In 1970, Binion’s Horseshoe owner Benny Binion invited seven of the world’s top poker players to his Las Vegas casino in an effort to determine who was the best of the bunch. Legend has it that Binion asked the players to vote on who was the best among them. Every single player voted for themselves.
Binion held a second vote and asked the players to vote for who they thought was second best. Johnny Moss became the first ever World Series of Poker Champion at that time.
In 1971, they played a No Limit Hold’em tournament of sorts to decide who was the best. Moss won the title again.
The largest poker tournament series in the world
What started with a vote, then a single event, has since grown into the largest poker tournament series in the world.
In fact, it’s now held for six weeks annually in Las Vegas and draws players from across the globe. A five-card stud event was added in 1973. The number of events representing different poker variants and buy-in levels has continued to grow ever since.
The winner of each World Series of Poker event now receives a coveted WSOP bracelet. In 2018, the WSOP will hold an incredible 78 different bracelet events.
The series still culminates with its $10,000 No Limit Hold’em WSOP Main Event. The winner of the WSOP Main Event has always been considered poker’s World Champion.
The number of entries into the WSOP Main Event stayed under 100 through the first decade of the tournament’s existence. Live satellites were added in the 1980s allowing players to win their way into the Main Event at a discount.
However, the number of WSOP Main Event entries did not climb to more than 200 until 1991.
Online satellites abound
The first real money online poker sites launched in the late 1990s, and by the early 2000s, these sites started offering online satellites into live events at the WSOP. In 1997, the WSOP Main Event drew more than 300 players for the first time. However, that number grew significantly over the next few years, rising to a whopping 839 in 2003.
However, the 2003 WSOP would ultimately be remembered for a lot more than just the fact it was the first time a WSOP Main Event drew more than 800 players.
Chris Moneymaker, a Tennessee accountant and amateur poker player, won a seat in the tournament through a $86 satellite on a fledgling online poker site called PokerStars. He went on to win the title and its $2.5 million first-place prize.
Coverage of the tournament on ESPN created huge interest in the aptly named Moneymaker and his incredible story. PokerStars followed up with an ad campaign convincing the general public they could be next. Both online and live poker experienced an unprecedented boom in popularity.
With dozens of online poker sites from around the world offering online satellites into the WSOP Main Event, the number of entrants rose to 2,576 in 2004, 5,619 in 2005, and peaked at 8,773 in 2006.
The US online poker market
That same year, the US government passed a law making it illegal for US financial institutions to process payments for online gambling sites. Some offshore online poker sites pulled out of the US market. Others stayed, but the number of WSOP Main Event satellite winners coming from inside the US went down, and the Main Event’s significant growth was suddenly halted.
The number of bracelet events, total entries, and the total prize pool for all WSOP events combined continued to grow significantly during the next decade. The WSOP soon expanded globally, hosting a limited number of additional bracelet events in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. In 2010, the WSOP even went online, launching a real-money online poker site in the United Kingdom and a play-money site for the US market.
On April 15, 2011, the US Department of Justice shut down the three largest poker sites operating in the US, including Full Tilt Poker, PokerStars, and Absolute Poker/Ultimate Bet. Site executives were charged with bank fraud, money laundering, and violating gambling laws.
The case against the operators was eventually settled, but they were forced out of the US market.
Online WSOP bracelet events
By 2013, lawmakers in Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey had passed laws making online poker legal inside their borders. The WSOP launched online poker sites in New Jersey and Nevada in 2013. The sites soon started running online satellites into live events at the WSOP, and in 2015, the WSOP’s Nevada-based online poker site ran the first ever online WSOP bracelet event.
They did the same thing again in 2016. However, in 2017, the WSOP hosted a total of three online bracelet events, and its most robust series of online satellites into live events at the WSOP ever.
The Nevada site has started running online satellites earlier in the year than ever before. Plus, in the summer of 2018, it will host four different online bracelet events. This includes the first Pot-Limit Omaha online WSOP bracelet event in history.
The future of the WSOP and online poker
The WSOP Nevada site started sharing player pools with software partner 888 Poker sites in Delaware in 2015. New Jersey signed an agreement to share player pools with both states in 2017. WSOP will soon become the first site to offer shared games in all three states.
All signs point to the WSOP continuing to expand the scope and reach of its online poker presence. It may not be long before players in states with legal and regulated online poker across the US are contesting online satellites into live WSOP events and WSOP bracelet events without having to travel to Nevada.
Online poker appears to present the WSOP’s biggest opportunity for growth. Legal and regulated online poker continues to spread to various states across the US. As long as that growth continues, it appears the WSOP will continue to get bigger right alongside it.