VEGAS: Has the golden age of poker passed?

VEGAS: Pundits in the poker world say poker has never been bigger.  The 2010 World Series of Poker Main Event had 7,319 participants, second only to 2006’s record-breaking total of 8,773.  Most of the poker media uses the turnout for the WSOP ME as a barometer for the state of the poker world.

Well, I just don’t buy it.  While more people are playing tournament poker than ever, the rest of the poker world seems to have fallen from its temporary pedestal as America’s last gold rush, the next big thing, or whatever you’d like to call it.  


Back in 2005 and 2006, poker was everywhere!  ESPN seemed to always have reruns of the WSOP or the US Poker Championships running, Bravo had Celebrity Poker Showdown, Travel Channel had the World Poker Tour, NBC had the World Heads-Up Championship, FOXSports had the Professional Poker Tour and Full Tilt’s Learn from the Pros, and Game Show Network had High Stakes Poker.  About half of these shows still exist on some level (some bigger than others).  DId America just get burned out?

What about poker magazines?  In a 2005 trip to the local grocery or convenience store’s magazine isle, one could expect to find two or three different poker publications.  A bigger book store like Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, or Borders would usually carry for or five different poker magazines.  I was only able to find one kind of poker magazine in yesterday’s trip to BAM.  One of my favorite poker magazines went out of business, and another is only sold through subscription.  Others seem to have distribution and advertising challenges.

How about Poker Books?  The big book stores, even BAM, would have a minimum of two shelves mixed with poker strategy and poker memoir-type of books.  I remember a time when B&N would have a four-tier bookshelf filled with nothing but poker books.  If you wanted to learn any of the major forms of poker, a trip to any of these three stores would put that right book in your hands.  Yesterday’s trip to BAM netted a disappointing 33 poker-related books in the Puzzles & Games section, next to books on shooting pool, solving Sudoku puzzles, and blackjack.  With the rise of e-books, I don’t expect this to change.

Online poker, in spite of the Unlawful Illegal Gambling Enforcement Act, has bounced back over the past few years.  Online play is approaching the volume of players it had before the Act was signed into law on October 13, 2006 by President George W. Bush.  The UIGEA was an 11th hour amendment to onto the unrelated SAFE Port Act.  This made transactions from banks or similar institutions to online gambling sites illegal.  As a result, Party Poker, the biggest of the internet poker websites, pulled out of the American Market.  Three months later, popular internet financial intermediary Neteller followed suit and closed its business to all Americans.

What did that do to the poker world?  Well, Party Poker left a void in the poker world that has yet to be filled.  Poker Stars and Full Tilt Poker, now the biggest and second internet poker sites, are both great places to play.  They however, haven’t replaced Party Poker’s advertising money or the seats in the WSOP ME Americans won online.

There are laws on the horizon which could legalize online gaming and draw tax dollars from it as well.  In 2009, a Joint Committe on Taxation analysis found that through regulation and taxation, online gaming would generate about $42 billion dollars over a 10 years.  Could this put poker back into the American mainstream, or at least close to it?

Florida, right now, appears to be the site of the meta-site for America’s last gold rush.  Poker laws were redrawn and passed into law in July of 2010, and these laws allowed poker players to legally play similar games and limits to that of Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and most of the rest of the poker universe.  Since then, poker rooms have seen an increase in business almost across the board.

When the World Series of Poker rolls into Palm Beach a week from today, for Florida’s first-ever Circuit Event, it will mark a historic time for poker in Florida.  Sources from both Palm Beach Kennel Club and the World Series of Poker are expecting at least two of the WSOP tournaments to draw over 1,000 people over the two weeks they are in town

The first televised WPT Event will take place at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood in April.  It is early to project an exact turnout for the $10,000 buy-in tournament, but I would expect anything less than a $1,000,000 payday for first place would be a disappointment for both the WPT and Seminole Gaming.  Expectations are high for what could be a test run for big money tournaments in the Florida Market.

Could the burgeoning poker explosion in Florida give poker a second golden age?  That is to be determined.  Will the economy bouncing back help? What is for sure, though, is that poker isn’t where it was five years ago on a national scale.

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