Nugget gets TV poker

Jan 4, 2005 4:23 AM


The Golden Nugget and NBC are poised to jointly give poker its next big burst of major television exposure.

Look for a heads-up no limit Texas hold’em tournament with buy-ins of perhaps $100,000 to be filmed in March at the Fremont Street gambling hall owned by Tim Poster and Tom Breitling.

No one’s talking officially yet, but the facts seem to be as follows: NBC has been scheduled for months to give two hours to the final round of the Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 6, but the network’s big thinkers have also decided they want to continue exploiting poker’s soaring popularity.

So how were they going to do this?

The idea was tossed around and the result is an invitational format that will pit the best-known names in poker against each other, two players at a time. Who will the invitees be?

Coming up with a good list does not require a lot of effort. It’s likely most of those associated with the first two Poker Superstars events will be invited. It will probably include past World Series of Poker winners as well as names mostly associated with the biggest cash games. Annie Duke, who won the ESPN-televised $2 million Tournament of Champions at the Rio is a good bet to be there. So’s Jennifer Harman who missed most of the past year’s televised poker events because of kidney transplant surgery.

But at this point the names amount to no more than a guess

Reportedly, the entry total will be limited to 64, like the NCAA basketball finals, and the only way to get a seat in the event will be to get an invitation or win one of the satellites that may be held at the Nugget.

The popularity of original and repeat programming of poker events on various cable channels has network executives searching for the means to best exploit this highly popular and relatively budget-priced approach to filling time slots. The youngish male demographics associated with poker are an added bonus.

At this rate, poker players will quickly become some of the gaming industry’s most visible "celebs."

Harrah’s Entertainment Chairman Gary Loveman says the popularity of poker on television is exceeded, as a sporting event, only by football and NASCAR racing. And the trend is pointed upward. Poker revenue on the Las Vegas Strip increased about 40 to more than 60 percent for each month from January through September of 2004.

Do you think Dallas banker Andy Beal will show up? Beal has previously shown a preference for heads-up hold’em, taking on the best in the game — people like Todd Brunson, Howard Lederer and Jennifer Harman, to name just a few, for limits that have occasionally run into six figures.

Don’t rock the boat

Riviera President Robert Vannucci wonders if the NFL’s determination to limit Super Bowl parties in Las Vegas will not ultimately work to the League’s disadvantage.

He says the resorts he’s been connected with have been holding Super Bowl parties — big ones! — for more than 20 years. Both active and retired players as well as cheerleaders have been frequent guests, the food is always high-end, and raffles and contests always keep guests interested.

"And we never heard a peep out of the NFL until a year ago."

Vannucci says parties like those held in Las Vegas casinos have helped make the Super Bowl an event for millions of people who don’t otherwise care much about who’s playing.

Vannucci is among the local gaming executives who believe advertising giant R&R’s "arrogance" in challenging the NFL with an "in your face campaign" could have done a lot more harm than good.

Vannucci says there was some interest in approaching U.S. Sen. Harry Reid to have him perhaps intercede on the industry’s behalf, but the consensus of industry giants is that there’s nothing to be gained by taking on the NFL.