|Poker seems to have exploded into the popular consciousness in the last few months, attracting a wealth of new audiences, players and sponsorship deals. Thanks to shows such as cable TV’s World Poker Tour, Celebrity Poker Showdown and Channel 4’s Late Night Poker series, the game has acquired new found respectability, catapulting it into the realms of popular culture and, therefore, big business. |
The public’s imagination has been caught by The World Poker Tour's encouragement of non-professional players to try their hands, culminating in the appositely named Chris Moneymaker, a 27-year-old accountant from Tennessee, triumphantly walking off with a cool $2.5 million. An illustration of the World Tour’s success level is that the tour has recently signed a deal with NBC to air a special on Super bowl Sunday.
Professional poker players are quickly becoming celebrities. The Hendon Mob: an impeccably suited quartet of seemingly unbeatable players, oozing cinematic charisma and as happy sipping champagne at Ascot as lounging in smoky poker dens. They are the new face of poker: glamorous, enviable, natural celebrities.
But it’s the Internet that really started the poker ball rolling. The growth of online poker sites has been phenomenal over the past few years. Three years ago, the average Internet casino was getting about 300 players on a weeknight. Today it’s more like 25,000. The web has opened the game up to people who would never visit a casino, to a wider adult audience. Now a player in Andorra can challenge a player in Zimbabwe. Many sites offer ‘free money tables’, where they can play and learn without losing a penny.
Investors, of course, are quick to see opportunities in such a burgeoning industry and sponsorship deals abound. Poker is now worth billions of dollars a year. The largest online poker network, Prima Poker, who signed The Hendon Mob for their Prima Poker Tour, know that they are sponsoring the exquisitely cool image of poker - one that cannot fail to help their industry build on the extraordinary success of the past few years.