As someone who had a little interest in poker before the Boom, played very seriously from 04 to 07...and has come back since 2010, I feel uniquely qualified to comment because all this happened in my 20s which means I had a lot of free time, friends and disposable money to burn on things like poker/trips to Vegas.
Lets start with what we know is true:
1) The Main Event numbers peaked in 2006 at the height of the real estate bubble and 3 yrs after Moneymaker was plastered all over ESPN's coverage. That year the UIEGA was passed and the super casual players did-to some extent-leave online/satellites leaving 07's numbers ~30% down...
THIS WAS AFTER MORE THAN TENTUPLING (SP>? LOL) IN THE PRECEDING 3 yrs.
Ok, that was irrefutably an inflection point in DOMESTIC poker growth as the WSOP skews towards domestic popularity to a large extent.
Since 07 weve seen very stable ME fields, but MANY MORE INTERNATIONAL players coming from Europe and even elsewhere. So, logically there has been a slight/middling decline in turnout from the US market.
Also, although there are many more places to play live poker now, much of that is a product of the broke states scrambling to open casions in general...not some explosion in demand for live poker. Of the 5 closest cardrooms to me 4 are basically mini rooms where 1-3 tables of 1-2 go on 90% of the time...and they might offer a 40 man donkament every week or 2wice a week.
That isn't explosive growth as some see it...that is dilution and more gambline establishments in general. Some have chosen to offer low limit NLH and horrible structured/vigged NLH tournaments for a few dozen people......is that organic growth, no.
Also, poker shows had lower ratings than many on here would let on...so low many had to be subsidized by OLP sites and were de facto infomercials for OLP sites.
Now, I enjoyed these shows in many cases...but public was never/is not clamoring for a tonne of poker programming...and hasnt for yrs now. If there was organic demand for poker programming, GSN's HSP would never have left the air as it was by far the finest poker on tv/closest to what real players experience in casino/home game ring action.
Poker is in fact in decline in the US, but still mushrooming in parts of Europe like Germany
. Unfortunately, there isn't the numbers and money in Europe at this point to buoy poker as a whole and we are seeing a slow drop in poker action worldwide. The fact ROW poker play cannot even support two main sites anymore is further evidence that the marketplace is slowly imploding.
I think legalized poker in the US plus a more generous rake back system along with limitations on mass tabling COULD help push the clock back a bit, but im not sure Stars(the de facto leader in OLP) is prepared to make those hard decisions once competition heats up for the US market.....
Smaller edges and less new blood mean the rake as it is structured now is simply unsustainable...