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Hellmuth all the rage at poker’s main event

The poker community is abuzz over what some believe was special treatment Harrah’s Entertainment officials gave superstar Phil Hellmuth during the World Series of Poker’s main event.

Hellmuth, the 1989 champion, owns a record 11 individual title bracelets, has won money in a record 68 events and has more than $6 million in career World Series of Poker winnings.

But he has also earned the nickname “Poker Brat” for his antics at the table.

Toward the end of play July 12, Hellmuth, sitting at the ESPN feature table, was bluffed out of a $400,000 pot by tournament unknown Cristian Dragomir of Romania. An annoyed Hellmuth verbally berated Dragomir for several minutes, calling him “an idiot” and the “worst player in history.”

The tournament supervisor assessed Hellmuth a one-orbit penalty at the start of play the next day, meaning Hellmuth would sit out the action for nine hands, losing both antes and blinds.

The next morning, after meeting with Harrah’s executives, the penalty was deemed excessive. Hellmuth was given a warning.

“Warnings and penalties are intended to correct inappropriate behavior,” World Series of Poker Commissioner Jeffrey Pollack said in a statement. “Our rulings should be as fair as possible, given the circumstances.”

Pollack, tournament director Jack Effel and Harrah’s Vice President Howard Greenbaum said Hellmuth apologized.

“In this instance, the punishment did not fit the crime,” Pollack said. “Phil has now been warned and put on notice in a way that he never has been.”

That didn’t satisfy the poker community, which lit up message boards and blogs in the following days. The universal belief was Hellmuth, because of his notoriety and influence, was treated differently than the average player.

“It’s sad that Phil’s whining behavior has paid off for him here,” one player wrote on the twoplustwo.com message board. “It’s like people don’t know how to deal with him. Give him his freaking timeout and let it be that. Someone has to play the parental role.”

Hellmuth placed 45th in the main event, winning $154,400.

***

Shares of MGM Mirage are at their lowest level in three years, but Jefferies & Co. gaming analyst Larry Klatzkin has not abandoned the casino operator. After meeting with company management, he didn’t back off from a $102 per share price target. MGM Mirage closed Friday at $26, falling as low as $21.65 Tuesday.

“Management was transparent on their outlook for the short and long term,” Klatzkin said. “MGM is significantly undervalued at this time.”

Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Sundays. E-mail him at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or call 702-477-3871.

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