Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Come on in, the water is just right

Poker isn't on the rise, but it's hardly dead, even though tournaments have seen player entries level off. During the huge poker storm, many people got swept up and now find themselves full-fledge card carrying members of the Texas Hold ‘Em Fan Club.

In the first tournament of the Borgata Poker Open ($300 buy-in) there were close to 1,200 eager students of the game hoping to get the top prize of $77,170. But the game of poker doesn’t just lure college kids who would rather bet at 20 simultaneous games than finish their midterm project or the retirees, who don’t want to sit in their house all day.

Celebrities joined the club a long time ago with notables such as Ben Affleck and Shannon Elizabeth popping up in various tournaments. The latest celeb with the poker bug is Michael Phelps, who needs no introduction.

According to, Phelps’ agent has recent been contacted by the World Series of Poker Europe for a sponsorship deal. The famed Olympian has been spotted playing Texas Hold ‘Em in various casinos, including Caesars Windsor in Ontario, which is close to where he trained at the University of Michigan.

Phelps is home in Baltimore now and doesn’t plan any intense training until next year. Does this mean a three-hour trip to Atlantic City in his future? With eight poker rooms in The Resort, Phelps has plenty of options from the Borgata, where the cool people go, to the Hilton, where the people wouldn’t know who he was if he had a sign around his neck.

If Phelps does become a sponsor for the WSOPE, it could have a negative impact on his other sponsors. While poker has taken off and is seen as part of the mainstream culture, there is still that sense that it’s a backroom game. There is still the gambling aspect involved.

What would the conservative public think of Phelps, the guy who wanted Frosted Flakes instead of Wheaties, if he promoted a gambling tournament?

By taking on this sponsorship, he could lose fans and hurt his bottom line as conservative sponsors would back away. He wouldn’t gain anything out of it (except the money) because poker players are cheap, just ask the waitresses who bring them drinks every night. Showing his face on WSOPE billboards isn’t going to draw more people to the tables. Especially not those who would continue to come back.

It's not poker that people want to beat him in, but as Phelps has shown nothing could crack his aces.

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