Poker: Money talks louder than Hall of Fame

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A TREMOR ran through the professional poker circuit when the management of Binion's Horseshoe in Las Vegas abruptly announced it was cancelling the Hall of Fame tournament, set for October. Why drop it? This event, second only to the World Series of poker held in May, celebrates a month of high stakes jousting, which overflows the whole of 'glitter gulch', attracting gamblers from far and wide.

Binion's Horseshoe is to poker what Wimbledon is to tennis. The casino on Fremont Street, with its huge wall of lights flashing a come-on to gamblers all over town, visible even from airplanes, is the original no-frills, no-limit, grind joint. This, if you want it, is where the action is. If the Hall of Fame is over and done with, can the World Series itself be safe?

As usual, the answer is to be found on the bottom line. To stage a poker tournament like the Hall of Fame, the casino needs to clear a space for at least 50 tables, a space otherwise filled wall to wall with slot machines. Slots go on earning big bucks day and night, never answer back or report sick, and above all do not binge on free drinks and meals, as poker players do. The Hall of Fame event was costing Binion's around dollars 3m (pounds 2m).

Casino owner Jack Binion has always backed the World Series, never missing his time-honoured opening line: 'Shuffle up and deal.' Renowned as one of the toughest operators in the business, his fondness for poker does not preclude a hard- headed calculation that the Horseshoe can reap nearly all the publicity and promotion it already enjoys from staging the World Series, without duplicating the event.

So, no more 'comps' (complimentaries) to all the freeloading poker players who swarm around the Hall of Fame in October like other folk spend the winter in Palm Beach.

The World Series, according to cardroom manager Jim Albrecht, will continue as the premier poker event, bigger and better than ever. He promises that next year, which marks its 25th anniversary, will be a special celebration. Certainly if Binion's ever had second thoughts about the World Series, there will be no lack of promoters ready to stage the event in another venue. Poker has become a very useful earner in the casino game.

This October, for example, there are two 'poker cruises' in the Caribbean, plus big money events in Los Angeles and daily action in Vegas, while here in Europe, major tournaments are being held in Innsbruck and London. Hall of Fame? Shame.