The Reports of Poker’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated
The mainstream media often get things notoriously wrong.
Consider the case of Mark Twain’s “death” being erroneously reported in the (now-defunct) New York Journal daily newspaper in 1897, eliciting his famous quote in response, “the report of my death was an exaggeration.”
It seems mainstream media haven’t learned much over the last 116 years. In recent months, major media have reported poker’s popularity is declining. Last month, the Associated Press ran a national news story claiming the poker boom is over (See Feb. 28 article: “As Trend Wanes, Vegas Casinos Fold on Poker Rooms”). As evidence, the report cited a number of poker rooms closing down in Las Vegas — as if that’s really the metric of global popularity. Hint: It isn’t. The AP article claims: In Sin City, epicenter of the poker craze, at least eight rooms have folded in the past two years. The trend is also playing out in Mississippi riverboats, Indian casinos and gambling halls near big cities from California to Florida.
Even usually reliable and more knowledeable sources in poker media are spreading the myth. Since “Black Friday” in April 2011, numerous feature stories posted at various poker news sites have spotlighted the negatives — including (professed) declining popularity in some markets, the cancellation of poker programs on television, lackluster tournament attendance, and the demise of online poker inside the United States.
To be perfectly clear, poker does face serious challenges ahead. However, this assertion that poker’s popularity is declining is not only demonstratively false, it grossly neglects plenty of evidence which suggests otherwise. In fact, the opposite is true. Poker has never been more popular than at this very moment.
Fact: More people worldwide are playing poker today than ever before.
First, let’s address the most common “negatives” raised by those who profess poker’s popularity is declining, or that the poker boom is over:
1. Poker rooms are closing in Las Vegas — This is true. Some poker rooms have closed down in recent years. Others are reducing their size and staff. Clearly, Las Vegas overreacted to the poker boom during the 2004-2008 boom period and over-expanded. Which leads to the the obvious retort — so what? Contrary to popular perception, Las Vegas is not nor ever has been poker’s epicenter. Aside from the six weeks of the WSOP, Las Vegas is pretty much like any other place with legalized live poker. For decades, Los Angeles enjoyed bragging rights as poker’s biggest market given it’s mega-cardrooms and major tournaments that ran year-around. And with poker’s expansion into other states more recently, most notably Florida and Pennsylvania, what happens in Las Vegas no longer really matters. In short, poker’s overall popularity has little or no connection to the number of poker tables or games going on in Las Vegas. Every poker table in Las Vegas could close today, and no one in 35 states with legalized poker would even notice.
Televised poker is struggling — This is true, in part. Unfortunately, far too many poker programs sprouted up on television during the poker boom — most of which were dreadful. Those shows are mostly gone now. Good riddance. What remains is a more stable stock of programing — including ESPN’s annual coverage of the World Series of Poker, the World Poker Tour, the Heartland Poker Tour, occasional special events such as NBC Heads-Up Championship, and various re-runs of High Stakes Poker. While not pulling in the unexpectedly high ratings back when poker was such a novelty a few years ago, there’s still plenty of poker shown on television which draws enough viewers to be a viable programing choice (otherwise, the networks would simply run something else). Admittedly, some of these poker shows are stale and could use a serious jump start. Moreover, poker broadcasts continue to be seriously handicapped by time delays — being shown weeks if not months after the events have actually taken place. But several hours of televised poker continue to appear every week with no end in sight.
Poker tournament attendance is declining — Not true. High buy-in tournaments are indeed struggling at the moment and will continue to do so as long as the economy struggles and sponsorship money is unavailable to players. But big buy-in events are a small percentage of the overall number of poker tournaments both nationwide and worldwide. Fact is, there are more poker tournaments run in more states, and in more different venues than ever before. Apply this metric worldwide — and more poker tournaments are being held in more countries, and more different casinos than at any time in history. Yes, some tournament field sizes have declined in some markets. But this is offset by many more poker tournaments being held around the country and around the world.
