Independent Pursuits: Poker

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The Independent Culture
IT IS good news for all card players that the Grosvenor Victoria in Edgware Road , London W2 has re-opened its card room. For the last three months of refurbishment, poker regulars have been denied their habitual fix. The room is now in the pink, and the staff are in dark green. There are four dealer-run tables and four player-dealt tables, but (as yet) no tournament play.

As before, the staple game is seven-card stud (50p ante) with a pounds 50 buy- in. This attracts a core of regular players from early afternoon to the small hours most nights. There is also Hold 'em with a pounds 50 or pounds 100 buy- in (the latter quite a big game) and pounds 100 seven-card stud. Any player who knows the run of these games can have a good night out. There is also the famous "millionaire's game", with a buy-in of pounds 1,000, which features alternate rounds of Omaha and low-ball. Quite a few players like to chance their luck at this high-action game, which is very exciting for those who can afford it.

It so happens that today sees the opening of the Bellagio in Las Vegas, the newest, most super-duper resort on the Strip. As with everything Steve Wynn does, the Bellagio is already the hot ticket in town. The question is: with 3,000 hotel rooms and $300m of Impressionist art on its walls, will it be a success?

While casino stocks in general are out of favour on Wall Street, the hype surrounding Bellagio is enormous. Older baby-boomers and younger retirees are Bellagio's target customers. Analysts note that Americans aged 45 to 64 have more wealth and earn larger incomes than the average US household.. Furthermore, this age group has time to spend on leisure travel. I predict that Bellagio's only problem will be that it gets too crowded.

There will be a high-roller poker room there, too. Doug Dalton, who ran the Mirage card room, is manager. "We feel certain that it is the most luxurious poker room in the world," Dalton told Card Player magazine. It is a 30-table room with six high-action games on a balcony. It will emphasise high-limit games, leaving lower limits to the Mirage. Everything has been planned to the last detail, including floor personnel on mobile phones for ease and speed of communication. And hey! there will be "zero tolerance" for improper behaviour. Hotel rates for players will be $99 a day and $129 at weekends.The contrast between the welcome reopening of the card room at the Vic and the new room at Bellagio is a bit poignant, n'est-ce pas?