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Recently I was reading my copy of ESPN The Magazine which featured a complete issue on the different Halls of Fame that are in existence. In one segment of the magazine, a rather cartoonish map of the United States detailed out the Top Twenty Halls of Fame across the United States. While the obvious ones were there (the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH; the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA; the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY), there was one that particularly drew my interest. It was the noting of the Poker Hall of Fame, locating it in Las Vegas.
There’s only one problem with that…there is no physical location for the Poker Hall of Fame, even in the city that claims to be the hub of the poker world.
The Poker Hall of Fame has been in existence since 1979, when it was created by (now a Poker Hall of Famer) Benny Binion at Binion’s Horseshoe in Las Vegas. After the introductory class of that year (which included Johnny Moss, Nick “The Greek” Dandalos, Felton “Corky” McCorqoudale, Red Wynn, Sid Wyman, Edmond Hoyle and “Wild Bill” Hickok), 37 other people have been inducted into what is poker’s greatest honor. The only thing is that there is no place to honor these people, save for the dinner each year when new inductees are feted.
The closest we’ve come to a “physical” Poker Hall of Fame is in the old halls of Binion’s Horseshoe (now simply called Binion’s), and it even wasn’t a pantheon due those who had earned the right to be there. In addition to the “Wall of Fame” that featured the World Series of Poker Championship Event winners, there was a wall that honored those men (at that time) who had been inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. Since the purchase of Binion’s Horseshoe by Harrah’s Entertainment (now Caesars Entertainment) in 2004, none of the WSOP Championship Event winners or the inductees into the Poker Hall of Fame has gone on that wall.
With this in mind, I contacted a few people in charge at Caesars and the WSOP. Seth Palansky, the Vice President of Corporate Communications for Caesars Entertainment, said to me that, “There was analysis done a couple years ago on this subject. I believe there are two main obstacles, which came to light during our review.”
“One, artifacts, photos, and memorabilia are very hard to come by. There was no real official photography of the events back in the day, and the guys that do have images are demanding obscene amounts of money to use their images,” Palansky stated. “Then add to it, to get other appropriate ‘stuff’ to make a physical location an attractive offering, proved very difficult as well. These factors, added to the fact that you really need a location to at least be self-sustainable as an entity (ie: draw interest from the public), and we couldn’t find a way to properly proceed.”
This doesn’t mean that Caesars isn’t continuing to pursue the idea of a physical Poker Hall of Fame, however. “We’re hopeful there’s a time and place to pull something off,” Palansky said in our discussion. “The great game of poker deserves a permanent home and historical documenting.”
Caesars…the time is now.
Discussions with other members of the poker industry have set a cost at establishing a Poker Hall of Fame somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000, if it was physically put on a Caesars property. The Rio All Suites Hotel and Casino, the host of the WSOP, would be a natural choice, but there have been several rumors regarding that property for years (and that is where we’ll leave that subject). Another Caesars property in Las Vegas – especially Caesars Palace, with its location right on the Strip – would be better, but there is little room for growth in that area.
Putting that aside, wouldn’t there be an audience for a physical Poker Hall of Fame? I was a bit surprised when I posed this question to some of my fellow poker journalists. Although Kevin ‘Kevmath’ Mathers stated, “Assuming the location was in Vegas, yes,” veteran World Poker Tour reporter BJ Nemeth said, “I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit it the way I would Cooperstown. If it was cheap and convenient, I’d stop by.” Poker writer Steve Ruddock said (and he has an idea of what I am thinking of), “If it had exhibits…road gambling kits, memorabilia and something like baseball with wings for women, Europe, WSOP winners, etc.”
First off, the “physical” Poker Hall of Fame has to have at its center a poker room (with some stadium seat wrapping the arena). A ten-table room would suffice which, during all hours, would offer the same games that Poker Hall of Famer Benny Binion offered…any game at any stakes at any time. Tournaments could be held daily, but once or twice a month, there would be a special “Hall of Fame” tournament in which one of the members of the Poker Hall of Fame would take part (players could enter that tournament on a first come, first served basis). Once a year, the Poker Hall of Fame poker room would bring together the living members of the Hall for a special tournament, which would be sure to pack the arena surrounding the tables.
Around said arena, there would be the physical enshrinement of the Poker Hall of Fame members. Each person inducted into the Hall would get their own physical slate on the wall, enumerating their achievements in the game and, perhaps in glass casing below it (especially for some of the older Hall of Famers such as Hickok…wouldn’t it be nice to see his guns in the Poker Hall of Fame? And why aren’t Doc Halliday and Wyatt Earp in the Poker Hall of Fame? Wait…I’m getting off track!) special mementos to commemorate them. Those slates would encircle the playing arena below, save for five exhibition rooms that would sprout off to the side.
Of those five wings, one would be dedicated to women in poker and could also be a place to enshrine the Women in Poker Hall of Fame members. The other wings could feature different aspects of the world of poker; different cheating devices (we have to acknowledge that area), European poker, online poker and the development of the game on the banks of the Mississippi River might be the first four that would take those exhibition halls. Once established, those four exhibition areas could be adjusted.
There would also have to be a discussion hall in the physical HoF. Each week, there would be seminars given on the game of poker, open to the public, where discourse on the game would be featured. This is critical to the continued development, the respect of the history and the honoring of our current and past greats as they discuss the game of poker.
Will this happen? I’d like to think so. Next year will be the 35th anniversary of the creation of the Poker Hall of Fame and there should be something physically in place before that time. If Las Vegas can support two Mob Museums, it can certainly support one Poker Hall of Fame to honor the greats of the game and the memorabilia that goes with it.