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California Poker Holds Strong in 2008

State Still the Leader in Number of Tables

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Commerce Casino hosts the L.A. Poker Classic.Las Vegas might be the city most associated with poker, but California continues to be the state that features the most games.

The Golden State has nearly double the number of poker tables as Nevada (1,700 tables compared to 907), and poker room managers are reporting that 2008 revenue is pretty similar to last year, which they consider a success considering the tough economic times people are facing.

Although the official 2008 numbers have not been released, a survey of some of the larger casinos in the Southern California area indicate that poker-related business was fairly similar to last year, despite a rocky stock market and increased unemployment.

“We’re running a little bit better than last year in terms of revenue, or at least maintaining the same as we were in 2007,” said Phyllis Caro, director of poker operations at Hollywood Park.

Hollywood Park, like most California casinos, does not have to worry as much as Las Vegas casinos do about gas prices and tourism decline, because its customer base is local.

“We market to the 10- to 15-mile radius,” said Caro, who explained that the casino didn’t really have to make many cuts. “We’ve been a bare-bones operation all along. We’ve never been frivolous in our spending.”

Neither Hollywood Park nor its local competitor, The Bicycle, has had to make layoffs. Hollywood Park employs about 380 people for poker; the Bicycle employs approximately 3,000 people, more than half of them for poker.

“We’ve kept our heads above water,” said Mark Ventre, the casino manager for The Bicycle. “We might be slightly off [in The Bicycle employs about 3,000 people.terms of revenue] from last year.”

But Ventre was proud of his casino’s accomplishments this year and is excited about its future. He pointed out its World Poker Tour Legends of Poker main event in August, which attracted 373 players. The 2007 main event, however, saw 485 players. Ventre also spoke of the casino’s plans to build an event center, which could host boxing matches, concerts, and even bigger poker tournaments.

L.A.’s Commerce Casino, the biggest poker room in the United States, had the same trend as most other casinos — overall revenue was down, but the poker room’s revenue was stable.

“Our poker revenue is pretty much the same as last year,” said John Griffo, director of marketing and advertising for Commerce. He noted that the casino was making more money on its lower-stakes games and less money on its higher-stakes games. “People are still playing, just at different levels than they were a year ago.”

Commerce certainly had some poker-related highlights in 2008.

The casino hosted multiple World Poker Tour championships, including Phil Ivey’s first WPT win in February and the WPT Celebrity Invitational in March. Commerce celebrated its 25-year anniversary this summer and has announced that in 2009, its L.A. Poker Classic will have an unprecedented four $10,000-to-enter poker tournaments — one for the main event in Texas hold’em, as well as events in pot-limit Omaha, H.O.R.S.E., and heads-up Texas hold’em.

Hollywood Park will kick off its more modest 10-day Poker Derby series, consisting of poker tournaments ranging from $100-$200 to enter. In March, it will host its annual Sport of Kings tournament series, with events from $100-$300.