During the annual conference call prior to the beginning of the World Series of Poker on May 31, officials with the WSOP commented that they do not expect to see a huge downturn in numbers for this year’s event.
The 42nd running of the most prestigious event in poker begins later this month with the specter of the April 15 “Black Friday” indictments looming over the live poker world. The indictments, in which six owners of the online poker sites and five of their payment processors were charged with money laundering, bank fraud and violations of the UIGEA, have caused the sites – PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker – to withdraw from the U. S. market and caused issues with players, be they American or international, getting their funds off the sites.
WSOP officials believe, however, that the effects of “Black Friday” will have little, if any, impact on the actions at this year’s WSOP. The Executive Director of the WSOP, Ty Stewart, did say that the situation could be a fluid one if the sites continued to have problems returning money to all players.
“The World Series of Poker is not impervious to outside issues,” Stewart stated during the annual media conference call yesterday. “We are concerned about players not getting their funds back in a timely fashion. If a large amount of bankroll is impacted, that could be a salient factor.”
Contrasting what many in the poker world believe, Stewart feels that this year’s tournament will meet or exceed last year’s record-breaking attendance figures. Last year, 72,966 players turned out for the 57-event schedule, building a prize pool of $187.1 million over the span of tournaments. The $10,000 Championship Event featured the second largest field in the history of the event, with the 7319 players ranking behind only the 2006 WSOP Championship Event, and made history in crowning the first ever Canadian World Champion in Jonathan Duhamel.
Although Stewart is confident in predicting a bigger and better 2011 WSOP, live tournament poker numbers since “Black Friday” have not been inspiring. The European Poker Tour’s San Remo tournament, which drew a record field of 1240 players in 2010, could “only” manage to bring in 987 for this year’s festival. The EPT Grand Final, currently in action in Madrid, Spain, saw its player numbers fall from 848 for the 2010 tournament to 686 in 2011.
The World Poker Tour has to be concerned with some of the numbers coming out of the Bellagio this week. The Five Star World Poker Classic, which features the WPT Championship as it signature event, has held eight of the 14 tournaments on its preliminary schedule. Of those tournaments, none have broken the 230 player mark – even though no tournament has surpassed a $1000 buy in – and several events have had smaller than usual fields. Thursday will be a key day to look at for those gazing into the crystal ball, as the $5000 No Limit Hold’em tournament takes to the felt prior to the start of the WPT Championship on Saturday.
The 2010 WPT Championship drew a field of 195 players for the $25,000 buy in tournament and, if players are having problems with regaining lost bankrolls on the “Big Three” sites, the field may be even smaller in 2011.
Of particular note during the media conference call on Wednesday were Stewart’s statements regarding players wearing sponsorship logos. Stewart stated that there would be no change in the WSOP rules regarding such logos but, in light of the indictments of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker and Absolute Poker, he didn’t see players wanting to incur the wrath of people who had money tied up on the site by wearing an indicted sponsor’s patch. “It would be like walking into a PETA convention wearing a fur coat,” Stewart said.
Finally, fans will be able to see much of the action from the Rio’s Amazon Ballroom live at WSOP.com. Stewart announced that there will be streaming video of 55 of the events sent out over a 30-minute delay. Coupled with the airtime on the family of ESPN networks, fans can watch virtually the entirety of the WSOP from the comforts of home and witness the next pages of history for the World Series of Poker.
By EARL BURTON