It is always a good time to take stock in the health of anything involved in your life. From your finances to your health to your future plans, individuals do a yearly review to try to improve their situations. Businesses do the same thing, with intricate reviews across all facets of their operations. Governments even do it, usually through some sort of public display, such as what the States of America do with the State of the Union address by the president to the Congress.
While individual entities and businesses inside the industry do it, poker rarely is something that takes an examination of itself. With this in mind, it’s time to do the “State of the Poker Union.” In taking stock of many situations, we can see that the state of the poker union is strong, but with plenty of room for improvement across the board.
Live Poker World is Returning to Pre-2011 Norms
For the live poker world, especially the tournament poker world, there are arguments that it has never been stronger. The cultural and professional touchstone that is the World Series of Poker demonstrated in 2019 that there is plenty of life in the game. This was nowhere more apparent than in the pinnacle event of the festival, the World Series of Poker Championship Event.
Since it broke its all-time record in 2006, the WSOP Championship Event has struggled to get back to those numbers. After seeing 8773 players stream through the doors for the 2006 WSOP Championship Event, the effects of the UIGEA (and, in 2011, the crushing blow of “Black Friday”) saw numbers, in some cases, fall far short of that record. That would change in 2019, however.
The 2019 WSOP Championship Event saw an astounding 8569 players enter the tournament, coming up just short of breaking the 2006 record and setting the stage for a potential record-breaking year in 2020. The preliminary events of the 2019 WSOP were chock-full of players, and the expansion of the WSOP to not only Europe but other international stops with the WSOP Circuit brought the WSOP brand around the world. And the popularity of the tournament version of poker isn’t limited to just the WSOP – the European Poker Tour, the World Poker Tour, Heartland Poker Tour, Mid-States Poker Tour and plenty of others routinely have large fields and offer sizeable prize pools for their competitors.
If there were a downside to the live poker community it would be the closure of some poker rooms. In Nevada there are 80 poker rooms (with 30 in Las Vegas alone), but the number of tables is only in the mid-600s (California’s Commerce Casino has 160 poker tables alone), below the boom times of the mid-Aughts. But this is countered by the opening of poker rooms across the country, such as those in Texas (under grey circumstances), and the explosion of the game in Florida and other states. So instead of a downside, perhaps it is more of a 50/50 good/bad situation.
Questions Still Remain in the Online World
For the States of America, there are still plenty of questions regarding the “State of the Poker Union” and online poker. While the number of states that are or will offer online poker doubled in 2019 (with West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Michigan joining Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey in offering the intra-state game), there is no movement on a nationwide online poker compact; only WSOP.com can take advantage of the compact between Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey (which is an unfair competitive advantage for the company) and the other three states have shown no interest to this point in joining that compact.
Revenues haven’t exactly blown the doors off regarding the state-by-state operations, either. In New Jersey, poker revenues lag WAY behind those of online casino gaming. The newest operation in the Garden State, sports betting, have stormed past online poker in providing revenues for the coffers. While there is reason for optimism in Pennsylvania, it is still a new industry in that state and the jury remains out as to whether they can continue to show the strength that they have to this point.
Other Situations Require Solutions
Going beyond just the dollars and cents revenues of the industry, the “State of the Poker Union” has some areas that need examination. The continued misogyny that exists at the tables contributes to the lack of women in the game, something that the poker world has tried to address in the last 20 years and failed miserably. Just as there are some bright spots – such as Kristin Bicknell’s performance over the last two years (really) in making inroads towards the Top Ten players in the world – then there’s still the “hottest women in poker” posts that you can find in virtually any poker forum (and even some mainstream outlets).
There’s still the aspect of cheating in the game, as demonstrated in 2019 by the Mike Postle Situation in California. The actions of Ken Strauss at the WSOP this year (and his further adventures at other Strip casinos) didn’t exactly paint the game in the greatest light (Strauss was later found unfit for trial) either. And there’s still the fact that the “High Roller” tournaments – and unlimited reentry into poker tournaments – are having an adverse effect on the “poker union,” not only poker’s history books but also possibly impacting participation.
When looked at in the grand scheme, the “State of the Poker Union” is solid and continuing to do well. But there are still things that the game and the industry can improve upon and there is no reason that the poker community as a whole shouldn’t work on these things. If there are some “rough edges” filed off, then the game of poker would truly flourish, something that would benefit all aspects of the industry.