The 35th World Series of Poker (WSOP) got off to a smashing start last week, shattering early attendance records and settling any concerns that the sale of Binion’s Horseshoe, the tournament’s longtime host, and Harrah’s purchase of the WSOP, might have deterred interest in poker’s most prestigious event.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
"We’re actually seeing much more interest in tournament play," says WSOP publicity director Nolan Dalla. "In fact, some events are drawing up to twice as many players as they did last year."
In reality, Dalla added, interest in poker is at an all-time high, fueled at least in part by a series of national TV shows such as the World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel and Celebrity Poker on Fox, and the skyrocketing number of players who hone their skills on poker Internet sites.
"One online poker site is actually sending more than 200 players to this year’s championship event," Dalla said. "And you recall last year’s overall winner, Chris Moneymaker, won his $10,000 seat in the finale while playing poker online."
Earlier this year, Harrah’s bought all rights to the World Series of Poker from Binion’s, which had sponsored the tournament since 1970.
Gary Loveman, Harrah’s president and CEO, said the company anticipates hosting a record-setting tournament, both in terms of participants and overall prize money, and vowed a change in the ownership would have no impact on tournament play.
"This tournament has a long and colorful history, and we look forward to preserving the traditions that have made it the richest spectacle in sports and the world renowned phenomenon it is today," Loveman said.
A total of 33 events will be held, culminating in the World Championship on May 28. Entry fees range from $1,500 to $10,000 for events ranging from limit, pot-limit and no-limit Texas Hold’em to Seven Card Stud, Omaha High-Low and other popular forms of poker.
Over the course of the five-week tournament, there will also be events for ladies-only, seniors, casino employees and members of the media.
Based on the expected number of participants, the total prize money this year will easily top $20 million, and could reach close to $30 million.
The World Championship event (May 22-28) will award more than $10 million in prize money. Last year’s event drew 839 players, and if that figure holds this year, 100 or more will win cash. Moreover, the overall winner will take home an estimated $3 million, up from last year’s award of $2.5 million.
A seat in the championship event costs $10,000, but most of the participants don’t pony up their own entry fee. Instead, they win their way into the tournament through satellites or other games.
These mini-tournaments enable poker players to gain a seat at a deep discount, sometimes for as little as $50. Last year’s champ, Chris Moneymaker, qualified to play in an online satellite tournament for less than $30 and walked away with $2.5 million.
Tournament Director Matt Savage says with a huge field expected to play in this year’s event, there is a "really good chance" that another first-time entrant like Moneymaker will win the championship.