The film “Rounders” helped put poker on the national radar, and it exploded in the early 2000s with Chris Moneymaker’s World Series of Poker win in 2003.
The card game saw a decline in late 2006 when the United States passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which led some internet poker sites that helped spark interest in the game to leave the country.
Over the last 15 years or so, poker has had a challenge of trying to stay popular and relevant in the sporting and entertainment landscape.
World Series of Poker officials say the sport of poker is as popular as ever, possibly even more popular as its pivoted to how fans consume content.
“There’s no doubt the traditional television and the viewership numbers aren’t what they were. But poker is not unique in that all viewership patterns have changed,” World Series of Poker Senior Vice President Ty Stewart told Fox News Digital in Paradise Island, Bahamas, where the Paradise event occurred.
“Predominantly, the content is absorbed now through streaming, through social media and other means. By some of these accounts, there’s certainly more poker content out there than there’s ever been. More people watching than there’s ever been. I think if you look into the health of poker, you would have to say it’s tremendously strong.”
The World Series of Poker has a strong social media following like streaming partner GG Poker. PokerStars has nearly 2 million subscribers on its YouTube page, underscoring that the popularity of the sport and the hunger to consume the content is still there.
Stewart pointed to the coronavirus pandemic as helping maintain an interest in poker and other card games because people were forced to stay at home for long periods of time.
“I think if there’s any silver lining in what was a horrible time in world history, the pandemic, is that people did understand how important a social activity was,” he said. “People started to rediscover that connection they have sitting around a table, whether it be a live table or virtual table, and playing a game of cards. And so many tournaments around the world have been stronger post-pandemic.”
This year, the World Series of Poker Main Event attracted more than 10,000 entrants with millions of dollars in prize money at stake. Daniel Winman won the event for a $12.1 million payday.
“The World Series of Poker is truly at its all-time peak and all-time highs. We had over $400 million worth of prize money, which is just unthinkable, over just the seven weeks in the summer — over 10,000 players for the first time in the main event,” Stewart said.
“It’s been a few months now since it’s happened, so we almost forget about how big a deal it was. The 10,000 players in the main event was thought that it was impossible that it could ever be done.”
World Series of Poker Vice President Jack Eddel added that the ability to gain poker content in real time is a major boon for the game.
“I think the real-time immediacy of social media and the fact that we can provide this content on a real-time basis, that it happened and people follow along with it,” he said. “The old show on ESPN and stuff, those took time and people that were diehards would read about the results online and then watched the shows later. And while we still do some of these things too, we try to get some of that immediacy out, so people can kind of see it and live it and feel it and engage with it.”
Stewart said it’s still a “truly viable” business to be in.
World Series of Poker Paradise was the first of its kind to be held at Atlantis Bahamas. There were 15 events at the tournament, which started Dec. 3. The festival ends Dec. 14. Fifteen bracelets were to be handed out with more than $50 million in guaranteed prize money awarded.
Poker legends Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth along with Basketball Hall of Famers Tony Parker and Becky Hammon were at the event.