Like any other week, thousands of people are converging on Las Vegas in hopes of taking home some big money. But this week is a little different. For the 35th year, the World Series of Poker is being played in "Sin City." But you don't have to travel to Vegas to find a game of poker. It may be closer than you thought.
According to the World Poker Tour, over 50 million people across the country play poker on a regular basis. Already the most popular card game, poker is fast becoming one of America's most popular past-times.
This should come as no surprise. Just flip on a TV. It's everywhere, whether it's celebrity poker on Bravo, the World Poker Tour on the Travel Channel or Late Night Poker on Fox Sports Net. But it's not just the cable stations. Poker has even gone network. NBC aired a World Poker Tour event back in January.
Poker's ultimate prize, The World Series of Poker, is underway at Binion's Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas. Entering its 35th year, a record number of over 2,400 people are playing. That might not sound like a lot, but when incorporate the $10,000 entry fee, that number becomes a little more staggering.
Last year, 839 people entered and it was an accountant, ironically by the name of Chris Moneymaker, who took home first prize, a cool $2.5 million. Moneymaker was an amateur who was entered into the World Series after winning a $40 poker tournament on the internet.
He's just one of thousands who play poker on-line. Dan Goldman of Pokerstars.com, the website that sponsored Moneymaker in the World Series, says they have anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 at anytime playing on their site. And that's just one of 60 sites around according to Goldman.
The popularity of television poker and online play has sparked the interest of some Lubbock businesses, enough so that at least four known establishments in town host free weekly poker tournaments. "It seems to be the craze anywhere you go. People are talking about it," says Jean Bruns, Public Relations Manager of Copper Caboose.
You can find a game somewhere in the Hub City just about every night of the week. Mondays at Jake's Sports Cafe on 50th Street, Wednesday's on Avenue Q at Copper Caboose and Thursday's at Buffalo Wild Wings on South University.
"We had a lot of people that would leave our place to go home to play poker," says Scott Stephenson, owner of Jake's Sports Café. "Now you don't have someone at home saying, 'Hey, it's late. Send the boys home.' Now you have a restaurant that stays open to one or two in the morning and everyone's welcome. Everyone's invited," adds Johnny Garcia, manager of the Copper Caboose.
"Just about everybody and their brother has card games at their house for whatever reason, but this is the first time we've brought it to a social setting," says Ken Howard, owner of Buffalo Wild Wings. "We had 120 people here on Monday in this backroom that we usually don't use, so it's become a replacement for Monday Night Football for us," says Stephenson.
"I'm a little surprised at the growth in popularity. It's probably more rapid than anything I've ever come in contact with," says Brun. "The reason that the game is so popular is that it's a simple game to understand, but a difficult game to master," says Stephenson.
And as long as people continue to try and master poker, these restaurants will continue to give them that opportunity.
"As long as the guys keep coming, we'll keep having the games. We don't' see any decline in the game anytime soon," says Garcia.