World Series of Poker begins

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ The annual World Series of Poker opened Tuesday in Las Vegas with dozens of scheduled card tournaments and a special event to celebrate the 50th run of a series known for minting millionaires each year. 

The seven-week poker festival is expected to again draw tens of thousands of players seeking a piece of a projected combined prize pool of more than $200 million. Buy-ins for the series' 89 championship events range from $400 to $100,000. 

To celebrate the milestone, owner Caesars Interactive Entertainment has scheduled an awards ceremony and a $500 buy-in, rake-free tournament with a guaranteed prize pool of $5 million. People can vote on seven categories, including fan favorite player, the series' ``favorite bad boy'' and the four most important players in the tournament's history. A panel will also put together a list of the 50 greatest poker players. 

Casino owner Benny Binion started the series in 1970 as an invitation-only event. Johnny Moss was declared the winner by the other men at the table and was given a trophy. 

Poker's popularity in the U.S. erupted in 2003, when Tennessee accountant Chris Moneymaker entered a $39 online poker satellite contest, won an entry to the series' famed no-limit Texas Hold `em main event and emerged victorious, winning $2.5 million and inspiring other amateur players. 

The series this year will run through July 16 at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, west of the Las Vegas Strip. 

Champions go home richer and with gold bracelets. 

The tournament saw a record 123,865 entrants in 2018. The prize pool of over $266 million was divided among 18,105 participants. Twenty-eight of them earned at least $1 million. 

The tournament's famed main event starts July 3 with players staking $10,000 to buy in. ESPN and PokerGO will again provide live coverage. 

Indianapolis resident John Cynn won the main event last year after playing more than 440 hands at the final table. His cut of the prize pool was $8.8 million.