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World Series of Poker kicks off 50th-anniversary tournament at Rio Las Vegas

Posted: 11:25 PM, May 28, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-29 02:45:45-04
Poker tables disappearing from casinos

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The most prestigious tournament in professional poker gets underway in Las Vegas this week. The World Series of Poker kicked off Tuesday at the Rio Las Vegas.

With more than 500 tables in six locations at the hotel, the WSOP has proven the skeptics wrong for five decades.

"It's my 30th anniversary. It's the World Series of Poker's 50th anniversary, and I did see it getting big," said professional poker player Phil Hellmuth, who has won a record of 15 World Series of Poker bracelets.

"I would tell the press in the '90s that we are going to be playing finals in stadiums and everybody laughed at me," he said.

Hellmuth also said he knew from the start professional poker tournaments would be lucrative for him and Las Vegas.

"We're going to have 25,000 people in one tournament in a few weeks. And so, it's really great to see. Some people have been saying poker has been in trouble, but it's going up like this again," he said.

Scott Roeben of VitalVegas.com said the WSOP brings in a lot of business during its run.

"The World Series of Poker is huge for Vegas! It obviously means a lot for the Rio because a lot of people stay there. And they do their food and beverages and gambling and all that stuff," Roeben said. "But it's really good for the town because a lot of other casinos kind of sort of do counter-programming to the event, so it's their opportunity to bring in poker players."

The event was off to an impressive start with a charity tournament Tuesday night raising more than $100,000 for the surviving children of a poker player, Gavin Smith, who passed away suddenly in January.

Brian Balsbaugh, CEO and Founder of Poker Royalty, said the money raised would go into a trust for the kids.

"Gavin was 50 years old and had won World Poker Tour titles and World Series of Poker bracelets and was truly one of the most beloved characters in poker," Balsbaugh said.

The big event Thursday, The Big 50 No Limit Texas Hold 'em Tournament, has a record-breaking number of entries and a $1 million guaranteed prize for the winner.

"I want to remain one of the all-time greats in poker, if not the all-time great," said Hellmuth. "And I'm willing to work hard to do it. And I'm having a lot of fun."