When the WSOP pulled in 8,773 entries back in 2006, 10,000 entries seemed inevitable, but UIGEA’s passage doused that idea with a bucket of cold water and then gave it a slap across the face for good measure.
A few years later, the prospects of 10,000 entries were raised again.
In 2011 Phil Hellmuth famously quipped that the World Series of Poker would hit 15,000 entries next year. Hellmuth’s comments were off the cuff and seemed to hinge on the return of online poker to the United States, but the slow rate of progress on that front has kept attendance relatively static for five more years.
But with attendance markedly up the past two years, people are again wondering what it will take to get the WSOP Main Event attendance up over 10,000 entries. Is it a reasonable goal without online poker proliferating across the United States?
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What kind of growth are we talking about?
For the WSOP Main Event to reach 10,000 entries there would have to be a 40 percent increase in attendance.
I’ll assume the people discussing this aren’t going full Hellmuth, and their target of 10,000 entries is reasonable in five years or so.
This seems attainable, considering Main Event attendance grew by five percent and seven percent respectively over the past two years. At that rate, the WSOP would see attendance eclipse 10,000 at the 2022 WSOP.
Current growth isn’t indicative of sustained growth
It’s unclear what is driving the attendance uptick from 2016 and 2017.
Traditional growth from an improving economy? Changes made to the WSOP itself? New poker markets opening up? It could be any and all of those things or something else entirely.
Whatever it is, it’s hard to bank on it continuing, and I don’t see attendance rising by six percent year-over-year without interruption, considering Main Event attendance has fluctuated mightily since 2006:
- 2006 — 8,773 entrants
- 2007 — 6,358 entrants
- 2008 — 6,844 entrants
- 2009 — 6,494 entrants
- 2010 — 7,319 entrants
- 2011 — 6,865 entrants
- 2012 — 6,598 entrants
- 2013 — 6,352 entrants
- 2014 — 6,683 entrants
- 2015 — 6,420 entrants
- 2016 — 6,737 entrants
- 2017 — 7,221 entrants
So, before we get too far out over skies with 10,000 entries talk, let’s see what happens next year, considering the period of 2010 – 2013 saw attendance fall over 13 percent, with a steady decline each year. And I don’t remember people worrying attendance would soon be down to 5,000 entries during that brief period.
Point being, the current growth could very well be an aberration.
A few paths to 10,000
Even so, for 10,000 entries to become a reality in the next five years there will have to be a seismic shift in the poker world. A mini-boom of sorts.
Path #1: Ladies Night
One of the paths to 10,000 would be a dramatic increase in the number of women who play the Main Event., as several people noted on Twitter.
The question is, can poker increase the number of women who enter the Main Event by a factor of more than 10 in the next half-decade or so?
This seems unlikely, considering the poker world doesn’t seem to have any concrete understanding of why women (especially younger women) are so underrepresented at the poker tables. There are plenty of theories, including the most obvious reason, which is the uncomfortable and hyper-masculine environment of poker rooms.
The poker world’s obsession with increasing the number of women is similar to the casino industry’s infatuation with millennials. There is something keeping them away and while it’s great to admit you have a problem, actual solutions to the problem are few and far between.
It’s going to take a shock to the poker system to bring women into poker, and there’s no evidence that this shock is coming in the next few years. Cultural shifts tend to play out over far longer periods of time.
Perhaps a female will make the final table of the Main Event in the next couple years, or even better win it, but this is wishful thinking rather than a real growth strategy.
Path #2: New foreign markets for poker
A lot of people are excited about the continued opening of foreign markets, particularly Asian markets. While I think it would do wonders for WSOP attendance, if there really was an Asian poker boom it would likely play out in Asia.
Although, based on the number of entries compared to population, there is a lot of room for increased growth from Asian markets at the WSOP.
Still, if there were 3,000 Asian players willing to travel to Vegas to play in the Main Event there would be double that number that would play a sister event in Macau, or in Japan when that country’s casinos are up and running.
New markets will increase attendance, but to hit 10,000 entries the WSOP needs to look closer to home.
The United States will be critical because it’s easier to travel to Vegas from inside the US. Also, Caesars is currently a US-centric company, and will likely want to keep a monopoly on satellites to the WSOP.
More importantly, the US is currently an untapped online poker market.
Bottom line: the path to 10,000 goes through the internet
There is no 10,000 without widespread online poker in the United States. It’s great to have sites like WSOP.com in NJ and WSOP.com in NV sending players to the main event, however, it’s hard to envision a scenario where attendance increases 40 percent without the return of online poker to the US.
Online poker was the catalyst for the growth that led to 8,773 WSOP Main Event entries in 2006. That number was hit largely because of the ease to qualify.
But these satellites need online to thrive.
When online poker was booming, brick and mortar card rooms across the country were jam-packed, and casinos were finding new space to open a poker room or add more tables. If the hundreds of poker rooms across the country were able to send a few more people to the WSOP, it would result in a four-figure increase in attendance. Add in a ton of online satellites, and 10,000 entries is suddenly a bearish forecast.
Online growth also means sponsorship. Not the sponsorship of poker players, but of poker programming. It’s this dual-headed monster that will lead to Main Event attendance surpassing 10,000 players. Online poker and TV poker feed off of one another.
Finally, the percentage of women that play online poker far exceeds the percentage of women who play live poker. The percentage of women entering WSOP tournaments is rarely above four percent, whereas the percentage of female players at online poker rooms is about 15 percent.
In the end, continued growth at the WSOP is largely tied to online poker.
- Online poker increases foot traffic at brick and mortar card rooms.
- The growth of online poker provides ready-made advertisers for poker programming.
- Online poker provides female players with a lower-stress environment to get acclimated with poker.