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John G. Edwards

World Series of Poker Draws Record Number of Entrants

25 May 2004

It's time to shuffle up and deal.

The championship event for the the World Series of Poker gets under way today at Binion's Horseshoe with an estimated 2,500 to 2,600 participants and a prize pool of more than $20 million, Harrah's Entertainment spokesman David Strow said Friday.

First place is estimated to be worth $5 million, with the next four finishers collecting about $1 million each, Harrah's officials said during a news conference announcing details of this year's final event and plans for next year's World Series of Poker.

Late Friday, tournament director Matt Savage said 2,200 participants had already registered for the 35th annual event, easily topping last year's 839 entries.

Despite the growing number of players, which is pushing the Horseshoe event to its maximum limit, Savage said he didn't intend to increase the $10,000 entry fee for next year's event to reduce the number of players.

"It's everyman's tournament, and I want to keep it that way," he said.

Players in the main event paid a $10,000 entry fee or participated in smaller tournaments called "satellites" to win an entry.

Strow estimated that half of the entrants paid $10,000, while the other half won entry to the final tournament through a satellite event.

Next year, Harrah's officials plans to hold just the final two days of the championship event at Binion's Horseshoe, with the other events and preliminary competition for the championship event being conducted at the Rio.

For this year's event, though, crowds of poker players bumped and jostled each other at the aging downtown casino that is playing host to the World Series for the 35th year.

"It's a zoo," said Chris Syrpes, a Denver electrical contractor. He attributed that to the large number of players but said the crowds made it "more exciting."

"The bad part is you have to wait in lines to get into any of the tournaments," said Syrpes, who said he had played in the tournament for 20 years and finished 50th one time.

Asked why he kept coming back, Syrpes said, "I'm a poker player."

Michael Hamilton, a Houston business owner, said: "They're doing OK for the number of people. It could be organized a little better. You have to do a lot of waiting around."

Hamilton, who won a spot in the tournament by winning a charity poker game in Houston, was smiling and excited, however. He came with a group and is "having fun."

Chris Moneymaker, 28, of Spring Hill, Tenn., who parlayed an online satellite entry of $39 into the first-place prize of $2.5 million in 2003, said the excitement of the Horseshoe tournament energized him.

"The electricity that is going in this place is phenomenal," Moneymaker said at the news conference. "It's like coming home. My belly is in butterflies waiting for tomorrow."

Like many of the other preliminary events that have been under way since April, the championship event is Texas hold 'em poker. The championship event is no-limit contest, which means players can bet any or all of their chips at any time. The final participants or "final table" will square off Friday.

Savage said the number of women in the tournament was increasing and represented about 5 percent of the total this year.

The prize pool for all the events in this World Series is estimated at more than $40 million.

Binion's Horseshoe was closed Jan. 9 when deputy U.S. marshals, accompanied by Gaming Control Board agents and armed with two court orders, seized more than $1 million from the cash cage and forced the shutdown of the casino and hotel. It was sold by Becky Binion Behnen on March 11 to MTR Gaming Group of Chester, W.Va., for about $20 million.

It is now managed by Harrah's Entertainment, which will retain the World Series of Poker and rights to the Horseshoe brand name in Nevada for the remainder of what has been estimated to be a $50 million deal.

Harrah's officials say the downtown property will remain known as Binion's Horseshoe for at least a year, perhaps two.

John G. Edwards
John G. Edwards