In 1970, the World Series of Poker was formed. What started out as a way of awarding the best poker player in the world their title by the form of a vote has snowballed into what it is today – the largest poker festival in the world. The WSOP is the dominating factor in so much of the world’s media coverage. In many ways, poker relies of the World Series to sustain its popularity, as Benny Binion’s vision has grown from humble beginnings on the Las Vegas strip to global recognition as the brand to be associated with. But what if it wasn’t? What if the World Series never got off the ground? What if the WSOP never existed?
Back in 1970, the idea of a World Series of Poker was not something that was universally embraced. Poker players made a living on the fringes of the law, and players such as Doyle Brunson, perhaps poker’s most famous son, witnessed shootings at the felt. Benny Binion was a passionate advocate of the growth of the greatest card game in the world, but there were dissenters. What if they got their way and refused to popularize poker? Benny Binion was so successful in the Dallas underground scene that he wanted to stay doing what he was so successful at. After all, why damage this reputation by letting a card game with less profit margin and a smaller demographic become a priority?
Binion wasn’t the only entrepreneur with an eye for a left-field idea. With a flair for the outrageous and more money than he really knew what to do with, the perfect man to popularize poker came along just before Binion and took over. Having endured rather than enjoyed a stay in a hotel room that was kept in permanent neon light due to the adjacent Silver Slipper, Howard Hughes was inspired to buy up the casino. Out of boredom, Hughes decided to stage a poker event. But Hughes was not in the market for watching locals play for their home game purses. He wanted more. He wanted the best players from all over the world to take their seats in his series of poker tournaments. In line with the naming of his other businesses, The Howard Hughes Poker Series was born.
Flying in the very best poker talent, Hughes took over Las Vegas at a time where his love of hotels, cars, and casinos was legendary. With the cream of card-playing talent assembled, Hughes himself participated in the first-ever Main Event. Players at Hughes’ vast collection of casinos were allowed free banana nut ice cream during gameplay, and innovation no-one disagreed with. ‘It’s nuts, but we love it!’, one player was heard to say between mouthfuls. This side street is actually the most realistic part of this entire article, as Hughes was so enamored with this flavor that he had his staff buy 350 gallons of the stuff, only to then get tired of it. For the next year, every visitors to his casinos could eat as much free banana nut ice cream during gameplay.
Busting on Day 2 of the tournament, Hughes’ loved the experience so much that he decided to stage more events in the coming days just to enjoy the company of poker players such as Doyle Brunson and Puggy Pearson.
“With friends like these, why would I stay at home?” Hughes remarked after one such tournament.
In this alternate reality, Hughes remains Hughes, a maniacal businessman with a crazy mind that nobody seemed to understand. Poker might’ve never fully taken off, but given Hughes’ drive to succeed and endless money to supply his habits with, we think this would work out just fine.
Everything was dedicated to the game he loved, and Hughes Casinos became the number one poker venue in the world, with players becoming as big as baseball players, football icons and hockey legends in the eyes of the American public. Keeping the frail man alive much longer due to his poker passion, the game saw steady growth until its global boom with the victory of Jamie Gold in 2000. Because let’s be real, whenever that man would’ve decided to enter a poker tournament, he would’ve won it, and his name would’ve resonated with people all over the world!
Rejuvenated by his love of the social element of poker, Hughes died in 2000, aged 94 years old, several years after he may have done if he had drifted into the life of a recluse. At his bequest, Hughes, knowing he was going to pass on, left his chain of casinos in the care of an equal split between the finalists of the 2000 Main Event. The title, trophy and entire poker brand, including 78 casinos worldwide were divided between the likes of Jamie Gold, Dan Harrington, Todd Brunson, a healthy Stu Ungar – it’s an alternate reality which means that there are no rules – a certain Chris Ferguson, and the most passionate poker fan in the world: Isai Scheinberg. Guess what he did with his share?
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