Last Sunday, the WPT held its first-ever Women’s Poker Summit at the Bicycle Casino in California. The summit was designed to address issues related to female participation in poker events, and how to attract a larger percentage of women. As the summit revealed, there are still several hurdles that have to be jumped to make the ladies feel welcome at the tables.
Linda Johnson, who is in both the Poker Hall of Fame and the Women in Poker Hall of Fame, got things rolling at the summit, talking about how, as a female player in the 70s and 80s, she had to deal with smoke being blown in her face from men who were trying to tell her that she didn’t belong. While smoke-blowing is no longer an issue, the chauvinistic mentality is.
Since the WSOP began about forty years ago, female participation has only risen from 1% to around 4%. Compared to the rise in men seen at events and in tournaments, this turnout is dismal and has many asking the question, “What are we doing wrong?”
The WPT, which has seen an increase of 60% in female representation at its executive level, formed the poker summit to try and answer that very question. WPT Vice President of Global Tour Management Angelica Hael pointed out that it’s not a lack of interest by the females, but partially a lack of priority.
Women are generally more conservative than men when it comes to financial matters, and aren’t willing to take huge gambles to play in high stakes games. They also typically are more concerned with family matters and responsibilities and can’t allocate the time to train or participate in tournaments.
There is also an air of superiority at established tournaments that can hinder more female—and even male—participation. Many stay away because they feel intimidated trying to break into a game that has routinely shown a low level of tolerance for beginners.
Kathy Raymond, a long-time poker room manager and industry heavyweight, also addressed safety in poker rooms. She pointed to a number of examples of previous sexual harassment, even some during this summer’s WSOP, and emphasized that anti-abuse policies must be enforced. Women’s Poker Association president Bonnie Carl echoed the point, adding that zero-tolerance policies will help ensure a better environment for all players.
The WPT Women’s Poker Summit went a long way toward addressing a number of issues that could fuel better female participation. As long as the community continues to recognize and resolve the issues—and people like WPT Executive Tour Director Matt Savage continue to toss disrespectful players out of tournaments—poker will evolve to become a mixed-gender game.