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Howard Stutz

World Series of Poker Hits Big at Rio

12 July 2005

The ace-king suited that Harrah's Entertainment drew when it purchased the World Series of Poker a year ago has turned into a royal flush.

As competitive poker's premier tournament winds toward its conclusion Friday when the 2005 world champion is crowned, the numbers coming out of this year's 45-event competition have surprised Harrah's officials.

More than 29,000 players -- double last year's record total of 14,054 players -- have participated in World Series events at the Rio. That figure will climb when three additional one-day hold 'em events are concluded this week.

The net prize pool for the World Series currently stands at more than $103 million, eclipsing last year's total prize pool of $45.9 million.

On its own, the $10,000 buy-in no limit Texas hold 'em championship event, which began Thursday, attracted a record 5,619 entries for a prize pool of $52.8 million.

"Over the past three years, the numbers from the World Series of Poker have grown more than 100 percent each year, but we just couldn't anticipate the numbers that we've seen this year," World Series Director of Operations Gary Thompson said.

"This shows the popularity of poker, both nationally and overseas, and that the game has become a sporting phenomenon on par with the most prestigious and most expensive sporting events."

The 2005 World Series champion will collect $7.5 million, up from $5 million a year ago.

In the championship event, play will last through the week and the field will be reduced to 27 players after the conclusion of Wednesday night's round.

Competition will then move downtown to Binion's Horseshoe for the final two days.

Going into play Monday night, 567 players were still competing including defending champion Greg Raymer who entered the day in ninth place with $318,700 in chips.

Previous world poker champions and various Hollywood celebrities who anted up the $10,000 entry fee were all eliminated by Sunday night.

The 560 top finishers will split the total jackpot with places 501 to 560 each earning $12,500.

The top nine players who reach the final table on Friday will each win a minimum of $1 million.

"We made a decision to pay more players than increase the size of the overall winner's prize to $10 million," Thompson said. "Still, $7.5 million is a pretty nice figure."

Harrah's earns a 6 percent take from the prize pool, money that is used to pay dealers' fees and other expenses. But where the company is earning a larger reward is from exposure.

More than 500 media outlets have received credentials to cover the World Series of Poker and stories on the tournament have appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today.

Greater exposure will come starting at the end of the month when ESPN begins televising its coverage of the World Series of Poker with 32 one- and two-hour episodes appearing on the cable network through November.

This year's World Series, which moved away from downtown for the first time in the event's history to a 60,000-square-foot, specially built poker room in the Rio's convention area, also featured a three-day Poker Lifestyles trade show inside another 50,000 square feet of convention space.

The show, which featured representatives of online poker Web sites, clothing, poker publications and self-help poker material, concluded Saturday and more than 50,000 people passed through the exhibits on their way to the World Series.

Thompson said the Poker Lifestyles show will become a permanent fixture at the tournament.

"I wish I could say it was my idea, but it was the folks at the Rio who developed the concept," Thompson said. "It was a pretty big gamble that really paid off. We just didn't know how to anticipate response to the show."

World Series of Poker Hits Big at Rio is republished from