History of the World Series of Poker

01 May 2023
Sean Chaffin 01 May 2023
Share this article
Or copy link
  • Guide to the full history of the World Series of Poker
  • A look at the key moments in WSOP history
World Series of Poker (WSOP) (Getty Images)
The WSOP was the vision of Benny Binion, who rebranded a downtown Vegas casino as Binion’s Horseshoe in 1951. 

The former Dallas gangster always looked for some media attention to bring in gamblers and believed a high-stakes poker game featuring some of the best players in the country could do just that.

That first event brought in only a handful of players, many from Texas, including poker legends like Doyle Brunson, Johnny Moss, and Amarillo Slim Preston.

That initial WSOP didn’t even feature a tournament. Those in attendance played cash games in various formats with the players voting Moss as the best all-around player.

A Texas Hold’em tournament format became the norm the next year and Moss won again. In 1972, the main tournament buy-in (now known as the Main Event) was set at $10,000, and still carries this price point today. 

Amarillo Slim took the title and several appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson followed. Seen as a seedy game at the time by many, Slim’s humorous stories gave a unique insight into the game and some nice media attention.

Early Growth

The series continued to grow in the coming years with increasing numbers of players and additional side events growing the festival’s schedule. In 1976, Binion added what has become the best-known trophy in poker with gold bracelets handed out to winners.

As of 2023, Phil Hellmuth remained at the top of the bracelet standings with 16. He became the youngest player to ever win the Main Event at the time when he took down the tournament in 1989 for $755,000. He now has $16.8 million in WSOP winnings.

“It was an amazing feeling,” Jellmuth said of his own win. “My dad flew out to support me, just on the chance that I won it. It was the first time he ever attended any tournament. Embracing him after winning the 1989 WSOP was one of the sweetest moments of my life. Winning the Main Event was my number one life goal. Luckily, I pulled it off early in my career.”

The series continued to grow both in number of players and events in the coming years. By 1991 the Main Event payout topped $1 million for the first time, remaining so for about a decade. With the popularity of online poker and televised poker, however, the series exploded in the 2000s.

Television & Online Poker Grow The Game

The World Poker Tour debuted on the Travel Channel in March 2003, allowing viewers to see players’ hole cards for the first time and to see how they played. Tournament entries ballooned and online poker also saw massive growth.

Then in May 2003, Chris Moneymaker won an online satellite via PokerStars and went on to win the Main Event for the bracelet and $2.5 million. With a media-friendly perfect surname, Moneymaker proved an amateur could conquer the pros – inspiring poker fans around the world.

The boom continued in the 2000s with massive tournament fields throughout the world and WSOP broadcasts on ESPN drawing major ratings numbers. In 2004, Harrah's Entertainment (now Caesars Entertainment) purchased the rights to the WSOP and moved the series to Rio.

In 2006, Jaime Gold won the Main Event for $12 million. This remains the largest Main Event in series history, attracting 8,773 entries for an $82.5 million prize pool. The WSOP also began moving beyond its Sin City roots with smaller circuits and events played out all over the world.

Recent years have seen a poker resurgence with live streaming on sites like Twitch, YouTube, and PokerGO continuing to grow the game. Online poker continues to see massive numbers in the wake of the pandemic. 

This has all benefited the WSOP and organizers are using promotions like “Main Event Mania” and “Main Event for Life” in hopes of setting a new record in 2023.

Top Poker Sites

Upcoming Events