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DOT-COMS GET DEALT OUT

Losing a block of your largest exhibitors might spell doom for most trade shows.

Officials with the Gaming Life Expo, operated in conjunction with Harrah’s Entertainment-owned World Series of Poker, believe otherwise.

With most of the major Internet poker gambling sites not welcome at the upcoming World Series of Poker, Rio executives switched the theme of the four-day show, scheduled for July 5-8 at the Rio Pavilion, from gambling to men’s lifestyle.

“To be frank, it was a transition we were planning,” said David Koloski, the Rio’s marketing director who oversees the expo. The show is free and open to the public, but guests must be at least 21 to enter.

“We saw in the past two years that roughly 80 percent of our audience was male,” Koloski said. “We began to make the push to switch the event to exhibitors that cater toward a men’s lifestyle.”

Expansive booths operated by Internet poker sites such as PokerStars, Bodog, Full Tilt, Paradise Poker, and Ultimate Bet, were the highlights of the expo and main drivers of an

estimated 100,000 people visiting the show each of the past two years.

Some of the more well-known professional poker players and past World Poker champions helped bring fans into the booths. But provocatively dressed female models were the other draw. Last year, Bodog offered poker fans a chance to pose in bed with lingerie-clad models who were participating in pillow fights.

Harrah’s is not allowing affiliates associated with Internet poker Web sites that still accept wagers from Americans to participate in this year’s World Series of Poker. Instead, the booth space inside the 55,000-square-foot Rio Pavilion will be filled by golfing exhibits, race car simulators, alcoholic beverage firms, a working tattoo parlor and an indoor beach volleyball court that will include an all-female tournament.

Koloski said ancillary gambling products will still have a place at the expo, but the show is heading more toward the area of men’s lifestyle.

“We had several inquiries from major businesses and products, which allowed us to move away from the gaming stuff somewhat,” Koloski said. “If someone wants to promote a poker book or a player training academy, they can still lease booth space. Obviously, the show will be a little different and won’t be as crazy as it was. We think it will be a little more high-end.”

The Rio has room for 200 booths and Koloski expects the exhibit space to sell out. A 10-foot-by-10-foot booth two years ago leased for $2,000. This year’s show has the same space leasing for $2,500, Koloski said.

While the expo operates in conjunction with the 38th World Series of Poker, scheduled to run June 1 through July 17 with 55 events, it is not affiliated with the tournament. The expo will take place during the media-celebrity event and the first three days of the World Series of Poker’s main event, the $10,000 buy-in no limit Texas hold’em World Championship. The four days are expected to have the tournament’s highest attendance.

Because of the ban on Internet gambling that was approved by Congress and signed by President Bush last year, Harrah’s decided to limit the presence of poker dot-coms at the World Series.

“It’s pretty simple. We can not be in business with Internet sites that accept wagering business from U.S. residents,” World Series of Poker Communications Director Gary Thompson said. “Whatever the expo wants to do is their business, but you’re probably not going to see the (Internet poker) presence like you have in the past.”

Most on the Internet poker sites also leased out convention area breakout rooms for elaborate player lounges and hospitality suites. Thompson said that aspect will also be missing.

Internet poker gambling sites that don’t accept wagers from American customers, such as Ladbrokes, may still lease a hospitality suite.

“They will want to do something for their customers, but it will probably be pretty small,” Thompson said.

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