The Hollywood Poker Open at the M Resort this weekend is not about competing with the World Series of Poker.
The event guarantees participants a prize pool of $500,000 — not much when compared with standards set by World Series of Poker, which is more than halfway through its six-week run at the Rio.
For Penn National Gaming, which is sponsoring the Hollywood tournament, the competition helps solidify the company’s standing in the growing regional casino poker market.
The tournament, which runs Friday through Sunday, is named after Penn National’s primary casino brand, Hollywood. Players qualified for seats at the $2,500 buy-in no limit hold’em event through satellites at the company’s Hollywood properties and the M Resort.
Penn National Senior Vice President of Regional Operations Jay Snowden said the timing of the tournament, which includes other events and satellite tournaments throughout the weekend, might attract poker players in town for the World Series of Poker.
Snowden said the marquee event has already qualified more than 200 players. The M Resort’s convention facility, which will serve as the poker room, can house a field of 500 players. A sellout would push the prize pool to $1.25 million.
“Any walk-up business adds to the pool, which we have already guaranteed at $500,000,” Snowden said. “The timing of the event does accommodate anyone here for the World Series of Poker to take part.”
Penn National, which is headquartered in Wyomissing, Pa., operates 29 casinos and racetrack casinos in 19 states and provinces. The company took full control of the M Resort in June 2011 and has been working to introduce the hotel-casino to its customer base.
The Hollywood Poker Open is one way to give M Resort additional exposure.
Regional qualifying events were held at all of Penn National’s Hollywood casinos, including properties in Columbus and Toledo, Ohio, Lawrenceburg, Ind., St. Louis and the company’s flagship property is Charles Town, W.Va., which has a 50-table poker room.
Local tournaments and seat give-aways were conducted at all Penn National properties. It was up to the individual properties if players were given rooms and other travel arrangements to Las Vegas.
With just 390 hotel rooms, however, some out-of-town players will have to make accommodations at other Las Vegas resorts.
“That’s why this is being held in timing with the World Series of Poker,” Snowden said. “A lot of our customers are in town for the tournament. Many of our best poker players will already be here.”
Penn’s Hollywood casinos have some the largest poker rooms in the east and Midwest gaming markets. In addition to Charles Town, the Columbus and Toledo Hollywood casinos have 30-table poker rooms while the Hollywood St. Louis — which was formerly operated by Caesars Entertainment as Harrah’s brand casino — has a 20-table poker room. M Resort has a 14-table poker room.
“Poker is an important product in the regional market, so we’re excited to get so many qualifiers in our first event,” Snowden said.
Players who reach the final table will receive commemorative jackets.
The tournament will be held in the M Resort’s 27,000-square-foot convention facility, which was added in 2012. The tournament has been promoted for the last month throughout M Resort.
Snowden got a taste of what a successful poker event can mean to a resort during the 12 years he served as an executive with Caesars Entertainment (formerly Harrah’s), which owns the World Series of Poker.
Snowden grew up in Las Vegas and attended Harvard University, playing quarterback for a season with the Ivy League school’s football team. His mother was a poker dealer for 20 years at several Strip and downtown resorts.
With Penn National, Snowden has responsibility for six of the company’s hotel-casinos.
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.