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G2E 2011: Gaming benefits from poker boom

The growth of gambling over the last 20 years has been remarkable, as the industry has transformed itself from a business of sin into a mainstream industry thanks largely to the growth of tribal casinos and state lotteries, panel participants at this week’s Global Gaming Expo said.

The gaming industry has also benefited from an unprecedented boom in poker — with still more growth coming, they said.

Although none of the poker room managers on a Global Gaming Expo panel would predict when online poker would be legalized, each expressed confidence that poker rooms will continue to generate millions of dollars in revenues for Las Vegas hotel-casinos.

"One thing we’ve seen is that they go out into the casino and play," Adam Altweis, manager of poker operations at Aria, which is owned by MGM Resorts International, said in a panel discussion on how poker rooms can increase casino revenues "They are spending a lot of money at (our) properties, especially in the restaurants."

Kathy Raymond, executive director of poker operations at The Venetian, said many casinos just look at poker room revenues without asking about the impact on the entire casino.

"It’s very important to make sure upper management know about the revenue generated by the poker room," she said. "It’s in the millions in terms of slot and table game play."

Panel moderator Matt Savage, executive tour director for the World Poker Tour, said the industry is dealing with the turmoil from the recent federal indictments and seizures of poker websites, including Poker Stars and Full Tilt Poker.

But turmoil online hasn’t quelled interest in live poker games.

"Too many people got into the industry just to make money," Savage said. "Time to get them out of the way. Poker is going to be strong and survive."

From August 2008 to February, the monthly poker win at Las Vegas casinos averaged $11.7 million, according to the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

"The challenge we faced is that (Aria) was new to the market," Altweis said. "We opened about two years ago and needed to get people in the door. It was very challenging but we made it work."

Altweis said action is the No. 1 thing any poker room needs to succeed, but customer service draws in people.

One issue they agreed on was the importance of tournaments in generating revenue.

"A lot of players just want to play a tournament and not a cash game," said Andy Rich, poker room manager for Caesars Entertainment Corp., which operates the World Series of Poker.

Rich said there is "room to make money" offering well-run tournaments. He noted that this year’s World Series of Poker had more than 400 tables.

"It’s going to grow to more than 500 tables next year," he said. "During this time with no Internet poker in the U.S., we have benefited."

Contact reporter Chris Sieroty at csieroty @reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893.

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