By all indications, poker had itself a little bit of a moment during the height of the pandemic. This was partly because the game was still played at the highest level, while a lot of other sports and public activities were either shut down or drastically altered. But it was mainly due to the fact that pandemic isolation led to droves of people playing online poker.
Again and again, reports emerged suggesting that while casino activity was down, online poker revenues were up. People turned to the game simply to have something to do, and to interact with other people in a safe way.
Ease Across The Country
The full extent of this activity may not be sustainable once the pandemic is fully behind us. But it’s interesting that it happened just as laws regarding online poker are slowly but surely starting to ease across the country. We’re a long way from fully legalized and regulated poker, but a few states have reached that point, and many more are expected to follow. It’s reasonable at this point to wonder if this combination of trends — people jumping into online poker, and more states moving toward legalization — might in fact represent the beginning of a new poker boom.
For anyone who doesn’t get that reference, it’s meant to refer to the “boom” some 20 years ago, when a wave of amateur players mixed in with the professional ranks and poker became a major televised sport, for lack of a better word. The boom also led to tons of people playing the game for themselves online, effectively meaning we had a mainstream sport we could all more or less participate in.
There are a number of reasons that a second poker boom would be a ton of fun.
First, it would be one more sport! Even if that’s not the perfect word for it, we have seen some new and/or fringe sports succeeding in major ways in recent years. It wasn’t that long ago that mixed martial arts existed on the periphery of the sports world, and now it’s effectively a major realm of entertainment. The success of eSports is the stuff of legend, and some see drone racing or VR sports thriving in similar ways. There is space, in other words, for new and fringe sports, such that the stage may be set for competitive poker more effectively now than it was in the early 2000s.
Inevitable Introduction of New Stars
Another very fun thing about a new poker boom would be the inevitable introduction of new stars. Fans who watched televised poker events in decades past know names like Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, and others about as well as they know prominent athletes in major sports. Poker really gives us a chance to see and get to know the top players in a way that even some major sports don’t always accomplish. If poker does see a fresh spike in inactivity, it’s only a matter of time before we see some figures like this emerge to capture our interest.
Naturally, the amateur side of things would be a lot of fun also. The process of playing poker online is still a pretty simple one, typically involving just a quick sign-up and a deposit. It’s just that most in the U.S. aren’t used to online poker being an option. If the game does see renewed, sustained popularity though — and legalization continues to expand — more sites will be available, and more amateurs will be playing online. This is fun for anyone with an interest in the game, in that the more people are involved, the better. Basically, online poker could become a common competitive hobby the way it was 15 or 20 years ago.
New Generation of Celebrity Players
Finally, a new poker boom could also introduce us to a new generation of celebrity players. Already, there are some younger, famous figures known to have an interest in the game. Olympic star Michael Phelps has been an avid poker player for years, for instance, and Michael B. Jordan (incidentally someone on our list of the best black male actors under 40) has popped up at a charity event or two. For anyone with an interest in celebrity culture, it’s always entertaining to see people like this pop up at the tables, either at real pro competitions or at charity tournaments. And a poker boom would probably give rise to a few more celebrity players.
Who knows if we’ll see all this come to fruition. But right now poker is on the rise again, and if the trend continues we’ll be in for a lot of entertainment in the coming years.