Poker: Why It Is Popular in Finland and Other Countries

Although the so-called poker boom ended in 2006, the game is still immensely popular. According to the World Poker Tour (WPT), there are 100 million poker players worldwide. The number of entrants to the World Series Poker Main Event for the last three years vividly demonstrates how inexorably poker gains in popularity. In the 2017 World Series of Poker Main Event, there were 7221 entrants. In 2018, the World Series of Poker Main Event gathered 7874 entrants. Last year, the number of entrants to the World Series of Poker Main Event was 8569, which was the second most of all-time. If prizes can serve as an indication of poker’s popularity, they have also increased during the last three years. In 2017, the first place was taken for $8.15 million; in 2019, the first-place prize was $10 million.

Two main events in the past contributed to the increase in people’s interest in poker. Network television first gave poker validity and aroused people’s interest in this game. For years, from 1970 to 2003, the World Series Poker Main Event never boasted more than 1000 entrants. The 2004-2005 NHL lockout, however, left a space in sports broadcasting networks prime time television lineup. ESPN then made a decision to fill this gap with the coverage of the World Series of Poker Main Event. Since then, a number of entrants went consistently up. In 2002 and 2003, there were 631 and 839 entrants respectively. In 2004, 2576 players joined the event. In 2005, there were already 5,619 players present. The following year, 8,773 poker players were competing in the World Series Poker Main Event.

The second factor that made poker more fashionable was the internet and the appearance of the online casinos, or as they are called in Finnish, nettikasinot. When the first online real-money Poker Room called Planet Poker was opened in 1998, the general interest in poker skyrocketed. With the emergence of Planet Poker online, poker became accessible to everyone who wanted to play it. Before the advent of the internet, players had to go to brick-and-mortar casinos to try their luck in this game. If people have only several land-based casinos in the country, as they do, say, in Finland, this could be inconvenient. Not everyone was so enthusiastic about poker as to fly several hours to Helsinki Casino in order to see if they could have a Royal Flush or Full House in their hands. When, with the internet, some players managed to win $2,500,000 from their homes, the public’s attitude to poker drastically changed. People realized that poker was an entertaining pastime that could make them rich.

Presently, there are numerous popular video poker games existing on the internet, and those who take this game seriously can indeed generate a lucrative income. Approaching poker seriously means not only playing regularly but also reading books on poker, studying hands, and selecting tables thoughtfully. Players also need to decide whether they multi-table and what is their win rate, since these factors influence how much they can earn playing online poker. Specialists say that players taking these factors in consideration on average can expect to make around $500 per month, provided they play at such stakes as NL2, NL5, and NL10. Higher stakes – NL25, NL50, and NL100 – can bring winning players up to $2000 per month. Poker games websites also give players bonuses that can enlarge their winnings by several hundred dollars.

As people who consider gambling their civic duty, Finns took to online poker with enthusiasm. Almost 80 percent of Finns try to win a fortune in a game of chance, be it the lottery or slot machines. Many of them prefer to try their luck in more sophisticated games such as poker, where logical thinking and playing strategies give them the upper hand over their components. Finnish poker players are even renowned throughout the world, deemed aggressive and fearless by poker players from other countries. The top three Finnish poker players are Patrik Antonius, Sami Kelopuro, and Ilari Sahamies. Total winnings of each of them amount to several million dollars.

The Finnish government encourages people to play poker in land-based casinos and online. The major brick-and-mortar casinos in Helsinki and Mariehamn contain poker tables, but a larger choice of poker games is presented on Finnish gambling websites. All virtual casinos in Finland are licensed by RAY and PAF, and people can play poker on them with no risk of legal consequences. PAF, which controls online betting in the Aland Islands, does not require Finnish players to play exclusively against their compatriots, as does RAY. PAF website hosts two separate poker rooms belonging to two separate poker networks and accepts players from other countries. Finnish players who do not want to limit themselves to local gambling websites are allowed to play with foreign unlicensed operators, though the government always warns gamblers that playing with them is risky.

In the future, however, the picture of virtual poker might change beyond recognition. If Finland finally succumbs to the pressures of the European Union and, like Denmark, renounces its gambling monopoly, people will have more options to make money by playing poker.