Las Vegas Sun

November 26, 2020

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Poker boom: Nevadans are staying home and playing cards at record levels online

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Steve Marcus

Hossein Ensan’s winning cards are displayed during the World Series of Poker Main Event at the Rio Wednesday, July 17, 2019.

Like nearly every other sports league or gaming company, the World Series of Poker saw events derailed due to the coronavirus crisis. Unlike its peers, however, the World Series of Poker was able to salvage some of the cancellations by springing into an immediate contingency plan.

What about the summer?

Live circuit events through early May have been canceled, but as of press time, the 2020 World Series of Poker remained scheduled for May 26-July 15 at the Rio.

“We don’t plan to make a decision until [May] at some point,” Palansky says. “It’s still really about everyone’s health and safety. We won’t run the event if we can’t run it safely as we have done for the past 50 years.”

Last year’s World Series of Poker consisted of a record 89 tournaments that drew a total of 187,298 entrants and a $293 million prize pool.

Two of the WSOP’s premier circuit events scheduled for mid-March—one set of tournaments at Bally’s on the Strip and another across the country at Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City—were combined and moved to WSOP.comas part of an “Online Super Circuit.”

WSOP officials wanted to keep the games going but were unsure how much interest in online poker there might be. “Obviously, no one has ever been in this situation before with the lack of live poker, so our guarantees were modest for the series,” WSOP executive Seth Palansky says.

Turns out, the WSOP’s guarantees were too modest, as the action eclipsed Palansky and his team’s wildest expectations. The 18 tournaments that made up the super series generated a total prize pool of $3,945,350, more than three times the $1.24 million guarantee.

The $525 buy-in Main Event alone attracted 1,134 players for a $567,000 prize pool, making it the largest online Circuit event in the seven-year history of WSOP.com, which is available to players in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware.

How to sign up for online poker

Go to wsop.com/start, download the software and fill out three pages of registration information. WSOP.com will try to verify your information from there, and if it doesn’t work, you’ll be asked to provide a driver’s license and recent utility bill to confirm your identity and residence.

With casinos closed—visiting cages at Caesars Entertainment properties have traditionally been among the most popular deposit and withdraw methods—depositing options include credit/debit card, PayPal and eCheck. PayPal and eCheck are also available for withdrawal.

“Outside of our first week of launching in New Jersey and Nevada, we’re also at our highest number of first-time depositors and registrants,” Palansky says. “We consider those two different things, but both those numbers are huge. We’re at seven-year highs. I think it’s from the live players who never wanted to play online now having no other choice.”

It has all left WSOP.com in an enviable and increasingly rare position for businesses, trying to sate an unprecedented influx of customers. The site has ramped up offerings well beyond its series of tournaments, also adding extra cash-game tables, buy-in levels and new poker variants.

The day after the Super Circuit concluded, WSOP.com also announced the Spring Online Championships, which will run April 1-May 3 with a boosted $4 million in guaranteed prize pools.

“[The Spring Championships] were planned, but the guarantees are now more than doubled what they were,” Palansky says. “We threw a bunch more into the series than what was originally planned, because you base it on what your projected demand is going to be. We’ve increased our supply in essence to meet our new demand.”

A well-known local pro, Matt Stout, has been the biggest early winner of WSOP.com’s expansion. The 35-year-old won two of the 18 Super Circuit events and cashed in four others to earn a total of $122,389.

Call it good timing on Stout’s part. WSOP.com has never had prize pools as large as it does now.

“We just didn’t know what to expect,” Palansky says. “Especially in Nevada, the depositing and withdrawing in the live casino, land-based, is really common. Players are really used to coming up with casino chips or money to deposit online at the cage. We lost that possibility, so we weren’t sure how easy it was going to be for people to get money online. It’s been surprising to us.”

This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.