Darren Elias is one of the best poker players in the world. His career earnings are north of $11.2 million and he is competing in the BetMGM Poker Championship at Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas from June 9-13.
Elias is participating in the $2 million tournament with 13 World Poker Tour final tables and a record four-time World Poker Champion designation to his resume.
Elias was born in the Boston area, but moved around frequently growing up. Now that Elias is a well-known poker player, he can look back to his Erie, PA days when he got his poker start beating buddies from high school.
Darren Elias’ love of poker started during high school years in Pennsylvania
A big part of Elias’ poker inspiration came from watching Chris Smith, also known as Chris Moneymaker, win the Main Event at the 2003 World Series of Poker (WSOP). Smith became the first world champion to win the WSOP Main Event after qualifying through an online poker site. Smith has been credited with revolutionizing the game of poker after his historic win.
Elias began playing with his friends in the basement of his house as a junior while attending McDowell High School in Erie. He and his friends competed in 10-to-25-cent No Limit or a $5 Sit and Go. Though beating high school buddies isn’t a huge accomplishment, Elias knew he had something.
“I always enjoyed it a little more than everybody else and I always won,” Elias said. “I realized I had some talent.”
Elias started playing small stakes No Limit online with his friends and noticed, once again, he played more than everyone else. He ultimately started to find success while in college.
In Elias’ sophomore year at University of Redlands, he started competing in higher stakes games and won six figures in a tournament.
“I played water polo and swimming, so I was pretty sports-focused in college,” Elias explained. “When I started having success in poker, I shifted my focus and started taking poker more seriously. I was missing practice and going to Vegas, playing EPT (European Poker Tour), Monte Carlo, and I went to Australia. I was taking all these trips in college to chase my poker dreams.”
Because of the numerous poker excursions in college, it took Elias an extra year to get his degree in Creative Writing.
“It made my parents happy, in case I went broke. They wanted me to have a degree,” Elias said, half-joking.
Elias stated he never got a job after college, and continued his professional poker career.
BetMGM Poker Championship at Aria details
Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas is hosting the BetMGM Poker Championship for a second straight year. The tournament is scheduled during the 2023 Aria Poker Classic, which gives BetMGM six straight days of poker action. The event starts on June 8 with a Mystery Bounty event. The final table on June 13 will be live streamed from PokerGO Studio.
BetMGM Poker is sending 148 total players who qualified online to Aria to compete in the championship. Will O’Connor, BetMGM Senior Manager of Poker Marketing, included an $800 Mystery Bounty, in addition to the $3,500 championship entry.
“Players, no matter where they’re from, are starting to love that mystery bounty concept,” O’Connor said. “Adding that to the whole player experience and prize pool, in addition to last year’s package, is definitely a step in the right direction.”
Last year, BetMGM sent 66 players to Vegas. O’Connor attributes the rise in numbers this year to a better promotional suite and tournament schedule.
Elias finished sixth in last year’s competition.
How BetMGM Poker has grown since partnering with Elias
Elias works with BetMGM to help grow the game of poker, especially in regulated states such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Michigan. He represents BetMGM at the many events he competes in and also takes part in promotional duties while acting as a consultant for BetMGM players.
“Within the last 2.5 years, the steps and evolution of BetMGM becoming a real player in the live or omnichannel space and having Darren be the leader of that charge, from a headline marketing perspective, has been the biggest change,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor also mentioned Elias playing in the biggest events and sharing his experiences with BetMGM players has been immeasurable. One of Elias’ favorite responsibilities is growing the partnership between BetMGM and its branded retail casinos across the country. By doing so, one of Elias’ goals is merging the online product with the retail casinos. Having events such as the BetMGM Poker Championship is doing just that.
“We are trying to build these premier, live poker tournaments like we have going on this week,” Elias said. “When I came on [in 2021], this was a dream and didn’t really exist. Over the last few years, it’s come to fruition and it’s only going to grow from here.”
Elias resides in Eagles country
Elias lives in Medford, New Jersey with his family when he’s not traveling playing poker. He said he’s going to play in about 12-15 events this summer.
When Elias isn’t playing poker, he’s big on smoking meats. As the unofficial start to summer calls for some grilling, Elias said he likes cooking ribs and wings. He’s in the process of learning brisket.
Since his wife is a vegetarian, he’s either smoking the meat for himself or his neighbors.
“[My neighbors] are 100% Eagles savages. It’s basically Philly,” Elias said.
He noted he keeps his roots in Boston, and is a Patriots fan. However, it’s nice of Elias to share his food with Eagles fans.
Elias will try to make his neighborhood, family and everyone who supports him proud as he looks to earn more poker hardware this summer.