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The Poker Boom Part 5: The global game
This is the fifth article in a six-part series taking a look at the history of the poker boom. Stay tuned for the final installment of the series on Thursday, Feb. 21.
In Part 4 of this series we looked at the 2006 backlash against online gambling by U.S. government authorities and how online poker was swept up with online casinos in the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.
Coupled with a sudden crackdown by the U.S. authorities on foreign executives of online casino companies, the UIGEA made for a chilly atmosphere in the United States and artificially shifted the bulk of the online poker industry to other markets overnight.
The European market immediately became much more important to the online poker industry, while other smaller markets around the world became worth pursuing as well. These shifts would alter the character of the online game significantly and have an effect on high-stakes live tournament poker.
The online market turns elsewhere
In the same September 2006 statement in which it announced it was leaving the U.S. market until further notice, online poker market leader PartyGaming warned shareholders that its earnings would fall significantly short of projected figures announced before passage of the UIGEA. Rather than panic in its new surroundings, though, Party turned its attention to new player sign-ups in other markets.
Attracting players from Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the geographic zone where 67% of its daily revenue was generated, became a major focus for Party in late 2006.
To a lesser extent it also focused on new sign-ups in Canada, Latin America and South America, which generated about 27% of the daily take. The company's overall revenue was only one-third of its pre-UIGEA total, but new sign-ups were expected to make up the difference over time.
In a mid-December conference call, PartyGaming CEO Mitch Garber made it clear his company had successfully switched gears. "PartyGaming is no longer a poker-led, U.S.-dependent and one language gaming operator," said Garber. "We are rapidly becoming a multi-lingual and multi-currency non-U.S. company."
To put the final stamp of authenticity on poker's expansion into a worldwide game, the WSOP flew to London in September 2007 and held three events, all of which awarded bracelets to the winner.
Eighteen-year-old Norwegian online phenom Annette Obrestad won the £10,000 Main Event. In the process she set a record for youngest bracelet winner in WSOP history that won't be broken in Las Vegas without a change in the Nevada gaming laws.
While the UIGEA had a big impact on their business, online poker rooms were able to generate steady revenue at a lower level by increasing their global outreach. The new international focus of the online poker industry helped to create a rich environment for the growth of already-existing major international poker tournaments and the expansion of the tournament schedule outside North America.
We'll wrap up the series on Thursday with a look at where poker in all its forms might be headed next.