Celebrities and Poker`s Rise in Popularity

What do Ben Affleck, Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matt Damon, Tobey Maguire, Norm McDonald, Teddy Sheringham, Don Cheadle, Sir Clive Sinclair, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Coolio, Robbie Williams, Ricky Gervais, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen, Paul Ince, Harrison Ford, Johnny Vegas, Mena Suvari, Stephen Fry, David Schwimmer, Charles Saatchi, Jennifer Aniston, Carrie Fisher, James Woods, Dennis Rodman, Vinnie Jones, and Matthew Perry all have in common?

Well, theyre all celebrities who are either poker fans or players (or both, more often than not). Furthermore, this sample of famous faces represents only a small portion of the television and film actors, pro athletes, and other recognizable stars that are gravitating towards the game and perpetuating its popularity through their participation.

The game of poker and especially its online variety have become immensely popular in the United States and the craze is spreading to Europe as well. The image of the activity has evolved from a macho, back-room, saloon practice into a game which nearly everyone can play, watch, and appreciate. The increase in popularity is illustrated by the increasing numbers of celebrities who are participating and doing so publicly. This star participation, in turn, is also contributing to pokers rising appeal and public attachment.

Indeed, one only needs to turn on ESPN, the Travel Channel, or the Bravo network to see and hear celebrities contemplating the same moves, hands, and bets that professionals and amateurs encounter online or in live casinos. Shows like Celebrity Poker Showdown, Celebrity Poker Club, Ultimate Poker Showdown, and World Poker Tour are bringing the game into the home through television and increasing its awareness overall. Celebrities are not only seen on such shows, but are also made in the sense that professionals are now being watched and cheered for by people tuning in all over the country.

Celebrity participation in the sport though is not only limited to television and the recent rise in popularity of shows specifically designed for stars. Outside of his role in Oceans 11 & 12, which also dealt with the Vegas scene, George Clooney is said to host regular poker nights at his home in Los Angeles. And Clooney is not alone. Friends stars David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston also hold similar events in their homes much like thousands of Americans across the country. Ben Affleck is a regular participant in tournaments and actually won the California State Poker Championship in 2004 taking home $356,400 (although some people believe it was this attraction and love of the game that ultimately doomed his relationship with Jennifer Lopez! Who knows?).

As Poker increases in popularity and becomes more and more accepted and played by all types of people, celebrity participation, as well as the accessibility provided by online casinos, will increase and attract even more new players. The merging of these two relatively new aspects of the game is already seen in the rise of internet sites offering players the ability to play No Limit Holdem with celebrities online! Indeed, with greater celebrity participation raising the games profile and online pokers attractiveness as a non-threatening way of introducing oneself to the sport, poker will only continue its recent rise in popularity and acceptance and create greater interest and curiosity among the public.

Harrah’s to Team With AEG to Build New Vegas Arena

Casino giant Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. announced Wednesday that it will partner with AEG, the company that brought David Beckham to the Los Angeles Galaxy, to build a 20,000-seat arena in Las Vegas capable of housing an NBA or NHL team.

The $500 million arena, behind the Bally’s and Paris hotel-casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, is projected to open in 2010. It’s a step toward attracting a pro sports franchise to a city that has tried to persuade reluctant league officials to look past its legalized sports betting.

The deal puts a dent in Mayor Oscar Goodman’s plans to have an arena built downtown with the help of tax breaks, but he said such plans would go forward. The site for the Harrah’s-AEG arena, a block east of the Strip, is in unincorporated Clark County, outside city limits.

Gary Loveman, the chief executive of Harrah’s, which is being bought by two private equity firms in a $17.1 billion deal, said the development was “very much a part of our master plan for Las Vegas.”

Harrah’s has yet to fully detail its long-awaited vision to link or redevelop its nine hotel-casino properties in Las Vegas, including Caesars Palace, Flamingo, Harrah’s and Bally’s, which are near the same intersection.

