World Series of Poker Betting Is Not Just for Card Players

The World Series of Poker $10,000 buy-in No-Limit Hold ’em Main Event returns to the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, July 5-14 and once again, the players at the table won’t be the only ones doing the poker betting. In fact, a bevy of sportsbooks are offering odds on which player will win the guaranteed first prize of $10 million and the title of World Champion. However, gamblers who still have a selection at the final table will have to wait four months to see if they cash, when the “November Nine” return to decide the championship on ESPN during a two-night live broadcast on November 10 and 11, 2014. Of course, sportsbooks are aiding and abetting ESPN’s four-month tease by also offering individual prices on players just earning a seat at the final table. 

At first blush, with the favorite listed at odds of 175/1, gamblers might think they’re getting—excuse the pun--a pretty good deal on betting the winner of the Main Event. 

Actually, you’d probably have a better chance drawing to an inside straight. 

There were 6,352 players at the 2013 Main Event and the winner, virtual unknown Ryan Riess, 23, was not listed among the future book possibilities. Since there is no “field” bet offered, everyone who bet on the winner of the 2013 Main Event lost.

With a guaranteed prize of $10 million to the winner—Riess pocketed only $8,361,570 in 2013—the field is expected to be even larger this year, making it that much more difficult to pick the winner. Yet, of the dozens of sportsbooks we surveyed, we could find no more than 375 names on any one future book list. So, unless one of those 375 players wins, once again, the house will pocket all the money.

Add to those daunting numbers the fact that the recent history of the event is littered with winners who were anything but household names, such as Robert Varkonyi, 2002; Chris Moneymaker, 2003; Jamie Gold, 2006; Jerry Yang, 2007; Joe Cada, 2009; Pius Heinz, 2011; and Riess last year, and it’s probably more likely than not that winner of the 2014 Main Event is not listed in futures.

Of course, none of that will stop poker betting enthusiasts from taking a shot, especially when you can get triple digit odds on some of the most recognizable names in the games. That would be 175/1 favorite Phil “The Phenom” Ivey, a nine-time WSOP winner who finished seventh at the 2009 Main Event and a man regarded by many as the best all-around player in the world.

Phil Hellmuth, the co-second choice with Daniel Negreanu at odds of 200/1, certainly would dispute any designation of Ivey as the globe’s best player. Nicknamed “The Poker Brat” for his sometimes less than gracious manner, Hellmuth has a record 13 WSOP victories, including the Main Event title in 1989. The more affable Negreanu, who, despite closing in on his 40th birthday in July, still carries the moniker “Kid Poker,” as of June 19 was ranked No. 3 on the Global Poker Index (whatever that is) and had been ranked No. 1 for 19 weeks prior to that. The Canadian’s best Main Event finish was 11th place in 2001.

Ivey, Hellmuth and Negreanu should be familiar names and faces to the millions who have watched the popularity of poker explode on TV but they’re not the only ones in the hunt for professional poker’s most cherished title. Others in contention include Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari, Allen “Clever Piggy” Cunningham, Ben “Benba” Lamb, Doyle “Texas Dolly” Brunson, Gus “The Great Dane” Hansen, JC “Just Call” Tran and Riess, each offered at odds of 250/1. Esfandiari won a record $18.3 million first prize in a $1 million buy-in “Big One for One Drop” game at the WSOP in 2012; Cunningham finished fourth at the 2006 Main Event; Brunson, at age 80, is a revered figure in poker and won Main Event titles in 1976-77.

Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, the Main Event champion in 2000, is offered at odds of 300/1 while Scotty “The Prince of Poker” Nguyen, the 1998 champion, is held at odds of 500/1. Huck Seed, the 1996 winner, is listed at 750/1 and Carlos “El Matador” Mortensen, who scored a Main Event victory in 2001, is 1,000/1. Odds on other players go as high as 2,500/1.

In addition to straight wagering, many sportsbooks also have posted a variety of proposition bets on the Main Event, including giving odds of 40/1 on a woman winning. By the way, the individual woman with the shortest odds is Vanessa Selbst, at 500/1.

Another prop asks poker betting advocates to choose whether the winner of the Main Event is an American (8/13) or of different nationality (6/5). With more nations having participated in the WSOP in 2013 than the 2014 Winter Olympics (107 to 88), this is a very interesting proposition.

There also are more than a dozen props on the Main Event’s final hand, including the color and suit of the river (last) card. More challenging is what the final winning hand will be: One pair, 6/5; two pair, 15/8; high card only, 11/4; straight, 16/1; three of a kind, 16/1; flush, 25/1; full house, 33/1; four of a kind, 200/1; straight flush, 500/1; royal flush, 1,000/1.

With so many options, players who never touch the cards will be able to enjoy poker betting at the World Series of Poker Main Event, too.