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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Looking in on: Gaming

2 August 2006

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The 37th annual World Series of Poker kicked off its main event Friday at the Rio to the richest prize pool in history - more than $75 million, with a top prize of $10.8 million.

Why, then, the long faces among the poker dealers when the first events began a few weeks ago?

For the first time, Harrah's Entertainment this year began giving dealers a weekly paycheck, with taxes withheld. Last year dealers received an envelope of cash, which included their base salary and tips based on the prize money - for the previous day's work.

Dealers complained about the lower-than-expected, after-taxes paychecks, but have now adjusted.

Another change involves how dealers track their workday. Harrah's began this year's tournament paying dealers based on hours worked. But dealers complained about lazy co-workers who would sign in but not actually deal any games, tournament executive Gary Thompson said.

Harrah's has since adopted a system of paying dealers based on how many times they sit down to deal a game. (Each "down," between breaks, is at least an hour.)

For the first 18 days of the tournament, dealers averaged a bit more than $30 per hour. For the main event, dealers will make a base salary of $5.25 per hour plus tips, which will add up to 1.5 percent of the prize pool, up from 1.4 percent last year.

• • •

Harrah's Entertainment is strengthening its Monopoly-like position at the center of the Las Vegas Strip. The company recently picked up 12 acres behind the Aladdin for $200 million - a pretty penny for bare land fronting Harmon Avenue and Koval Lane, but an attractive puzzle piece to lay alongside its land behind its Bally's and Paris Las Vegas hotels.

Harrah's is expected in coming months to reveal more details of its plan to better connect its properties, which include Harrah's, Imperial Palace and the Flamingo. The company already owns much of the land behind those properties, as far east as Koval Lane - a position experts say will allow the company to create a variety of attractions connecting all of its properties from behind.

Meanwhile, the Aladdin plans to reopen a completely remodeled property under the Planet Hollywood theme in February - nearly a year after the company first anticipated a grand reopening.

• • •

There's much excitement about CityCenter, MGM Mirage's $7 billion urban village on the Strip, because it is being designed by some of the best architectural minds ever assembled for one project.

Might this elevate Las Vegas' status among highbrow critics, signifying how we are maturing into a more cosmopolitan city?

One architectural critic thinks not.

"For a city, becoming and being cosmopolitan is not determined by architecture or the size of a single project, but rather by the nature of its inhabitants, its streetscapes, its social and intellectual life, its cultural activities and resources, and its history," said Roger Lewis, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation and a columnist for The Washington Post. "I would use many adjectives to describe the unique character of Las Vegas as a city, but 'cosmopolitan' would not be one of them."

Lewis said CityCenter will build on Las Vegas' growing collection of idiosyncratic architecture, but that its sustained importance isn't assured.

"The history of building in Las Vegas suggests that creating architecture there is an ongoing competition to see what can be the most exuberant, the most memorable, the biggest, the most outlandish, and occasionally, the most elegant. "My impression is that whenever an icon is erected in Las Vegas, not much time passes before someone wants to erect a better icon."

Looking in on: Gaming is republished from