The rumors began to swirl during the first days of May that the World Series of Poker might take the bold step of venturing into South Africa. It didn’t take long for WSOP officials to comment, at which time they made it clear that there would be no bracelet events in South Africa, but the region would be home to a WSOP Circuit event in October of 2010.
The story actually broke via a South African internet media outlet called TimesLive, and it asserted that the Emerald Resort and Casino, near Johannesburg, would host two WSOP events from October 24 through 31 as part of its annual Emerald Poker Series, the first a three-day pot-limit Omaha event with a $1,100 buy-in and $300 rebuys, and the second a championship no limit holdem event with a $5,000 buy-in to be held over four days. The first event was likely to be capped at 200 players, while the second would accept up to 500 players. The casino’s CEO Martin Rice even made a statement about the schedule and WSOP’s venture into South Africa: “Our Emerald Poker Series, and its growing fields, is testament to the unlimited success of the sport. It was only natural to follow-on its popularity with the greatest tournament on the planet. Rugby, soccer, and cricket each have a World Cup, poker has the WSOP.”
Upon the release of that information, World Series of Poker officials confirmed that the events will take place but not award bracelets, as Circuit rings will be used as the tournaments expand the WSOP-C outside the borders of the United States. Seth Palansky also noted that Harrah’s scheduled the events for the fall of 2010, not long after the World Cup brings the world’s most popular sport - soccer - to South Africa for what could be the most watched sporting event in the world. The rise of poker in the region solidified the decision to venture into new territory with Circuit events and test the waters in a region that will be teeming with sports and betting fans.
The popularity of poker in South Africa has been growing for a number of years, but the region made international poker news when Raymond Rahme, former PokerStars pro player, made his mark on WSOP history by finishing in third place at the 2007 WSOP Main Event and took $3,048,025 back to his homeland for the accomplishment. Since that time, Rahme won two tournaments in the All Africa Poker Tournament in Swaziland in 2008 and continued to excel in other events on the global circuit. The increasing interest in poker in South Africa provided an excellent opportunity for Harrah’s to make the effort there with a Circuit event to gauge the popularity of the tournaments there. Should it go well, the WSOP could always consider an extension of its efforts like the WSOP Europe onto other continents.