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David McGrath Schwartz

Poker Dome Theater Opens at Neonopolis

31 July 2006

LAS VEGAS -- After months of delay, officials unveiled the Poker Dome on Friday, with the hope that the so-called poker arena could provide a boost to the flailing Neonopolis.

With a crowd of onlookers and media cameras, the poker chamber, audience room and control room were displayed.

There are plenty of colorful lights and sound effects for the Poker Dome, which one VIP getting a tour likened to a set of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" for poker players. The room reportedly cost $6.5 million.

"This is a great start to the rebirth of Las Vegas," said Mayor Oscar Goodman, martini in hand.

"Neonopolis, I hate to say it, is going to be a success," he joked.

Conceived under former Mayor Jan Jones' administration, Neonopolis has struggled to retain tenants since its opening. The city built and owns the parking garage underneath the project. Neonopolis has recently been acquired by new owners, though their plans are secret. All the tenants have left except a movie theatre, an ice cream shop and Jillian's: a bar, restaurant, bowling alley and video arcade.

Rick Kulis, president of Hollybrook Regency Inc., which is promoting and running the TV series to be filmed at the dome, said he is not perturbed by the lack of neighbors.

"You have to start someplace," he said.

Kulis has said that he wants Poker Dome to generate energy and buzz for downtown, with audiences of more than 150 coming to the weekly " Poker Dome Challenge."

The series, which airs on Sundays on FOX Sports Net, has been going on for the past nine weeks in a converted room at the Tropicana.

The players are wired to microphones, their heart beats are monitored and televised, and the cards have electronic chips in them so they can be displayed to the audience.

Meanwhile, a live audience can follow the action through soundproof, one-way glass.

The show has gotten mixed reviews, with some people questioning the talent of players.

"So few people knew about it during the first weeks, it was pretty easy to get on," Cummis said. "We're ramping up the level by the week."

When news of the Poker Dome concept first came out, some Gaming Control Board members raised their eyebrows, saying that organizers could need an unrestricted gaming license to host poker tournaments. That would be an impossibility at Neonopolis.

But after an opinion from the attorney general's office, the Gaming Control Board gave the go-ahead -- primarily because the contestants on the "game show" enter for free and the chips have no value. Each winner receives $25,000 and a seat at one of six televised semifinals. Ultimately, the final players will play in a final event worth $1 million.

But if Poker Dome is a success, it's the only one so far for Neonopolis.