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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

TV-Fueled Poker Revival Attracts Strip Casinos

29 November 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Caesars Palace will open its first poker room in at least 12 years in response to the burgeoning popularity of poker, while Bellagio and Bally's Las Vegas are considering expanding their poker areas.

Many properties on the Las Vegas Strip still do not have poker rooms or closed their poker rooms years ago, preferring to install more profitable slot machines. But a proliferation of television coverage on poker has changed that, operators say.

"(Poker) has become immensely popular," Caesars Palace President Mark Juliano said.

The poker room, at around 15,000 square feet, will open by about March or April adjacent to the sports book as well as a nightclub now under construction. Pure, the first nightclub at Caesars Palace and one of the largest yet on the Strip, is expected to open on New Year's Eve.

MGM Grand, which closed its poker room in the late 1990s, will reopen its room near the sports book by the end of March. The room will contain 25 tables compared with 31 tables at The Mirage and 30 tables at Bellagio, other MGM Mirage properties.

Bellagio, which opened with a high-end poker room in 1998, is considering expanding its poker room based on increased casino traffic at Bellagio and The Mirage, MGM Mirage Director of Sports and Promotions Scott Ghertner said.

Ghertner said he wasn't aware of any plans to add poker rooms at the company's New York-New York and Treasure Island resorts.

Caesars Entertainment Inc. has no plans to add a poker room at its Paris Las Vegas property but is considering expanding its existing poker area at neighboring Bally's Las Vegas.

Bally's has seven poker tables and may add three more to meet customer demand, spokeswoman Stacy Solovey said.

Poker games still don't make much money for casinos but have become a mainstream attraction that can't be ignored, said Max Rubin, author of "Comp City" and a casino consultant.

"Poker rooms were dying until the recent popularity of poker on television," Rubin said. "It's a really low margin business. It will only make like $60 to $70 an hour for a table that's taking up a lot of square footage."

Poker has become such a draw that players now have to wait for a seat at the table and are gambling while they wait, he said.

"They tend to attract people who want to play against the (pros)," Rubin said. "The (amateurs) like to play other games," he said.

Poker can also help casinos attract the younger customers they covet, he said. Caesars' nearby nightclub will also draw young people who could be lured to other games in the casino via poker, he said.