23October2017

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The History of Poker on TV

Since the inception of the "pocket cam" in 1997, televised poker has become a lucrative business, attracting millions of viewers and even commanding its own channels.

The history of televised poker begins in the 1970s, when ESPN began broadcasting the WSOP Final Table, but it suffered because the viewers could not see the hole cards of the players. However in 1997 the pocket cam revolutionised the way televised poker could entice viewers. By giving the television audience the ability to see everyone’s hole cards, the excitement of watching a game shot up.

Pros, on the other hand, were not always as happy with this technology because it gave everyone the chance to see how they played every televised hand. No one could deny that the pocket cam boosted poker’s influence and popularity though, even if it did make the game harder for the pros who could now analyse the way their peers played every single hand of every televised poker game.

When Chris Moneymaker won the Main Event in 2003 it was a godsend for the television networks. Here was an accountant from Tennessee who had gained entry to the tournament through a $39 satellite and ended up winning $2.5 million. The "Moneymaker Effect" is seen as the most important catalyst for the success of televised poker. Moneymaker showed the world that anyone could come to Vegas and win the biggest tournament in the world. This was gold dust for broadcasters, advertisers and sponsors. These days, just like sportsmen, almost every poker player you see on television is adorned with merchandise and clothing from poker companies.

In the UK, Late Night Poker (Channel 4), Poker Million (Sky Sports), European Poker Tour (Channel 4) and FullTiltPoker.com Million Dollar Cash Game (Sky Sports) all attract strong viewing figures because they now attract the top pros in the world. The Poker Channel was launched in 2005 and broadcasts for 6.5 hrs a day in the UK. The last year or so has seen a little bit of a cooling effect on televised poker – what with the US ban on online poker, the PokerStars and FullTilt scandals and an overall saturation of the market effect. Televised poker is still huge though. Poker and online gambling in general has had a massive effect on the way sports are viewed on television. Just watch a football game these days and you'll see that the poker/gambling market has taken over from the alcohol/tobacco markets as the top sports advertising sector.

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