Betting Spy

Casino Poker Tournaments

With a tournament that attracted the likes of Ben Affleck last year, Tunica's Gold Strike Casino is going head- to-head with neighboring Grand Casino as the hot venue for high dollar poker. "In the month of January 2006, Tunica will be the center of the poker universe," said Webster Franklin, president and CEO of the Tunica Convention and Visitors Bureau. Players only buffets, plasma screen televisions and prize money, which this past year topped $5 million, have contributed to Gold Strike's tournament being featured on the popular Travel Channel program World Poker Tour alongside tournaments hosted by sister casino properties Bellagio and MGM Mirage in Las Vegas. The show has featured celebrities turned poker players, such as Jennifer Tilly, as well as players who have joined the celebrity ranks like Vietnam-born Scotty Nguyen. In its seventh year, the World Poker Open at Gold Strike opens Monday with preliminary rounds in the 1,200 room hotel/casino's ballroom. The final tables are set to begin on Jan. 19.

Ken Lambert Jr., who oversees poker operations for Gold Strike, created the event in 1989 while working at rival Tunica casino. With the increase of international competitors participating in the tournament, Lambert said the event outgrew its old venue, leading him to a partnership with Gold Strike. Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, who has accumulated more than $4 million in poker earnings, is expected to be among the big name players attending this year's tournament, Lambert said. In all, 150 players from around the world, including Ireland, Amsterdam and Africa, are expected. "This event last year was probably the second largest attraction for ... foreign players of any tournament in the country," Lambert said. He also pointed to the popularity of the World Series of Poker circuit events held in the area. Grand Casino Tunica's World Series of Poker Circuit event got underway last week with the finale scheduled for Jan. 27. The Caesars Entertainment-owned casino has previously played host to the circuit events, including one in August.

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