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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Looking in on: Gaming

27 December 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Bars across the country have attempted to capitalize on the poker craze by offering free poker tournaments where winners can earn bragging rights, cash prizes and even entries to big casino tournaments.

But there may soon be an easier way for watering holes to invite wagering on poker games without attracting attention from local law enforcement. PokerTek, which makes an electronic, dealerless poker game for casinos, is also rolling out a poker game for bars, restaurants and other noncasino venues that plays like a video game.

Resembling the sit-down "Pac-Man" games of old, the "Heads-Up Challenge" game allows two people to play no-limit hold 'em poker on digital green felt for about $4.

But that probably won't be the only money changing hands.

"People are going to bet on these things like crazy," said Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor newsletter. In other words, why spend only $4 when you and your buddy could each lay side bets of $50 on the action? Spectators could also grow that pot, he said.

• • •

Las Vegas hotels are jumping on the green bandwagon by seeking eco-friendly certifications. Although many are motivated by sizable green tax breaks and the savings from using less energy, image also plays a big role.

MGM Mirage, which was working on green designs for CityCenter on the advice of the company's architect before legislators began discussing green tax breaks, believes the resort will attract new ranks of eco-conscious tourists by publicizing its green efforts.

Green consultants say environmentally sensitive certifications will become a more important consumer seal of approval in the years to come as celebrities and the superrich - concerned about their public image - start to tout their green allegiance.

"Rich people are spending (big money) when they travel and it's hard to spend that kind of money without doing some damage to the environment," said John Krause, principal architect with Day Night After, a New York-based design firm.

But Las Vegas, popular for its image of excess and wasteful extravagance, has some work to do: Last month, a Travel & Leisure magazine poll ranked Las Vegas at the bottom of 25 major cities in environmental awareness as well as in other categories such as museums, historic sites and public spaces.

For Las Vegas, "it's not just about doing the right thing, it's about publicizing it and getting credit for it," Krause said.

Casino companies aren't doing much to publicize their money-saving schemes - yet. Harrah's Entertainment properties employ people who sort through garbage by hand, removing recyclable items before they head to the landfill. And Red Rock Resort, owned by Station Casinos, is converting an estimated 150,000 gallons of kitchen grease a year into biodiesel fuel for Clark County School District buses, for example.

• • •

The Nevada Resort Association has released a beefed-up fact book with statistics galore about how the gaming industry (presumably benefiting from the lowest gaming taxes in the nation) has diversified Nevada's economy while creating a low-tax environment for its residents.

The casino association is in the cross hairs of the state teachers union, which is readying a ballot measure to raise the maximum gaming revenue tax from 6.75 percent to 9.75 percent. But it's hardly an opinion-laced tome. The information, which also will be posted this month on the association's Web site,, contains a host of employment and tax data for mass consumption.

Among the data: The Tax Foundation's business tax rankings for 2006, with Nevada boasting the fourth-lowest tax burden for businesses in the nation. Also shown is the most recent annual assessment of family tax burdens, by state, from Washington, D.C.,'s chief financial officer. That report, from August 2006, showed that families of three making $75,000 to $150,000 a year in Las Vegas have the fourth-lowest tax burden in the nation. The report compared the largest cities in each state with Washington, D.C., finding the lowest combined tax burdens for families in Anchorage, Alaska; Cheyenne, Wyo.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Las Vegas.

For those following the years-old debate about how Nevada should best raise funds for future needs - by raising gaming taxes or initiating a broader-based corporate revenue tax or personal income tax - the message from the association is clear: Nevada has gaming to thank for subsidizing its tax revenue needs.

Looking in on: Gaming is republished from