Online poker is dead in the United States — No doubt, Black Friday seriously hurt the poker market (and poker players). But things are about to change in a very big way. At least three states are implementing legalized online poker for the first time. Several other states are considering legislation to change state laws. While the last two years have been a dark period for American poker players, the horizon is becoming brighter. Worldwide, online poker continues to perform well, and with PokerStars now the undisputed global giant, look for incremental expansion ahead in many international markets. In short, online poker’s future is very bright — both in the United States and worldwide.
Let’s examine several recent developments and factors which dispel the myth that poker’s popularity is declining. Pay special attention to all the developments over the past few years, while media have called attention to poker’s decline. These facts — separately and certainly as a whole — prove otherwise. Be warned, this is a lengthy list:
1. Poker is booming in Florida — There are now more than 1,000 licensed poker tables at 25 locations in Florida. Five years ago (during the “Poker Boom”), the Florida poker scene was a joke. Betting limits were capped by state law which inhibited the game’s expansion. Now, poker rooms are booming all over the state. It’s become the new California. Three World Poker Tour events now take place in Florida and the WSOP Circuit visits the Sunshine State every year. Again, this has all taken place since the reported “end” of the Poker Boom. MORE DETAILS HERE
2. Poker is booming in Pennsylvania — A few months ago, it was reported that Pennsylvania surpassed New Jersey as the nation’s second-largest gambling market. With more than a dozen new casinos containing nine cardrooms, the Keystone State has embraced poker as a gaming option. Poker rooms in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie, Bethlehem, Wilkes-Barre and elsewhere have opened up with hundreds of tables across the state. All of this has happened withing the past three years. If anything, Pennsylvania is currently in the midst of a poker boom. MORE DETAILS HERE
3. Poker is booming in Ohio — A few years ago, Ohio’s poker scene consisted entirely of quasi-legal charity events and underground games. Now, with ten poker venues launched within the past few years, it’s destined to become one of the hottest poker markets in the country. With new casinos opening in Columbus (30 tables), Cleveland (30 tables), Toledo (24 tables), and Cincinnati (31 tables) poker will enjoy a healthy environment to expand and thrive. Two WSOP Circuit events are reportedly planned for Ohio next season. MORE DETAILS HERE
4. Poker remains healthy in West Virginia — Although it’s a smaller state than the others, West Virginia currently has four major poker rooms (with 27, 24, 14, and 12 tables respectively). Poker’s expansion in the Mountaineer State has taken place since 2006, which is often cited as the height of the poker boom. MORE DETAILS HERE
5. Poker is expanding in Delaware — Another small state which draws largely from the Washington-Baltimore metro area, Delaware has three cardrooms — with 45, 18, and 10 tables respectively. But the biggest development in Delaware is online poker’s legalization and prospects for expansion. MORE DETAILS HERE
6. Poker is coming to North Carolina — Aside from underground games, North Carolina has been a poker graveyard forever. That’s about to change next week with the very first major poker tournament to be held at Harrah’s Cherokee. The WSOP Circuit is visiting North Carolina for the first time, which is sure to usher in more big events and interest in live action games in the future.
5. Poker is coming to Maryland — For many years, poker was limited to a few horribly-run “firehouse” games in counties surrounding the Washington, DC area. But the first poker room just opened up in Maryland, and more are on the way — including a casino and poker room planned for downtown Baltimore.
6. Poker is doing fine in existing markets — Ten years ago, legalized poker was limited to just a few large markets — which were in California, Nevada, New Jersey, and Mississippi. Since then, casinos and cardrooms have opened up near Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, Louisville, Omaha, New Orleans, and Dallas — aside from the previously mentioned cities of Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, Jacksonville, and Wilmington. Virtually every market listed here is doing well. Even Atlantic City with its widely-reported demise as a gaming destination, is holding its own as a poker market thanks largely to the Borgata and Harrah’s. Should the Atlantic Club deal with PokerStars eventually go through, be sure that this will become a hot poker destination once again.
