Advocacy for Women in Poker Rose to New Heights in 2018

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It’s no secret that poker has long had a problem attracting women to the felt. But in 2018, addressing disparities related to women in poker became a cause of a few players and poker industry veterans who launched advocacy efforts to make the game more hospitable to female players.

Lena Evans, Angelica Hael, Linda Johnson
Lena Evans (left) and Angelica Hael (center) are two of the women carrying the mantle of Linda Johnson (right) in their efforts to make poker more hospitable to women players. (Image: WPT)

A lot of good ideas come and go, especially in poker. But the success of key poker influencers this year showed that the future of women in poker is about far more than winning the WSOP ladies tourney bracelet. Below are women who made a difference in poker, and the story of their organizations that rose in 2018.

Poker League of Nations

“We want to be more than 4.8 percent of the fields,” said Lena Evans, cofounder of the Poker League of Nations, “and 3.8 percent by the way, in the WSOP Main Event.”

Lena Evans
Lena Evans takes a business-like approach to the challenge of drawing more women to the game. (Image: San Diego Union-Tribune)

Her group, started with fellow player Maureen Bloechlinger, officially launched in 2017, but got on its feet with new tournaments and satellite events focused on reaching the women’s market in 2018.

CardsChat spoke with Evans in June, as she shared her plans to attract more women to the game.

“Satellites obviously can help women bear the cost of entry,” Evans said. “We need to create more opportunities for women to start learning and playing.”

PLON has an impressive list of ladies on their team, including Kristen Bicknell, arguably the most talented female in the game today. The organization hosts satellite tournaments for women with the winner receiving entries into events such as the WSOP Main Event.

“We are the only organization doing this in earnest,” Evans said. “Not only hosting ladies events, but actually putting women into open events.”

Women’s Poker Summit

Women not only thrive on the felt but also in executive positions within the poker industry. Angelica Hael, for example, is the Vice President of Global Tour Management for the WPT, a role she’s used to advocate women in poker.

Angelica Hael
Longtime WPT exec Angelica Hael launched the Women’s Poker Summit this year, a confab open to all genders that sought industry influencers to put their heads together to think about how to address women’s issues in poker. (Image: Poker.Brave)

In August, Hael hosted the inaugural Women’s Poker Summit at the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles, home to one of the top poker rooms in the world. At this meeting, men and women discussed ideas on how to attract more females to the game of poker.

Poker Hall of Famer Linda Johnson, members of the Poker League of Nations, poker star Maria Ho, and many other influential poker players attended the summit. WPT Tournament Director Matt Savage was a keynote speaker. He spoke on the issue of sexual harassment at the poker table.

“The poker room is not a locker room,” he told the audience.

Women’s Poker Association

The Women in Poker Hall of Fame — not to be confused with the Poker Hall of Fame owned by Caesars and the WSOP — celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2018, and inducted two new members — Maria Ho and Lupe Soto.

Lupe Soto
Lupe Soto has shown a lifetime of looking out for women in poker, and not only did she finally get admitted to the Women in Poker Hall of Fame that she founded 10 years earlier, but also launched her latest endeavor, the Women’s Poker Association.  (Image: Women in Poker Hall of Fame)

Soto founded the WIPHOF in 2009 and has a longtime history of advocating for women players. Before WIPHOF, she launched the Ladies International Poker Series (LIPS), a series of women-focused tournaments (men eventually were allowed to play) in 2004.

And in 2018, Soto took her advocacy for women in poker to a new level by launching the Women’s Poker Association, another group attempting to fix poker’s gender gap. This membership-based organization was formed to “promote, develop, and professionalize the advancement of women in poker by heightening the exposure of current women poker players while encouraging and developing new women players.”

The organization supports women as they attempt to make money playing poker. WPA hosts regular events such as a monthly webinar series with prominent men and women in the game of poker. Membership fees range from $30 to $300.

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