In our first Aussie Millions Flashback, we covered the early years of the event, wherein the Crown Casino worked hard to solidify poker in Australia. In some ways, they picked a difficult era to start their quest. The late 1990s were dark years for poker, as most casinos across the world were closing down poker rooms in favor of more lucrative slot parlors. But the Crown's dedication to poker during the lean years would pay off, giving them an all-important foothold when the game's popularity started its meteoric rise.
Even though the Crown had increased the buy-in of its 2002 main event to AUD $5000 and moved the event to a more temperate January, they were still drawing a mostly regional field. In 2003, the Crown made a bold decision to bump the main event buy-in up to AUD $10,000. It was a gamble. Clearly they would lose some of their regional base with a larger buy-in. And it was still months before Chris Moneymaker's groundbreaking win would produce a groundswell of new players to the game. The success of the 2003 Aussie Millions would hinge on its ability to attract international pros.
To some extent, the Crown Casino had a Field of Dreams vision: "Build it and they will come." The Crown built a world-class event, and in 2003, the international pros came: the 2003 field was almost twice the size of the previous year's main event. And for the first time the prize pool topped a million, coming in at AUD $1,120,000. The prize pool attracted media attention across the country and served to feed poker's resurgence in Australia.
A number of U.S. pros made the long trek Down Under in 2003, including Full Tilt pro Erik Seidel. But the event was even more successful in drawing British players such as the Hendon Mob. In fact, two of the Hendon Mob players would make the final table that year; Joe Beevers finished in ninth place, while Ram Vaswani took sixth place. British player Harry Demetriou finished in third place. The Brits didn't quite have the international lock on the final table, as Erich Kollmann from Austria had an eighth-place finish. But for the first time in the event's history, the last player standing wasn't from Australia. British professional Peter Costa edged out Australia's Leo Boxell heads up for the title.
In 2004, the prize pool for the Aussie Millions again topped a million, breaking its previous record. And again a Brit would win the title. Tony "The Lizard" Bloom snatched the title from America's Jesse Jones in heads-up play. U.S. player Kenna James finished in third, while Britain's Mark Banin took fifth.
From its humble beginnings as a regional event, the Aussie Millions had successfully transformed itself into a world-class, international tournament. In the next few years, the event would surpass even the Crown's bold dream. And in our next installment of Aussie Millions Flashback we'll cover what would become Australian poker's golden years.