Poker at
its peak?

Nov 28, 2006 6:02 AM

Despite signs that poker revenue in Nevada might be peaking, a panel of poker experts agrees that the popularity of poker will continue to spread, and that the explosion of new players is only the "tip of the iceberg."

"There were 50 to 80 million people playing poker regularly when we started the World Poker Tour in 2002," said Steve Lipscomb, the CEO and founder of the World Poker Tour, who added that despite the avalanche of new players generated through tournaments, TV exposure and Internet poker rooms, "it’s still just the tip of the iceberg."

Poker author Nolan Dalla agreed.

"There’s a lot of potential poker players who don’t know anything about casino poker, televised poker or poker tournaments," said Dalla, who also serves as media director for the World Series of Poker (WSOP).

Dalla cited a national survey in which only 68 percent of the respondents recognized the "World Series of Poker" brand, while 98 percent were aware of the "Super Bowl" and 85 percent recognized the "NASCAR" brand.

Lipscomb and Dalla were part of a poker panel of experts at a G2E session two weeks ago.

Dalla’s belief in poker’s capacity to grow represented a softening of his position expressed in the wake of the passage of the Internet Gambling Enforcement Act two months ago.

In an op ed piece for Card Player magazine, Dalla said the "poker boom may have just ended," as a result of the ban on Internet wagers transmitted to operators outside of the U.S.

He also predicted that "big events like the World Series of Poker ”¦ could decline in size for the first time in history" because they would no longer be able to accept third-party entries from online poker rooms.

It is estimated that between half to two-thirds of the 8,700 entrants into this year’s WSOP main event earned their entry via online satellites.

But when questioned about the online gaming ban’s effect on the World Series, Dalla said the WSOP was "taking a wait and see approach," even though Harrah’s — which owns the WSOP — has already announced it would not accept tournament entries from online poker rooms.

Although Dalla acknowledged that the online betting ban will affect WSOP registrations, he said there were "enough brick-and-mortar players" as well as television interest to generate "big numbers."

"At next year’s World Series, we’re planning to double the number of tables from 200 to 400 in the main room," he said.

One of the devices that will continue to fuel players’ interest in poker is the grass roots tournaments staged in poker parlors throughout the country.

Tournaments are a "terrific marketing gizmo," Dalla said, and can serve as "an infomercial for the casino."

Lipscomb added that regional tournaments may also serve as "feeder" satellites for major events, such as the World Poker Tour and World Series.

Lipscomb cited a seven-table poker room in Arizona that began hosting a satellite tournament, whose seats became so sought-after that a lottery was set up — just to gain a seat.

Even if online poker rooms will dry up as a source of new tournament players, the Internet can be used to help market poker, even at the local level.

"You can use the Internet to reach potential players by marketing the room’s events, tournaments and promotions in a cost effective way," Dalla said.

Lipscomb added that a web site can serve as a clearing house or learning tool for poker players.

"We have a play-for-free engine on our site, as well as the WPT Academy, which catalogues all poker hands played in our tournaments," Lipscomb said. "Players like to review these tournaments and can actually learn from them."

In the end, the poker room itself can serve as the best marketing tool for poker and the casino.

"The room needs to be connected to the community," Dalla said. "No one likes to see a sanitized poker room. Put pictures of winners on the wall, and notify local newspapers and TV stations of upcoming tournaments and events.

"Remember, the key to bringing people back is making them feel at home in your casino," Dalla said.