The popularity and economic impact of the World Series of Poker is under the microscope as industry analysts wait to assess what effect this year's edition of the world's largest poker tournament may have had on the Vegas Strip in economically troubled times.
The Las Vegas tournament was originally held in the spring, but after being taken over by Harrah's Enteryainment, the event was switched to a timeframe closer to summer to boost business in a traditionally slow period.
In an economic landscape that has seen revenues in Vegas drop alarmingly, there is now increased interest in how a major crowd puller like WSOP may have influenced the local situation for the months of June – July 2008.
The Monthly Win and Percentage Fee Tax Collection report for May 2008 from the Nevada Gaming Control Board recently showed that casino gaming revenue was down 15.17 percent in Nevada – lower in almost every region of Las Vegas when compared to May 2007.
Gaming revenues on the Strip were even lower – down 16.44 percent – the second worst monthly performance in more than 10 years and the fifth consecutive month that the Strip has posted lower monthly revenue numbers when compared to the same period a year ago.
Las Vegas gaming stocks took a serious hit on the heels of the report, with MGM, which had been trading near $100 in October 2007, declining to around $27.
Increased competition – more land casinos in an expanding industry – together with declining personal discretionary income occasioned by a weakened economy and high fuel costs, have reduced visits to land casinos and increased speculation that Internet gambling may be a more attractive proposition for the gambler than incurring the travel and other costs of visiting bricks and mortar venues.
Entries in WSOP events this year were up 8 percent, indicating that more gamblers and probably more supporters travelled to Vegas for the big poker event and spent money in the city. Buy-ins for the WSOP were up by approximately $20.8 million.
However, Harrah's will be holding back around $24 million from the overall WSOP prize pool of $180.7 million this year until November, when the final table reconvenes in Vegas for the grand finale of the 39th Main Event and prizes for the remaining nine players will have to be paid.
The 2008 World Series of Poker is officially the largest and richest in the tournament's 39 years, so there are hopes that the overall effect on the June-July numbers will make for more positive reading. There were a record 58 720 entries for the 55-event, 47-day poker tournament at the Rio.