Table Talk: Women, Where Art Thou?

Lucille Cailly

It’s a new week, and I have nothing more to say about TDA Rule 29. Can you believe it? Let’s celebrate over a bottle of red wine.

That will warm you up for my column today about women in poker. I bet you can believe that.

If you ask most men in the poker industry, there is no issue with women in poker. Most of them have never seen a woman harassed physically or verbally in a poker room or at a tournament, and they do not believe that women are excluded from the game by any means. They will also contend that women should not be offended or put off by the use of the ever-present “hot chicks” marketing mantra adopted by some poker entities. Rather, this is the perfect time for even more good-looking women to enter the game of poker. It’s theirs for the taking!

So, where are they? Where are the women?

Some of them are playing online, where they can do so without judgment regarding their physical appearance and without any demeaning, derogatory, or sarcastic comments about their gender. Online poker is a safe realm, for the most part.

Many people will say that the number of women in cash poker games, at least in some parts of the United States, has risen in the past decade, with more females at the tables than ever before. There is no data for this, however, so it is tough to gauge properly.

As far as tournaments, most host casinos do not monitor the number of female or male participants in their events, but the World Series of Poker started doing it in 2011. Thanks to an insider at the WSOP, I was able to get my hands on some statistics.

In 2011, there were 242 women in the WSOP Main Event, which was 3.5 percent of the total field. In 2012, that number dropped to 211 or 3.2 percent. This year, however, there was a jump to 299 female players in the Main Event, which equaled 4.7 percent of the field.

In all of the summer’s WSOP events in Las Vegas except the Main Event, there was $197 million in prize money available, but the 5.1 percent of women who played those tournaments only took home 1.7 percent of the money.

While those same percentages aren’t available for the year-round WSOP Circuit, it was noted that nine women won WSOP rings during the season, while the previous record was only six. Also, six women made WSOP Circuit Main Event final tables, which was also a new all-time high.

What do these numbers mean? On the surface, it shows that lower buy-in events are attracting more female players. And higher buy-in events like the Main Event have grown slightly, but the growth is staggered and still remains between three and five percent on average. This is the same general percentage that large live tournaments have been showing for years, and though small growth should be acknowledged, especially on the WSOP Circuit, it means that women still remain a scant minority in live tournament poker. The exception is the continued growth of women-only events.

There are many possible reasons for this. Women choose not to spend their bankrolls on high buy-in tournaments. Women can’t be away from families for the extended periods of time that larger events may require, whereas WSOP Circuit events require only an average of two days’ commitment. Or possibly, women simply aren’t welcomed to tournament poker by marketing tactics or the coverage of women in the poker media. This is all speculation, of course.

Until poker companies begin to truly market to women and ensure that they are welcomed to live tournaments, these small percentages will likely remain the same. Throughout the poker boom and the years since, women continue to be confronted with the Royal Flush Girls, articles about the hottest chicks in poker, and stereotypes that perpetuate poker as a “man’s game”. Women seem to flock to segregated events because those are the only ones that make them feel welcome and reach out to them.

I’m certainly no marketing expert, and I have no easy answers for this issue. But what I do know is that poker is doing something wrong when fields are considered diverse with three or five percent women. It’s not good enough.