7. Look for poker to expand elsewhere — Casinos are likely to expand into additional markets, which are certain to offer poker. Most notably, look for poker to appear at some point in the Boston area. The two biggest poker prizes of all are Texas and New York. Should poker be legalized at the states’ racetracks (likely to happen eventually), these poker markets (New York City, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, etc.) will explode in popularity.
8. Poker in the Midwest has never been stronger — There are more than 100 Native-American casinos cattered throughout the Midwest. Many of them offer poker. Some cardrooms have even signed on with major tournament series, most commonly the Heartland Poker Tour. In short, there’s now more poker being played in the Midwest than anytime before. ADDED NOTE (see “Comments”): Small point of clarification re poker in the Midwest–it’s not limited to tribal casinos. In Iowa, fairly big and generally busy poker rooms are open in casinos in Council Bluffs (across the river from Omaha), Des Moines, the Quad Cities, near the Minnesota border, and Iowa City, along with a number of smaller non-tribal rooms. The major poker rooms in the Kansas City area are also non-tribal.
9. Poker continues to expand in Canada — Thanks to liberalized gaming laws and greater cooperation between casinos, racinos, and provincial regulators, Canada has become a viable (live) poker market in recent years. Vancouver hosted the first-ever WSOP Circuit event held outside the U.S., with most events completely selling out. Major tournaments are also coming to Montreal and casinos in Ontario. Canada’s online poker market continues to thrive. MORE DETAILS HERE
10. Online poker is coming to some states — This factor deserves much greater in-depth discussion. This sector’s potential for growth is extraordinary. No doubt, if online poker continues to win favor in more states and the player market expands accordingly, we may see the biggest poker boom ever. The pace of online poker’s spread in various can be argued. But its coming. No one would dispute this critical issue is headed in the right direction and will usher in growth for the game. Moreover, online poker’s eventual success will usher in massive amounts of money being spent to bring in new players, through advertising and marketing. ADDED NOTE: Let’s not forget about the reported $150 million which might find its way back into the poker economy at some point, which was seized during the Full Tilt Poker scandal.
11. Poker’s demographics are extremely favorable — Years ago, poker was pretty much an old man’s game. Poker skewed as a pastime for 55-year-old white males. It was half a generation away from turning into horse racing. But the poker boom changed everything and now the typical poker player is 25-years-old, perhaps younger. The up and coming generation of players will fuel the game for decades to come. Furthermore, younger players’ greater familiarity with online poker and social media should encourage growth. Indeed, poker’s future is not so much live as it is digital. And young people have already proven indisputable allegiance to poker as part of their constant interaction with digital technologies.
12. Poker continues to expand internationally — Whatever the metric, poker continues to expand globally. Measured by the number of poker venues, major poker tournaments, online poker statistics, or overall awareness and acceptance of the game, poker remains on an upward track. As with the online poker issue, this topic deserves a far more more in-depth discussion. But little time needs to be spent on poker’s international popularity and growth because there’s no contrary case to be made. What’s even more convincing is poker’s enormous potential in markets which haven’t been scratched yet — mostly notably Asia.
Let me repeat myself by stating my earlier hypothesis: More people worldwide are playing poker today than ever before.
So far, I see no evidence that would contradict that statement. While my assertion can’t be proven with hard data and many of the favorable points I’ve raised are indeed anecdotal, the overwhelming preponderance of evidence in favor of poker’s popularity is — in my estimation — irrefutable.
Still convinced the poker boom is over? Hell, this is the poker boom. And it’s about to get even bigger.
Next time you read an article or hear a claim about poker dying, think again. Look all around the nation — both live and what’s about to happen online. Look around the world — where poker continues to grow on virtually every continent. During the last five years since the poker boom supposedly ran its full course, poker has actually expanded more widely, to more places, to more people.
Indeed, poker is like Mark Twain. It’s fun, alluring, and timeless. And reports of its demise are most certainly exaggerated.