“It’s our ambition to create a place that transcends a series of hotels,” Loveman said. “The presence of a state-of-the-art events center of this size provides a reason for people all around us on the Strip to come into our neighborhood.”

AEG, a subsidiary of Denver billionaire and Qwest Communications founder Philip Anschutz’s Anschutz Co., owns the Galaxy and the Staples Center in Los Angeles and has booked such acts as Celine Dion and Bette Midler at Caesars Palace, said it was in talks with both professional leagues and potential team owners about bringing hockey or basketball to the city.

“It just so happens 2010 is an opportune time for an expansion team in Vegas for either or both (leagues),” said Timothy Leiweke, president and chief executive of AEG.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the arena announcement “positively impacts the prospects of Las Vegas attracting a major-league franchise” but said there was “nothing new to report” regarding league expansion or the NHL’s intentions about a team in Las Vegas.

“That is a matter our Board of Governors would have to consider at an appropriate time,” he said in a statement.

The NBA, which has appointed a committee to study a proposal by Goodman to locate a franchise in Las Vegas, postponed meetings after the league was rocked by a betting scandal involving one of its referees. The city hosted the NBA All-Star Game in February, but commissioner David Stern said the league was not likely to return without a modern arena. A key factor in the decision for AEG to build on the Harrah’s site was the “200,000 hotel rooms within walking distance,” Leiweke said. “I don’t know any place else like it on the face of the Earth.”

An annual preseason game between the Los Angeles Kings and the Colorado Avalanche in Las Vegas usually sells out, and there was good support for the Las Vegas Wranglers minor league hockey team, he said.

Even without a sports franchise, the arena will be financially viable by hosting concerts, boxing matches and other events, and the likely sale of naming rights, he said. In a recent deal, AEG sold such rights to what is now the O2 Arena in London to the U.K. cellular phone company for $12 million a year, he said.

Until now, events such as big boxing matches, mixed martial arts fights and concerts have largely been held at the aging Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus or at Strip properties owned by MGM Mirage Inc., at the MGM Grand Garden Arena or Mandalay Bay Events Center. MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman said the company welcomed the competition.

“The people that come for concerts and conventions, we’re confident they’ll visit more than one place on the Strip and we’re confident they’ll visit at least one of ours,” he said. “Anytime anyone adds value to the Strip, that’s a good thing.”

Goodman said the deal does not slow down city plans for a proposed $9.5 billion sports arena with casino, retail and residential uses on 85 acres downtown, put forth by Michigan-based REI Group LLC. Any team that wants to locate in Las Vegas could now shop between two large venues for a home, he said.

“With the competition, they’re going to be able to get a better deal,” Goodman said. “So it’s a win-win.” Jon Weaver, the president of REI, criticized the Harrah’s-AEG plan because it would rely on Strip tourists for its fan base. He said the downtown site was geared more to residents.

“I think it would be very discouraging have an arena to be filled by folks from out of town wanting to see their home team play in Las Vegas,” he said. “I don’t think that would be a very successful model.”

PS3 – What more can I say?

Not much new to report from Planet Playstation at present. Over the weekend I downloaded yet another operating system update. That is now the fourth update since the console launched. There is definitely plenty left to fix/improve though so Sony will likely be busy for quite some time yet! The download took around 15 minutes (no idea on it’s size but that is on a 1mb connection) then a further 10 minutes to install and update the console. Each time you update the console like this you have to hunt around for your USB lead as the system demands you connect your controller for re-synching, a minor niggle I guess but strange considering the Xbox 360 has no trouble chatting with it’s controller?

Over in the USA people are still struggling to get hold of a Playstation 3 and recent sales figures show a marked drop in numbers for Sony’s baby. This is of course pretty much down to the lack of supply but it’s not good to have quite this much of a scarcity at launch for your product, particularly when your competition is so strong. Originally Sony predicted a 400,000 shipment of units in the USA at launch but this figure is now conservatively estimated at being only 200,000.

