My 10-year-old son loves playing golf, but when I sit down to enjoy my favorite golf tournament on television—the Open Championship, by the way—he walks away, saying, “I like playing golf but hate watching it. It’s too boring.”
Unfortunately, that’s the way I feel about poker. Maybe it’s because I once did color commentary for the U.S. Poker Championship at Trump Taj Mahal, in 1998 and ’99. Remember, this was in the prehistoric era of televising poker, since there was no “hole-cam,” the invention that made televised poker actually interesting. My “play by play” partner Dave Bontempo had to take a crash course in the game, but we were able to put together a good, professional-looking program. It helped that the producers added the consummate pro Phil Hellmuth to our team in the second year and that now-superstar Daniel Negreanu won one of his first major tournaments that year too. (BTW, you can still see it on ESPN Classic at 2 in the morning some slow news days.)
This year’s World Series of Poker was done differently than we did it in those days. First of all, although they have the hole cam, it wasn’t used extensively because the WSOP was broadcast almost live (15-minute delay) on ESPN, so they didn’t let the announcers use it until the end of the hand. But the announcers had the knowledge of the hole cards, something we didn’t know back in the day.
I was watching one hand where the eventual winner Pius Heinz was deciding whether to fold or call. I swear it was 10 minutes of no action. The commentators were doing their best to fill the dead space while the expressionless Heinz was pondering, but I could hear millions of remotes clicking to a different channel. That’s the peril of doing poker live (and one of the reasons I prefer playing it to watching it). I do like the immediacy of the “live” show, but next year I’m waiting for the edited version.
Another competition came to a conclusion last month when the latest inductees to the American Gaming Association’s Gaming Hall of Fame were honored at the Venetian. It was actually a very moving ceremony, and featured the best and the brightest gaming executives gathering to honor the newest inductees, led by Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson.
While the AGA board does a great job choosing the inductees each year, I would like to see the addition of a “Legends” division the same way the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame honors players who have somehow been overlooked over the years. How about adding people like Al Benedict, Lincoln Fitzgerald, Martin Stern, Marlon Torguson or Ed Davis in some capacity? If you don’t know who these people are, you should. These guys were giants of the industry in their time but have been overshadowed in the era of the corporation. Maybe someday in the future we’ll see this. And maybe we can actually have a physical location for the Gaming Hall of Fame. How about in a wing of the “mob museum” that will open in Downtown Las Vegas next year?
As for awards programs, they are hit or miss. Certainly the members of our industry deserve recognition for their efforts in their particular fields, but sometimes it’s too much. At the ICE trade show in London next month, for example, there are going to be not one, but two awards programs on the same night. In my view, that’s two too many. The first one was kind of a running joke to people who understand how these things work, so, while ICE is producing the newest entry, it’s like doubling down on a bad idea.
Now, I’ll plead guilty for possibly starting this madness. In the 1980s when I was with another magazine, we recognized the huge strides being made in gaming technology and created an awards program to honor those efforts. So when I started another awards program with this magazine that does essentially the same thing, I was adding to the problem. But since I started the first one, I thought it was acceptable.
Let’s see if we can control ourselves in the future. I know I’ll try. I may not succeed, because there are so many areas of this business where recognition is lacking. Maybe just a “job well done”? Nah, let’s build the little statuettes!