Poker still is growing

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It’s hard to believe one simple question, asked nearly six years ago, created the Ante Up Nation. The Ante Up PokerCast’s first episode, an absolutely horrible 6-minute, 47-second effort, had wondered: Has poker’s popularity reached its peak?

Not exactly the wisest of questions given it was 2005, the World Series of Poker was coming off a record-setting main event the year before, the World Poker Tour hole-cams continued to make the game accessible and exciting, and poker websites were sprouting up like weeds in cyberspace. But that wasn’t what proved to us that poker hadn’t plateaued. It was the rush of fans that found our show. In a very short time, with almost no publicity or marketing, our show had listeners in every state and in more than 30 countries. How naïve we were.

But after nearly 300 episodes (without ever missing a week, and, yes, we got better), and the launch of YOUR monthly poker magazine, which has spread from one state to 25 in almost three years, should we dare ask the question again?

Has poker reached its peak? One look at our cover should provide a resounding “No!” There were so many events in our coverage area for this issue that we couldn’t decide which one to put on the cover. And one of those events, the World Series of Poker Eastern Regional Championship, is new to the tournament scene.

Some may say that’s a bad thing; that having too many events can saturate the market and ultimately kill poker’s growth. Nonsense! There are millions of poker players in the United States, and if you get creative enough you can find plenty to fill your tournament seats. But let’s not get off track.

If our cover isn’t enough proof, just look at what transpired over the past year:

• The Borgata Poker Open in Atlantic City set a record for the most players in a World Poker Tour main event (1,042), besting its record from the year before (1,018). Yes, it’s true, they decreased the buy-in to $3,500, but they also guaranteed a $2 million prize pool. Remember what we said about being creative?

• The WSOP in Las Vegas broke all kinds of records, including overall attendance. Though its main event didn’t set a record, it did draw 7,319 players, the second-most in history, and all of this during one of the worst economies on record.

• Delaware and Pennsylvania approved legal poker and opened their rooms in the summer.

• The Hard Rock casino franchises inked a deal to hold WPT events in Hollywood, Fla., (and likely Tampa) just a few months after Florida removed its capped-poker shackles. Its $5K WPT/Hard Rock Fall Open regional event attracted 300 players, including pros from all over the country. Its WPT main event in April is sure to do the same.

• The WSOP circuit beefed up its schedule by adding regional and national championships. Also, the WSOPC granted the Palm Beach Kennel Club the right to host one of its circuit events (this month), just the third non-Caesars Entertainment property to get that honor.

• In a TV market filled with poker shows, PokerStars launched The Big Game on Fox, which has been successful. Other shows, such as Stars’ Million Dollar Challenge, Poker After Dark and High Stakes Poker, continue to return for more seasons. Also, if poker’s popularity had leveled off or begun to decline, would the WPT totally revamp its format and continue to find a steady home on FSN? Not likely.

• Starting with this issue, Jonathan Little will be writing a strategy column for our readers. Given his incredible success on tour and his penchant for teaching poker, this truly is a feather in our cap and reason enough to feel like poker’s popularity is still thriving. You can find his column, which focuses on bankroll management this month, on Page 40.

• And, finally, a Rounders sequel is in the works, according to Miramax. If Hollywood is willing to sink money into another poker movie, you just know there’s still a growing audience for it.

Someday poker will level off, but not before all avenues have been explored definitively. Until then, let’s enjoy the ride.

We’ll see you at the tables.

Christopher Cosenza and Scott Long