The final numbers for the WSOP Main Event were released today and judging by them, things are indeed looking up for Harrah's and for poker in general.
A total of 6,844 players threw down $10,000 each to get a seat in the big dance. That's close to 500 more players than last year and although it's still a ways off from the record-setting 8,773 runners in 2006, it's a step in the right direction.
This year 666 players will be getting paid, with a whopping $9.1 million being awarded to the first-place finisher.
Many industry insiders were skeptical about the ultimate outcome of this year's Main Event when a feeble 1,297 and then 1,158 showed up for the first two days, but the last two days were overwhelmingly more popular, with 1,928 on Day 1c and 2,461 today.
The reason for the boost in attendance?
Well, for one, this isn't the first WSOP since the online gambling ban (UIGEA) was passed in the U.S. There were lessons learned in 2007 and online poker rooms have also done a much better job of ensuring their qualifiers actually play in the events instead of just spending the money outright.
In addition, you can't ignore the influence of countries like Italy and Russia whose citizens are embracing the game and starting to flock to Las Vegas for the summer.
The Main Event numbers aren't the most impressive to come out of this WSOP either.
More than 54,288 people registered to play during this year's WSOP, which breaks attendance records for the venerable poker series.
The number for entrants in a non-Main Event was also broken when 3,929 registered for Event 2, which took place way back on May 31. It's interesting to note that's more than four times the number of players who played in the 2003 WSOP Main Event.
It has also been the most international WSOP, with players from 104 countries (not including those in the Main Event) taking part in the poker action.
Taking all that into account, what is perhaps more impressive is the number of high-profile poker pros who've struck WSOP gold this year. It has truly been a summer to remember and the Main Event isn't even done yet (of course it won't be until November).
Where does this leave us?
Well, I think that poker players should be cautiously optimistic about all the good news coming from this year's WSOP.
As much as we hate to say it, Harrah's has improved a number of things about the WSOP (no poker tent!), and we hope that trend will continue.
Prospects also look bright for getting online poker's murky legal status clarified in the next couple of years, and perhaps even getting the game taxed and regulated.
The jury is still out on the final-table delay, but the popularity of poker does appear to once again be on an upswing.
Now if only we could get a Main Event winner who would actually promote the game ...