Lisa Vanderpump, a restaurant mogul and star of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” kicked off the 2022 World Series of Poker and the reaction was, well … cringe. Shuffle up and deal? More like shuffle up and reel.
What does Vanderpump have to do with poker? The choice seemed out of touch (to be fair, “out of touch” is part of the Real Housewives brand). All jokes aside, it’s worth examining if these sorts of celebrity cameos are good for poker.
What the fuck is a Lisa Vanderpump?
— Jake Schwartz (@Jake11291) May 31, 2022
I’ve been playing poker for 15 years and this is the first time I’ve seen someone use an animal as a card protector 🤣 WTF
— Joey Ingram 🦍🐉 (@Joeingram1) June 1, 2022
That time Kim Kardashian wore mirrored sunglasses to play poker
Leveraging a little star power is nothing new for the WSOP. It’s hard to forget all the airtime “American Pie” actress Shannon Elizabeth received in the late 2000s – or Kim Kardashian infamously wearing mirrored sunglasses to a poker table, allowing everyone a peek at her cards. Superstar DJ Steve Aoki recently signed a partnership with the World Poker Tour. Vince Vaughn is this year’s WSOP inaugural Master of Ceremonies.
Yet employing big names with little poker expertise has a tendency to backfire.
The best example of this was probably in 2006 when Drew Barrymore was brought onto the WSOP stage after starring in the poker movie “Lucky You.”
“I’m extremely honored to be here at the World Championship of Poker,” she began, not realizing it’s the World Series of Poker. “Thank you for being here because poker is cool.” Yikes.
Poker is extremely nuanced and complex. It’s easy for ambassadors with only a passing knowledge of the game to slip up and look foolish. Such as was the case with Mrs. Vanderpump plopping her dog on top of the table.
Is half-hearted mainstream representation better than no mainstream representation at all? Based on the general consensus from the poker Twittersphere, probably not.
Poker’s PR problem
It’s no secret that poker is struggling with growth. Planet Hollywood, Treasure Island, the Mirage, and Excalibur all had poker rooms that didn’t survive covid, and instead, shut down permanently. The average age of WSOP participants has increased over the past decade, and the overall atmosphere is more studied and more competitive. Simply put, poker isn’t as beginner-friendly as it once was.
Which begs the question: how do we expand poker’s player pool?
I doubt anyone is thinking the answer is Lisa Vanderpump.
Women remain a relatively untapped demographic – the number of female Main Event participants still hover around 4% – but many find token representation insulting. Kim Kardashian with her mirrored sunglasses and Lisa Vanderpump looking equally ridiculous with her fluffy pooch don’t exactly scream empowerment. Instead, their presence at the table taps into many women’s greatest fear of playing poker: looking stupid.
As a woman who plays poker, the experience is like playing under a spotlight. And the last thing anyone wants to do when all eyes are on you is seem foolish.
If we want to expand our community, we need to make poker a welcoming environment for newcomers. We need an attitude of acceptance, not scrutiny. Perhaps that’s why Hustler Casino Live’s streams of Youtube stars and Twitch gamers have performed so well: they’re relaxed. There’s no false façade of pretending to be a pro.
Lisa Vanderpump may very well be a brilliant entrepreneur, but it’s clear her knowledge of hold ‘em is only skin-deep.
Mid-stakes grinder, author of “A Girl’s Guide to Poker” (D&B Publishing, 2020), and instructor at Poker Power.
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