Rival casinos raise the ante for poker tourneys

Feb 26, 2002 9:18 AM

High-stakes poker players will get a double shot this spring when the Bellagio tacks its new tournament onto Binion’s annual World Series.

The Bellagio will host a $10,000 buy-in tourney May 27-31. That follows Binion’s championship event, which runs May 20-24.

Bellagio’s entry was prompted in part by poker’s exploding popularity ”” and by Binion’s problems. Last year’s World Series, while attracting record play, was bedeviled by controversy over dealer tip pools. Twelve tourney workers have sued the downtown for $540,000 in tips they claim was improperly distributed.

But Binion’s poker coordinator Brian Dziminski said the tip tiff has been ironed out. “We’re going back to the old way where the players decide. Nothing will be taken out (of the pot),’’ he said.

In addition, this year’s Binion’s tourney will feature a few new wrinkles, including a hearts tournament, a gin tournament and a match play series for former World Series winners featuring one-on-one play in a no-limit hold’em format. Of the some 300 winners, nearly 100 are expected to play.

“We also may replace the media tournament with a celebrity tournament,’’ Dziminski told GamingToday. He said “some big names” have been lined up to pair with professional players.

The championship round, like Bellagio’s, will continue to carry an entry fee of  $10,000. Both tourneys will be smoke-free ”” a breath of fresh air for non-puffing players.

To prime the pump for downtown, Dziminski said Binion’s is setting up dozens of satellite tournaments across the country, and worldwide. Last year, Binion’s 25 poker events attracted more than 6,000 entrants and produced nearly $18 million in prizes ”” both records.

Barry Shulman, editor of Card Player magazine, welcomed the Bellagio’s entry, saying, “Everything the Bellagio does is first class.’’ But Shulman said the new tourney shouldn’t pose a threat to Binion’s.

“The Bellagio is looking for high-end players and they’ll bring in new faces. It doesn’t compete, it’s complementary,’’ he said.