Online Poker Sites may fill the house

While it may seem as though the latest World Series of Poker champion was crowned only yesterday, the time has already come to look for the next champion. The 44th World Series of Poker began May 29 and runs through July 15, when nine players will remain from a starting Main Event field of … well, no one knows for sure.

What makes this WSOP so intriguing is that big question: How many players will be in this year’s field? Until recently, the conventional wisdom was that the field had to retract. Interest in poker has waned ever since online play was effectively outlawed more than a year ago, but that “Black Friday” ban occurred too close to last year’s WSOP to have a significant impact. Consequently, this year’s tournament was all but certain to take the hit.

At least that’s how it looked until a few weeks ago, when Station Casinos’ Ultimate Poker online website blindsided everyone and opened for real-money play. The site is live, legal and raking pots as you read this. That’s led to a lot of scrambling from the other prospective sites.

Last week Caesars Entertainment announced that its WSOP brand will launch online sometime in June. The strategy is to open in time to give players a chance to win seats into the Main Event by playing in satellites online. And here’s where the deal shows up in this development.

At the very least, there will be opportunities to play qualifying tournaments for low buy-ins. Poker became popular after Chris Moneymaker worked all the way up from a $40 online qualifying tourney to win $2.5 million in the 2003 Main Event, and that will be possible again—probably through both the WSOP and the Ultimate Poker sites.

At best, there might be so much competition generated out of the gate that the online tournaments will become loss leaders, with extra money thrown in to entice players. If they do, the players will actually have the best of it mathematically while they vie for seats in the “Big One,” which starts July 9. I don’t think that will happen, but you should be on the watch for it.

Remember that if you’re looking to play poker for less than the high cost of WSOP’s 62 bracelet events, you’ll also be able to find lower buy-ins at the tag-along tourneys that run concurrently with the World Series. Ordered from highest to lowest by average cost, they’re going on now at Venetian, Caesars Palace, Golden Nugget and Binion’s.

If you’re not a player, the WSOP still has deal value given the enormity and significance of the tournament, which is free to view. Plus, locals still get 25 percent off food and 50 percent off drinks at most outlets at the Rio by showing a Total Rewards card.


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