Without a doubt, Poker has emerged as the hottest game of the year and the trend is directly reflected in this season´s new products. For the 50 million-plus poker players in the US and another 100 million around the world (according to About.com), No Limit Texas Hold ´Em appears to be the most popular version of the game; meanwhile, many manufacturers are drawing their licenses from popular cable shows and even the actual games deployed on the casino floor.
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Television has mined a new fan base for Poker with shows such as “World Poker Tour,” “Celebrity Poker Showdown,” and ESPN’s “World Series of Poker.” Five million viewers alone tune into the Travel Channel every week to watch “World Poker Tour.” The key to making Poker telegenic is a tiny camera in the table that displays the player´s “hole” cards (hidden from others at the table) as the action unfolds.
Famous faces have also boosted Poker’s profile. Each season WPT holds an invitational “Hollywood Home Game.” Afficianados like Ben Affleck, Tobey Maguire and Matthew Perry are frequently seen at the tables. NBC’s Bravo cable network has exploited this craze in their “Celebrity Poker Showdown,” in which a panel of stars competes in No Limit Texas Hold ´Em for a $250,000 charity prize.
The net result of Poker´s newfound mainstream appeal is the emergence of a game enthusiasts are willing to play anywhere, anytime. No longer a "boys-only" activity confined to casino pits and smokey back rooms, spontaneous Poker games are cropping up at parties, weddings, on camping trips and in airport lounges. The toy industry is exploiting this craze with new products that offer a compelling gaming experience even for the solo player (see Radica Games´ Lighted Poker), while web sites offer definitive strategy guys, online poker room reviews, and tip sheets for players-in-training (Flopturnriver.com is one of the more popular destinations). Mirroring the transformation of video games from an arcade-only entertainment to a more portable home-based and adaptable form of recreation, Poker went mainstream in 2004, and with a range of new associated products and services, it´s sure to show a substantial impact on toy sales once the holiday numbers are counted.
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