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Howard Stutz

Palms goes all-in with Epic Poker League

8 August 2011

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- At first, The Palms Casino Resort President George Maloof wasn't completely sold on the Epic Poker League.

He's glad he changed his mind.

Up to 240 of the world's best poker players are invading the off-Strip casino this week for the first of four Epic Poker League events scheduled through January. When you count the hundreds of amateur players taking part in the Pro/Am event and the legions of poker fans checking out the action, Maloof figures the payoff will be found in the Palms drop boxes and slot machines.

"We set up a bunch of live poker tables outside of the (tournament) room for that purpose," Maloof said. "We're hoping this helps boost casino play."

He needs to look no farther than just down West Flamingo Road at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino to see what a popular poker tournament could mean for business. During the six weeks in June and July the World Series of Poker takes over the Rio's convention area, the Caesars Entertainment-owned casino traditionally experiences a huge jump in revenues.

That's what Maloof is banking on for the Palms during the Epic Poker League's events. The casino isn't taking a rake -- a percentage of every wager -- nor is Maloof charging the upstart tournament an exorbitant cost for use of the convention space where the tournament is housed.

Maloof is hoping the Palms makes its money back by being the center of the poker world for a few days each month, increased casino traffic, and exposure through the Epic Poker League's television deal with the CBS Television Network and Discovery Communications.

The Epic Poker League is the type of event Maloof has brought to the Palms to help with publicity and exposure. The effort began with the filming of MTV's "The Real World: Las Vegas" in 2002 which placed the Palms on the pop culture map. The casino was also the home base for the NBA All-Star Game in 2007 and for the NHL Awards program over the past three years.

The Palms hosted the first five seasons of "Celebrity Poker Showdown" on the Bravo Network, but the production got a tad expensive.

This time, the Palms' poker venture includes two of the game's best-known names: Jeffrey Pollack, whose Los Angeles-based Federated Sports + Entertainment owns the Epic Poker League, and Annie Duke, who is the league's commissioner.

Pollack was commissioner of the Caesars Entertainment-owned World Series of Poker from 2005 to 2009. He is credited with fueling the tournament's growth and creating some of the event's innovations, such as the "November Nine," where the participants in the Main Event's final table return after a four-month layoff for a made-for-television competition.

Duke is one of the game's most decorated female players. She owns one World Series of Poker individual event championship bracelet, more than $1.1 million in tournament earnings and came within one seat of making the 2000 Main Event final table. Duke, who was runner-up on Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" television show, curtailed her poker-playing to concentrate on the league.

The Epic Poker League is modeled after the PGA Tour. Players must meet a set of qualifications to compete. The current list of qualifiers includes past winners of the World Series of Poker's Main Event and other top professionals. Players will also be ranked throughout the season based on performance.

Each of the Epic Poker League's events will have a $20,000 buy-in No Limit Hold'em Main Event. The inaugural Main Event runs Monday through Friday.

The league's top 27 players, based on the tournament's scoring and rating system, will meet in February for a $1 million entry-free championship event.

Maloof was enticed by the tournament, not because of the mass of poker players who annually fill the Rio's two gigantic ballrooms, but by having the game's elite players under the Palms' roof.

Pollack said last month his goal with the television deal is to highlight both familiar and unknown poker personalities.

While Phil Hellmuth Jr., Mike Matusow and Scotty Nguyen will get airtime, players such as Steve Sung, Hevad Khan and John Racener could boost their exposure based on how well they play.

Maloof recently struck an agreement with two private equity firms to restructure the Palms' $400 million in debt, which will leave him with 2 percent ownership once gaming regulators sign off on the deal.

Events like the Epic Poker League are what Maloof hopes will change the Palms' story.
Palms goes all-in with Epic Poker League is republished from