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World's largest online poker tournament gains popularity

Run from its hub in San Jose, Costa Rica, online poker room will host its fourth-annual World Championship of Online Poker -- an event played ... from bedrooms and home offices that has become the world's largest online poker tournament. The tournament, which includes 15 individual poker events including a final tournament of no-limit hold 'em, is expected to draw more than 10,000 players Sept. 4-18. The prize pool for the final event starts at $2.5 million. That's small compared with the world's largest tournament, the World Series of Poker. The granddaddy of tournaments wrapped up in Las Vegas last month with 35,000 tournament entries and more than $100 million in prizes. The final showcase event drew 5,619 players and more than $50 million in prizes. Even so, the number of players competing in the final event of last year's World Championship of Online Poker was second only to the World Series of Poker. Prize money for the online tournament ranked 9th worldwide for a single event, falling short of World Poker Tour events at the Bellagio, Mirage, Foxwoods and Commerce casinos. The World Championship of Online Poker isn't aiming to compete with the famed World Series of Poker, spokesman Nolan Dalla said. "We have an entirely different demographic," Dalla said. "We're attracting a lot of these people who can't travel to Las Vegas." While some people who play in the online tournament also play in the World Series of Poker and other major casino tournaments, the World Championship also draws players who prefer gambling online, he said. "The No. 1 attraction is convenience," Dalla said. "It's much more convenient to log on and play from Belgium or Baton Rouge. There's no airfare and no hotel room you don't have to get dressed. You don't have to tip the dealer." The online tournament is run much like the World Series of Poker, with poker games held daily and winners to each event receiving a gold bracelet. There are some notable differences. Entries to the final event cost $2,500, compared with $10,000 and up for major tournaments such as the World Series of Poker and World Poker Tour events. Online games can be played up to twice as fast as live games because cards are dealt automatically rather than waiting for a dealer to pitch them, Dalla said. Another difference from major tournaments in U.S. casinos is that about 40 percent of players are expected to be from outside of the United States, he said. "It has the broadest international spectrum of any major poker tournament because people don't have to travel," Dalla said. There may be a downside for players seeking fame in addition to fortune. The online tournament isn't televised, though Dalla said last year's winner, Norwegian financial analyst Edgar Skjervold, made "front page news" in his home country. Meanwhile, online poker sites are pushing into the mainstream with bigger advertising campaigns, more lucrative sponsorship deals and high-profile charity efforts. The winners of the World Series of Poker in 2003 and 2004, Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer, respectively, won their seats in the tournament by playing online satellite games. "People who may have been reluctant to flock to online poker have seen the success of Moneymaker and Raymer and have given it a shot," Dalla said. Online casinos, based offshore to avoid federal prosecutors, continue to operate in legal limbo. The Department of Justice contends that online gambling is illegal in the United States and has sent warning letters to media companies that they could be promoting illegal businesses. Nevada, which backed off efforts to legalize Internet gambling within its borders, is one of few states that has specifically outlawed Internet gambling. Attorneys for online casinos say federal law doesn't support the DOJ's position and that regulators are reluctant to challenge operators in court.


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