Poker champ to rise from obscurity

Jul 17, 2007 3:34 AM

The final two or three tables at the World Series of Poker’s main event brought to mind a lot of adjective phrases.

Star-studded was not one of them.

Most of the players in this group could walk into casinos anywhere and not rate as much as a nod of recognition from anyone except friends and family members.

Bluff Magazine’s Player of the year Chad Brown put his finger on the issue. "That’s what happens," he told me, "When you start with an enormous number of people (6,358), many of whom play mostly on the Internet or card rooms other than those in Las Vegas."

Brown did all right for himself making it into the top 100 — he was 97th. What was his secret?

He grinned, "I paid close attention to the stuff in my new book. That stuff really works."

Brown also tied for the most cashes at this year’s World Series, finishing in the money eight times.

But the lack of famous faces among the top finishers was frustrating to some Series officials who would have liked a final table or two that did not require, well, so much explaining. "It’s just like last year," one of them groaned, "a big crowd of nobodies."

Another of the WSOP insiders striving Sunday for a note of optimism, said, "I’m sure there are some good stories among them. It’s just that we haven’t heard them yet."

Which may explain why some World Series officials were privately rooting for 1998 main event winner Scotty Nguyen to make it to the final table. He was among the final two-dozen playing for a seat at the final table Sunday before everyone took a day off in preparation for the final table action.

ESPN agreed to present the last day as a pay per view event. The programming will be aired with a two-minute delay beginning at noon Tuesday.

Home viewers were not getting looks at the hole cards, but the network loaded up the project with commentary and features such as one about the three main event wins of the later Stu Ungar. During Ungar’s last win in 1997 he played heads-up against John Strzemp who is now chief financial officer with Wynn Las Vegas. Strzemp was interviewed for his memories of that afternoon when he dueled Ungar.

Gotta have a Hilton
in Las Vegas

Will the private equity strategists at Blackstone complement their proposed purchase of Hilton Hotels by also going after casino resorts that already bear the Hilton name in Las Vegas and Atlantic City?

Blackstone and its advisors have not offered any clues about the direction of their thinking. There was no immediate sign that Blackstone has hired Las Vegas lawyers as a first step toward such a possibility, but the idea makes sense to several Las Vegas executives who volunteered their opinions.

What’s a big multi-national package of hotel brands if it cannot offer travelers first class accommodations in either Atlantic City or Las Vegas, particularly the latter?

Barron Hilton has always told anyone who asked that the Las Vegas Hilton is his favorite property. He first told me that years ago during a party at the Hilton-owned Hawaiian Village complex in Honolulu. Even after Bally Entertainment, which resulted from a spin-off of the Hilton gaming properties, acquired Caesars Palace, Barron Hilton maintained his office at the LVH.

Cashing in on the
Las Vegas Strip

There are "signs" that the presence of some private equity groups in the casino business may not be as long term as spokesmen for the groups have previously suggested.

The expectation that some investing groups would own casino companies for a matter of years may become a matter of months. The signs of interest among prospective buyers who realize the best real estate is going, going, gone point in this direction.

The view comes from a senior industry official who spoke with the promise of anonymity since he was offering views that involve several different companies. The most important factor at work in such possibilities, he said, is the rapidly escalating price of property along the Las Vegas Strip corridor.

"Almost no one anticipated some of what we have seen in terms of the prices that some groups have been willing to for real estate.