WSOP Statistics: 2021 vs. 2019 and the Impact of COVID-19
A post-pandemic World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas was always going to be different, but how much has COVID-19 affected this year’s festival? Vaccine passports were made mandatory back in August and Europeans still can’t attend due to the US travel ban. However, despite the obstacles, attendance figures are still strong.
Looking at the first few events of this year’s WSOP, the numbers are down but not so much that hosting a live event against the odds seems like a bad idea. Comparing like for like at this stage is tough because 2019’s schedule doesn’t directly correlate with the current line-up of events. However, the data below does provide a snapshot of then versus now:
The 2019 World Series of Poker Snapshot
- The $500 Casino Employees Event: 685 entries
- The $10,000 Super Turbo Bounty: 204 entries
- The $500 Big 50 No Limit Hold'em: 28,371 entries
- The $1,500 Omaha Hi/Lo 8 or Better: 853 entries
- The $1,500 Millionaire Maker: 8,809 entries
The 2021 World Series of Poker Snapshot
- The $500 Casino Employees Event: 420 entries
- The $25,000 H.O.R.S.E. Event: 78 entries
- The $500 Reunion No Limit Hold'em: 12,973 entries
- The $1,500 Omaha Hi/Lo 8 or Better: 607 entries
- The $1,500 Millionaire Maker: 2,568 entries
Those snapshots show a drop in attendance across the board in 2021. The discrepancy becomes even more pronounced with direct comparison between the three directly relatable events:
|Event||2019 Entries||2021 Entries||Percentage Change|
|$500 Casino Employees Event||685||420||-38%|
|$1,500 Omaha Hi/Lo 8 or Better||853||607||-28%|
|$1,500 Millionaire Maker||8,809||2,568||-70%|
Attendance is Down but WSOP Still Faring Well
The Millionaire Maker was the hardest hit this year, but the Omaha Hi/Lo event has proved to be surprisingly resilient. COVID-19 was always going to have a negative impact on this year’s WSOP. The virus is still a prominent issue in certain parts of the US, including Nevada.
There has also been some push back against the WSOP’s vaccine mandate. Pros such as Alex Foxen and Kristen Bicknell have been vocal in their opposition to what they see as a system designed to exclude players based on their vaccination status. View more on the discussion here on Twitter.
From a practical perspective, the organizers felt that vaccination certificates were the best option to ensure the safety of players and protect their business interests. As such, proof of vaccination has been required for all players and spectators this year.
That has caused some logistical issues. The chatter from players inside the Rio has focused on the long queues. Partypoker pro Patrik Leonard has said that players were initially fairly forgiving about the long lines. However, after more than a week of long waits, discontent is setting in (an issue players don't face when waiting their turn to play poker tournaments online).
The situation is improving though. Players only need to show their vaccine certification once. Therefore, as the series goes on, the lines are expected to decrease. That alone should help get more people to the Rio and onto the tables.
November Turning Point for the WSOP
November 1st will also be a turning point for the WSOP. Although there will only be 23 days of action left, players from outside the US will be able to fly into Las Vegas without having to use the Mexico workaround.
What’s the Mexico workaround? The US has been closed to almost every other country in the world since early 2020. However, international travelers have been able to fly into Mexico, stay there for 14 days, and then enter the US.
Some poker players have taken advantage of this system in recent weeks, but many have opted to sit and wait. Their patience has been rewarded as President Joe Biden recently announced that US borders will reopen on November 1st.
Proof of vaccination is required and there will be some testing and tracking requirements. However, the bottom-line is that players from the UK, Europe, and other previously banned destinations can enter the US in November.
Add to this the ongoing selection of WSOP satellites on GGPoker and there is likely to be a huge influx of players during the latter half of the series.
Slow Start but Flourishing Finish Possible
Will opening the US borders help the Main Event attract a similar number of players to 2019? Possibly not, but the omens are still positive.
The organizers were always facing an uphill battle this year. As well as health concerns and legal hurdles, hosting mass-participation live events is still tricky. Things are better than they were, but many parts of the world still aren’t back to normal.
The good news, however, is that the WSOP is up and running. It’s even more encouraging that the number of entrants isn’t significantly lower than in previous years.
Yes, there has been a steep drop-off in certain areas. But, overall, things have started well and, once the rest of the world joins the party later next month, the 2021 WSOP should be able to end on a much-needed high.