The defending champ is coming back. So are the big crowds, the television cameras and $1 million in cash.
Caesars Palace will host the second annual Three Card Poker World Championship, Nov. 26-29 in Las Vegas. Shuffle Master, Inc., which oversees the tournament, expects more than 400 players from the U.S. and Canada to attend.
They will all be gunning for the 2005 winner, Bud Salmon of upstate New York. Salmon topped a field of 300 finalists at the Rio last year to win the $1 million first prize, along with a diamond bracelet and an entry into this year’s main event.
Shuffle Master says participation is running well ahead of last year’s pace.
"It’s really starting to take off," says Roger Snow, Shuffle Master’s director of game development. "Last year, 15 casinos qualified players for the Finals. This year, we expect more than 60 to participate."
Included in that mix are casinos in every major market.
Some players will win a seat in the main event by buying into and winning — or finishing near the top — of a regional qualifier. That’s what happened at Mohegan Sun, which is sending 18 players to Las Vegas after hosting a regional in May.
Other casinos planning regional tournaments include Turning Stone in New York, Imperial Palace in Biloxi, Mississippi, and the Flamingo in Laughlin.
"They really pack them in at these events," Snow says. "Mohegan had 300 people show up."
Some players will qualify for free. Silver Dollar Casinos in Washington, for example, will give anyone that receives a mini royal (AKQ suited) on Three Card Poker a complimentary seat in one of its 11 satellite tournaments. Each satellite winner will go to Las Vegas.
Harrah’s Rincon, Soboba and Pala Casino in Southern California, will qualify players in a similar fashion. So will the 21 casinos in British Columbia, giving the event its first international representation.
The four Great American casinos in Washington are offering this: Any Three Card Poker player that hits a mini royal in spades from July 1 to Sept. 30 wins a seat in the main event.
"Casinos are getting very creative with this," Snow says. "They see it as a great way to reward their players. Whether you buy your way in or win your way in, the Three Card Poker World Championship is a terrific event. I think this is just going to get bigger and bigger every year."