Atlantic City Archives: NJ Online Gambling Brings The WPT Championship To The Borgata

Posted By Steve Ruddock on August 25, 2015 - Last Updated on August 24, 2015

The World Poker Tour didn’t start out in Atlantic City, but over the years Atlantic City has played an increasingly prominent role with the WPT. In 2014, the WPT hosted three tournament series at Borgata in Atlantic City, including the WPT Championship.

The World Poker Tour hosted its first $25k Championship event at the Bellagio in April of 2003.

The tournament was the culmination of the inaugural season of the groundbreaking tour, which included stops in Las Vegas, Costa Rica, California, Paris, Reno, Tunica, and Foxwoods in Connecticut. The one “poker” hotspot not on that list was Atlantic City.

However, ten years later Atlantic City – particularly the Borgata – became the hub of the World Poker Tour, supplanting the Bellagio as the top spot thanks to the proliferation of legal, regulated online gaming in the United States.

WPT Origins: Bellagio

The first World Poker tour event took place at the Bellagio from May 27 through June 1, 2002.

Yes, you read that right, the World Poker Tour preceded Chris Moneymaker’s World Series of Poker victory. The event, The Five Diamond World Poker Classic, featured a $10,000 buy-in and attracted 146 entrants – which was an incredible turnout for the time.

The tournament was won by one of the first poker superstars of the Internet era, Gus Hansen (Gus would go on to win a total of three WPT titles), who prevailed over a final table of six Hall of Fame caliber players. In addition to Hansen, the first WPT final table included Scotty Nguyen, Chris Bigler, John Juanda, Freddy Deeb, and John Hennigan.

Basically, the WPT got off to a great start.

Little did we know at the time that the WPT would help usher in the poker boom, and that it would turn the Bellagio into the tournament capital of the world – with the exception of the 6-week period that occurred at Binion’s and later The Rio every summer.

The WPT returns…again and again

Before the first season of the WPT was even in the books, the tour had already returned to the Bellagio for the season-ending $25k Championship, and the WPT would continue to frequent the Bellagio over and over.

The WPT and Bellagio later became so synonymous with one another as the WPT held multiple events at Bellagio every year (sometimes as many as three), and the tour held every $25k Championship at the Las Vegas casino until 2014, when it was moved to Borgata in Atlantic City.

It seemed like every year the WPT on Travel Channel was crowning a new poker superstar at the Bellagio, whether it was the Five Diamonds, the WPT Championships, or the Festa al Lago tournament series.

WPT sets its sights on AC

Despite the WPT’s success and history at Bellagio, developments in the world of legal online poker necessitated a move of the Championship across the country.

In 2013 the parent company of the WPT, bwin.party, partnered with Borgata in Atlantic City to provide the platform for the company’s New Jersey online gambling operation. When online gambling in New Jersey became a reality, so too did the notion that the WPT Championship would soon have a new home at the Borgata.

The Borgata and the WPT already had a sound relationship dating back to the tour’s second season, when the casino hosted the Borgata Poker Open, and during the ensuing years the Borgata became one of the tour’s most popular host casinos and most well-liked stops among the players.

With the addition of the World Poker Tour season-ending Championship (which has now been reduced to a $15,000 buy-in), the Borgata now hosts three WPT events each season.

While it was a coup for Atlantic City, the move came when the World Poker Tour was on a downswing and well past its peak, and therefore did little to shift the tournament capital of the world from Vegas to Atlantic City.

Had the change happened five years prior, it could have really elevated Atlantic City as a poker destination.

What does the future hold?

It was the sale of the World Poker Tour to partypoker that led to the WPT Championship heading to Atlantic City, but that could change in the near future due to another sale.

bwin.party recently sold the WPT to the Chinese social gaming company OurGame, which could signal that the WPT Championship’s days in Atlantic City are numbered, depending on what direction OurGame wants to take the WPT.

But for now the WPT Championship has a home in Atlantic City at the Borgata Hotel and Casino, and it’s a good home.

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Steve Ruddock

Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.

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