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Poker television programs had been extremely popular, especially in North America and Europe, following the poker boom. This has especially become the case since the invention of the 'pocket cam' in 1997 (and its first use in the United States in 2002), which allows viewers at home to see each player's hole cards. However, viewership has been declining dramatically in recent years, due to laws that restricted online play in the United States.


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Poker has been appearing on television somewhat regularly since the late-1970s. In the United States, CBS started airing the final table of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event as an annual one-hour show around this time and later by ESPN, which were casino-produced shows produced under a time-buy arrangement for sports omnibus programming such as the CBS Sports Spectacular. For many years, the coverage was less than robust because viewers at home could not see what cards the players had or follow their progress visually through graphics. Instead, the coverage essentially involved the commentators guessing what cards the players had in a documentary style production.

In 1997, the hole cam, which allows audiences to see the hidden cards that players held in their hands, was introduced in Europe. The hole cam was patented by WSOP bracelet winner Henry Orenstein and first used in the Late Night Poker television series. It was used again in the inaugural Poker Million tournament in 2000 which boasted the attraction of the first £1,000,000 poker game on live television. By 2001, however, Late Night Poker had been cancelled in the UK and televised poker could no longer be found in Europe. In the US, the 1999, 2000, and 2001 World Series of Poker events were only broadcast in one-hour documentaries on the Discovery Networks.

In 1999, documentary filmmaker Steven Lipscomb produced and directed a documentary on the WSOP for the Discovery Channel. It was the first U.S. poker production funded entirely by a television network rather than the casino. When the 1999 WSOP aired, it doubled its audience over the hour time slot. Seeing the audience reaction, Lipscomb believed there was an untapped market and began pitching poker series ideas to cable and network television. Because poker had been on the air for over twenty years, with little viewer interest, broadcasters were unwilling to commit resources to put a series on the air.

In October 2001, Lipscomb wrote a business plan. Along with poker player Mike Sexton and poker business woman Linda Johnson, Lipscomb approached casino mogul and avid poker player, Lyle Berman, whose company Lakes Entertainment agreed to fund the World Poker Tour (WPT)—the first organized and televised tour of poker tournaments in the world.

In June 2002, WPT filmed its first episode at Bellagio in Las Vegas. Wanting to create a compelling, action-packed show, WPT took eight months to edit the first WPT episode. ESPN, who resumed their coverage of the World Series of Poker in 2002, featured pocket cam technology in their return broadcast—albeit, in a very limited capacity—prior to the WPT's first show.

During this time, the “WPT Format” was created featuring the WPT hole cam, interactive graphics and “live sports feel”. These new features put viewers into the minds and at the heart of the action. The first WPT episode aired on March 30, 2003 on the Travel Channel and became an instant success (the highest rated show in network history).

A few months later, ESPN's broadcast of the 2003 World Series of Poker adopted many features characteristic of the emerging WPT series, with an improved graphic display detailing the exciting action of the Main Event's final table. This coupled with the unlikely outcome in the 2003 WSOP Main Event—where Tennessee accountant Chris Moneymaker won $2.5 million after winning his seat through a $39 PokerStars satellite tournament—and the ensuing publicity only further sparked the already accelerated interest in the game initiated by the WPT.

These events are considered the main contributor to poker's booming popularity—increasing the number of entrants into live poker tournaments (at all levels), the growth of online poker and the overall greater interest in the game—but above all others, the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event (and subsequent broadcast on ESPN) is most cited as poker's Tipping Point; commonly referred to as the 'Moneymaker Effect'.


Poker gained further exposure in Canada and much of the United States as a result of the 2004-05 NHL lockout, which caused sports networks in both countries to air poker as replacement programming for their NHL coverage.[citation needed]

The much improved ratings of poker television programs from this point on lead to ESPN covering many more events of the World Series of Poker (in addition to the Main Event as in the past) since 2003, as well as covering some other tournaments outside of the World Series, such as the United States Poker Championship. Since its first broadcast, WPT has also expanded its tour stops from 12 events at seven casino partner locations to 23 domestic and international tournaments and 14 casino partners in Season VI.

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Since the introduction of the hole cam and WPT television format, poker has become almost ubiquitous in the US and Europe. While poker originally aired on sports channels such as ESPN and Sky Sports has expanded to such 'non traditional' networks as Bravo and GSN. All poker television programs make heavy use of the aforementioned pocket cam and television format, plus generally feature a 'straightman' and a 'comedian' type of commentators, with one often being a professional poker player.

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With the ability to edit a tournament that lasts days into just a few hours, ESPN's World Series of Poker broadcasts generally focus on showing how various star players fared in each event. Key hands from throughout the many days of each year's WSOP Main Event are shown, and similar highly edited coverage of final tables is also provided. For the events in the WSOP before the Main Event, only the final table is covered in television coverage, similar to how the Main Event was televised before ESPN's airing of the 2003 World Series Main Event.

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The World Poker Tour does not offer general coverage of the multi-day poker tournaments. Instead, the WPT covers only the action at the final table of each event. With aggressive play and increasing blinds and antes, the important action from a single table can easily be edited into a two-hour episode. Although the tournament fate of fewer stars are chronicled this way, it allows the drama to build more naturally toward the final heads up showdown.

