Who would have thought ten years ago that poker would be such a global phenomenon in 2010? If not for the online revolution and the 'Chris Moneymaker effect' poker could still largely be an underground game, played in sticky-floored cardrooms and only be a select group of pros and wealthy amateurs.
How times have changed. During the past decade poker has become a mainstream pursuit, played my millions of people across the world every day, broadcast several nights a week on TV, and creating a global industry worth billions. Poker has taken over the world - this much we know. The question now is where it goes from here - join us as PokerPlayer.co.uk channels our inner Nostradamus and looks into poker's future...
1. Las Vegas 2010
Poker may have filtered into a host of territories around the world during the past ten years, but Las Vegas is still the capital of poker. The gambling mecca is the home of the World Series, has borne witness to the biggest ever cash games, and houses nearly 60 working poker rooms (17 on the strip alone) along with scores of professional players. But in recent times Vegas has proven susceptible to the economic downturn. Over the past three years seven of the smaller poker rooms have been forced to pack up their tables, and with tourist figures declining year on year, more rooms may well follow suit.
Las Vegas 2020
‘You can forget about Bobby’s Room being the epicentre of high stakes action,’ says Vegas resident and PokerStars pro Barry Greenstein. ‘Walk in there today and you will find it empty and I suspect there hasn’t been a game there in weeks.’ He doubts that those famous four walls will ever see a spectacle even remotely close to 2006 when billionaire Andy Beal took on ‘The Corporation’ in a series of limit Hold’em sessions with astonishing blinds of $100,000/$200,000. ‘[The high stakes] games reached their peak live five years ago,’ says Greenstein. ‘They seem to be dependent on a few extremely wealthy benefactors to keep them going.’
However, Greenstein is keen to point out that right now, and for the foreseeable future, true high stakes action won’t be found in any live cardroom, in Vegas or anywhere else. ‘The biggest action is online these days.’
Daniel Negreanu is more optimistic about the city’s prospects as a high stakes haven in a decade’s time. While he can’t see a repeat of the Andy Beal game, he does believe the level will return to how it used to be. ‘I think it will be similar to what it was a couple of years ago when the normal game was $4,000/$8,000 [limit]; these days it’s closer to $1,500/$3,000. I do predict that more and more of the young online grinders will venture into playing mixed games at the Bellagio and they’ll want to play higher.’
That’s not to say the Canadian pro is hedging his bets on a mixed game revolution. According to Negreanu, in ten years’ time Hold’em will still be king. ‘I’ve thought long and hard about this and despite the fact that I love playing mixed games, they will never translate as well to TV as no-limit Hold’em.’
More of the smaller poker rooms will continue to close down, and by 2020 all the action will be located in just a few super-sized cardrooms in the biggest casinos. Tours and festivals like the WSOP, WPT and NAPT will still bring in players from far and wide.
2. World Series of Poker 2010
In 2009, the prediction that the economic meltdown would cripple the WSOP never came to pass. The opening weekend’s $1,000 ‘Stimulus’ event attracted a non-Main Event record field of 6,012 entrants, while in the $10k World Championship hundreds of players were turned away at the last minute when Day 1d sold out. To prevent a repeat of this the WSOP is expanding to include use of the Pavilion Ballroom at the Rio Convention Center, which is 20,000 square feet larger than the Amazon Room. The number of tables in use will go up by an estimated 20%, easily surpassing the 300 mark. Although Main Event numbers have not risen to the pre-UIGEA peak year of 2006, when 8,773 players contributed to the astounding $12m first prize, the WSOP festival is clearly still growing.
World Series of Poker 2020
Phil Hellmuth has never been backward in putting forward his opinion, and when it comes to the World Series, his crystal-ball gazing is renowned. Fourteen years ago Hellmuth thought the WSOP Main Event would be so massive that it would have to be staged in a stadium! We may be some way off that scenario yet but it hasn’t stopped Hellmuth from thinking big. He has a detailed vision of the WSOP in 2020. ‘It may be run in stages by then, where we have 40,000 players and we have 16 Day 1s,’ he says. ‘Or it might be like the Masters golf tournament where we cap it at 10,000 players and you need to qualify to get into the field.’
In terms of number of events, the 2010 schedule boasts over twice as many events as it did in 2000 (57 vs 24), but judging by the last few years it doesn’t appear as if that number will double again in a decade. In 2007/2008 there were 55 and last year there were 57. Hellmuth certainly hopes there isn’t a drastic increase. ‘I hope that whoever owns the WSOP by then will cap the number of tournaments each year to 60. Having all the top players in the world converge on Las Vegas for six or seven weeks is enough! Players would leave Vegas in the middle and come back, which means the events could lose some lustre.’
