World Series could see some tweaking

Apr 8, 2008 7:00 PM

Gaming Insider by Phil Hevener | The World Series of Poker may include a new twist or two when it begins at the Rio on May 30, but it is widely believed the softening national economy will limit the domestic turnout for many of the tournaments associated with poker’s biggest annual party.

"The economy seems to be a factor," said a source with a good view of the poker scene who spoke with the promise of anonymity because he is not part of the Harrah’s administration. "I’ve noticed that the number of registrations in most of the tournaments is about 10 percent less than a year ago."

But international participation may see an increase this year. Whatever the final figure is, it will probably be driven by at least two factors that have fueled interest in big time poker.

Among them: Internet poker is thriving in many countries beyond U.S. shores. But in the case of the World Series, the savvy marketing techniques of Harrah’s Entertainment, which owns the World Series have also been a factor.

Harrah’s took poker’s best-known event to London late last year when it held the first World Series Europe with the Harrah’s-owned London Clubs International acting as the host. The main event there was won by an 18-year-old Norwegian girl who honed her poker skills on the Internet.

And she is still a couple years away, at this point, from being able to sit down at a Las Vegas table.

Poker pro Annie Duke says, "I was impressed with her skill but I’m not surprised this is happening. An Internet player can see thousands of hands in no time at all. Players in live games would need years to get that kind of experience."

Whatever the entry total is at the main event in Las Vegas, it will owe a lot to the continuing commitment of ESPN to upgrade its television coverage.

Which brings us to one of this year’s possible new twists.

No one was talking officially about it yet, but ESPN and Harrah’s are known to have been discussing the feasibility of airing the final table of the no limit hold’em main event on some kind of tape delay basis that would have it on the air in a matter of hours rather than weeks or months.

No casino company has worked more diligently than Harrah’s to successfully utilize poker as a worldwide marketing tool for casino marketing purposes.

As it nears 40 years of age, the World Series continues to be an event worth showcasing. Former director Eric Drache’s wry approach to describing its significance put it this way: "The World Series is the beginning and end of the fiscal year for a lot of poker players."

CityCenter first for server slots?

MGM’s CityCenter is expected to be the source of the first big order for the downloadable slots or server-based gaming IGT has been testing at Treasure Island.

The first generation technology that was tested at the TI is now available for sale anywhere, but most casinos are said to be waiting for the next generation games.

The announcement of a big first order is expected soon, according to a well-connected source familiar with the situation.

The first elements of the CityCenter project are not expected to open for more than a year, but CityCenter President Bill McBeath has previously spoken highly of the potential downloadable games have for "changing the dynamics of a casino floor."

Nightclub concept needs fixing

Think of the Las Vegas Strip as a research center that creates and refines advanced entertainment concepts for export around the world to consumers with an appetite for the newest in entertaining experiences, whatever the cost.

The best known of these made in Las Vegas concepts is the something-for-everyone full service gaming resort, places that changed thinking about what an experience with a capital "E" could be.

The Mirage and Caesars Palace are two good examples. Add-ons or flourishes such as the latest in nightclubs have become essential parts of the mix during recent years.

All of which brings us to the fact that it is occasionally necessary to recall a concept for a bit of timely tinkering.

The ongoing review of nightclub operations at some of the Las Vegas Strip’s most popular destinations may produce big changes such as the resorts maybe deciding to operate their own clubs. Nothing has been set in concrete yet, far from it, but the possibilities are obvious.

MGM Mirage President Jim Murren concedes that the model for nightclub operations is a continually evolving process. Let’s see, he said recently, what comes of an on-going internal audit.

The grumbling touched off by the IRS visit to the offices of Pure Management with criminal subpoenas in hands put furrows on the brows of executives and local officials who know the importance of the gaming and entertainment biz maintaining a stain-free image.

On the other hand, none of the stories of recent weeks would have been written were there not long lines of deep-pocketed consumers in search of a good time spending whatever it took to gain entrance to the most popular clubs.

This kind of thing can attract a lot of attention and attention is not necessarily bad news in the entertainment business.