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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Poker Popularity: Let's Make A Deal

6 July 2005

Nearly two decades ago, when Johnny Chan, Doyle Brunson and the late Stu Ungar were the undisputed kings of the poker tables, fans of the game coveted owning a tough-to-come-by, limited edition World Series of Poker jacket, emblazoned with the event's familiar logo, the Binion's Horseshoe trademark and a price tag of more than $300.

Nowadays, fans can purchase any number of World Series of Poker logo items, including shirts, hats, coffee mugs, hand-held games, and gaming chip sets, with prices ranging from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars.

Yes, those still popular jackets are also available.

Harrah's, owner of the World Series, set up a makeshift general store just outside of the tournament's 60,000-square-foot home in the Rio convention center for fans' souvenir shopping needs.

Sales have been brisk since the World Series opened in early June. World Series of Poker director Gary Thompson wouldn't offer any sales figures but said Harrah's has seen a good return on its investment.

"We're a company with $9 billion a year in, so whatever we make on the merchandise is not much in comparison," Thompson said. "Still, sales on the tournament's merchandise have far exceeded any of our expectations."

Last year, when the tournament was held at Binion's, the casino's gift shop was overtaken by World Series merchandise and poker fans.

Starting today, fans can collect additional poker-themed merchandise, such as video games, books and clothing at the first-ever Poker Lifestyles trade show.

Held in conjunction with Thursday's opening of the World Championship No-limit $10,000 buy-in Texas hold'em event, Harrah's organized an additional 50,000-square-foot space at the Rio where more than 100 vendors paid $2,000 each for a 10-foot-by-10-foot space.

Harrah's executives expect about 15,000 poker fans to walk through the show while on their way to watch action at the World Series. The Lifestyles show will run through Saturday.

"We thought this would be something to give poker fans a little extra and something different," Thompson said. "The tournament has grown in so many different ways, that we thought a trade show on poker would be an added benefit."

In addition to the various vendors -- including representatives of online poker Web sites, alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverage companies, gambling magazines and poker schools -- seminars will be held featuring some of poker's best-known players. Activision, a video gaming company, will allow people to preview a console-style video game based on the World Series of Poker that is expected in stores by the fall.

Thompson said the show will allow fans to gain a better understanding of the game.

Meanwhile, when the world championship event kicks off, it is expected to attract more than 6,600 players, including former two-time champions Brunson and Chan and many previous winners. Last year's champion, Greg Raymer, who won a record $5 million, said he was planning to participate.

With a record number of players expected, the event will take eight days to complete, with the final two days of action, July 14-15, played downtown at Binion's, the home for the previous 35 World Series championships.

Because of the expected size of the field, the championship prize should exceed $8 million, and all nine players at the final table will earn at least $1 million.

The number of entrants paying buy-ins, anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000, determined the jackpots in the World Series' 45 events. Harrah's earns 6 percent of each jackpot, and Thompson said the money is used to pay for costs associated with the tournament, such as paying dealers and other staff.

Harrah's said the prize pool for the 2005 World Series of Poker was expected to exceed $100 million, more than doubling last year's record. By the halfway point of this year's tournament, entries exceeded last year's record of 14,000.

ESPN has been filming the World Series competition and is planning to produce at least 22 one-hour episodes of the tournament, which are expected to begin airing this summer.

Poker Popularity: Let's Make A Deal is republished from