The New York Times tells us today that the poker boom is dead, which means it actually died about year ago. A year ago, you still couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing some poker programming, whether it was the World Series of Poker, High Stakes Poker, The World Poker Tour, Bring It To The Table (hip-hop poker), The Heartland Poker Tour (poker playing farmers from the midwest, seriously), ad infinitum. It was just too much. On Tuesday, the final table of this year’s World Series main event will be aired, and it’s doubtful many of you will be watching.
For an eerily good proxy of the boom, check out the chart of publicly traded World Poker Tour Entertainment (WPTE). The stock currently resides at a $.32, having hit a high of $26.50 in July of 2005. The Times article helpfully points out that ratings for ESPN’s broadcast of the WSOP peaked in 2005. It also notes that the number of entries into the tournament this year was down 22% from its 2006 peak (note: the peak in players lagged the peak in viewers by a year).
So why has poker fallen on hard times? Let’s think of a few reasons
- For the vast majority, poker is a money-losing habit. On TV it looks easy. Wear some mirrored-eyeglasses, push all-in with two rags and double up when a miracle hits on the river. Of course, the majority of the game is quiet drudgery. A few sharks eat the majority of fish. Eventually, people get tired of wasting their money. This is probably the big killer.
- The Law. The UIGEA made it hard for people to fund their online poker accounts. It’s still not that hard, but it takes some effort. That means the people who would impulsively start playing and immediately lose all their money aren’t playing as much. The ones who do go through the hoops are more serious players, thus reducing the profitability of the game for everyone.
- That also helps to explain the decline in World Series of Poker Entries. There aren’t that many people who will pay $10,000 to enter a poker tournament, but the big poker sites used to hold a lot of satellites ($100-entry, winner gets a trip to the WSOP), and send thousands of people to Vegas. Now, not so much.
- Alternatives to online gambling. Why play legally dicey poker when you can just trade FOREX? You’ll ;ose your money just as fast, but it’s much easier to transfer money into the account.
- Here’s a NYC-centric explanation: shootings and club busts. We used to go to quasi-underground poker clubs all the time, and it was easy to find them on Craigslist. Then there were a few high-profile busts, a couple of gunpoint robberies, and in one instance a club patron was killed when the robber accidentally fired his gun. News like that will make people think twice about finding a game.
Of course, poker isn’t over entirely and the final table actually starts in about an hour (10:20 AM Pacific Time). You can wait until it airs on Tuesday, or you can follow PokerNews, which does an awesome job liveblogging tournaments. Also follow Pauly at Tao of Poker, who’s already liveblogging and doing a great job conveying the atmosphere of the event.
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