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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Poker and casino

Even casinos that folded their poker operations are getting back into the game. In Las Vegas, the Golden Nugget, Harrah's and the Imperial Palace have reopened poker rooms and the MGM Grand has plans to do so this spring.

With cable stations seemingly running games around the clock and poker stars becoming sports celebrities, jumping into the game might seem an easy business decision. After all, Nevada poker revenue is up 38 percent and the average table earns 67 percent more than a decade ago.

But, despite its popularity, the balance sheets show that poker remains a gamble. It steadily accounts for less than 1 percent of Nevada gaming revenue. With just five slot machines, a casino can match a poker table's earnings without paying a dealer or a support staff.

Indian casinos typically are not required to report table game revenues, but experts say the numbers are comparable.

Casinos are again offering poker for the same reason they build giant pyramids and exploding volcanos, hire go-go dancers and hand out complimentary meal tickets.

"It's not a profitable game," said Sylke Finnegan, spokeswoman for the Golden Nugget, which last year dealt its first poker hands in nearly two decades. "But they want the whole Las Vegas experience. They want to see a show and eat at some of the best restaurants in the world. Why not go to Las Vegas and play poker?"

Casino consultants have noticed the philosophical shift.