WSOP Coverage Expands For 2019 Courtesy Of CBS, Poker Central
Poker Central and CBShave struck a deal to bring this year’s World Series of Poker to a much wider audience.
The agreement will see Poker Central produce 41 days of live WSOP programming, including 25 days of coverage streamed exclusively on CBS All Access. Eight days of action will air on PokerGO, and another eight days will go out across both streaming platforms.
CBS Sports Network will also broadcast highlights from its 25 bracelet events via CBSSports.com, the CBS Sports app, and CBS Sports HQ.
Here’s Dan Weinberg, Executive Vice President of Programming:
WSOP is the anchor for TV poker
Traditionally, the WSOP is the time of the year when the general public gets to hear about poker. Television news programs report on the Main Event winner, and ESPN broadcasts a series of programs with a dedicated team of anchors.
Since the demise of US online poker after Black Friday in 2011, there has been very little televised poker outside of the WSOP. Big-money industry sponsors are no longer there, and the audience isn’t large enough to attract many substitutes from the mainstream.
CBS Sports broadcasts what is essentially the only regular poker programming still on air, Poker Night in America. ESPN’s coverage is widely admired, but it focuses almost exclusively on the WSOP Main Event.
Poker Central and CBS will now showcase more of the preliminary events than ever before.
Cary Katz and a mission to promote poker
Poker Central was created in 2015 by businessman and poker enthusiast Cary Katz. One of his motivations was to promote poker, and he was prepared to put up a lot of his own money to do so.
In the last few years, Katz has pushed hard to put poker content on mainstream television.
His first foray into TV was the Super High Roller Bowl at the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, which was televised on NBC Sports. In 2017, Katz signed a deal for the global television and digital media rights to the WSOP. A side deal with ESPN brought same-day live coverage starting with Day 1 of the Main Event.
By April 2018, Poker Central was confident enough to open a 10,000 square-foot studio at the Aria. The venue now produces subscription-based PokerGO shows including the Poker Masters, US Poker Open, and Poker After Dark.
The deal with CBS fits naturally into this timeline, continuing a clear strategy to build in-depth poker content and distribute it to a bigger audience.
US online poker in the doldrums
Katz is fighting an uphill battle in the US.
The history of US online poker doesn’t provide much motivation for gaming executives.
By year four, they estimated, online poker revenue would be running at $40 to $50 million per quarter.
Instead it is barely one tenth of that. In April 2019, NJ online poker revenue was under $1.7 million. Estimates that poker would produce 40% of revenue — with casino games making up the rest — were out by a mile. Online poker is producing less than 5% of the total revenues.
And that excludes the new revenue from NJ online sports betting.
Can content revive US online poker?
A revival of US online poker is not going to happen just because the WSOP gets some more airtime. At best, we can hope to satisfy the interest of some viewers who have been attracted to the new programming by promotions surrounding the Main Event.
But so many of the prospective new players live in states where there is no legal online poker. There’s no way for them to translate their interest into legal, regulated action.
The future of US online poker depends on two enabling factors. First we need to see many more states legalize the game. There is some hope for this.
In the next few months, Pennsylvania will launch its first legal online poker sites. And in 2019, West Virginia became the first new addition to the list of states with legalized online poker in quite some time. The impetus to legalize sports betting is also creating a drag-along effect in some states where online poker may be included in broader gaming legislation.
On its own, though, this still won’t be enough. Online poker needs a large player pool to succeed.
In France players were segregated among their neighbors for years. In a market drawn from a population of 67 million people, poker still declined year on year. Only when France, Spain and Portugal began to share their player pools did French online poker begin to grow again. Their combined market now has a population of 124 million people.
To create a similar market in the US would require 38% of the population to have access to legal online poker. On top of that, the states would need to have compacts allowing combined player pools. The new DOJ opinion on the Wire Act puts such multi-state poker compacts in jeopardy.
Many small steps make for progress
Poker Central’s deal with CBS should be seen as another small step on a very long journey.
Perhaps its most important impact may be to help re-normalize poker as a national pastime in a country which might be forgetting how much fun this most-American of games really is.
2019 WSOP live streaming schedule