It’s fair to say that Las Vegas is quite underrated as a sporting destination. However, there is a quiet sports revolution taking place in the Nevada desert, with a host of America’s major league sports finding a home in Sin City. Turn the clock back only a couple of years to 2017, and Vegas didn’t have a single professional sports franchise, but all that changed when the Vegas Golden Knights established, and the NHL accepted the team as part of the Expansion Draft.
Some might say that Vegas has always had close links with professional boxing, and of course, you’d be right. The fact that some of boxing’s best pound-for-pound fighters prefer to live and fight in Vegas is a testament to the claim that Vegas is fast becoming the boxing capital of the world. Take Floyd Mayweather as a prime example. He’s fought his last 10 bouts in Vegas worth a reported $11 million to the Vegas economy for each fight.
You also only need to look at the way Vegas boxing fans have taken to the British heavyweight sensation Tyson Fury to see that Vegas loves a boxing personality, with Fury himself admitting that Vegas’ MGM Grand is “where all the great fights happen.” In the build-up to his fight with German Tom Schwarz, which earned Fury another $10 million in the coffers, Fury said that seeing his “face on all the movie screens and posters” was an exciting and humbling feeling.
Boxing Still in Poker’s Shade in Vegas
Nevertheless, there is another game in Vegas that attracts more consistent attention in Sin City than heavyweight boxing. Vegas is also the spiritual home of Texas Hold ‘em poker where the World Series of Poker (WSOP) was born. We’ll go into the wonder that is the WSOP shortly. In revenue, poker in Las Vegas appears to be alive and kicking, with poker revenue throughout Nevada totalling $120 million in 2018, which was the highest figure in the state during the last five years. The last time Nevada’s poker revenue exceeded $120 million was back in 2013 when some 88 poker rooms and 778 poker tables were in action.
Interestingly, the number of active poker rooms and tables has declined since then. By the end of 2018, the Nevada Gaming Control Board published a list of 56 poker rooms and 553 tables. Therefore, the decline in active poker tables hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm and popularity of poker in Vegas and most notably, the Strip. In fact, four of the five casinos with the largest poker rooms in Nevada are on the Strip. Both the Venetian and the Bellagio operate 37 live poker tables, followed by the only off-Strip casino, Orleans with 35. Meanwhile, the Wynn and ARIA both have 28 and 24 live poker tables, respectively.
Poker Fanatics Flock to Vegas Two Months a Year for the WSOP
The WSOP goes back to 1972 when the Binion’s Horseshoe in downtown Las Vegas hosted it until 2005. The beauty of the Main Event is that it has not only cemented some of poker’s most talented professionals in the game’s folklore, but it has also made plenty of nobodies extremely wealthy, too. Few had heard of an investment banker by the name of Robert Varkonyi until he won the bracelet in 2002.
The Main Event requires a $10,000 buy-in, which means that it attracts a broad spectrum of entrants, from wealthy amateurs to poker pros to Hollywood celebrities. The buy-in has been the same ever since 1972. However, the number of entrants has sky-rocketed in the last couple of decades. Thanks to the online poker boom, 2004 was a record-breaking year with more than 1,000 entrants, likely inspired by the 2003 WSOP Main Event winner Chris Moneymaker, who won the tournament after qualifying as an amateur via an online satellite.
Since 2008, the WSOP has opted to dramatize the final table of the Main Event by pausing the latter stages of the tournament until November. The “November 9” helped the global poker media better understand those who’ve made the final table, ramping up the excitement in the weeks leading up to the fall when they compete for the first prize of well over $5 million.
Today, the WSOP in Vegas lasts well over two months of the year, between May and July. There are quite literally dozens of different WSOP bracelet events hosted at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino, which is one of the main reasons why Vegas is so popular between May and July. Typically, the hottest months of the year in the desert climate and a turn off many visitors to the Strip who prefer to arrive during the more temperate months, these two months are now a big draw to the area.
Making a Living Out of Poker in Vegas
One of the biggest reasons why so many card sharks opt to try and play poker full-time in Vegas is that it’s one of the few casino games without a house edge. It’s solely down to fortune, probability and a healthy dose of player skill. Where so many of the casinos on the Strip and downtown Las Vegas make their money is through the poker rake, which is when casinos across the city host daily tournaments and cash games of varying table limits. Some of which are softer (easier to beat) than others.
Those that have a modest grasp of poker strategy can make a profit at the poker tables in Vegas. As well, there are plenty of loose (inexperienced) tourists that like to play for the experience rather than to put food on the table. The poker industry, therefore, is successful at both ends of the spectrum in Vegas — with the pros grinding the action day in, day out, and the excited tourists giving the pros the action they crave. It’s the perfect storm and one of the main reasons why poker still reigns supreme in Vegas over boxing and many other sports.