Growing from small beginnings, the World Series of Poker has grown to be one of the largest and most viewed sporting events in the world today. Held annually in Las Vegas, it dates back to 1970 when Benny Binion invited seven of the most widely-known poker players in the world to Las Vegas for a single tournament.
Today, the World Series of Poker consists of 61 events with the victor earning a multi-million dollar cash prize and a bracelet. This has become the most prestigious award in the poker world. The person who wins the World Series of Poker (WSOP) is considered to be the World Champion of Poker.
Phil Hellmuth currently holds the record of 13 World Series of Poker bracelets.
Since 2000, the WSOP has continued to grow at a steady pace. From 2000 to 2006, the numbers grew heavily but slowed in 2007 after new gambling legislation restricted the number of people who could qualify for the event. In 2000, there were 4,780 people and by 2005 there were 23,000.
Originally, the WSOP began after the Texas Gambling Reunion, which helped to inspire the event. The very first winner of the WSOP was Johnny Moss, who was elected as the first World Champion of Poker by his peers, receiving a silver cup as a prize. He would also win in 1971 and 1974. Today he and Stu Ungar are the only people to win the event three times, while the already mentioned Hellmuth has the most bracelets.
The main event of the WSOP has been a $10,000 buy-in no-limit Texas Hold 'Em tournament since 1972. As part of the WSOP, there is also the Poker Hall of Fame and since 1979, it has honored 42 people.
One reason that the WSOP has grown to such levels is because of television coverage. Filming of the WSOP first began in 1973 in a special produced by Binion's Horseshoe. In the late 1970s, CBS started broadcasting the event and in the early 1980s, the event was a special broadcast. ESPN would take over broadcasting in the late 1980s, offering a taped delay of the broadcast of the main event.
Coverage by ESPN continued in the 1990s but there were no pre-interviews or profiles on the players, and the commentators at the time were allowed to be on the casino floor during the main event.
Between 1999 and 2001, The Discovery Channel broadcast the WSOP in programs that provided a recap but not a live event analysis over the course of an hour. ESPN would take over coverage again 2002 and the format would be similar to the 1990s. In 2002, the sneak peak (pocket cam) was used for the first time. In 2003, a rights acquisition for ESPN began and coverage was expanded immensely. For the first time, the entire tournament was covered along with the featured table. The action was broadcast as if it was live but it was actually tape delay. Since this point, coverage has continued to expand and coverage of the main event consists of one hour of programming each day. In 2011, nearly live coverage was used for the first time. Live coverage is not allowed by the Nevada Gaming Commission, so there is a slight delay in the coverage by only a few minutes.
As can be expected, many companies have jumped on board with the WSOP including several playing card companies, as well as video game systems and alcohol companies. The official playing cards and chips are made by Excalibur Electronics, based out of Miami. They have been the main chip licensee since 2005 and these fees and licenses bring in over $1 million to Harrah's, the casino that hosts the event.
Video games have also been released with the WSOP as the theme. The first game came out in 2005, titled World Series of Poker.
In 2007, The World Series of Poker Academy was created as a poker skill to teach people the skills they needed to be in the WSOP. There is also WSOP Online, which provides online gaming services. Currently, only the United Kingdom, Nevada and New Jersey allow for real money to be used on these sites.
From those very early beginnings, the sport of poker has grown immensely thanks to the WSOP. From 1970 to 2000, the event had a slow growth before exploding in the 2000s. Today, it is a widely-viewed and respected event that brings out the best of the best in poker. Along with the World Series, Super Bowl and other sporting event champions, the WSOP certainly holds its own today.