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2009 WSOP: Is it recession-proof?
The United States may be in the midst of a dramatic economic slowdown, but experts aren't ready to predict doomsday for the World Series of Poker just yet.
It's no secret that Las Vegas is reeling. Casino operators have seen their stock prices in freefall and the city's resorts have been forced to slash room rates and bump up incentives to continue attracting visitors.
To many experts, however, the casino industry's pains don't necessarily signal the same negative outlook at the poker tables.
"Poker is fundamentally different than the rest of the gaming industry," said Andrew M. Woods, Executive Director of the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society (www.GPSTS.org) and a former teaching fellow of economics at Harvard College.
"It's a game of skill. You play against peers and not against the house, and that changes who participates and why.
"People don't go to play poker with their disposable income intending to hit a big score like they do with slots or other casino games. It's not a pie-in-the-sky thing where you'd throw $20 away. Most people play because they think they have positive [expected value]."
David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, agrees.
"Since [poker] isn't a game of pure chance weighted in the house's favor, it's less of a discretionary income [form of] entertainment," he said. "Since if you are good, and who doesn't think they are good, you can gain a positive expectation. Some people might, in fact, be intensifying their poker play."
As for how the World Series itself will fare, the experts have mixed expectations.
WSOP Media Director and poker historian Nolan Dalla sounded optimistic.
"I don't want to sound like a cheerleader, but I think the WSOP is such a big draw for so many people that the impact of the economic crisis will be minimal, at least this year," he said.
Meanwhile, Washington-based attorney and former World Poker Association board member Ken Adams suggested the $10,000 Main Event, in particular, will continue to thrive.
"I do not expect the size of the field to decline in the Main Event, as the number of seats won on the internet is unlikely to decline any time soon," he said.
"In recent years as many as 75% of the seats in the Main Event have been filled with internet and satellite qualifiers. One consequence has been the increasing internationalization and youthfulness of the field, as the internet attracts young players from countries around the globe."
"The internet explosion has contributed a solid core of customers," he said. "These days, the level of poker education is so high that people don't see the WSOP as a lottery - it's more like the PGA."
Dalla, too, pointed to the increasing diversification of WSOP fields as a major reason why he thinks the Series will continue to prosper.
"Any single [demographic] of players that is affected by problems is often made up by other groups of people who increase in number," he said, pointing to Internationals and young players as two examples of increasing demographics.
"I think a lot of players who have grown up watching poker on television will turn 21 and will attend the WSOP for the first time," he said. "The youth-oriented demographics are favorable to the WSOP both long and short term."
Whether WSOP numbers decline or not in 2009, all four experts agreed that the overall health of the Series shouldn't be called into question.
"My gut instinct is that there will be a very small decline [in numbers], although it's not really my field of expertise," said Schwartz. "But I think Harrah's and Jeffrey Pollack have done a great job in building the brand and I think that their work will counteract any decline the WSOP might experience."
"Naturally, there will be declines and flat periods," said Dalla. "Nothing can grow at 50 percent a year like we did from 2003 to 2008. But given other forms of entertainment and recreation, especially gaming, the WSOP (and poker in general) appear to be doing quite well."