Poker

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The World Series of Poker, now in full swing at Binion's Horseshoe in Las Vegas, gets bigger and better every year. This is not just down to chance, nor is it an automatic reflection of the Vegas boom. It is mainly thanks to Jack Binion, who owns and runs the Horseshoe, and has put his personal stamp on the World Series. The Horseshoe is the source and inspiration of the modern game. Its reputation as the arbiter of standards (rather like the Marquess of Queensberry rules used to be cited for boxing) extends far beyond Nevada.

But the Horseshoe is more than the home of poker. The casino can also be admired as champion of the Old West. It represents the traditional style of casino gambling, whose modern version is shown by the cloud-capped palaces, uptown. Jack Binion continues to run the Horseshoe the way it was, which is gamblin', straight down the line. Millionaire or tourist, it makes no difference - Swig a beer, cowboy, 'n git your silver dollars down. Nowadays, there is a distraction just outside the casino doors on Fremont Street, in the shape of the new sound-and-light show (free to any bystander). Well worth a couple of minutes' gaze, away from the tables.

Las Vegas has just released performance figures for the past decade. They make any business other than gambling, and any other city in America, look like midgets. Vegas' progress can be summarised in one fantastic table showing how much money was spent by visitors to the Vegas area. In 1987 the figure was $8.6bn, which rose every year to $22.5bn in 1996. Visitor projection for 1997 is 32 million, a rise of 8 per cent - I am glad I can add myself to that number this week. So long as the American people want to gamble, as they do, the Horseshoe will keep its place as the "must-see" saloon downtown. For poker players, the World Series is the high point of the year, a celebration, a reunion, an almighty day- and-night challenge of skill. Jack Binion, on occasion, will step out of his proprietorial role and play a hand of cards himself. Better have the nuts if you meet him at the table.

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