Hellmuth is especially critical of any attempts to move the WSOP brand further afield. He doesn’t think the WSOP Europe will still exist and admits he would hate to see a WSOP Asia. ‘I don’t think the top players would support it – it’s too much travel. Whoever owns the WSOP should understand that they have the biggest and best tournament now and probably for the next 20 years. One of the ways they can screw it up is to dilute it.’
The entire World Series of Poker will become bigger than the Rio can accommodate and will be spread over several Harrah’s properties. The WSOP Europe will increase its event schedule to a month of competition.
3. Poker Regulation 2010
Prior to October 2006 there seemed to be no limit to how big online poker could get, with new sites springing up every week and new players signing on in droves. However, when George Bush signed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act into law on October 13, 2006, everything changed. Market leader PartyPoker was forced to pull out of America (because it was publicly listed), leaving the gap wide open for a new order. As of February 2010, PokerStars and Full Tilt are the top dogs by quite a distance and the online poker market as a whole has shrunk markedly. Although there are close to 600 active sites, only 16 are standalone – down from 40 in March 2008 – and the rest are network skins.
Poker Regulation 2020
Over the last couple of years the big question in the online poker industry has been whether the salient parts of the UIGEA can be overturned. Annie Duke, who has spearheaded the lobbying effort in front of Congress, is confident that change is on its way. ‘I believe strongly that [online poker] will be legal and regulated in the USA in the next ten years,’ she says. ‘It makes too much sense not to, from both a tax perspective and the perspective of the law. It is hard to pass up $3-10bn a year in tax revenue.’ Alun Bowden, editor of InsidePoker Business, also thinks regulation is likely. ‘It’s too big an industry to ignore and, crucially, the major Las Vegas casinos are now in favour of it.’
However, Bowden is quick to point out that, even if a bill were passed tomorrow, it would likely be years until it was active. ‘Just look at the UIGEA. That was introduced almost four years ago and it has only just come into effect.’ Even if regulation never comes to pass in the US, Duke is convinced poker will survive. ‘It’s not exactly crippling the industry now!’ she says.
Online poker will be regulated in the US by 2015, and by 2020 this will have caused a knock-on effect on the Asian market, creating a second – and even bigger – poker boom.
4. Live Poker 2010
The proliferation of poker tours is one of the key indicators of poker’s rise in popularity. It’s hard to believe, but in 2000 there was no WPT, no EPT and no UK poker tour of any description. Binion’s was still hosting the WSOP and that year the Main Event fielded just 512 people. Fast forward to 2010 and there is barely any respite from all the poker events and festivals filling the calendar. Using the EPT model, PokerStars has taken over eight major territories with regional poker tours. Europe is becoming saturated with mini-tours like the Paradise Poker Tour, the Partouche Poker Tour and the Unibet Open – all looking to fill the gaps where the EPT doesn’t go. Given these rapid developments, it’s scary to think what the live poker scene could be like even in five years’ time, let alone ten.
Live Poker 2020
EPT founder John Duthie believes the future is about micro-sizing, rather than having an overarching global tour. ‘If you take the success of the UKIPT and the Italian Poker Tour and go to France, Spain and Germany, I see no reason why lower buy-in poker tours shouldn’t be a huge success in every country. The larger buy-in tours can still have one event in each territory.’
Mike Sexton, ambassador for PartyPoker (official sponsor of the WPT) agrees that growth will happen within each country. ‘I don’t see an expansion of big-time tours outside of the primary tours that we have today.’
But with more tours the problem of sustainability rears its head. If you’d played in all the events of the first EPT season, the total buy-in would have come to just over $38k. In the current EPT season (the sixth), players wanting to hit every stop on the tour will be shelling out over $100k – and that number purely covers main events. If you factor in high-roller and side events, it’s considerably more.
Duthie initially thought there were too many tours but says he can’t argue with the figures. ‘Both the EPT and the NAPT seem to be growing and growing and I am always amazed at the number of new faces at every new venue.’
Mike Sexton thinks that as the poker tours settle into some sort of consistency, live poker will find its way back into the mainstream media, as it started to do a few years ago. ‘I certainly see this as a possibility for the major tour(s) such as the WPT. Why not post poker results just as they post results of the PGA tour every week? I see poker hand columns becoming popular in newspapers everywhere – like bridge or chess.’
By 2020 most countries will have their own local tours akin to football’s different divisions. The top players in each division will qualify for the major tournaments. Each winner of a major will play in an annual ‘super’ tournament.