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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Bellagio Unveils Table Game Version of Texas Hold 'em

25 April 2005

The company responsible for bringing the World Poker Tour to an estimated cable television audience of 5 million weekly viewers now wants to offer a variation of the popular Texas hold 'em game to casino patrons.

Bellagio began a 90-day field trial Friday of World Poker Tour All-In Hold 'em, which is played on a table similar to blackjack, but where players wager against the dealer and not each other.

The Strip resort has one game in its main casino. After three months, an analysis of play will be forwarded to Nevada gaming regulators.

Two Indian casinos, Agua Caliente and Sycuan in the San Diego area, and Casino Magic in Biloxi, Miss., have the game on their floors.

"This, of course, is the place test where the game needs to do well," said Jack Malisow, vice president of marketing for Lakes Entertainment, a Minnesota-based gaming company that is distributing the game. The company owns 64 percent of World Poker Enterprises, which produces the television series.

He said Nevada approval, which could take five months, will allow Lakes Entertainment to roll out the game on a wide scope.

"The World Poker Tour brand has tremendous appeal and name recognition," Malisow said. "This game gives players the opportunity to experience that action."

Lakes Entertainment, which manages nine tribal casinos and distributes other table games, believes the popularity of the World Poker Tour, which airs weekly on the Travel Channel, provides the game a ready-made market. The tables are decorated with the World Poker Tour's color scheme and have the game's ace of spades logo.

"This game appeals to several audiences, but mainly those people who are interested in playing poker and want the excitement but are a little intimidated by sitting down in a poker room," said David Sklansky, a Las Vegas-based poker player and gambling author who developed the game with Lakes Entertainment. "The idea is to give the player the same feeling of going 'all in' as they get when watching poker on television."

As in Texas hold 'em, players are dealt two cards and make their best poker hand with five community cards, but that's where similarities end.

All action is against the dealer, and players make a blind ante and have other betting options, including bonus wagers on hole cards and final hand values. Once players see their hole cards, they can fold or raise their blind ante by betting five times the ante or going "all in," which is 10 times the initial bet.

Based on specific rules, dealers either fold and pay off the blind antes or call. If a dealer calls, the community cards -- the flop, river and turn -- are exposed and players try to make their best hands to beat the dealer.

Lakes Entertainment was able to roll out the test run during the World Poker Tour's championship event at the Bellagio, which ends Sunday.

New table game concepts have historically met a quick demise in casinos when competing with blackjack, craps, roulette and other traditional gambling activities.

Over the past decade, Caribbean Stud Poker from Progressive Gaming International (formerly Mikohn) and Let It Ride and 3 Card Poker from Shuffle Master Gaming have found their way into casinos in Las Vegas and worldwide.

"To us, the most important aspects are the dealers and the way the casinos deliver the product," Malisow said. "The brand has tremendous appeal. The keys are having dealers who understand the game and make it fun for the customers and the casinos giving the game great exposure."

The Sycuan casino in San Diego has offered World Poker Tour All In Hold 'em for almost a year in a pit near the poker room.

"It's popular with poker players who are waiting to get on a table," said Lisa Roehm, director of table games for Sycuan. "It's done well, but there seems to be so many versions of Texas hold 'em out there now. We're getting a lot of requests from vendors to try their games."