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The Venetian's third attempt at operating a poker room might be the charm -- but also the most expensive.
The Strip casino joins the realm of Las Vegas resorts adding space for poker players Sunday when it unveils an 11,000-square-foot poker room near the race and sports book.
When The Venetian opened in 1999, the property operated a small poker room that quickly closed due to lack of interest. The casino made another modest attempt a few years later, but that 10-table room was quietly shuttered.
The recent revival of poker has allowed Venetian executives to give the game another try. Poker is televised almost daily on various cable channels, there is a booming interest in Internet poker and the Harrah's-owned World Series of Poker drew a record 30,000 participants to 45 events in 2005.
"It's something our customers have been asking for," said Kenneth Davenport, The Venetian's vice president of casino operations. "Right now, with the interest in poker and the demand for the game, it makes sense to bring a room back. But we wanted to do it in a way that appeals to all players."
The Venetian spent $2.6 million to refurbish a corner of its casino, removing 200 slot machines to add 39 poker tables -- 32 on the main poker floor and seven in a high-limit area. The nonsmoking room, with modern gaming technology such as automated shufflers, was decorated with leather chairs and wood trimmings.
Two lounges are also available for high-limit poker players and their guests.
Areas around the room allow poker fans to try and catch a glimpse of their favorite players.
"Obviously, we hope to attract some of the top professional players," said Kathy Raymond, who will manage The Venetian's poker room. "Some of these poker professionals have become rock stars, so we hope they come and check out our room."
Raymond spent 14 years managing the 114-table poker room at the Foxwoods casino in southeastern Connecticut, which hosted segments of the televised World Poker Tour. At Foxwoods, Raymond built relationships with some of poker's biggest celebrities.
"There are a lot of opportunities and possibilities for The Venetian to have involvement in these large poker events," Raymond said. "Our goal right now is to have a room that will gain a large following."
The new room will open Sunday night with a tournament featuring professional poker players and celebrities, including past World Series of Poker champions Johnny Chan and Doyle Brunson; poker professionals Chip Reese, Howard Lederer, Phil Laak and Annie Duke; actor Jeremy Piven; and actresses Jennifer Tilly and Shannon Elizabeth.
Interest in poker has translated into revenue for the Nevada casinos, which collect a small percentage from each pot during a game -- termed a rake.
According to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, revenue from poker in 2005 was $140.1 million, up 42.1 percent compared with $98.6 million in 2004.
The number of poker tables has also increased. In 2004, the state had 484 tables. That figure climbed to 701 by end of 2005, which included a new 26-table poker room at Wynn Las Vegas and a site at Caesars Palace with 30 permanent tables and space for 33 tables for tournament play.
The gaming win per poker table per day dropped however, from $557.90 in 2004 to $547.44 in 2005. But that doesn't concern gaming observers.
"That really doesn't mean too much because the revenues have grown as have the number of tables," said Frank Streshley, senior research analyst for the Gaming Control Board. "A slight drop in average per win per table really shouldn't signal any alarms."
Davenport, who watched as casinos closed poker rooms in last decade, said the players have changed.
"We always wanted our gamblers to wager against the house, such as blackjack or roulette," he said. "But poker players now also play other games as well."
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