Online poker tourney sets records amid pandemic

An international online poker tournament held this week shattered a record for entries and generated an $18.6 million prize pool, making it one of the largest online tournaments ever.

Leading online cardroom PokerStars said the $18,603,200 prize pool in this week's "Sunday Million" tournament was the biggest for any tournament in company history. Nearly 61,000 players combined to create a record 93,016 entries in the $215 buy-in tournament.

The previous record for entries in a "Sunday Million" tournament (62,116) was set in 2011.

A player from Brazil with the screenname "AAAArthur" won the tournament, after the final four players agreed to divvy up $3.67 million in prize money. After the deal was made, "AAAArthur" bested the other finalists, winning the championship with a full house -- twos over jacks -- on the final hand.

"AAAArthur" won $1,192,802, followed by runner up "CrAzY_sTeFaN" with $921,328, "Salonteskis" with $826,919 and "Caroline2963" with $786,873.

It's the third-largest prize pool for an online poker tournament ever, behind only two $20 million tournaments hosted by online site Partypoker in 2018 and 2019. Those tournaments, however, had significantly higher buy-ins ($5,300 and 10,300) compared to the "Sunday Million."

The record-breaking "Sunday Million" tournament comes while people around the world are being encouraged to stay at home and isolate themselves during the coronavirus pandemic.

This week's event was the 14th anniversary for the "Sunday Million," which attracts players from jurisdictions around the world, including most European countries, Canada and South America.

Germany was the most-represented country in this week's tournament, PokerStars said.

Players located in the United States are prohibited from entering international online poker tournaments by law. In the U.S., online poker is only legal in Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

PokerStars, which operates in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, has seen increased traffic in recent weeks. Matt Primeaux, president of FOX Bet and PokerStars USA, told ESPN that guaranteed prize pools for online poker tournaments in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have increased by approximately 40% in each of the last two weekends.

The prize pool for the showcase Sunday online tournament in Pennsylvania on PokerStars has climbed from $50,000 two weeks ago to $105,000 this upcoming Sunday.

"If you would've told me when PokerStars launched in Pennsylvania that they'd have a $100,000 prize pool anytime soon, I would've laughed," said Lance Bradley, president and editor-in-chief of poker site PocketFives and author of "The Pursuit of Poker Success."

"It's not a huge market -- it's decent-sized, but it's only one state. A $100,000 is a big prize pool for that state. People are looking for things to do while they're stuck in their house, and with no sports to bet on, no sports to watch, a lot of people are sort of returning to poker."

The World Series of Poker, which in early March halted live tournaments in Atlantic City and Los Angeles due to the pandemic, received permission from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement to run the circuit events that addressed the stoppage of the live events and will lead up to the main event online.

"Quite simply, we put $1.2 million in guarantees on these events," Seth Palansky, a vice president for Caesars Entertainment, who handles communications for the World Series of Poker, told ESPN in an email, "Halfway through, we've had more than $1.8 million awarded. Thus, we are on pace to triple the expected prize pools we assumed when pulling this together.

"It is not just these tournaments either," Palansky added. "Cash game traffic is robust, new registrations are up, first time depositors, etc. By all metrics, we haven't seen this kind of traffic (outside the WSOP) before, and our signups are the best they have been since the first week we opened our sites."

The World Series of Poker's $10,000 No-Limit Hold'em Main Event is slated to begin July 1 in Las Vegas.