Is Poker Losing Its First Flush?
By TIMOTHY L. O'BRIEN
The New York Times
NEXT month, Fox Broadcasting plans to introduce "Poker Dome
Challenge," a live television show that will be broadcast from inside
the Neonopolis, a shopping mall just down the block from Binion's, the
gleefully bawdy casino where high-stakes poker started here more than
50 years ago.
While "Poker Dome" may be Binion's neighbor, the show will be as far
removed from poker's leisurely Mississippi Delta roots as weekend
paintball matches are from big-game hunting. "Poker Dome" will encase
a group of players in a soundproof, glass-walled stage, while viewers
and a studio audience watch everything they do.
Microphones will capture game chatter, and pulse monitors strapped to
the gamblers will track their heart rates. Robotic cameras will
scrutinize every nervous tic on the gamblers' faces, projecting the
angst of brinkmanship onto oversized video screens. New to the mix
will be an N.B.A.-like shot clock that gives gamblers only 15 seconds
to bet, check or fold, an innovation that Fox says will increase the
rate of play to 80 to 100 hands an hour from the usual 15 to 20.
"It's poker on triple espresso," Fox boasts in a "Poker Dome" news
Three years into the poker boom, the game's purveyors are out to prove
that it is not a mere fad, but a form of entertainment with real legs
-- even as there are signs that the country's poker appetite may be
becoming less ravenous. Some industry analysts expect the growth of
online poker to slow sharply, and televised poker is already drawing
The Travel Channel says ratings for its "World Poker Tour" have fallen
36 percent in the last two years. Poker even has its own miniature
stock scandal, with the Securities and Exchange Commission
investigating whether the poker legend, Doyle Brunson, and his Las
Vegas lawyers manipulated the stock price of WPT Enterprises, the
company that runs the "World Poker Tour."
Even so, the commercialization and transformation of the old game zips
along at light speed. Fox, as well as other companies and networks
that produce and broadcast poker, dismiss naysaying and continue to
inject more adrenaline into promotion.