Hold 'em tourneys a big draw around town - Sunday 12th of June 2005

With this week's start of the World Series of Poker, Las Vegas poker rooms are ramping up popular no-limit hold 'em tournaments right and left.Anthony Curtis, a sometime poker player and publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor gambler newsletter, recently completed an exhaustive list of poker tournaments around town.The sheer number of hold 'em tournaments -- given the dozen or so new poker rooms that have opened their doors in recent years -- boggles the mind.Of Las Vegas' 39 poker rooms, 27 run a total of 63 no-limit hold 'em tournaments. With many held on multiple days, Curtis calculates that there are 246 individual chances to play over the course of a week.Not all tournaments are created equal, Curtis said.

He said the best tournaments are in North Las Vegas, at the Fiesta Rancho and Poker Palace casinos -- not known as choice hangouts for poker playboys. The tournaments, with $50 and $20 buy-ins, respectively, return 100 percent of players' entry fees.Tournaments typically charge a fee on top of what goes into the prize pool. A tournament that costs $25 to enter might have the casino taking off $5 from the top for a profit and $20 going into the pool. That means players are only getting back 80 percent of their money to gamble with.Seven poker rooms are a good bet because they return 90 percent or more, Curtis said. They include Bellagio, Golden Nugget, Flamingo, Mirage, Aladdin, Sunset Station and Nevada Palace.Most of Las Vegas' other poker tournaments fall into the 80-89 percent range, he said.Tournaments returning between 70 and 80 percent are Circus Circus, Gold Coast, Imperial Palace, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, Mirage (the property's $130 tournaments, not the $330 events listed above), Orleans, Rio, Sahara and Sunset Station (its $33, not its $50 contests).At the bottom of the pack is Sam's Town, a favorite hangout for local players that nevertheless offers an "abysmal" 67 percent return, Curtis said.

The list is also interesting for which poker rooms don't have no-limit hold 'em tournaments.Those include Wynn Las Vegas (which may end up adding them later on), Bally's, MGM Grand, Monte Carlo, Palms, Tropicana, Riviera, Excalibur, Stratosphere and locals joints like Arizona Charlie's Decatur, Boulder Station, Club Fortune, El Cortez, Palace Station, Santa Fe Station and Silverton.The Bellagio -- which already attracts the richest cash game poker players -- is jumping into no-limit tournaments with both feet.Starting in April, the resort began daily no-limit hold 'em tournaments with $540 buy-ins Sunday through Thursday and $1,060 buy-ins Friday and Saturday. For the budget-minded, the poker room offers morning satellite games with $130 buy-ins Sunday through Thursday and $240 buy-ins Fridays and Saturdays.The property boasts the only daily no-limit tournaments in town and is already branding itself as the city's "no-limit poker headquarters," according to Bellagio's Tournament Director Jack McClelland.

The 7,000-square-foot poker room, with 40 tables, is also fresh from an upgrade and expansion that took over space from the nearby slot floor.The swank interior features a hand-blown glass chandelier from Murano, Italy, marble flooring, oil paintings of poker greats and a two-table high-stakes room called "Bobby's Room" named after Mirage Resorts President and Chief Executive Bobby Baldwin, World Series of Poker champion in 1978. Players must fork over a minimum of $20,000 to gamble in the high limit area.Poker players receive 24-hour tableside dining, complementary drinks and access to safe deposit boxes. When they're not focusing on the game they can watch any one of 19 television screens placed around the room that will most likely be tuned to sporting events.As if anyone thought the Bellagio wasn't taking the poker trend seriously enough, the property will be expanding its marketing alliance with the World Poker Tour by offering decks of cards emblazoned with the Bellagio and WPT logos. The Bellagio, which will receive royalties from the cards, and sister property Mirage are designated stops on the televised, traveling poker tournament.Not to be outdone, Harrah's Entertainment Inc. has opened its first retail store hawking World Series of Poker merchandise at its Rio property.

The Rio also will host a retail convention with all manner of poker paraphernalia July 6-9 to coincide with the final no limit Texas hold 'em event, expected to draw from 5,000 to 6,000 people over last year's 2,500 or so poker players.You might say there's "no limit" to the licensing deals Harrah's could strike with retailers and manufacturers if the poker frenzy continues. The company soon expects to announce future merchandising deals.

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