As if things weren’t pumped up enough in 2003 when a record 839 players entered the $10,000 buy-in no-limit hold’em championship at the World Series of Poker, this year the head count more than tripled. In case you’ve been hibernating on a deserted island with Robinson Crusoe or the cast of Survivor and haven’t heard the news, last year’s event marked the coming of the online gaming community into poker’s premier event. When a 27-year-old accountant by the name of Chris Moneymaker parlayed a $40 entry fee in an online satellite event into a $2.5 million payday when he won the 2003 World Series of Poker, it helped set the poker world on its ear.
When all of last year’s shouting was over and done, I found myself standing next to Horseshoe owner Becky Binion Behnen and asked her how many players she anticipated for the main event in 2004. She smiled and said, “I guess we might have as many as 1,000.” I thought she erred on the side of caution, and in a column right here in Card Player, entitled “That’s My Number and I’m Sticking to It,” I predicted 1,150 entrants. I thought I was conservative, too, but I might have been swayed somewhat by Becky’s estimate. After all, she owned the joint — or did.
For a while, it seemed like there might not even be a 2004 World Series of Poker. In early January 2004, U.S. marshals entered Binion’s Horseshoe and seized $1.9 million to satisfy debts owed to the Southern Nevada Culinary and Bartenders Pension Trust Fund and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union Welfare Fund, and forced the closure of the 52-year-old property’s casino.
Seizing the Horseshoe sparked all sorts of rumors, and for weeks no one could tell you what the casino’s fate would be. And if the casino’s fate was up in the air, so was the fate of its biggest asset: the World Series of Poker. But the Horseshoe reopened on April 1, only three and a half months after its closure by U.S. marshals, …