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Poker News | Casino Poker | Tournament Reports

Brick and Mortar industry leaders respond to the UIGEA

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While some legislators from casino-heavy states like Nevada's Harry Reid speak out against online gambling, leaders in the brick and mortar casino industry have weighed in on the side of internet poker, as it relates to the increase in live tournament poker. Jack McClelland is one of the most well-known tournament directors in the business, and is currently the poker tournament director for the Bellagio. In a recent interview with the Las Vegas Sun, McClelland told Sun columnist Jeff Haney how he felt the UIGEA could be detrimental in the long term to the casinos' business.

"I always say I hope (Internet poker) stays up, because I think it helps us a lot," McClelland said at the recent G2E Conference in Las Vegas. "Once (online players) come into our casinos, they like the personal attention, the camaraderie, the interaction.

"What concerns me is that if the Internet (poker) goes completely down, then these people will find other interests."

While traditional casinos have often been seen as a rival of internet gaming sites, McClelland takes a longer view, realizing that games can be offered online that are simply not cost-effective for casinos to spread. "It's better for the brick-and-mortars if (Internet poker) continues," McClelland said. "At Bellagio, we can't run $5 (buy-in) satellites to get into $100 satellites to get into $1,000 tournaments. It's just too cost-prohibitive, whereas they can do that on the Internet.

"The rock-star mentality is what's made poker shoot up like it has in the last few years - you know, for $40 you can go into a half-million-dollar tournament, become a Chris Moneymaker, or you can be on TV, just by winning a $25 seat on the Internet. That's the big draw."

McClelland realizes that the short-term implications for casinos like the Bellagio may be favorable, but in the long run cutting off the influx of new internet players to casinos can be harmful. "If (Internet poker) does go down, in the short term we're going to have more people coming in to play," McClelland said. "And then we're just going to figure out how to take advantage of it." Many casinos have built, remodeled or expanded poker rooms since the "Moneymaker Series," but without the recurring crop of new internet players that want to try their hand at live casino poker, where will the growth of the industry come from?

Bellagio director of poker operations Doug Dalton has seen the growth of poker through the WSOP and WPT tournaments, and understands that a large percentage of the new and casual participants in these events are internet qualifiers, whose presence may be limited by the new law. "The customer that's at risk here is the customer who's going to pay anywhere from $40 to $100 to play a satellite online," Dalton said. "That's the big online attraction: to be able to get in these satellites, win a seat in a big poker tournament, come in and hopefully it's your week and you're going to win a million dollars.

"That customer is going to do one of two things - step up and pay more money, pay $500 or $1,000 for a (brick-and-mortar) satellite, or just not play anymore. That's what we're going to find out, and only time will tell."
In an interesting corollary to that idea, has set the line for total number of entrants in the 2007 WSOP Main Event , giving internet gamblers the opportunity to wager on how many people will vie for poker's biggest prize. In a fascinating move, the favorite (at 6-1) is a number between 5,000 and 5,499 entrants. If the odds makers at are correct, this would be a huge decrease in field size from 2006, when over 8,700 players put down their $10,000 entry fee to play for a $12 million first prize.

This projected decrease is directly related to the lack or reduction in numbers of internet qualifiers. More than 25% of the field at last year's 2006 WSOP Main Event qualified online, with 1,600 coming from Pokerstars alone. The elimination of third-party registrations by Harrah's and some sites decision not to offer qualifiers to US land-based tournaments will have a chilling effect on the number of entrants. How great an effect remains to be seen, but it's worth 18-1 on your money if you wager correctly on a return to Raymer-esque numbers.

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