Gauging the Impact of Internet Poker

Chris Moneymaker, wins  the 2003 World Series of Poker

Why Poker is So Popular

There are four main factors motivating the recent rise in popularity of online poker. First and foremost, poker has recently made the evolutionary jump from being viewed as a game to being viewed as a sport in the United States. This mainstream acceptance is due to increased media coverage of high-stakes poker tournaments such as the 2003 World Series of Poker and various weekly tournaments on the World Poker Tour. While ESPN and The Travel Channel have provided the primary coverage of such events, other television stations have been quick to duplicate these efforts. For example, the BRAVO network began airing weekly celebrity poker tournaments near the end of 2003. Most recently, Fox Sports Net began airing episodes of its “Late Night Poker” program.

Although there are a wide variety of ways that poker can be played, the tournament format covered by all of these entities is Texas No Limit Hold’em. This particular version of poker is more confrontational and explosive than traditionally accepted formats such as 5-card draw or 7-card stud. In high stakes games, Hold’em is simply the most exciting format of poker, especially when an audience is watching.

The third and fourth reasons behind the meteoric rise in poker’s popularity have much to do with the 2003 World Series of Poker. As the name indicates, this particular poker championship is the most sought after by poker players around the world. The tournament itself has a rich history, not to mention a rich payout. In 2003, the person who ended up winning the WSP was a 27-year-old accountant named Chris Moneymaker, and his rise to the pinnacle of the poker world was nothing short of a Cinderella story.

The WSP commands a $10,000 entrance fee, but the opportunity to win a spot in the tournament was made available by several online poker services, including By playing in a “satellite” tournament for $40 at PokerStars, Moneymaker eventually earned entry into the WSP tournament by virtue of his success online. Despite the fact that the 2003 WSP was his first “live” tournament, Moneymaker went on to win the $2.5 million first prize and the respect of professional players worldwide. This accomplished two things – it legitimized the notion that online poker players are just as skilled at the game as those who play in casinos, and it truly illustrated that anyone can win. Said Moneymaker, “I was a little underestimated because no one knew who I was. If I can win it, anybody can.”

The concept of “anybody” winning caught hold of the American public like wildfire, and almost overnight the number of people trying to become that “anybody” exploded. The fact that ESPN (a nationally recognized cable television network) kept replaying the phases of the tournament that showed Moneymaker’s rise to the top simply added fuel to the proverbial fire. Thus, it wasn’t long before people who had a few dollars and a couple of free hours began trying their hands at a game that, with a little luck, could make them wealthy overnight. The Internet aided this rags-to-riches mentality immeasurably: users quickly realized that they could access a wide array of online poker games in a manner of seconds instead of having to drive to a casino.




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