Is the WSOP fiddling While Rome Burns?

by Lou on October 26, 2006

“The number of entrants into the World Series of Poker might be significantly reduced because of a new law banning banks from processing Internet gambling transfers,” quotes an online opinion piece I read earlier today.

It went on to quote Michael Bolcerek, president of the Poker Players Alliance, who said, “It’s going to affect the average player most dramatically.”

Mike Sexton was also quoted, saying, “I wouldn’t say it would put poker in a death spiral, but in the long run it will hurt the growth of poker. The World Series of Poker is going to be devastated over this.”

But then I read a statement attributed to “organizers of the World Series of Poker” — it didn’t specify exactly which organizers they were talking about — saying that they “. . . had record fields in 2005 and ’06 and expected next year to be the biggest ever.”

They can’t have it both ways. Earlier information coming from Harrah’s indicated that they would not accept registrations from online sites, or from travel agencies acting in their stead, or from any other groups that seemed to be fronting for online poker rooms. But if that’s the case, how can the WSOP say with a straight face that they expect even more attendees in 2007?

Even if one were to assume — and I think it’s a bad assumption — that each online site awards the same number of entries to the WSOP this year that they did in 2006 and that the only difference is that next year each online satellite winner has to register individually instead of having the online site handle things for him.

Do you think there is any chance that all of the online satellite winners are going to sign up for the WSOP? I don’t. When you win an event online the tournament entry fee is paid directly to the casino by the hosting site. You also receive plane tickets and some walking around money too. But in 2007 each site will have to give all that money to the players and hope they use it to buy-into the WSOP.

Regardless of how dedicated a poker player is, a lot of them will look at that money in their hands and decide they have more pressing uses for it in the real world than to buy their way into a poker tournament. Besides, with many US players shunning online poker — the aggregate numbers are down by about a third, even with privately owned sites that still serve US based customers picking up players abandoned by the publicly traded sites that have given up the ghost — there’s no way the number of entrants in the 2007 WSOP figure to top those of 2006.

There’s even less incentive for online sites to serve as a feeder system to the WSOP, since their players won’t be allowed to wear logo gear with an online poker site’s name on it, nor will these sites by allowed to promote themselves by hosting a hospitality suite at the WSOP or taking a large booth at the gaming expo that runs concurrently with the WSOP’s main event.

It looks as though 2006 will be the high water mark for the WSOP for a number of years to come, unless there are changes to the law and online poker becomes what it ought to be — a regulated and taxed business industry here in the United States.

While many online gaming sites have set their eyes on the Asian market, it will be a while until inroads there produce a sufficient number of players to offset those lost in the US. For Harrah’s to think otherwise seems foolish, or a misguided attempt to assure observers that everything is still OK despite the ripple effects felt throughout the poker industry as a result of UIGEA.

But facing facts hasn’t stopped others from issuing rosy predictions in the past. After all, didn’t Nero do something like that as he fiddled while Rome burned?

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