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WSOP attendance down, but optimism high for travel to Main Event

Updated October 28, 2021 - 7:44 pm

Attendance is down at the World Series of Poker, but officials are hopeful that loosened travel restrictions will help build a strong field for the Main Event.

Field sizes are down about 30 percent from the last in-person WSOP in 2019. The live WSOP was not held last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The drop in attendance has been felt most acutely in the large-field No-limit Hold’em events at the Rio, which are down 35 percent or more. The $1,500 Monster Stack field size was down 41.7 percent (6,035 entries in 2019 to 3,520 this year), and the $1,500 Millionaire Maker was down 39.5 percent (8,809 entries to 5,326).

The non-No-limit Hold’em events have seen significant but smaller drops. The $1,500 Omaha High-Low was down 28.8 percent to 607 entries after having 853 in 2019, and the $10,000 Omaha High-Low Championship was down 26.8 percent from 183 to 134.

There are many factors that could be affecting attendance. The WSOP is being held in the fall instead of its usual summer slot, possibly at a more difficult time for players to take time off, and surely some amount of players are sitting out because they don’t want to comply with the vaccine mandate for WSOP participants.

WSOP vice president Jack Effel said the main culprit was travel restrictions that have reduced international participation, especially from the recreational players who help drive up field sizes for the big No-limit Hold’em events.

The U.S. recently announced that it would lift travel restrictions for vaccinated international passengers Nov. 8, and the WSOP has responded by adding two more opening flights to the Main Event, the $10,000 No-limit Hold’em World Championship.

The Main Event will now have six starting flights from Nov. 4 to 9 instead of four. Entrants can also buy in as late as two levels into one of the two Day 2 sessions Nov. 9 or 10, Effel said.

“So if you’re an international traveler and you couldn’t start traveling until the 8th, you literally have more than 48 hours to get here once the travel restriction gets lifted,” Effel said.

The Main Event is still slated to end Nov. 17.

Hossein Ensan defeated a field of 8,569 to win $10 million in the 2019 Main Event. Damian Salas defeated a field of 1,379 for $2.55 million last year in a hybrid online/live Main Event.

Effel said he was not disappointed with the attendance given the circumstances.

“We’ve still felt very busy,” he said. “… I think as we approach the Main Event, with the additional time that (travelers) have to get in this year, I think that back end of the WSOP schedule is going to be pretty good.”

The WSOP runs through Nov. 23 with a total of 88 events.

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter.

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