work to do to shed its stodgy image in the U.S., global interest is another story. According to Palansky, the 2014 tournament drew players from 110 different countries. Part of the game’s new face is due to the popularity of online poker and digital participants who’d like to make the jump from the virtual to the real-world game. The ability to play on the Internet, said Palansky, “has created the next generation of player.” Social poker on mobile devices can also drive people to try out live poker in a tournament setting.
While there are arguments for and against whether poker is a sport – the debate has raged for a long time – ESPN has clearly embraced it as a sport (or at least a “leisure pursuit”) which is helping raise its profile. ESPN’s high-profile coverage of the World Series of Poker has also helped create a lot of new fans and brought a lot of old ones back to the table (so to speak). So while it may not be a sport, per se, does that mean that new youth participants shouldn’t expect that playing poker will earn them a scholarship? Not necessarily, since video gamers are already eligible for an (albeit slightly limited) array of financial and scholarship benefits for being virtual sportsmen (so there’s always hope).
Poker tournaments continue to be popular charity vehicles, but for-profit organizations and locales are also benefitting from the game’s higher profile. Online poker continues to grow in profile (and stakes), as well. According to the Web site All Things Poker, there are over 550 online poker Web sites today. Poker Stars, the world's largest online poker room, has over 50 million registered users. Poker Stars, which purchased its competitor Full Tilt Poker in 2012, is owned by Canadian online gambling company Amaya Gaming Group.