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WSOP seeks boost in TV ratings

May 6, 2008 7:00 PM

Gaming Insider by Phil Hevener | Televised poker is in trouble; it needs the rejuvenating shot in the arm Harrah’s hopes to administer with the decision to delay the final table action at the World Series of Poker’s main event some four months before playing and airing it Nov. 11-12.

Recent television ratings for both World Series and World Poker Tour events have slipped from highs of years past. Much of that has to do with the fact that the tournaments seen on television are aired months after the action has been completed. Most of the people who care are well aware of who the winners were. There is no suspense.

There is no shortage of Internet and print media outlets for tournament results.

Playing the final table and then watching the action on national television hours rather than weeks later – complete with the usual display of hole cards – will provide the basis for a must-see event. At least that’s the hope of Harrah’s and its television partner ESPN.

A World Series insider who spoke only with the promise of anonymity says the good ratings that the best televised poker events could take for granted several years ago have faded.

"Harrah’s and ESPN," he said, need to give it a shot in the arm. Without a boost there will not be any of the sponsors handing out big money to the players who wear their logos.

Before Harrah’s renegotiated the television contract that it acquired when it bought rights to the World Series in 2004, ESPN was paying the Horseshoe less than a hundred thousand a year to televise it.

Televised poker has achieved phenomenal growth since then, but that growth is threatened without a fresh shot of interest.

We’ll see if this is the right prescription.

Viva Fertittas!

That announcement by the billionaire Fertitta brothers of their plans for a $10 billion venture rising head and shoulders above anything now on the Las Vegas Strip resembled a carefully arranged display more than it did a genuine news announcement.

Bigger than CityCenter, bigger than anything Steve Wynn, Boyd Gaming or Harrah’s has dared to discuss – that’s what Frank and Lorenzo have in mind for Viva on more than 100 acres on Tropicana just west of I-15.

Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta III long ago earned the right to talk in expansive terms. Their Station Casinos company has accomplished big things across the Las Vegas area.

Considering that the first glimpse of Viva came during a month when the Fertittas were featured on the cover of Forbes as the owners of the Ultimate Fighting Championship franchise, brothers who got their start in the casino company founded by their father, this description of what may take place over "many years" had the flavor of an effort to put their company and its possibilities on display.

There’s a lot to look at.

A story in the Las Vegas Sun, a subsidiary of the Fertittas’ joint venture partner in at least two Las Vegas casino ventures, ticked off Station’s real estate holdings … enough land to build several CityCenters.

Station only recently went private but the realization of what’s out there in the distance could be enough to whet the appetite of a potential buyer, maybe even drive interest when the company goes public again.

All you’ve got to do is believe that Las Vegas five or 10 years from now will still be the "entertainment capital of the world."

That may be asking a lot during a time when home foreclosures, layoffs and the specter of a 44 percent rise in Nevada gaming taxes are commanding so much attention and feeding the pessimism that some analysts feel as they assess the Las Vegas scene.

But the Fertittas are peering beyond pessimism, their way of perhaps saying, "Viva Las Vegas."

Boyd shelves Florida

Boyd Gaming has put Florida back on the shelf.

Here’s a bit of what Boyd officials had to say about that decision during their recent quarterly discussion on the state of the company and its plans:

"Our decision to postpone the development is based on numerous factors, including the introduction of expanded gaming at a nearby Native American casino, the potential for additional casino gaming venues in Florida, and the existing Broward County pari-mutuel casinos performing below our expectations for the market."

In the meantime, the Seminoles who own two Hard Rock casinos are running ads that hype the fact their casinos are "going Las Vegas."

Class III or Vegas style slots were introduced at their Hard Rock near Hollywood on the lower east coast several months ago. More than 700 of the same slots were also put into action last week at the Hard Rock just east of Tampa on the west coast. This came even as proponents and opponents of expanded gaming await court rulings that challenged Gov. Charlie Crist’s right to offer the Seminoles more gaming without action by the legislature where expansion is opposed by both houses of the heavily Republican controlled body of lawmakers.

A Senate proposal that would have put gaming devices at pari-mutuel facilities (jai alai frontons and horse and dog tracks) other than those in Broward and Miami Dade counties where they now operate never got out of the Senate where it was introduced.

House Speaker Marco Rubio was true to his word that he would not allow passage of a gaming bill. The result, Florida lawmakers went home May 2, after cutting some five billion dollars from spending projections to bring the new budget in line with depressed revenue forecasts.