It's been three weeks since his epic run on "Jeopardy!" came to a close on TV, and James Holzhauer's life has slowed down only slightly. The interest in the 34-year-old Las Vegas sports bettor, however, remains strong.
Holzhauer made his debut in the World Series of Poker on Monday at the Rio in Las Vegas, where he was greeted by a throng of media and fans. Some brought homemade signs wishing him good luck, and others, from as far as Oregon, admitted that they weren't really poker fans but were just there to see Jeopardy James. He was stopped every few steps with requests for photographs as he made his way from a staging area into the card room.
"The media attention we got [Monday] was incredible," said Poker Hall of Famer Mike Sexton, who sponsored Holzhauer in a pair of World Series of Poker events. "We had press conference before it started, and there must have been 30-40 members of the press, all the local TV stations. It was remarkable."
This spring, Holzhauer went from intentionally maintaining an ultra-low profile as a sharp sports bettor in Las Vegas to becoming a national celebrity in just two months. He won 32 consecutive episodes on "Jeopardy!," racking up more than $2.4 million dollars by risking amounts -- and generating TV ratings- -- never before seen in the iconic game show's 35 seasons.
Holzhauer was back to his gambling roots Monday. During his "Jeopardy!" run, he joked with host Alex Trebek that he majored in online poker at the University of Illinois, where he received a degree in mathematics. He gravitated away from poker to sports betting over the past 13 years, partly because the online payment processing environment worsened in the mid-2000s. He said some of his bankroll was tied up in Neteller, when the online payment processor ran into legal problems around 2007, but he also acknowledges that the online sports betting market had similar issues at the same time. It's part of the reason he first moved from Illinois to Las Vegas in 2008.
He found that sports betting better fit his temperament, too, because there were ways to prevent the wild swings that often came with poker.
"I remember being quite unpleasant when I'd go through days [playing poker] where you'd lose maybe 15 percent of your bankroll or something like that," Holzhauer said. "The way that I bet sports now, it's never that much of a swing. I may have a lot of really good bets on one side, and if the opportunity is available, I'm happy to take a middle or a moneyline, lock in some profit, keep the risk down a little bit. That seems to work better for my temperament."
Holzhauer admitted to being rusty and an underdog when he sat down Monday in his first World Series of Poker event. His plan, he said, was to hopefully stay alive long enough to eventually end up losing a lot of chips to one of the poker pros.
"In the immortal words of Joe Maddon, try not to suck. #WSOP," Holzhauer posted on Twitter before the $1,500 Super Turbo Bounty event began Monday.
He also partnered with Sexton to compete in a $1,000 buy-in tag-team tournament. They agreed to donate 50 percent of their winnings to Project150, a charity that helps homeless teens in Las Vegas, but finished out of the money in both events. Holzhauer donated $10,000 to Project150 prior to the tournament, and Sexton, now the chairman of online poker platform PartyPoker, donated $5,000 to Project150 on Thursday.
"I was happy with how I played," Holzhauer told ESPN in a phone interview earlier this week. "I played well, read the cards well, but lost on a two-outer or three-outer on consecutive hands to bust me out of the tournament."
During breaks from the cards, Jeopardy James fans approached Project150 executive director Kelli Kristo and offered to make $100 donations in exchange for a picture with Holzhauer. Even the professional poker players in the tournament, who often keep to themselves, eagerly approached Holzhauer.
"They mostly wanted to talk about sports betting," Holzhauer said.
While his WSOP run ended quickly, Sexton said he was impressed with how Holzhauer handled himself.
"He handled himself well at the table and with the fans," Sexton said. "Even though he didn't put up any money, you still don't want to embarrass yourself. The eyes of the poker world are going to be on you, and the eyes of the media. He handled it all."
Sexton joked that he considers himself to be "one of the biggest sports betting suckers of all-time" and was glad that Holzhauer represented all professional gamblers in a professional manner.
"For years, everybody thought poker was something that happened in a back room of a smoke-filled pool hall, for example," Sexton said. "Now, they have these multimillion-dollar tournaments in the most lavished casinos in the world on television. People have a different viewpoint of the poker industry now than they used to have. Certainly, I think James is doing the same thing for sports betting now.
"Any kind of professional gambler who handles himself with the demeanor he does," Sexton added, "who is so giving to charity like and he and his wife are, such a family man, it's only a benefit to the industry."
Asked during Monday's WSOP events what he'd made the odds on him beating Holzhauer in a round of "Jeopardy!," Sexton said, "Well, if the categories were the World Series of Poker, World Poker Tour, Gymnastics, Ballroom Dancing, Poker Hall of Fame, I might not get him, but at least I think I might give him a run for his money. Other than that, I'm drawing dead."
Now, Holzhauer is starting to look ahead to a future that includes a vacation and potential opportunities that he never thought would be available. Professional sports teams have contacted him, as have major media outlets about what he plans to do next.
"My wife is encouraging me to figure out what I'm going to do in the fall," Holzhauer said.
Only time will tell if he will have another right answer.