The 2008 World Series of Poker is officially the largest and richest in the tournament's 39 years.
Harrah's Entertainment, which owns the event, said Wednesday a record 58,720 entries -- an 8 percent increase from 2007 -- were taken for the 55-event, 47-day poker tournament at the Rio. The total prize pool was a record $180.7 million, a $20.8 million increase from a year ago.
"We've accomplished what we set out to do, and we're not taking anything for granted," said Jeffrey Pollack, a Harrah's vice president who serves as commissioner of the World Series of Poker. "We're going to be even better in 2009."
The tournament field was helped by having eight different $10,000 buy-in events and eight different $1,500 buy-in events.
"Our goal was to provide something for every player, and we believe we accomplished that," Pollack said.
The tournament attracted players from 118 different countries, a 36 percent increase from a year ago. Players from every U.S. state and Canadian province won money during the tournament.
"This is a bright spot in what has been a challenged industry," Pollack said in reference to the Strip's declining gaming revenues. "We're glad this is a year where attendance and participation have been greater than ever."
The World Series of Poker does not track how many of the participants won their seat in an online poker tournament because Harrah's does not accept entry fees paid by third parties. A player must present his or her own entry to play in an event.
The final task is to complete this year's main event, the $10,000 buy-in No Limit Texas Hold'em World Championship, which drew 6,844 players -- the second-largest field in the tournament's history -- vying to divide a prize pool of more than $64.3 million. The winner will take home $9.12 million.
On Wednesday a second group of players who survived the opening round returned to the Rio.
Early in the afternoon, it was learned there would be a new World Series of Poker champion in 2008. Defending champion Jerry Yang was eliminated from competition. Yang, a Temecula, Calif., social worker, had been playing poker for only two years when he won $8.25 million in last year's main event.
According to the tournament's staff, Yang walked around the table and shook each player's hand. He received a round of applause when his elimination was announced to the crowd.
World Series of Poker officials planned to have the field down to between 1,800 and 2,000 players going into play today. Once the final table of nine players is established sometime late Monday or early Tuesday, play will be suspended for almost four months.
Players will return to the Rio on Nov. 9 and play down to the final two players, who will play head-to-head starting late Nov. 10.
The winner will be determined in the early morning hours of Nov. 11, and ESPN will broadcast the final table in a two-hour special that evening.
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at email@example.com or 702-477-3871.