This year’s WSOP main event entries are the second highest on record, indicating that American poker is returning to its former glory before 2006. [Image: Shutterstock.com]
back on up
October this year marks the 16th anniversary of the passage of the Online Unlawful Gambling Laws Enforcement Act (UIGEA). A 2006 law made it illegal for online poker sites to offer their services to US customers. Some of the major operators left the market immediately, while those who remained would suffer the consequences in what is now known as Black Friday.
UIGEA has defined the American poker scene for years, essentially halting what had become a thriving industry in its tracks. However, this year’s World Series of Poker (WSOP) has given some hope that the sector may finally be emerging from the shadow of this harmful legislation.
2nd biggest prize pool of all time
In the year that UIGEA went into effect, the WSOP main event had the highest number of entries ever at 8,773. Entry numbers predictably dwindled thereafter, but the figure at the WSOP 2022 was slightly lower than the 2006 record of 8,663 Over the weekend, event organizers confirmed it would feature the second-largest prize pool ever, at $80.8 million.
To gauge the bounce back of the American poker scene, it is important to consider historical data for the WSOP main event.
From 2003 to 2006, the Moneymaker’s influence contributed to the rapid growth of poker’s popularity. When Chris Money Maker He won the main event at the WSOP in 2003, with only 839 entries. And only three years later, this number was ten times higher, and the players hoped to re-establish the success of the Moneymaker.
Chris Moneymaker won his entry to the 2006 WSOP Main Event from a $86 satellite course. He beat dozens of professional players to win the first prize of $2.5 million. PokerStars offered him a sponsorship deal after winning in which he played live tournaments all over the world.
In the year following UIGEA’s passage, Main Event participations fell about 28% to 6,358. Total prize money with it dropped to just over $8 million, down from a record $12 million in 2006. Entries remained in this region over the following decade, dropping as low as 6,352 in 2013 and reaching to its highest level at 7,319 in 2010.
Things have been picking up since 2017, with a clear pattern of steady annual growth. In 2019, 8,569 entries played a role in increasing the prize pool to $10 million. Despite the pandemic’s best efforts to stem this growth – culminating in a poor turnout over the past two years – the nearly record-breaking 2022 total suggests that the rise in poker’s popularity is far from slowing.
While the UIGEA app has been a catalyst for the decline in poker’s popularity in the US, Black Friday appears to have put the nail in the coffin. On April 15, 2011, the US Department of Justice issued indictments against PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker. He forced them to freeze more than 70 bank accounts, and prevented players from accessing balances.
Six states where poker users can play online
Online poker has struggled to regain its former glory ever since, but soon states began passing their own legislation. In 2013, Nevada became the first state to officially legalize online poker, followed by New Jersey and Delaware. Now, there are six states where poker users can play online for money – and Michigan was the last to join the party last year.
In 2021, the poker world received another big boost. The US Department of Justice has opened the door to online poker agreements between states by not appealing a federal ruling against its opinion on the wire law. Now, multiple countries with online poker marketplaces can bring together players by signing interstate agreements. Nevada and Delaware became the first two companies to share liquidity in March 2015, while New Jersey joined later. Once again, Michigan was the latest state to get involved.
This year’s WSOP numbers are a clear reflection of an industry that is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The journey was started by Chris Moneymaker nearly 20 years ago and has now started again, and this time the possibilities seem truly limitless.