Symbiotic relationship between land and online poker

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Bellagio poker tournament director says online and land poker have a symbiotic relationship

The Las Vegas Sun writer Jeff Haney published an interesting article this week on the likely impact of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act on land poker activities. Haney asks whether the crackdown will chase online poker players away from their computers and into casino cardrooms, generating extra business for the brick-and-mortars? Or will the online players' poker fever fade as some major Internet cardrooms continue to deny service to Americans, and the federal legislation makes it more difficult for customers to deposit and withdraw funds?

In the article, Haney speaks to the poker tournament director for the Bellagio, industry veteran Jack McClelland, who's opinion on the matter carries more weight than just about anyone's. Although big brick-and-mortars like the Bellagio might seem like natural rivals of the online poker sites, McClelland believes it's more of a symbiotic relationship.

"I always say I hope [Internet poker] stays up, because I think it helps us a lot," McClelland said at the recent Global Gaming Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center. "Once [online players] come into our casinos, they like the personal attention, the camaraderie, the interaction. What concerns me is that if the Internet goes completely down, then these people will find other interests."

Haney reminds readers that the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 - signed by President Bush after it was shoved through Congress at the last minute, attached to an unrelated port security bill - does not expressly forbid online gambling, but it outlaws certain financial transactions involving gambling sites.

If the legislation ends up discouraging a lot of Americans from playing online poker, it might give places like the Bellagio a quick boost at first, but it would hurt business in the long run, McClelland said.

"If [Internet poker] does go down, in the short term we're going to have more people coming in to play," McClelland said. "And then we're just going to have to figure out how to take advantage of it."

The major online sites, however, fill a niche that land-based casinos simply cannot touch: all those wildly popular tournaments with low entry fees, whether they're single-table affairs or "satellites" offering a cheap chance to compete in big tournaments with lucrative prize pools, writes Haney. Concerns such as staffing and using valuable floor space within the casino prevent brick-and-mortars from competing in that area.

"It's better for the brick-and-mortars if [Internet poker] continues," McClelland said. "At Bellagio, we can't run $5 (buy-in) satellites to get into $100 satellites to get into $1,000 tournaments. It's just too cost-prohibitive, whereas they can do that on the Internet.

"The rock-star mentality is what's made poker shoot up like it has in the last few years - you know, for $40 you can go into a half-million-dollar tournament, become a Chris Moneymaker, or you can be on TV, just by winning a $25 seat on the Internet. That's the big draw."

McClelland's longtime colleague Doug Dalton, the director of poker operations at the Bellagio, also points to small online satellite players as a pivotal demographic that could be affected by the new legislation.

The link between online poker and the brick-and-mortars can sometimes go beyond intangibles - as when an Internet novice becomes infatuated with the game and develops a desire to try it live - and evolve into a direct relationship.

For example, even without any officially sanctioned relationship between the major poker tournament circuits and the Internet poker rooms, events such as World Poker Tour tournaments and the World Series of Poker draw a large number of entrants who win their way in through online satellites.

"The customer that's at risk here is the customer who's going to pay anywhere from $40 to $100 to play a satellite online," Dalton said. "That's the big online attraction: to be able to get in these satellites, win a seat in a big poker tournament, come in and hopefully it's your week and you're going to win a million dollars.

"That customer is going to do one of two things - step up and pay more money, pay $500 or $1,000 for a (brick-and-mortar) satellite, or just not play anymore. That's what we're going to find out, and only time will tell."
 
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