Friday, February 22, 2002
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

Bellagio to host poker series

New event seen as effort to move in on Binion's business


In a move one gambling industry expert sees as a direct shot at the primacy of the annual World Series of Poker tournament, Bellagio executives Thursday announced plans to hold a series of nine big-money tournaments this year.

The poker events are designed to tap into the growing business of tournament poker, Bellagio's director of poker operations, Doug Dalton, said Thursday.

Entry fees for the individual events at each of the tourneys will range between $3,000 and $10,000, Dalton said, noting that Bellagio executives are considering whether to host an event with a buy-in of $25,000 or more.

The first tournament is scheduled for April 17-19, and each event will cost $3,000 to enter. The second tournament is slated for the end of May, with those events costing $10,000.

World Series of Poker events begin April 20 and run through May 24 at downtown's Binion's Horseshoe. World Series entry fees range from $1,000 to $10,000.

Dalton said the new events are not targeting the Horseshoe's business.

"We wanted to get into the tournament business, and we saw that there was a niche that just hasn't been found," Dalton said, referring to the plan to have a number of brief, expensive tournaments rather than the five weeks of back-to-back tourneys offered by the World Series of Poker.

"We're going to be as creative as we can, trying to make these events a little more elegant than anything that's been done before."

The Bellagio move is aimed straight at the World Series and Binion's Horseshoe, said Anthony Curtis, publisher of the Las Vegas Advisor consumer newsletter.

"It's obvious they want the Horseshoe's business," Curtis said. "Binion's was for a long time synonymous with poker, with the city's best poker room and the world's biggest tournament. Now Bellagio has the city's most important room, but Binion's still has the World Series."

Curtis said that the Horseshoe's reported financial troubles, including a continuing legal battle with the Fremont Street Experience over $1.9 million in unpaid fees the pedestrian mall claims the casino owes, may have prompted Bellagio's move.

"Does Bellagio have the clout to unseat Binion's?" he asked. "This is the time to find out, while Binion's is being (financially) squeezed. Bellagio wants to be king of the poker hill; they want the whole package."

Binion's Horseshoe owner Becky Behnen Binion did not return a Thursday phone message.

Last year's 613-player, $10,000-entry World Series championship field topped the prior record field by almost 20 percent.

The 25 events garnered more than 6,000 entrants and generated almost $18 million in prizes, easily breaking records set in 2000.

Bellagio's Dalton said he wants the World Series to thrive despite the new competition.

"We wish the World Series the best of luck, but this (announcement) is about Bellagio. We're doing something on our own."

Two prominent poker industry insiders said there is room for both Binion's and Bellagio to hold high-stakes poker events.

"This is new and exciting," said Linda Johnson, co-owner of Las Vegas-based Card Player Cruises. "I don't see this as a shot at the World Series. I think they see this as a way to get into tournament poker."

Poker Digest magazine's Phil Field, director of sales and marketing, said the recent rampant growth of the tournament business was a strong lure.

"I don't know how successful (Bellagio will) be," he said, "but there are a growing number of hotels interested in hosting tournaments."

This story is located at: