Cash lures poker ace from Wynn

Nov 8, 2005 3:59 AM

Poker whiz Daniel Negreanu, 2004’s Player of the Year, confirms that, yes, he has left Wynn Las Vegas where his title was "poker ambassador."

Talks that could have led to a new contract collapsed, he says, because the resort wanted him to confine his high stakes action to its poker room.

He explains, "That meant I was missing all the big games at the Bellagio. What Wynn paid me was generous for what I did, but it was not enough for me to miss the big games elsewhere."

The Bellagio has solidified its standing among poker’s elite as the result of a remodeling completed months ago, just before Wynn opened.

Some of Negreanu’s most recent high limit action occurred over three days at the Golden Nugget last week as he participated in the filming of a "cash game" that required a minimum $100,000 buy-in.

Negreanu showed up at the table with a million dollars! Others buying in included Doyle Brunson (with a half-million), Jennifer Harman, Barry Greenstein, Phil Hellmuth and Lakers owner Jerry Buss, to name a few.

The game is being edited into 13 segments for showing on cable’s GSN in January.

Come to think of it, Negreanu’s involvement at the Nugget might have been enough by itself to kill the contract talks, considering the current state of differences between Wynn and Nugget chairman Tilman Fertitta, who decided at the last minute not to play in the big game at his casino.

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Money talks.Yes, it really does. Here’s an example.

Harrah’s on Sunday launched the filming (for ESPN ) of its Tournament of Champions at Caesars Palace, but not without a bit of grumbling from an unknown number of participants who qualified the hard way only to see several poker super stars get a free pass into the event.

The event is intended to showcase and market the World Series of Poker as a Harrah’s brand. There’s two million in prize money. Invitees (no buy-in is required) included those who had won or done well in a number of World Series tournaments or Circuit events.

But in this case one of the sponsors of the three-hour show to be seen on ESPN Dec. 24, wanted to boost the potential star power associated with its decision to invest several million.

The sponsor, a soft drink company, asked that certain members of poker’s elite be invited to play. Invitations were extended to Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth, poker luminaries who would not have otherwise qualified. Maybe even others, but those are the names I’m aware of.

The result: Some grumbling and even a few suggestions that the event be boycotted . . . most of this probably coming from poker players who are legends, at this point, only in their own minds.

There were 114 seats filled as play began with no sign anyone decided to stay away, which would have been silly, considering the cash involved.

Harrah’s expansion

Harrah’s may be ready to share details of its Atlantic City redevelopment plan by the end of the year, months before it finalizes plans for its dozens of undeveloped or under-developed acres in Las Vegas.

Plans for its real estate near Flamingo and the Strip are not expected to be announced before the middle of next year.

The reason: there’s a lot of land and so many possibilities.

There’s less real estate to work with in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk area. The focus on what’s necessary there has been sharper.

But in either case, Harrah’s CEO Gary Loveman says the idea is not to simply add more hotel rooms and casino footage, but to consider the broad range of bells and whistles customers might be expecting 10 years or more down the road.

In Las Vegas, this same thinking could even lead to a major sports stadium, a possibility that leans heavily on a variety of local interests.

Mandalay upgrades

There may be more news concerning expected capital spending at some of the former Mandalay resorts now owned by MGM.

At Excalibur, Luxor and Mandalay, the strategy will include driving occupancy with a mix of new and improved amenities and a proper mix of slots.

Toward this end, MGM has already added about 800 ticket-in-ticket-out machines and will replace another 1,200 with so-called TITO games by next year.

More in Macau?

MGM Mirage bosses would clearly like to go as far as they can in Macau.

Looking toward whatever the future might bring, President Jim Murren says, "We’re taking Macau one project at a time," but, "should the market demand another project, we certainly would like to have another one. "