20 Years Later: How WSOP And Vegas Has Changed Since Moneymaker’s Stunning Victory

Written By T.J. McBride on June 6, 2023 - Last Updated on June 19, 2023
Las Vegas and the WSOP have undergone much change since Moneymaker's win in 2003.

It’s been 20 years since Chris Moneymaker stunned the poker world with his unlikely World Series of Poker Main Event win in 2003. Significant changes followed Moneymaker winning a bracelet, both with WSOP and Las Vegas.

Suddenly, hordes of casual poker players saw themselves becoming the next Moneymaker, and many of them made a beeline for the Mecca of poker, Las Vegas. Poker events became must-watch TV, with staggering payouts and larger-than-life characters becoming poker superstars.

Las Vegas and the game of poker are not the same as they were two decades ago, as both continue to evolve after an unknown regular joe became a hero to millions.

Moneymaker’s win ushered in a new era for poker

WSOP.com Nevada is the largest regulated online poker room in the state. Players can bet with real money at any time of the day or night. Players do not have to be US nor Nevada citizens. They simply have to be physically in the state to use the app powered by Caesars Entertainment.

The “Moneymaker Era,” as the years after Moneymaker’s big win have been called, was a time of great change for the World Series of Poker. His win put the poker world on a new course that has resulted in it now being a part of millions of people’s lives.

Caesars, known as Harrah’s back in 2004 when it bought WSOP, has seen a massive increase in interest of the event.

ESPN was the first to respond after Moneymaker won, as it began regularly televising action from the final table. By 2011, it was broadcasting the final table from start to finish. Additionally, ESPN also had the entire 55-event schedule shown between three separate mediums: ESPN, WSOP.com and ESPN3.com.

Soon, poker tournaments sprung up all over the TV dial and online. It was hard to not find a poker match on TV at any time of the day.

In 2017, WSOP began offering online bracelets for winners of online events. Online casino gambling became a way for poker players to make a lot of money.

Poker continued to grow, and in 2019, the Big 50 broke the record for most entrants, with 28,371 players partaking in the multi-flight tournament.

UIGEA steps in to stunt the growth of online poker

Online poker’s trajectory, however, was thwarted just three years after Moneymaker’s victory. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) was not designed to halt online poker, but it did just that when it was enacted. Originally a part of port security, the law prohibited betting across state lines.

A successful real-money poker market was suddenly shut down. Several states have subsequently enacted their own online poker laws, but play across state lines is limited at best. That could be changing.

Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey have a sharing agreement, meaning players in the three states can play for money against each other. Pennsylvania and West Virginia could join in the near future. Michigan, meanwhile, has joined that compact as well, but only PokerStars has opened the door for players to compete against those from other states.

Las Vegas itself has changed dramatically in the last two decades

Poker is not the only thing that has changed since Moneymaker shocked the world.

The Mecca of gambling in the US has become almost unrecognizable in the last two decades.

For example, The Sahara was closed in 2011. It reopened as SLS Las Vegas three years later. Then, one hotel tower was rebranded W Las Vegas. Soon, the tower once again became SLS before the entire complex was rebranded as Sahara Las Vegas in 2019.

The Imperial Palace has seen its name change to The Quad in 2012 before being rebranded again in 2014 as Linq. The Westgate used to be known as Las Vegas Hilton, which was the home of Elvis Presley in the 1970s. In 2003, the Cosmopolitan was still just an idea. It would take another seven years until it was built and opened.

In the last 20 years, casinos like The Wynn, Encore and Circa have sprouted up, while others have met their demise, including the Riveria and the Hard Rock. It is not just hotels and casinos that have changed, either. In 2003, there was around 50 different buffets in Las Vegas. There are now less than a dozen.

Casinos added poker rooms like crazy after 2003, only to see many of them shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. They’re now just beginning to open again across the city.

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T.J. McBride

T.J. McBride is a Denver-based writer and reporter with an extensive background in covering the NBA and Denver Nuggets. T.J. is Southern California native who provides news and analysis on the legal gambling industry across a number of Catena Media's regional US sites.

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