Calm before the Las Vegas poker storm

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May is all about gearing up for the busiest and best time to be a poker player in Las Vegas. The World Series of Poker, Bellagio Five Star and Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza start this month, and to boot, a major new contender has entered the Vegas poker market. The past few weeks has seen big announcements and management shifts, all culminating in what should prove to be an exciting month for the poker world.

The WSOP kicks off at the Rio on May 27 and with that comes all kinds of other events around town. But that’s not the only big news. In what is being deemed as one of the largest shakeups in recent Las Vegas poker history, Cantor Gaming has entered into a contract to run the Palms poker room. Cantor Gaming is no stranger to Las Vegas, as the corporate gaming company has been contractually operating sportsbooks at various casinos in Las Vegas, including the M Resort, Cosmopolitan, Tropicana, Venetian/Palazzo, Hard Rock and now Palms, but this will be the third-party gaming company’s first foray into operating a live poker room in Las Vegas.

Cantor is bringing former Binion’s shift supervisor Brad Thomte to the Palms to serve as poker manager. This new shakeup includes moving the room closer to the sportsbook and a major remodel to the area. The possible future implications of this management change could be huge to the industry, considering the vast majority of the poker rooms in Las Vegas are small, with fewer than 20 tables (including the Palms).

Perhaps this will be the first step toward hiring third-party companies to run poker rooms, a precedent that used to be the norm in Las Vegas several decades ago. This new development will certainly cause the Palms to be the room to watch in 2012.

The WSOP begins May 27 at the Rio, and the Caesars Entertainment team is wasting no time talking about the expansion of the WSOP poker room and the continued offering of daily deepstack tournaments, with buy-ins as cheap as $135. The playing field, which last year included 378 tables dedicated specifically for WSOP use, will be increased by 92 tables, bringing the total to 470 WSOP-dedicated tables. With the addition of those tables, the main event will only have three starting days instead of the usual four.

The number of bracelet events has increased to 61, up three from last year. There will be quite a few firsts in this year’s WSOP, including a $1 million buy-in bracelet event, a four-handed NLHE event, and an event that will allow re-entry should you bust out of the first day. As always, there is quite a bit of hype leading up to the first card being dealt at the World Series, but it’s one of the few poker events that always lives up to it.

Last year, more than 75,000 players entered bracelet events. The cash-game action is easily expected to bring thousands more players on top of that number, which consistently makes May-July the busiest and best time of the year to be a poker player in Las Vegas. Aside from the action that will fill the Rio convention halls, action will spread all around town, with various rooms offering special tournament events to coincide with the offerings at the Rio.

Leading up to the WSOP, the Bellagio is hosting its annual Five Star World Poker Classic (May 4-26). This event includes various tournaments with buy-ins ranging from $330 to $100K. The second most attended tournament series outside of the WSOP is always the Venetian DSE (May 24-July 15). The main floor of the Palazzo will serve as the Venetian DSE poker room, while cash games will continue to be run in the Venetian poker room, the largest permanent poker room in the city.

Finally, the Golden Nugget will run its Grand Series (June 2-July 4) and includes buy-ins as cheap as $125.

The months of May-July always are a special time in Las Vegas. The big news coming out of the Palms should prove to be an interesting experiment that could result in many more changes in the poker landscape of Las Vegas. No matter what changes around town, one thing is for sure to stay the same: There is no better time to be a poker player in Las Vegas.

— Michael Hamai (a.k.a LasVegasMichael) resides in Las Vegas and is content manager and editor of AllVegasPoker.com. You can follow him on Twitter @LasVegasMichael or email him at Michael@AllVegasPoker.com.