When a group of Las Vegas poker players decided to get together with the Horseshoe Casino and come up with a $5,000 buy-in for a small poker tournament, little did they know they would change the face of poker and casino tournaments.
Popular Vegas resident and pioneer Benny Binion came up with the idea in 1970, and he’s widely considered by many to be the father of the World Series of Poker. At the time, little if any people outside of the Vegas casinos even knew about betting poker, let alone tournaments. Not even the local media paid much attention to it.
This all changed in 1972 when Thomas Preston, who went by the nickname “Amarillo Slim,” won the tournament in a rather large upset, and attracted loads of media attention. For the first time, poker was catapulted into the spotlight, and people began to take notice of the tournament. Shortly after his win, Preston became an ambassador for the sport and traveled around the country spreading the word of the sport he helped pioneer. He even made several appearances on the Late Show – an astounding 11 times over his lifetime.
The following year, an amazing and much-needed event emerged. The World Series of Poker was televised for the very first time. This was huge for the sport – at a time where football and baseball dominated sports coverage, a new form of entertainment was emerging.
In 1979, nine years after starting out as an amateur poker player, Hal Fowler won the tournament and shocked many professional players in the sport. The very fact that an amateur player took home the grand prize over hundreds of professional players was a momentous turning point in the World Series of Poker. It essentially showed the public that anyone could win this event along with the large cash payouts. Not surprisingly, a new wave of players took up playing poker.
The 1980’s saw a large amount of change for the sport. In 1982, the first ladies’ tournament was introduced and brought in women from around the world to compete. Meanwhile, the main event still continued to gain steam.
The 1990’s were a rather up and down decade for the World Series of Poker, but it nevertheless remained in the public eye. In 1990, fans witnessed the first foreign player win the tournament. His name was Mansour Matloubi, an Iranian-born player who resided in England. From his WSOP win, he took home a pot of more than $800,000. This event showed any player with talent could compete in the American tournament and win the grand prize.
As the sport started to gain more and more momentum, another historic event happened just one year later, in 1991. The World Series of Poker awarded its first million dollar prize to American-born player Brad Daugherty. Winning the tournament not only came with the large sum, but also a more prestigious World Series of Poker bracelet. This was the poker world’s version of a sports trophy. Although the bracelets had been around since the very inception of the tournament back in the 1970’s, they had evolved from simple gold bracelets to ones with gemstones and intricate designs.
For the next nine consecutive years, the winner of the main event would bring in a haul of one million dollars. With the 21st century on the horizon, the jackpot saw a rise from one million dollars in 1990 to over 12 million dollars in 2006. There was little doubt that the increase of main event winnings would bring in more and more players, but the media also started paying more attention.
In 2003, a player by the name of Chris Moneymaker completely changed the way media portrayed the poker players. Much of the audience thought these players were seasoned professionals who had a higher skill set, but Chris changed that with a huge upset victory. A massive online crowd online and a national television audience for this tournament catapulted poker players into the celebrity scene and changed the sport once again.
In 2005, when the Horseshoe Casino was liquidated and taken over by Harrahs Entertainment, immediate changes were implemented, including those that moved the World Series of Poker to the Rio Casino. The Rio was immediately given more poker tables, more dealers, and more security to make sure no cheating was going on. To this date, nobody has been kicked out of the tournament for cheating.
Another change that implemented in 2006 was adding more tournament styles, including seven card stud and Omaha draw. In all, 45 more tournaments were taking place during the World Series of Poker, and as expected, most of the attention was focused on the main event, where millions were at stake and competitors brought their best skills and poker faces. 2006 also saw over $100,000,000 in total prizes.
With the world series of poker becoming more popular every year, we are starting to see many poker players becoming career professionals who can earn millions of dollars in a short time. As of 2015 the leading money makers include Jonathan Duhamel, a Canadian poker celebrity, who has earned an astonishing $4,048,137 since January. The highest earning female star has earned just under $300,000 so far this year.
According to the WSOP’s website, the original pot in 1971 was $30,000, which wasn’t a bad winning for the time. Yet, the first place winner this year took home $8,000,000. With the sport coming a long way in such a short period, it’s seen change for the good and some for the worse. Its popularity, however, has gone nowhere but up. More and more players from around the world are flocking in to take their share of the massive winnings and prestige.