Although most poker shows on television focus on tournaments, High Stakes Poker shows a high-stakes cash game. In this game professional and amateur players play no limit Texas Hold 'em with their own money (the minimum to enter the game is $100,000). This game has allowed spectators to observe differences between cash games and tournaments, and to see how players adjust their play to the different format.[1]

Poker's growth in Europe led to the creation of two FTA channels: The Poker Channel and Pokerzone. Both began broadcasting during 2005.

Televised poker experienced a sudden disruption in 2011 after the lawsuit United States v. Scheinberg et al. was filed. Two of the defendants in that case, PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, were the primary sponsors of most of the shows that were airing on American television at the time.[2] Since it was discovered that online gambling (other than sports betting) was not illegal and the state law used to file the lawsuit was not applicable to foreign companies, the lawsuit was resolved in 2012, with the two companies merging and without any admission of guilt.

Although once popular, poker television programs have steadily been losing their audience and never fully recovered from the disruption caused by the Scheinberg lawsuit. ESPN is on contract to show World Series of Poker programming through 2017, though viewership has dropped dramatically since the early boom.

Poker television programs[edit]

Here is a list of poker television programs that have aired on television in either North America or Europe.

North America[edit]

ProgramNetworkYears airedCurrent commentators
World Series of PokerCBS;
1978–1981, 1983;
1987 onwards1, 2017–20192
Lon McEachern, Norman Chad, and Jamie Kerstetter
United States Poker ChampionshipESPN1997–2000;
Lon McEachern and Norman Chad
World Poker TourThe Travel Channel;
Fox Sports Net
2009 onwards
Mike Sexton 2002-2017, Tony Dunst 2017- and Vince Van Patten
European Poker TourSportsnet Canada2004 onwardsJames Hartigan and Joe Stapleton
Celebrity Poker ShowdownBravo2003–2006Dave Foley and Phil Gordon
Poker Superstars Invitational TournamentFox Sports Net2004 onwardsChris Rose and Howard Lederer
Ultimate Poker Challengesyndication2004 onwardsChad Brown and weekly guest
Poker RoyaleGSN2004–2005John Ahlers and Robert Williamson III
High Stakes PokerGSN2006–2007;
Professional Poker TourThe Travel Channel2006–2007Matt Corboy and Mark Seif
National Heads-Up Poker ChampionshipNBC2005 onwardsMatt Vasgersian and Gabe Kaplan
Poker Dome ChallengeFox Sports Net2006–2007Barry Tompkins and Michael Konik
Poker After DarkNBC; PokerGO2007–2011;


Oliver Nejad and weekly guests
Pro-Am Poker EqualizerESPN2007Phil Gordon and Oliver Nejad
Heartland Poker Toursyndication2005 onwardsFred Bevill and Maria Ho
Pokerstars Big GameFox Network2010-2011Joe Stapleton Scott Huff Chris Rose Amanda Leatherman
Poker Night in AmericaCBS Sports Network2014 onwardsChris Hanson
Windy City Poker ChampionshipCSN Chicago;

CSN California;

Sun Sports

2008 onwardsJason Finn and Kirk Fallah

1 ESPN did not air the WSOP in 1996 or 1999–2001; The Discovery Channel did air one-hour specials of the 2000 & 2001 Main Events

2 World Series of Poker bracelets events and select coverage of the Main Event have streamed on exclusively on PokerGO from 2017-2019.


ProgramNetworkYears airedCurrent commentators
Late Night PokerChannel 4 (UK)
Fox Sports Net (US)
1999–2002, 2006 onwardsJesse May and Barny Boatman (final season)
Poker MillionSky Sports2000, 2003 onwardsJesse May and John Duthie
World Heads-Up Poker ChampionshipUnknown2001 onwardsUnknown
Celebrity Poker ClubChallenge (UK)2003 onwardsJesse May and Victoria Coren
European Poker TourChannel 4 (UK)2004 onwardsJames Hartigan and Joe Stapleton
Victor Chandler Poker CupSky Sports2004 onwardsJesse May and Barny Boatman
The Gaming Club World Poker ChampionshipSky Sports2004Unknown
British Poker OpenThe Poker Channel2005 onwardsUnknown
World Speed Poker OpenThe Poker Channel2005 onwardsGary Jones, Roy Brindley, Lucy Rokach
Late Night Poker AceChannel 4 (UK)2005 onwardsJesse May and Simon Trumper
PartyPoker Poker Den (season 1-3, season 4 renamed to PartyPoker Big Game)Challenge (UK)2005 onwardsGrub Smith and Tony Cascarino
William Hill Poker Grand PrixSky Sports2006 onwardsJesse May, Andrew Black, Lucy Rokach
Poker Nations CupChannel 4 (UK)2006 onwardsJesse May, Barny Boatman and Padraig Parkinson Football & Poker Legends CupFive (UK)2006 onwardsJesse May, Padraig Parkinson and Ken Lennaárd Online Series of PokerCNBC2006 onwardsUnknown Million Dollar Cash GameSky Sports2006 onwardsUnknown
La Notte del PokerSKY Sport 22006 onwardsPupo, Zero Assoluto, Chiara Edelfa Masciotta
PokermaniaItalia 1 (Italy)2007 onwardsCiccio Valenti and Luca Pagano


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  1. ^Burton, Earl (May 24, 2006). ''High Stakes Poker' Back for a Second Season in June'. PokerNews. Retrieved October 27, 2006.
  2. ^Rovell, Darren (2011-04-18). 'Insider Breakdown of Poker's Black Friday'. CNBC. Retrieved 2011-04-19.

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