Media bets on popularity of poker

As poker gains cachet with people of all ages across the country, many media outlets are now increasing their coverage of the business and lifestyle of the game.

As poker gains cachet with people of all ages across the country, many media outlets are now increasing their coverage of the business and lifestyle of the game.

The general media has occasionally been accused of lagging behind social trends, but that's not the case when it comes to the explosion of poker across the US.

There are currently five poker shows on different TV networks, several new poker-themed magazines, and plenty of mainstream stories noting how the game has become the hot new hobby for everyone ages 10 to 80.

"It's hard to open a paper or magazine and not find a piece on poker," says Ken Schaefer, president of Dallas-based Blanchard Schaefer Advertising & Public Relations, which was once the subject of a Dallas Morning News business feature on how to use poker as a networking tool.

Breadth of coverage

Some of this surge in poker coverage is simply a reflection of the growing acceptance of gambling as a social activity, as witnessed by the growing number of casinos across the country.

But the poker phenomenon stands apart in terms of the sheer breadth of media attention over the past few years. Recent World Series of Poker winners, such as Greg Raymer (2004), have become near-household names.

News and feature articles have also noted the rise of poker on Wall Street, on campuses, inside the Beltway, and even on the playground. "It's gaining traction because all the young people are taking it up," says Susan Tellem, president of Tellem Worldwide, which represents online casino/ poker site Bodog.com. "We look at it as the new day trading."

Several magazines, as well as a handful of papers, now even have regular poker columns, but Kelly Anderson, president of LA-based Clover PR, says it's still too soon to call poker a true beat.

"Most of the coverage is still about the general trend and business of it, and where is it going, and how long it may last," notes Anderson, whose firm handles publicity for Jonathan Grotenstein, co-author of Poker: The Real Deal. "But I have not seen a slowing-down of the media's obsession with poker. In fact, I've found that it has become harder to get my client a hit with so many others pitching the same stories."

Retailers are hoping to capitalize on the demand for poker accessories, and outlets catering to the card-playing crowd now find themselves besieged with poker-themed pitches.

"Everybody and their brother has a poker-themed product or story, and we can't write about most of them," notes Eddy Kleid, the copresident of Bluff Media, which launched Bluff magazine this past June. "If you want to get your product noticed in the marketplace, it needs to be associated with either a professional poker player, the World Series of Poker, or the World Poker Tour."

Gambling problems

Somewhat lost in all this coverage is the fact that playing poker for money is still illegal in some states. There has also been little coverage on the issue of problem gambling.

When stories appear about teens who spend their free time gambling with friends and on the internet, poker is often defended as a game that teaches strategy and a hobby that keeps kids away from drugs and alcohol.

While conceding that some people can develop gambling problems, Bhu Srinivasan, publisher of another new poker lifestyle magazine, All In, says the current poker coverage is now much more about the social aspects of the game than the chance to win, or lose, big money.

"Poker used to be played in the back room, and people could not talk about it around the water cooler without sounding like a degenerate," he says. "Now you're playing it in a social setting or in a tournament setting, where your risk is limited. You moved it away from the back rooms, and back rooms are where you had people betting way over their heads and betting on credit."

That's not to say poker's surge has suddenly removed every media taboo tied to gambling.

"I actually had reporters e-mail me back and say, 'This is a story I can't touch,' which is obviously coming down from higher up," Tellem says. "But that will change as this whole impetus keeps going."

Indeed the question remains whether poker can sustain its current momentum. But many in the business bet that even though the current craze might eventually peak, poker will never go back to being an old man's game.

"People keep asking whether this is rock 'n' roll or the Hula Hoop," says Kleid. "We like to think it's rock 'n' roll, and it will be around for a long time."

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Pitching... poker

  • Everybody seems to be pitching a poker-themed story these days, so you're going to need more than a chip set or poker table to get attention. If you can, link your pitch to a high-profile professional player or tournament

  • Despite the fact that women are being drawn to the game, most women's publications are still reluctant to write about poker

  • You may get coverage by focusing on strategies, such as how to play the Ace/King off-suit, but most of the focus is on the lifestyle surrounding poker

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