There are only seven days until the 2008 World Series of Poker, but as both professionals and amateurs gear up for a month of poker excitement, not everything is as it should be. Concerns over the uncertain economic situation in the U.S. have lead to fears that this WSOP could have the lowest turnout for 3 years, with the main event the most likely to suffer. Some onlookers believe that with worried Americans across the country feeling the pinch, a far smaller contingent will be willing or able to stump up the $10,000 entry fee.
Last year’s main event saw the number of entrants drop by 2,415 and some are anxious that a similar slump may be in store this year. With oil prices soaring, just getting to Vegas may be too much of stretch for some potential participants. When you factor in hotel rooms, meals and the myriad other potential costs, it is easy to see why people would be unwilling to put that much money on the line. In this unpredictable economic climate can the player with a family to support really justify the massive expense of playing in the World Series? For even the most die-hard poker fan, it’s a difficult question to answer.
The other major worry for WSOP organizers and sponsors is the ban on online gambling in the US. Ever since Chris Moneymaker won the main event from a $39 satellite, winning a WSOP package has been the main way in for many an amateur. However with the UIGEA in effect, countless players no longer have access to this cut-price method of entry.
A glance at the situation in Las Vegas in the months prior to the WSOP does not inspire confidence. Traditionally resilient to a recession, the Las Vegas economy has been transforming over the last 20 years. Whereas in the past gambling accounted for 60 percent of the revenue in Las Vegas, it now only accounts for 40 percent. In search of profits the casinos have shifted more towards leisure and retail – areas much more easily affected by a cautious consumer mindset.
So much for holidaymakers, you might say, what we care about are the gamblers. A fair point, but there’s still cause for concern on that front: Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. (the organizers of the World Series) have reported first quarter losses of $187.8 million, and gambling revenues for all the top casinos were down 4.8 percent in March.
Despite all this doom and gloom there are still plenty of reasons to remain upbeat. Hotels are being forced to cut room prices, possibly tempting in those undecided about whether to make the trip. Also, although main event entries were down, last year entries as a whole were up from 48,366 to over 50,000. With many people cautious about laying down the whole 10k, look for the smaller events to be even more popular this year. The organizers themselves are remaining confident: WSOP Communications Director Seth Palansky claims that hotel-room reservations and event pre-registrations are well ahead of last year’s figures.
No matter what the economic climate, the professionals will always be there. The WSOP is the most prestigious event in the poker calendar, a fact which is not about to change. Even if thousands less buy-in for the main event, it will still be a fantastic spectacle. It was only in 2003 that the tournament first surpassed 1000 players and, in the midst of the poker boom, we should forget how far poker has come in the last few years, and not be too quick to grieve what is – in the grand scheme of things – a minor blip.