Poker is an ever-evolving game. From the days that the game was played on riverboats and the backrooms of saloons to today, poker has changed from a vice to a pastime.
In order to understand the state of poker today, it is important to look at some of the most important events that shaped the game in the past 50 years.
Read Part One Here: Changing the Face of Poker – The Players
Read Part Two Here: Changing the Face of Poker – The Contributors
First WSOP in Las Vegas
Benny Binion knew that poker had appeal, and he invited several of the most well-known poker grinders to Las Vegas in 1970. A few dozen poker players gathered at the Horseshoe Casino to play, and Johnny Moss was elected the best all-around player. The game then evolved into an annual tournament that was open to anyone with enough money to buy in. The World Series of Poker was born, which spurred a long tradition and many other tournaments that occur around the world today.
WSOP and WPT on TV
CBS was the first television network to take a chance on poker by airing the WSOP in the late 1970s, and ESPN took over a decade later with commentators like Gabe Kaplan and Dick Van Patten. By the late 1990s, the hole card camera was introduced and first used on Late Night Poker in the UK. Eventually, the World Poker Tour brought poker to the Travel Channel in the early 2000s, a show that now airs on FOX Sports. Those early episodes and the hole card cam shaped the way players saw and would fall in love with the game.
Poker Tournament Satellites
As the WSOP began to grow in Las Vegas each year, Tournament Director Eric Drache created the concept of the tournament satellite in 1983. Players could buy in to the satellite for a fraction of the tournament buy-in for the chance of winning a seat into the larger event. This led to substantial growth in the years to come. Online poker operators picked up the trend in the early 2000s, with qualifiers to online tournaments leading to online satellites to live events like the WSOP.
Chris Moneymaker Wins WSOP
While satellites were growing and more people were winning online seats to the WSOP each year, the concept didn’t explode until 2003. That was when recreational player Chris Moneymaker won his WSOP seat online at PokerStars and went on to win $2.5 million for his victory in the Main Event. The result was the poker boom, as players from around the world qualified for the WSOP in subsequent years, creating a first-place prize of $5 million for Greg Raymer the next year, $7.5 million in 2005 for Joe Hachem, and a record-setting $12 million for Jamie Gold in 2006.
The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was a bill created by several members of the United States Congress, including State Representatives Jim Leach, Robert Goodlatte, and Jon Kyl. They pushed for an online gambling ban and helped attach it to the must-pass SAFE Port Act in 2006. Congress overwhelmingly passed the bill, which President George W. Bush signed. Though it did not prohibit online gambling, it did ban gambling businesses from accepting payments for wagers. While the language was vague, it was clear enough for PartyPoker to leave the US market, paving the way for government action against other companies.
UB Superuser Scandal
In the late summer of 2007, poker players began posting on the Two Plus Two forums about suspicions of cheating on Absolute Poker, a sister site of UltimateBet. The players’ research eventually proved that there were superuser accounts that were used to view the hole cards of opponents and win money. An investigation by the Kahnawake Gaming Commission led to an admission of wrongdoing by the site’s employees, a large fine, and player refunds. It also led to a variety of changes for online poker operators.
The UIGEA may have contained ambiguous language, but it was used by the US Department of Justice to build a criminal case against the founders of the three largest online poker companies still operating in America in 2011. On what came to be known as Black Friday, April 15 of 2011, the DOJ shuttered the online poker websites and issued warrants for the owners of PokerStars, Full Tilt, UltimateBet, and Absolute Poker. The fallout from that day included the downfall of all but PokerStars, the seizure of player funds for several years in most cases, the loss of funds for many players, and the nationalization of various poker markets around the world. The entire online poker industry changed.