Are We Experiencing a Poker Boom 2.0?

Twenty years ago, an accountant from Nashville, Tennessee, entered an $86 buy-in satellite tournament online and ultimately won a seat for the 2003 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event at Binion’s in Las Vegas. They entered that year’s $10,000 WSOP Main Event alongside 838 other poker players and came out on top to become poker’s world champion. They received $2.5 million in cash plus a commemorative gold bracelet.


That accountant was the aptly named Chris Moneymaker. He took on the seasoned professionals in their backyard and showed the world that anyone could win at poker with some luck. The fact Moneymaker won his $10,000 Main Event seat via an online poker satellite resulted in thousands of people flocking to online poker sites to follow in his footsteps, which the industry, to this day, refers to as the Moneymaker Effect.


Online gaming companies like BetOnline began offering online poker to their customers, and the industry was booming. Some 839 players bought into the $10,000 WSOP Main Event in 2003 when Moneymaker managed the unthinkable, but the attendance for the 2004 edition swelled to 2,576. Even more players turned out in force in 2005, some 5,619 to be exact, before the WSOP Main Event’s attendance peaked in 2006 when 8,773 entrants created an $82,512,162 prize pool, of which champion Jamie Gold banked $12 million.


The 2019 WSOP Main Event Falls Short of the Record


It took until 2019 before the WSOP Main Event saw over 8,000 entrants. Hossein Ensan of Germany came out on top of an 8,569-strong field that year. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed all live poker globally, and its effects were still being felt in 2021, although 6,650 players turned out in force after overcoming worldwide travel restrictions.


Last year, the 2022 WSOP Main Event drew in 8,663 players, falling agonizingly short of breaking the attendance record. It seemed like the long-standing record of 2006 would never be broken.


Eligible online operators upped the ante with their satellite offerings for the 2023 WSOP, while cardrooms around the United States and across Europe also put on satellites. All those additional seats, plus the lack of travel restrictions, resulted in the obliteration of the 20-year record.


Record Finally Broken; Almost $93.4 Million Awarded


The 2023 WSOP featured four starting flights. Day 1A kicked things off with 1,039 players buying in. Day 1B saw another 1,118 players enter, with Day 1C filling out the Horseshoe and Paris Las Vegas with 3,080 entrants. The attendance record was broken on Day 1D after 4,100 players chose this flight to start their quest for WSOP Main Event glory. In all, 10,043 entries were processed, and a staggering $93,399,900 prize pool was created.


Any player that finished in the top 1,507 places received at least $15,000 for their efforts, while anyone that navigated their way into the top 80 spots reeled in a six-figure score.


A cool $900,000 was the least any of the nine players at the final table could take home, while a whopping $12.1 million was reserved for the eventual champion.


Italy’s Daniel Holzner ($900,000) was the first of the finalists to fall by the wayside, guaranteeing more than $1 million for the surviving players. Spanish star Juan Maceiras Lapido ($1,125,000) busted in eighth, with the British duo of Toby Lewis ($1,425,000) and Dean Hutchison ($1,850,000) next crashing out.


Ukrainian Ruslan Prydryk ($2,400,000) and Germany’s Jan-Peter Jachtmann ($3,000,000) saw their deep runs end before the elimination of Adam Walton ($4,000,000) left Steven Jones heads-up against Daniel Weinman. Jones fell at the final hurdle and collected $6,500,000, leaving Weinman to become poker’s world champion, an accolade that came with $12.1 million, the largest WSOP Main Event prize in history.


Attendances Up Across the Board


It was not only the 2023 WSOP Main Event that experienced a record turnout because dozens of other tournaments enjoyed record fields. Seemingly, on a daily basis, reports and updates from the many events taking place talked of crowds exceeding last year’s figures, prompting the poker media to start talking about a Poker Boom 2.0.


In all, more than 240,000 players competed in the various events at the 2023 WSOP, suggesting that live poker is still something players enjoy. But why is poker booming again in 2023?


First, travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic are no longer a hindrance to players from the United States and further afield. WSOP entrants were also no longer required to be vaccinated or wear protective masks, something that put off players in droves in 2021.


Second, the number of states allowing their residents to play online poker continues increasing, allowing players to build their bankrolls from home before heading out to “Sin City.” In addition to expanding their bankrolls, they also improved their skills, giving them the confidence to take on the best opponents in a live setting.


Third, the value of major cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, has fallen from record highs during the pandemic. Many poker players invested significant sums of money in the cryptocurrency world, but many withdrew their investments and returned to the poker world, some having made substantial profits before the bear market hit.


Fourth, a cost of living crisis has much of the world in its grip, leading to more poker players taking a shot at the big time. Gambling, including poker, should never be used to get you out of financial trouble, but plenty of WSOP players decided to play the 2023 series, not knowing if they could afford to enter events next year with how the world is right now.


Lastly, there is always a snowball effect in gambling circles. Just as players flock to a progressive jackpot slot when the top prize swells, seeing record numbers and potentially life-changing prizes offered at the 2023 WSOP brought thousands of players out of the woodwork.