What does this mean for us? Well the rumour mill is in full swing once more and the doubters are predicting the ‘March’ launch could get put back once again as Sony builds units to satisfy the US & Japanese markets as promised. With some analysts estimating a $300 loss on the sale of each Playstation 3 it’s going to be a tough time for a few Sony executives in the coming months.

On the games front more disappointment came with the news that Motor Storm would now not feature any online play upon release! Online play will be included later for the European launch, scant consolation to anyone who already has a Playstation 3 and was looking forward to this particular title! They will now have to pick up a Japanese version and enjoy the more singular delights instead.

Gran Turismo HD was another casualty this week. This flagship title has seen much screenshot and video cock-waving and forum-post fanboy appraisal but it too has now faltered. The content is being ‘held over’ for the GT5 game due in 2008 and it will now appear as a limited 10 car 1 track download ‘concept’ demo which can be downloaded on December 24th by Japanese PS3 gamers only!

None too happy times to be a Playstation 3 gamer then as the lacklustre games roll on and the disappointing online experience continues. Sony will need to work hard to turn this into a positive success but then again no one can deny that the PS3 will sell. 102 million PS2 units is not something to be sniffed at and the high street recognition for the ‘Playstation’ brand is sure to bolster them for quite some time. Will gamers sit waiting for the much needed improvements though? Certainly this Christmas many will be taking home an Xbox 360 or a Nintendo Wii as the interminable wait for Sony will seem just too much hassle.

Stop waffling and tell us about the chuffing games!

Right then, on with the show! I’ve waffled about the machine for a while now let’s start to have a quick run down on a the games I’ve played!

First up, Ridge Racer 7 which is better known to us as Ridge Racer 6. They are basically the same game, it’s just the PS3 version trying to say it’s more current and therefore that equals better.

Now I’m not the world’s biggest console racer fan, not by a long chalk – just check my gamer card or games played list for confirmation there – so I only whacked this in for a quick 5 minutes (I will come back to it later) but on the whole from what I recall of playing the Xbox RR6 (briefly) it doesn’t look like some great techinical and graphical advance that everybody was proclaiming.

In fact if anything it seems to just look ‘brighter’. This is manifested by a lack of shadow and shading/lighting effects on the surroundings as you whizz past at silly speeds. Now don’t get me wrong here, in terms of speed, frame rate and graphical finesse it is up there with the best but it seems to be lacking something and I wasn’t surprised to find I am not the only one who has noticed the shortcomings of the PS3 version!

The level of texture quality just isn’t up to that of the Xbox 360 incarnation along with a lack of lighting/shading effects which is what I had seemingly noticed when I played!

Ridge Racer 7 then is not enough reason to rush out and buy your PS3 console just yet, will the other titles fair any better? 

Right we’ve ploughed through a few episodes now and you will hopefully be getting a fuller picture about the trials and tribulations of Playstation life! How are your opinions forming? Do you plan on getting a Playstation 3 the minute it comes out? Have you re-considered based on anything I’ve discussed? Is there a burning question that I haven’t answered yet but might be able to?

It’s a two way thing this review so if you are reading it (You know who you are!) then let me have your opinions and comments please!

Ok a change of tack now as I’m going to give you a run-down on the Motor Storm demo. Motor Storm by Evolution Studios was one of the few Playstation 3 games to be shown to the masses at this years E3 event. Now when I say ‘shown’ what I actually mean is that a lot of people saw a video CGI render sequence which was just a concept and wasn’t running on a Playstation 3. It was Sony’s usual CGI marketing trick which quite frankly fooled no-one as the quality of graphics was going to be near impossible to replicate on the actual console! Please note though; the following images are actually screenshots in-game these are not CGI renders.

So here we are months later at the launch of the Playstation 3 and Motor Storm is due out in early December. In the meantime Playstation 3 owners can hook up to the online store and grab a free demo download which weighs in at 456mb. This was an offer too good to resist as the underground hype for Motor Storm is approaching that of Gears of War on the Xbox 360.