Series still in cards at Horseshoe

Las Vegas poker players and fans as well as those out-of-towners conditioned to an annual springtime pilgrimage to the granddaddy of poker tournaments can rest easier about the future of the World Series of Poker.

Harrah’s Entertainment executives on Thursday confirmed their intent to keep the event in Las Vegas this year, at its regular Binion’s Horseshoe location, after they announced a definitive agreement to buy the troubled downtown hotel-casino for an estimated 50 million USD in assumed liabilities.

Harrah’s intends to reopen the property as soon as it can evaluate operating requirements and get the necessary regulatory approvals.

On Friday, Harrah’s spokesman Gary Thompson said company Chief Executive Officer Gary Loveman has no plans to take the poker tournament out of Las Vegas in future years.

„Gary Loveman indicated yesterday that the World Series of Poker will always be in Las Vegas,“ said Thompson.

The first tournament of this year’s World Series of Poker is slated to begin April 22, the $ 500 buy-in, casino employees no-limit Texas hold’em tournament.

Thirty more events with buy-ins ranging between 1,000 USD and 5,000 USD are scheduled to follow before the 10,000 USD buy-in, no-limit Texas hold’em championship event starts May 22.

Former World Series of Poker tournament director Bob Thompson, who ran the event for a couple of years after Becky Binion Behnen took over the property from brother Jack Binion in 1998, said Friday that Harrah’s apparent plan to keep the poker tournament in Las Vegas is a sound one.

„I can’t see any reason for them to move it anywhere else,“ said Bob Thompson, known for his Western wear and his dry sense of humor as he announces the tournament’s final tables. „I think the World Series belongs in Las Vegas.“

Bob Thompson said he believes Harrah’s has the resources to allow the tournament to grow to accommodate the current boom in poker.

„Poker’s going absolutely crazy, with record fields shattering past numbers at almost every event,“ he said. „The World Series will get over 1,000 entrants this year (in its championship event), no question about it.“

Last year’s event drew 839, shattering past marks, and paid the winner a whopping $ 2.5 million.

Harrah’s Thompson said his company is eager to capitalize on the popularity of poker beyond Las Vegas and is studying expansion of existing poker rooms it runs at properties around the nation as well as introducing the game to some of its other casinos.

Poker industry insiders suggest that Harrah’s could use its World Series of Poker event as a way to build cross-property visitation, offering contests at its far-flung casinos with World Series of Poker entries and vacation packages offered as prizes.

Distant Harrah’s properties could run satellite tournaments year-round, feeding even more entrants to its yearly Las Vegas event, experts suggest.

Harrah’s Thompson said it’s too early to say what the company will do with the tournament next year and after.

„We want to talk to the people in the poker community at this year’s World Series, the players and the past champions and others, and see what they want,“ he said. „The people in the poker community will be our customers, and Harrah’s prides itself on knowing what its customers want, and providing it.“

Along with the rights to the Horseshoe brand name in Nevada, the rights to the World Series of Poker was key to Harrah’s decision to buy the 52-year-old downtown landmark.

Former Binion’s Horseshoe owner Becky Binion Behnen had agreed to allow ESPN to tape the World Series for broadcast, and Harrah’s Thompson said the casino operator has talked with the cable sports network about plans to film this year’s event.

„We know that ESPN wants to do it,“ he said.

The Harrah’s spokesman said no decision has been made about who will run the tournament, suggesting that a new property general manager or Harrah’s Western Division President Tom Jenkin may name a tournament director after the property reopens.

Gary Thompson also said the reopened Horseshoe will retain its Binion’s Horseshoe name, but he didn’t know whether the tournament would be renamed the „Harrah’s World Series of Poker.“

New Golden Nugget co-owners Tim Poster and Tom Breitling said Friday that they’re encouraged by Harrah’s purchase of the Horseshoe and its plans to keep the poker tournament downtown, at least for this year.

The duo told Nevada gaming regulators that poker has a big role in their plans to restake a premier market position for their Golden Nugget brand.