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Casino City's Top-10 land-based gaming stories from 2008

22 December 2008

10. Expansion of WSOPE
Although it will probably never be as grand as the original WSOP that takes place in Las Vegas every year, the World Series of Poker Europe is beginning to make its mark in the poker world.

The inaugural edition of the WSOPE in 2007 featured three events and the Main Event got major publicity when then-18-year-old Annette Obrestad came out of nowhere to capture the title. This year – in an effort to create more exposure – the WSOP and Harrah's announced during the WSOP that the WSOPE would not only expand to four events, but ESPN would broadcast eight hours of original coverage in the U.S. and distribute the tournament worldwide.

WSOP Commissioner Jeffery Pollack noted at the press conference that, "Last year the first-ever World Series of Poker Europe was a smashing hit" and that the WSOP was "thrilled that ESPN is going to be able to allow poker fans from all over the world the chance to see what we think will be an even bigger hit this year."


John Juanda was the last man standing at the WSOPE Main Event in London. (photo by IMPDI for the 2008 WSOP)

Pollack and the WSOP got what they were looking for once things got underway in London. The Main Event drew a strong field with 41 former bracelet winners and six former Main Event champions -- Doyle Brunson (1976/1977), Phil Hellmuth (1989), Scotty Nguyen (1998), Chris "Jesus" Ferguson (2000), Carlos Mortensen (2001) and Joe Hachem (2005) – competing for the crown that was eventually won by John Juanda following a record-breaking 22 hours of poker.

9. The Palazzo grand opening
Sheldon Adelson has never had a problem with extravagance. So nobody was surprised from what they saw in January when the imitable Las Vegas tycoon opened The Palazzo Resort-Hotel-Casino , the $1.9 billion resort that sits next to and is connected to its sister resort, The Venetian.

With its 3,000 expansive suites, the 50-story Palazzo became the tallest hotel tower in Las Vegas and combined with The Venetian, the two properties feature more than 7,000 suites. The Palazzo, The Venetian and the Sands Expo and Convention Center also became the world's biggest indoor structure at 19 million square feet.

"People are telling us it's the best property they've ever seen," Adelson beamed at the opening. "In many ways, the opening of The Palazzo represents for us the completion of a vision that started with the construction of The Venetian. For our guests, it provides a new experience and opportunity to savor some of the world's best dining, shopping, accommodations and entertainment all under one roof."

8. Opening of Encore
Not to be outdone by his bitter rival, Steve Wynn also opened a new property in Las Vegas in 2008. And although it took place nearly a year after The Palazzo opened its doors, the unveiling of Wynn's Encore on Monday drew close attention from the industry as much for the timing of its opening as for the all the glitz and glamour.

With a number of projects in and around Las Vegas either shutting down or being delayed because of the global economic crisis, the Encore plowed along and opened right as scheduled despite the fact that through October, casino revenues in the city were down 8.7 percent while visitation was off by 3 percent. The $2.3-billion resort is an exact replica of Wynn Las Vegas and sits directly next to it. Encore features 2,034 hotel rooms with 72,000 square feet of casino space, 11 retail outlets, a nightclub and a luxury spa. In addition there are five restaurants -- including a tribute restaurant to Frank Sinatra -- and seven bars, compared to the 22 food and beverage outlets the Wynn contains.

7. Fire at the Monte Carlo
Fortunately, the January blaze that engulfed the Monte Carlo rooftop in Las Vegas back in January was more of an annoyance rather than a major tragedy. Other than the 13 people who were treated for smoke inhalation, there were no injuries as a result of the fire that caused just under $100 million in damage and forced as many as 5,000 guests and 1,000 employees to flee the property.

The story of the fire gained more momentum even after the flames were put out and the hotel reopened. That's because two weeks after the fire, Clark County fire inspectors blamed flying molten metal and a lack of safety measures by construction workers for the fire. Welders working atop the hotel were using a hand-held torch to cut corrugated steel for a rooftop walkway when the hot metal triggered the fire. (Editor's note:The Hughes Associates report also indicated that Exterior Insulation Finish Systems, while involved in the fire, was not the primary contributor to the spread of the fire on the Monte Carlo.)

The company blamed for the fire disputed the Fire Department's report, saying its workers followed proper safety procedures and had the proper work permit needed for the job.

6. Death of Lefty Rosenthal
The city of Las Vegas has created many legends over the years, and few were bigger than bookmaker and former casino boss Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, who died in Florida in October at the age of 79. Those that are too young to remember him can simply watch the movie "Casino" to see what he meant to the culture of "old-school" Las Vegas. His death closed the book on one of the most colorful periods -- and people -- in Las Vegas history.

"He was the innovator and creator of what we know today as the race and sports book in Las Vegas with all the modern accounts," Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman told the Las Vegas Sun. "He was the kind of guy who, when working in the casino industry, would see a cigarette butt on the floor, pick it up himself and dispose of it," Goodman said. "And then he'd fire the employee whose job was to have picked it up in the first place."

5. MGM Grand at Foxwoods opens
The Connecticut casino landscape added a huge dose of "Las Vegas" this spring when the new $700-million MGM Grand at Foxwoods made a smashing debut.

"It looks a lot like home," Aziz Gamal, MGM Mirage President and CEO of Hospitality, told Casino City at the venue's star-studded grand opening. "It's beginning to look more and more like Las Vegas around here."


The MGM at Foxwoods added another two million square feet to what was already the largest gaming venue in North America. Dubbed "The Roar Next Door" because of its familiar lion logo, the new MGM was designed to "bring the outdoors in" by taking advantage of the resort's natural surroundings through its exterior wall of windows.

The hotel has 825 guest rooms and suites, a 4,000-seat theater, a casino and four restaurants. The hotel also offers another 115,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, bringing the total available convention space available at Foxwoods to 170,000 square feet. In addition there's the 21,000-square-foot G Spa, inspired by Gretta Monahan that offers such amenities as a swimming pool and men's and women's Jacuzzis complete with a deluge water feature.

"When two entities like Foxwoods and MGM come together, amazing things can happen," said Mashantucket Tribal Council Chairman Kenneth Reels.

4. Excalibur makes move to all-electronic poker room
You can file this story under "a sign of the times."

With the popularity of poker on the decline and casino budgets getting tighter and tighter, the Excalibur shut down its poker room in August and installed 12 PokerPro electronic poker tables from PokerTek to become the first casino in Las Vegas to host a poker room with exclusively electronic tables.

According to Excalibur's Vice President of Gaming Operations Todd DeRemer, the property went electronic in an effort to provide a jolt to a poker room that has been "on the decline from a customer base (standpoint)" for the last three years.

"In 2005, poker was going gangbusters and everybody added rooms," DeRemer explained. "A small supply of players got spread out between multiple rooms. From our point of view, bringing in the PokerPro tables gives us an opportunity to pique the interest of a different kind of player."

While many in the poker industry were jolted by the move, Mike Sexton told Casino City that he thinks the electronic poker room is the "wave of the future."

"It just makes so much sense for the casinos," the man known as the "Ambassador of Poker" said. "I think once the players get used to it, this is something that could be seen in poker rooms up and down the Strip."

3. Atlantic City smoking ban
It's confusing, so try to pay attention. Here's a recap of this ongoing story from 2008.

In April, the Atlantic City Council voted unanimously to approve a full smoking ban in casinos, angering smokers, but pleasing the casino workers who pushed hard for it to pass. In September, the city's casinos suffered their biggest revenue decline in history. When this was announced in October – two weeks before the smoking ban was set to go into effect – industry leaders began rallying to have the ban delayed for a year.

In a close 5-4 vote the Council decided to delay the smoking ban for at least a year to give the casino industry time to recover from the nation's economic woes. But not before the ban went into effect. So, on Oct. 15, smokers were forced outdoors. Twelve days later, a split City Council pushed back the ban to help casinos mitigate their customer losses, so smoking was once again allowed in 25% of each casino's gaming floor.

2. WSOP announces final table delay
It's the most-anticipated event on the poker calendar each year. So any time an adjustment is made to the World Series of Poker's schedule it garners attention. When it's as dramatic and controversial as pausing the Main Event for 117 days, it's news of epic proportions.

That's why the poker forums heated up big time in May when Harrah's announced that the Main Event final table would be moved to November with the hopes of increasing the publicity and drama surrounding poker's premier event.


The WSOP Main Event final table was paused for 117 days this year. (photo by Vin Narayanan, Casino City)

The debate raged on whether or not this was a good move. There were plenty of arguments as to when why it was good for poker and plenty more as to why it would hurt the game.

Ultimately, both sides were correct. While it was unnatural to see the event have the pause button pushed for nearly four months, it also did create quite a stir in Las Vegas when play resumed in November. The WSOP has yet to announce whether or not a similar delay will take place in 2009.

1. Global economic crisis hits the industry hard
If you're a regular reader of the Casino City Times newsletter, you've seen a steady stream of "bad news" during the last year and in the last six months in particular. It seems the thinking that the casino industry is "recession proof" is no longer true and, unfortunately, that has been the biggest news of 2008.

The numbers are not pretty. Nevada gaming revenues fell 22.3 percent in October, the single largest monthly drop in state history and the 10th straight month gaming revenues have fallen in Nevada. For the year, gaming revenues are down 8.3 percent statewide. Casinos statewide won just under $905 million during October, compared with $1.165 billion in October 2007, according to figures released Wednesday by the Gaming Control Board. The figure was the lowest statewide one-month total since April 2005. On the Strip, gaming revenues were $475 million, a drop of 25.8 percent compared with $639.9 million a year ago.

The situation was the same – or in some cases worse – all across the country as slot revenues fell in Connecticut for the first time and layoffs were reported in the Midwest. Meanwhile, Atlantic City casino revenues declined in 2008 for the second straight years after 28 straight years of increases.

Here's hoping that one year from now when we compile the top stories of 2009, one of those that we add to the list is the amazing comeback of the economy and the revitalization of the casino industry.

Happy Holidays to all!!!

Casino City's Top-10 land-based gaming stories from 2008 is republished from
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has more than 25 years of experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has more than 25 years of experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:!/casinocityGT