Poker once was seen as an “old man’s game” consisting of quarter bets during Tuesday night get-togethers at a neighbor’s house.
But the classic card game has been transformed into a hipper gambling attraction by celebrity players such as Ben Affleck and Jennifer Tilly and through national TV coverage of high-stakes tournaments.
Revel, the new $2.4 billion megaresort, is the latest Atlantic City casino to try to cash in on the craze by creating an upscale poker room designed to lure a younger generation of players, although old-timers are welcomed, too.
“There is still a big market for us, the casino industry, to go after,” said Frankie Foti , director of Revel’s poker room and a 32-year veteran of the Atlantic City and Delaware casino scene.
Decorated in lustrous red carpeting and ornamental light canopies, Revel’s poker sanctuary features 37 tables on the less-congested mezzanine level overlooking the main casino floor.
“It’s really an awesome view,” Foti said as he watched the hustle and bustle of gamblers playing the slot machines and craps tables one floor below.
Based on the number of tables, Revel’s poker room is the fourth-largest in town among the dozen casinos, according to figures compiled by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa leads the pack with 76 poker tables, followed by Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort and Harrah’s Resort in the top three.
Foti said Revel has aspirations to become No. 2, conceding the top spot to Borgata. But he quickly added that Revel could eventually vie with Borgata if it decides to expand its poker room.
“I would like our players to feel that we’re No. 1,” he said.
The typical poker player at Revel is male and 24 to 52 years old, Foti said. He noted that more 21-year-olds — 21 is the minimum legal gambling age in Atlantic City — are appearing in the poker rooms.
“The younger crowd is starting to fill in a little bit,” Foti said.
On Friday afternoon, there was one Texas Hold ’em poker table at Revel that symbolized the youth movement. All six guys sitting at the table were in their 20s or 30s.
“Definitely. No doubt about it,” Seth Montag, 22, of Cedarhurst, N.Y., said of poker’s popularity among young players.
“Poker is for everybody. I see grandma playing it,” joked Lorenzo Gonzales, 33, of Morristown, Morris County.
In Las Vegas, poker players put up $1 million each for a seat at the three-day World Series of Poker that started Sunday at the Rio casino hotel. The grand-prize winner is expected to take home more than $18 million.
The American Gaming Association, the trade group for commercial casinos nationwide, says poker is the third-most-popular game among casino customers. Slot machines are by far the top gambling attraction, played by 53 percent of customers, followed by blackjack at 23 percent and poker at 7 percent.
In general, poker doesn’t produce tons of money for casinos, although Borgata had nearly $1.6 million in poker revenue in May, figures show. Revel had just $57,023 in poker revenue the same month.
Poker revenue is produced through the “rake,” the small percentage of the pot collected by the house. Poker is seen as more of a complement to the slot machines and more lucrative table games, particularly blackjack.
Foti said Revel’s poker room was strategically located to take advantage of the crowds that surge out of the casino’s 5,000-seat Ovation Hall after concerts. He said the poker room got some of the overflow from the thousands of concertgoers who packed the hallways after Beyonce’s four sold-out shows over the Memorial Day weekend.
Poker could be ready for another boom if Congress accedes to the casino industry’s wishes and approves legislation that legalizes Internet poker. So far, federal legislation has stalled, leaving it to the states to take their own action. New Jersey’s proposed Internet gambling bill faces legal concerns from Gov. Chris Christie.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed legislation Thursday making Delaware the first state to offer full-scale casino betting online. Poker, slot machines and other casino games will be available through each Delaware casino’s website, although the process will be centrally controlled by the state Lottery Office.
Nevada regulators are crafting the licensing process to allow poker games to be played over the Internet within the state’s borders. There are estimates, however, that Nevada’s poker websites may not be ready until sometime next year.
Casino companies across the country are preparing for the legalization of full-blown online poker, with real betting, by starting their own websites that, for the moment, offer free play. On Friday, the parent company of the three Golden Nugget casino hotels in Atlantic City and Nevada announced the launch of a free-play poker website, goldennuggetpoker.com.
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