Women’s Poker Summit Addresses Industry Equality

Poker Hall of Famer Linda Johnson was speaking recently about playing poker professionally as a woman in the 70’s and 80’s. During the discussion, Johnson and fellow female poker player Barbara Enright shared memories of a time when men would blow cigar smoke in their faces and use not too polite words to tell the women that they did not belong.

Barbara Johnson was introduced at the WPT Women’s Poker Summit that was held at the Bicycle Casino in California. Johnson explained at the summit that poker differed from other fields that have been dominated throughout the years by males in that not much is changing in the world of poker. Johnson backed her point by citing the fact that four decades of World Series of Poker play has seen the presence of women on the tour rise from one percent to four percent.

The World Poker Tour has led the way in the poker industry for many years. The tour has now turned its attention towards female participation in the sport.

Adam Pliska is both the president and CEO of the World Poker Tour and has increased women’s participation at the company’s executive level by 60 percent during his time as leader.

Angelica Hael, who is herself a female executive with WPT, says that low interest does not factor into why women are not adequately represented in live poker play. Hael explains that women make up 25 percent of individuals that view televised WPT events. They also represent 25 percent of the individuals that use free poker apps.

Hael led the Women’s Poker Summitt that was held by WPT a week ago. The summit was held to identify and discuss the specific reasons that women are underrepresented as players in live poker events.

Invitees to the summit participated in roundtable discussions regarding their own experiences or issues they had witnessed as poker players. Invitees were also asked to provide solutions to the problems that have caused the wide gap in gender representation in the world of poker.

The summit broke the issue down into three separate categories to be analyzed: Unfriendly environment, Accessibility and game format, and societal attitudes. The forum produced many interesting ideas.

Poker Environment

The poker environment can be intimidating for anyone, not just women. There is not much tolerance in this environment for anything or anyone that slows the rate at which the game is played. Summit attendees feel that this problem can be addressed by providing more poker training to all players at the lower levels of play.

Attendees also spoke of the need to assure that poker events are made more comfortable for women, or others that may be harassed or verbally abused, to attend. Attendees feel this can be accomplished by training management and poker room employees to provide a safe and tolerant environment for poker players.

Kathy Raymond, a poker room manager, says that an emphasis should be placed on enforcing all anti-abuse policies. She says that individuals violating these policies should be dealt with harshly to make an example to others.

Societal Influences

Often times women are saddled with more than their fair share of familial responsibilities. This can prevent them from placing a high priority on leisure activities like playing poker.

Many women are also a little more conservative in regards to finance than their male counterparts. This means that a smaller percentage of women may be willing to use their money for poker wagers. Women that participate in poker play do so mainly for recreation and these women will most times wager small stakes on games. These women most often have no interest in moving up through the ranks as poker players.

A final societal issue deals with the concept of staking. In a general sense, males are presented with more opportunity to play with the money of others. But it should also be noted that women can feel uncomfortable being staked by men due to the stigmas attached to women ‘owing’ men. Summit attendees did add to prior conversations that have taken place regarding women to women staking groups.

Moving Forward

The benefits that will be realized as a result of the women’s summit discussions will only be known in time. It is difficult to know what suggestions made by women at the summit will be used by tours or poker rooms. It is also too early to know how players of both sexes will make themselves responsible for enforcing rules and etiquette when they take part in poker games.

What is certain, however, is that the commitment from leaders in the industry to facilitate these conversations and create a more positive atmosphere for women wishing to participate in poker is a step in the right direction.

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