Imagine sitting around at a sports bar and noticing that Bart Starr just walked in. Many people might not recognize him, but if you knew anything about football history, you’d be impressed.
That’s what it was like Thursday night in the poker room at The Wynn when I looked up and saw Amarillo Slim checking out the action in the room.
Slim is one of those legends who I remember seeing on the Carson show, telling stories about poker and gambling on all sorts of things. His name isn’t as well known as the poker stars of today, because he’s not in the big televised tournaments, but he’s in the Doyle Brunson wing of the Poker Hall of Fame. Three decades ago, long before you could find a legitimate card room in virtually every state, Doyle and Slim used to travel around the country playing poker anywhere they could find a game. And he was good at it, too, winning four WSOP bracelets, beginning in 1972.
Unfortunately, he didn’t sit down in the game I was in, and he didn’t look too interested in conversation, so I didn’t get a chance to speak to him, but I would have loved to have sat there and heard him tell stories like the ones in his book, “Amarillo Slim in a World Full of Fat People.” I’ll just have to settle for the movie version that someone in Hollywood is said to be working on, possibly starring Nicolas Cage.
The next night, however, I did sit in a game with Mori Eskandani, giving me the opporunity to chat with the man behind such TV shows as “High Stakes Poker” on GSN and “Poker After Dark” on NBC.
I like both of those shows, particularly “HSP.” Mori said to be sure to watch this week’s episode, in which Gabe Kaplan comes out of the booth, leaving behind his role as analyst to sit down in the game and play with the big boys. I watched it tonight and he’s right, it was worth it (if you missed it, GSN replays it several times during the week)
I asked Mori how many hands are played compared to the ones we see on the shows. Mori said it was about 25% for “HSP” and more for “PAD.” The key to the success of both shows is to get the players talking, particularly on “PAD,” where there’s no real host doing a running commentary. To do that, he books players who know each other well and/or have ongoing rivalries, but even then still has to goose them a little during the production to remind them that they’re now just playing poker, but making a TV show, too.
As we were playing, Mori got a text message reporting that two of the founders of Neteller (an online payment processor that many players used to transfer money to and from online poker sites) had been arrested. The company then suddenly stopped doing business in the US, leaving many American poker players with no way to get money to and from their accounts. Neteller posted a notice on its website: “Due to recent US legislative changes and events, effective immediately, US members are no longer able to transfer funds to or from any online gambling sites.” Another e-wallet service, Citadel Commerce, then announced that it was halting US operations, too.
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The discussion with Mori immediately turned to how this would affect the poker boom, and TV poker in particular. He speculated that it might kill off some of the shows that are branded with poker sites (“MansionPoker Poker Dome Challenge,” for one, may die a quick death), but that his biggest shows will continue as long as they get ratings and bring in advertisers. The open question is how long some of these online poker sites will continue to be among those advertisers.
As for whether internet poker is on its last legs in the US, the bottom line is that some other offshore company will probably sprout that will handle the e-commerce and give players a new way around the legal obstacles. But many people who play casually are soon going to find it too much of a hassle, and that will affect the long-term prospects. You will also see a direct effect on this year’s World Series Of Poker, which was growing so fast that it might have passed the 10,000 entrants milestone this year. With so many online poker sites either closing down or becoming nearly inaccessible domestically, and with Harrah’s reluctance to be associated with those sites and their entrants, that number will likely decline dramatically this summer.