(Click Here for the Latest Online Poker News Stories)
Copyright © 2007 USA Today
HEADLINE: Wild, wild cards in the World Series
In 2003, Tennessee accountant Chris (no nickname needed) Moneymaker
won the Main Event at the World Series of Poker after earning
his $10,000 seat in an online
tournament. Poker's biggest, richest showdown has been dealing
out wild-card winners ever since.
Last summer, former Hollywood agent Jamie Gold won the Main Event
in his first try. Past champions including Doyle Brunson, Johnny
Chan and Phil Hellmuth went out the first day.
"You can't, no matter how badly you wanted to, ever play
in a regulation NBA game … unless you were a member of that
team. You couldn't buy your way onto an NFL playing field,"
said Jeffrey Pollack, commissioner of the tournament run by Harrah's
Entertainment. "But at the World Series of Poker, anyone
can enter, anyone can win."
Action starts Friday at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino
with 55 events over 47 days, capped by the 12-day Texas
Hold'em Main Event. That's up from 46 events last year.
When Moneymaker won, ESPN's tape-delayed coverage totaled seven
hours. Now the network is doing 32 hours for the third year in
a row. It will air the final table live on pay-per-view for the
Whether that growth continues remains to be seen after a wild
card dealt last year.
A federal law adopted last fall prohibits banks and credit-card
companies from making U.S. customer payments to online
sites for any type of gambling that is illegal under U.S.
law. The WSOP says it won't accept third-party registrations,
such as Moneymaker's in 2003, from online sites doing business
The impact could be significant. Pollack declines to speculate
on what the turnout may be. However the online hand plays out,
he says the tournament still has its tradition and everyman appeal.
"The World Series of Poker started in 1970 and grew tremendously
before the Internet was ever made available to the general public
... we're here to stay," Pollack said. "That said, ratings
will come and go, attendance will come and go, but that's true
for NASCAR, the NBA, the NHL, Major League Baseball and any other
global sports property. That's part of the price you pay for being
on the big stage, and we accept it."
Online sites adapt to law
The law passed last October, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement
Act, may not be the final word.
In April, U.S. Rep Barney Frank, D-Mass., introduced a bill to
allow federally licensed online companies to accept wagers. According
to a news release, his bill has "protections against underage
gambling, compulsive gambling, money laundering and fraud."
Meanwhile, online sites
which paid Moneymaker's way in 2003, is offering to deposit $10,000
(plus $1,000 for travel) into the Poker
Stars account of any winner of its satellite tournaments so
they can register themselves for the Main Event if they choose.
Stars says it sent about 1,600 satellite winners to the Main
Event last year, including about 1,000 U.S. players. That was
about 18% of the field. Poker
Stars, based on the Isle of Man, isn't speculating how many
it will send this year.
"This is the first year we're kind of letting go of the
reins, per Harrah's instructions, and letting players buy themselves
in. We hope to get a good number, but we can't say for certain,"
said Susan Lindner of Lotus Public Relations, a New York firm
Online poker offered beginners a less intimidating venue than
casino play, according to poker pro Robert Williamson III.
"You could sit in your underwear at home, crawl out of bed
and play a few hands at night and in the morning," Williamson
He says the new law "definitely hurt poker in the first
few months." But, he added, "People are going to find
a way to play, whether it's in brick-and-mortar casinos or whether
The full specifics of the new regulations aren't due until this
summer. In the meantime, there are gray areas, and some U.S. residents
online, says John Pappas, vice president of government affairs
for the Poker Players Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy
"There are certainly not as many as before, but there still
are companies out there offering poker services," Pappas
He'd prefer legalization: "What we don't want to see is
an underground system developing, because companies that want
to be good actors are forced out."
Norman Chad, in his fifth year as ESPN's commentator for the
World Series, says poker's staying power on TV has been sustained
by interest and advertising revenue generated by gaming sites.
"I don't know how it will play out with Congress or legally,
but no matter how it plays out, people are still going to play
on the Internet in the long run," Chad said. "So as
long as that occurs ... I think it helps the little poker
boomlet on television survive."
Cameras help build drama
Poker shows of all sorts compete for viewers. They include National
Heads-Up Poker and Poker After Dark on NBC and the World Poker
Tour and the Professional Poker Tour on the Travel Channel.
Amid that saturation, ESPN's 32 hours of World Series programming
last year averaged a 1.0 rating (962,000 households). For the
Main Event, it drew a 1.3 rating (1,238,000 households).
That's no threat to the NFL, but the World Series has come far
from its early years in the 1970s, when it wasn't even aired.
Now cameras catch everything, including hidden hole cards. This
year, for the first time, it all will be televised in high definition.
And the tape delay enables ESPN to cut the poker
drudgery and highlight made-for-TV moments when the chips are
"Poker is essentially
the best reality show on television because the other reality
shows aren't anywhere close to reality," Chad said. "Most
people aren't living on a desert island or eating spiders."
Many play poker, and the relatively recent addition of the hole-card
camera gives viewers a look at the game even the players at the
table don't have.
In the Texas
Hold'em Main Event, each player is dealt two hole cards face
down. Three more cards are turned face up on the table —
the flop. Then comes a fourth face-up card — the turn. Then
a fifth — the river. Each player can use his two cards and
the five on the table to produce the best five-card hand.
Cameras built into the tables reveal the hole cards to viewers,
which is no problem with a tape-delayed telecast (they're not
shown on the live pay-per-view).
"I don't think there's anything remotely equivalent as far
as its importance to the telecast," Chad said. "Football
on television is 50 times better (now) that you have replay. …
The hole-card cam is even more important to poker on television."
ESPN first used the hole-card camera in 2002.
"If you're watching ESPN Classic poker from the '70s and
the '80s, there weren't any hole cards (hole-card cameras). It
was a very different show to watch," said Jamie Horowitz,
ESPN's senior producer for the World Series.
But Horowitz says the appeal goes beyond the sneak peek. He says
the game itself offers an inside look at personalities and the
game: "What makes poker particularly good for TV is there's
a narrative within every hand. Every time you're going around
the table, there's some sort of drama."
Hopes brought to final tables
For Brunson, a 31-year WSOP veteran, there's no drama like the
first day of the Main Event.
Last year, the mass of everything poker made Brunson think of
legendary director John Ford's The Long Gray Line, a story about
West Point instructor Marty Maher (played by Tyrone Power).
The movie reminded Brunson of poker's long, gray line —
the old-timers who built the World Series — and he was moved
"They are all dead and gone, but their memory isn't lost
in the sea of poker tables for me," Brunson said. "To
see how far poker
has come, it's amazing. And every time I think this thing can't
get any better, it gets better. All those old-timers I used to
poker with would love it."
So what if the final table at the Main Event again doesn't include
familiar names such as Brunson?
"It doesn't matter, because if we do our jobs correctly,
producing the show, Chris Moneymaker is never just the name of
a guy that shows up at the final table. You know about how he
qualified for $39 online," Horowitz said. "When Greg
Raymer shows up the next year, he's not just a name. He's a patent
attorney with a dream. When Joseph Hachem shows up the year after,
he's a guy carrying the hopes of Australia with him."
Who will it be this time?
Related: See Play
U.S. Poker Online
downloaded from the World Wide Web on June 1, 2007: http://www.usatoday.com/sports/2007-05-31-wsop-bonus-cover_N.htm
(Click Here for the Latest Online Poker News Stories)