Getting on the Token Train: Poker Companies, Players Embracing NFT Markets

January 10, 2022
Getting on the Token Train: Poker Companies, Players Embracing NFT Markets

Anyone with an interest in sports has seen the explosion of NFTs in popularity for the last couple years. The industry has seen sky-high auction prices with sports leagues, artists, and others getting in on the act.

Poker has become the latest to branch out into the NFT craze. Tours and players themselves have offered NFTs as a way to highlight some of the game’s biggest moments.

These digital collectibles continue to find popularity among sports fans – and poker looks to be at least a small part of that.

What are NFTs and how do they apply to poker?

​​Not everyone may be knowledgeable about what an NFT actually is. The acronym stands for non-fungible token. But what does that mean? NFTs are digital memories or events – allowing collectors to purchase digital “packs.”

These may include one-of-a-kind digital moments from slam dunks to touchdowns. In the poker world, that may mean huge moments on the felt or massive championship wins.

Like cryptocurrencies, NFTs are stored on a blockchain with the owner only having access. However, NFTS can be transferred and many collectors are reaping some nice returns at auction.

The World Poker Tour was one of the first poker entities offering NFTs. The company announced a partnership with Theta Labs in 2020 with the first WPT NFT pack drops in 2021.

The tour also recently announced another drop focusing on female players. The “Queens of the Felt” packs debuted in December and included key hands from players like: 

  • Vanessa Selbst
  • Vanessa Rousso
  • Jennifer Harman
  • JJ Liu
  • Kathy Liebert

WPT officials have been pleased with the results of the pack drops so far. The first launches featured hands from WPT superstars like Daniel Negreanu and Darren Elias.

“Our partnership with Theta Network has been a success from day one and we are ecstatic that we are continuing that partnership with the latest NFT release,” WPT CEO Adam Pliska said. “Once again, we have put the stars of the World Poker Tour front and center in a way that makes them accessible for poker fans around the world.”

What do poker fans get for their purchase? The packs included limited edition holographic cards as well as five “Legendary Holos” available via auction. The idea of scoring one-of-a-kind collectibles attracts many to the trend. Pack prices range from $30 to $230 and collectors have something similar to a sports card, but with video moments and much more.

Others get in on the NFT act

The WPT isn’t the only tour to get in on the NFT trend. In November, the World Series of Poker announced a deal with Worldwide Asset eXchange (WAX) to release a collection of rare NFTs.

The initial auction offered fans a shot at collectibles highlighting the event’s most memorable moments. The first NFTs auctioned included a collection of six “Gallery of Champions” moments. One of those included Chris Moneymaker’s epic win at the 2003 Main Event.

NFT packs also included members of the Poker Hall of Fame and WSOP bracelet winners. Collectors could look for some massive moments from poker legends like Scotty Nguyen, Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan, Stu Ungar, and Phil Hellmuth.

“We are excited to be memorializing the most important moments in poker history in NFT form,” WSOP Senior Vice President Ty Stewart said in announcing the debut. “We look forward to fans having the chance to own a captured piece of WSOP’s more than 50 years of history.”

Some of poker’s well-known players have also gotten on the bandwagon. Phil Ivey struck two deals in 2021 with Moments and Ethernity Chain to offer NFTs from his career.

More recently, Antonio Esfandiari announced a partnership with 2CrazyNFT. The offerings include a chance for collectors to win a $10,000 WSOP Main Event seat and also:

  • private lesson from Esfandiari
  • live-streamed heads-up match with Esfandiari
  • autographed merchandise and more

In a game that struggles to gain sponsors at times, NFTs allow an added revenue stream for some of the game’s heavy hitters.

“I’m thrilled to team up with 2CrazyNFT and step into the world of NFTs,” Esfandiari said. “This is a fascinating and unique way to strengthen the bond between me and my fans even more. It’s also exciting to become a part of this new, special era in this way.”

What’s ahead for the poker NFT market?

There appears to be at least some level of interest among poker fans when it comes to NFTs. The latest Queens of the Felt collection becomes the third drop for the WPT.

Will the market see massive auction returns as in other sports? That remains to be seen but there have been some successes in reselling poker NFTs.

However, some might wonder if the entire industry may be just a fad. Is there staying power not only for poker digital collectibles, but NFTs as a whole?

In June, CNBC reported overall weekly sales peaked in May at $176 million. That slid to $8.7 million by the week of June 15. Some industry observers believe that downward trend may actually show market stabilization, but questions remain.

“The bigger question for NFTs is their long-term value, which we believe is likely significant,” Nadya Ivanova, chief operating officer of  the market research firm L’Atelier BNP Paribas, told CNBC. “As augmented and virtual reality technology matures, normal people are going to spend more and more of their time — and therefore money — in virtual environments.”

That market stabilization continues. While prices may be declining, the number of buyers appears to be on the rise.

“Delphi Digital reports that daily sales volumes of NFTs have been decreasing since the start of September 2021, but coinciding with this, there has been an uptick in unique buyers,” notes. “One of the explanations it offers for this is the lower average ticket prices as fewer crypto-native buyers enter the market.”

The industry certainly has detractors. Some critics argue that investing thousands of dollars in something so intangible may be unwise. Fads come and go, and some believe NFTs may be one of these.

That remains to be seen. But plenty of companies are entering the token game – from comic book publishers to poker tours. Will these efforts be a full house or a busted flush? Those in the NFT industry hope the token mania continues.

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