The World Series of Poker (WSOP) is underway at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and despite the advertising and registration restrictions the corporation was forced to place on the event, it is still the biggest draw in poker.
"We've had 27,109 entrants through 32 events in the first 19 days this year, compared with 22,241 in 21 events through the first 19 days last year," said Gary Thompson, communications director for the WSOP.
After the prohibitive Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) passed in October 2006 the WSOP had to revise its regulations as they relate to Internet gambling sites. The new rules dictate that the WSOP cannot accept third-party registrations from any online site that does business with U.S. residents.
But the companies that have not bailed on the U.S. market, such as PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, have worked around that rule by depositing customers' winnings into their accounts and leaving it up to them to register for the WSOP.
"We do not ask players where they get their money," Thompson said. "We don't ask players where they get their money when they play blackjack or craps or roulette. We don't ask them where they get their money when they play poker. It's not our business."
The WSOP does, however, still accept direct registrations from online gambling sites that do not accept U.S. players.
The advertising rules have also changed. Players can still carry dot-net and dot-com logos on their attire as long as the site they are representing does not accept U.S. players. On the other hand, the WSOP increased the size regulation from six square inches to 12 square inches. In addition, players this year are allowed to don multiple logos, where in years past they could only wear one.
"So somebody could literally come in with apparel covered from head to toe with logos," Thompson said. "And that's in recognition that players get endorsed with sponsorship fees, etcetera, from various sites."
Gaming felts are reserved exclusively for PartyPoker. For the second year in a row they hold an exclusive advertising agreement with the WSOP which allows them to display the PartyPoker.net logo on the felt.
The WSOP, now in its 38th year, has made some other changes as well. For instance, there are 55 tournament events this year (an increase of nine over last year's 46).
Thompson in March said while the WSOP had no way of knowing what impact the UIGEA would have on attendance, advance-room bookings from WSOP players were running about 25 to 30 percent ahead of last year's at that stage.
Furthermore, Thompson said in March that the WSOP never predicts attendance for any WSOP event. The goal is simply to make the WSOP better each year, and they put together a plan to make this year's the best one yet.
"The plan is, by design, flexible enough to accommodate increases or decreases in participation numbers from prior years," he said.
The Main Event, the World Championship No Limit Texas Hold 'em tournament, is still two weeks out and there is no way of knowing at this point what the prize pool will be, as each event leading up to it is separate and players can enter the events throughout the series. Entry to the finals begins on July 6.
"We probably won't know that until July 8 at the earliest," Thompson said. "We'd probably know that around 3 or 4 p.m., and the payout will depend on the number of participants."
Meanwhile, the Rio is preparing for the 3rd Annual Gaming Life Expo (GLE), which runs in conjunction with the Main Event. This year, however, the tradeshow has taken on a new persona--a men's lifestyle show featuring the "best of girls, games and gear."
David Koloski, marketing director for the Rio, said the change was something they were already planning because after observing the first two years of the show, roughly 80 percent of the attendees were male.
"In order to ensure the long-term success of the Gaming Life Expo, we felt that the expo needed to move away from just poker specific product and focus more on men's lifestyle," Koloski said. "It is a perfect fit for any company trying to reach this demographic.
Because the WSOP has decided to bar online gambling sites that do business with U.S. players, the GLE went one step further and banned online gambling sites altogether. So, booths once occupied by poker sites such as PokerStars, Bodog and Full Tilt will be replaced by beverage tastings, live sports, martial arts demos, tattooing and live stage performances.
It will be interesting to see how the change affects attendance, but Koloski said he expects good if not better attendance than in past years.