Another ‘nugget’ for the Golden boys

Apr 27, 2004 7:15 AM

The Golden Nugget has reopened its poker room and early indications suggest the casino has added an ace to its hand.

The 20-table room has been constructed above what had been the pool deck. Eric Drache, who has been engaged by the casino as its poker room consultant, said the enclosed space is big enough for about 192 seats.

During an interview in the packed room on Saturday afternoon, Drache said the opening was a rushed affair after the property’s new owners decided to take advantage of the excitement created by the World Series of Poker at the nearby Horseshoe. "The new owners (Tim Poster and Tom Breitling) wanted a poker room by early May," he said.

Cathleen McCall, 41, the room’s day shift manager, agreed with Drache about the room’s biggest problem up until now. "We opened very rushed," she said. "I was here literally from 8 a.m. to 11 every night because of the quick opening,’’ McCall said. As a result of the need to move quickly, "staffing was the biggest headache," she said. In terms of dealers, McCall estimated that "90 per cent are new, right out of school."

However, she said she has helped open poker rooms at The Mirage, Treasure Island, and Bellagio, and the team put together at the Golden Nugget "is one of the best I’ve worked with in poker."

Drache added that "dealers were our biggest worry (but) by the time your readers read this article, they (the dealers) will have (had) very good experience."

McCall suggests a number of reasons for the poker room’s favorable reviews from the players who have checked it out since it opened on April 20. The Las Vegas native said the players like the fact that the room has been constructed as a smoke-free environment and that there is a lot of space between tables and no noise from gambling machines.

She said that the players are attracted by the fact that the poker room is close to a restaurant, has convenient parking and allows any kind of game with any limit.

Drache, a native of Carlstadt, N.J., said he was a professional poker player when he came to Las Vegas for a weekend visit in 1970 and he has been here ever since. He said the Golden Nugget had a poker room when the casino opened in 1946 and kept it open until the newly opened Mirage claimed its staff in 1988.

Drache said after Bill Boyd had run the Golden Nugget’s poker room for 36 years, he took it over in 1982 and ran it until it closed.

While waiting for Larry Flynt, the founder of Hustler magazine, and Bob Stupak, the casino entrepreneur, to appear for a high stakes game, Drache said he expects the room to eventually be moved and downsized to about 15 tables in about six months.

Meanwhile, he is concerned over what might happen after the World Series people leave town at the end of May.

McCall said she is also concerned about whether people will keep coming downtown once the World Series of Poker is over. At that point, she said, "We’ll know where we end up."

She said Bellagio will remain the Golden Nugget’s poker room’s biggest competition until Wynn Las Vegas opens. "We’re not concerned about the Horseshoe after the World Series," she said.