The poker boom represented a time of bliss for pros and amateurs alike. Spanning from 2003 to 2006, the boom saw live and online poker explode in terms of players, tournament prize pools, and news coverage.
Not surprisingly, many players hoped and prayed for a second upsurge. They grabbed hold of any bit of hope that they thought could result in another rapid growth period.
Below, you can see the 7 biggest factors that were supposed to cause another boom. None of these aspects have come to fruition and caused a poker goldrush to date.
1 – Regulation
Poker experienced its biggest rise when the internet game operated in a grey area. Most governments completely ignored online poker up until the mid-2000s.
This lack of government regulation allowed the game to thrive.
However, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) and Black Friday (U.S. v. Scheinberg) put a damper on this unchecked market.
Happening in 2006 and 2011, respectively, these US legal actions convinced payment processors to quit serving Americans and even led to the downfall of certain sites.
Ever since, the US and other countries have begun regulating online poker. Nations like the UK, Denmark, France, Italy, and Spain offer broad legislation that covers their national playing pools.
America, however, has yet to legalize the game on a federal level. Instead, only a handful of states (e.g. New Jersey, Pennsylvania) have legalized and regulated online poker.
Given that the US was key to the original poker boom, this broken-up market has really hurt the internet game’s development. Regulation has also been too slow to provide any substantial growth or benefits from legal online poker.
The rest of America is served by smaller grey-market sites that don’t generate a fraction of the traffic that Partypoker, Stars, and Full Tilt drew at their heights.
2 – Barack Obama
Barack Obama was inaugurated as the US President in 2008. Players had high hopes that the poker-loving President would undo all the harm caused by the UIGEA.
As a senator in Illinois, Obama regularly hosted a home game. The Democrat also expressed hope that Congress would repeal the UIGEA and regulate online poker on a federal level.
However, Republicans controlled Congress at the time and had no intentions of lightening up on internet gambling. The Obama administration didn’t really have the power nor political motivation to wage a war for the game.
During Obama’s time in office, Preet Bharara, US District Attorney for the Southern District of New York, initiated Black Friday.
Bharara didn’t seek permission from the Obama-appointed Attorney General Eric Holder at the time. This is just one more sign that Barack didn’t have any real control over online poker’s fate.
3 – China and India
With close to 2.8 billion people between them, China and India represent 35% of the world’s population. It only stands to reason that they could collectively usher in their own poker boom.
Many have been waiting for poker to take off in either country. India is experiencing its own boom today. Adda52 has been particularly popular among Indian players.
However, India’s poker boom isn’t having much of a global effect. It’s instead confined to the country’s borders.
China, meanwhile, still has extremely restrictive gambling laws in place. It also exhibits quite a bit of control over its citizens.
India and China could still cause a mini-poker boom. As for now, though, they’ve yet to bring these dreams to fruition.
4 – Rounders Sequel
Released in 1998, Rounders has become a cult classic that’s still popular among poker players today. It was especially impactful shortly after it was released and has inspired notable pros to take up the game.
2003 WSOP Main Event champ Chris Moneymaker cites Rounders as one of the key reasons why he began playing. Coincidentally, Moneymaker is considered the biggest sparkplug for the poker boom.
Rumors have been floated about a potential Rounders sequel for years. Co-star Ed Norton mentioned the possibility during a 2014 appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Co-writer Brian Koppelman also mentioned the possibility in 2019 by tweeting, “It’s never too late [for a Rounders sequel].”
But more than two decades later, Rounders 2 isn’t in production or even scheduled with a major studio. Assuming it is made, the sequel would face a near-impossible task of living up to the first movie.
5 – PokerStars’ Return to US
After paying a $731 million fine to the US Department Justice following Black Friday, PokerStars avoided having to admit to money laundering charges. This agreement helped them remain eligible for return to the US online poker market.
Stars legally made their way back into America in 2016. They gained licensing through the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.
Some viewed this NJ foothold as a launching point for PokerStars expanding across the country. The enthusiasm was well warranted given that Stars still dominated the online poker market at the time.
Four years later, PokerStars has only managed to expand to Pennsylvania. They’re also much more committed to casino gaming and sports betting (through Fox Sports deal) than poker these days.
Perhaps Stars may dedicate more effort towards the game that made them famous if regulation opens up. For now, though, they’re capitalizing on casino and sports gambling.
6 – Michael Phelps
In the fall of 2008, Michael Phelps was fresh off another dominating Olympic performance. He captured eight gold medals and set multiple records in Beijing.
Phelps mania was at an all time high. So, the poker world jumped when they read news of “The Baltimore Bullet” hanging out in poker rooms.
Friends with pro player Jeff Gross, Phelps began dedicating more time to his poker hobby in 2008. He piqued more interest after finishing ninth place ($5,213) in a Caesars Palace Classic tournament.
Given Phelps’ status, some wondered if he could be the marquee attraction that would inspire millions of people to take up the game. Many speculated on what sites might sponsor Phelps.
In the end, though, he was just enjoying his time away from the pool. Michael Phelps eventually returned to competitive swimming and won four golds and two silvers at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Now retired from swimming, Phelps still enjoys playing poker from time to time. But he shows no interest in being the bannerman for the game.
7 – Return of TV Poker
A reverberation from Black Friday, popular poker TV shows went off the air in the early 2010s. High Stakes Poker, Poker After Dark, and PokerStars Big Game were the most-notable shows to disappear.
The sites and companies that sponsored these programs pulled their advertising after Black Friday. Poker TV remained largely in limbo until Poker After Dark (2017-19) and Poker Night in America (2017 onwards) returned.
These shows offered the promise of bringing poker to the masses again. Each show featured prominent players just as programs before it had done.
Poker After Dark went off air in 2019. PNIA continues to run and offers entertaining action. But as a whole, the poker TV scene isn’t quite what it used to be.
As it were, the poker boom is a one-time event that’ll never be replicated. Another mini boom could potentially happen but nothing like what occurred during the mid-2000s.
A perfect mixture of factors came together to rapidly increase the popularity of online poker and the game as a whole.
The internet game was new, Moneymaker showed that any amateur could win, and TV shows began interesting casual viewers.
The good news is that live tournaments are more popular than ever. The World Series of Poker keeps setting attendance records year after year.
Countries and states are also sharing their online player pools in some cases. The more linked player pools there are, the bigger cash games and tournaments can grow.
Nevertheless, a second poker boom just doesn’t seem in the cards. After believing in one or more of the previously discussed 7 factors, many people have given up on the notion of boom #2.