BetMGM Poker tournament at Aria Thursday

Poker players gather at the PokerGO studio at Aria for the $25,000 free roll before the start o ...

BetMGM, the sports betting and iGaming operator affiliated with MGM Resorts International, is launching a new poker tournament Thursday and has brought dozens of online tournament poker winners to Las Vegas for the competition.

The first-ever BetMGM Poker Championship is scheduled through Sunday at Aria and is occurring during the 2022 Aria Poker Classic. It’s also going on during rival Caesars Entertainment’s World Series of Poker, which began May 31 and runs in Las Vegas through July 20.

“To me, it complements our online business that we have these fantastic properties that are legendary for poker, especially the Aria, and so it’s a natural progression, the growth of our business, to start utilizing our relationship here,” said BetMGM Director of Poker Luke Staudenmaier. “We have a lovely opportunity to bring a lot of our players from across the country to poker’s capital in Las Vegas.”

At least 300 players are expected to participate in the inaugural tournament, which is a $3,500 buy-in no limit hold ‘em tournament carrying a $1 million payout guarantee. On Saturday, a $600 buy-in BetMGM Poker Mystery Bounty will mark the first time Aria has run this modern take on a live poker knockout tournament.

Online poker in three states

BetMGM poker is primarily an online product in Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Ontario, Canada, Staudenmaier explained.

“We ran online promotions that awarded players a package to come to Las Vegas and play this event,” he said.

Through a rolling schedule of daily qualifiers and weekly satellite games, BetMGM Poker awarded prize packages to at least 15 players from each U.S. live poker market. The packages included a buy-in for the BetMGM Poker Championship, travel expenses and a five-night stay at Aria.

The new tournament marks a comeback for poker, which saw live games in casinos languish during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Poker certainly is one of the industries that took a hit during the pandemic, especially land-based poker,” Staudenmaier said. “But it is coming back in full force. There’s something about being across the table from your opponents that a lot of people find attractive. Obviously it doesn’t have the convenience of online poker, but to each their own. They’re both different experiences with their own benefits.”

Poker champion Darren Elias, who signed on as BetMGM’s newest brand ambassador in September, welcomed players on Wednesday to a warm-up free-roll event for $25,000.

Elias, a Medford, New Jersey resident, won the first of his four World Poker Tour titles at the Borgata Poker Open in 2014 and is the all-time WPT leader in wins, final tables and cashes. While Elias has nearly $9 million in live poker earnings, he has also amassed more than $8 million in online tournament earnings throughout his 15-year career.

“It’s really exciting for the online qualifiers because some of these guys qualified online for $5, $10 or $20 and they win this huge package where they get their travel expenses paid, they get five nights at the Aria and they get to play in one of the best venues in poker in my opinion,” Elias said. “They get to go right into the big leagues. That’s an experience.”

Annual event

Staudenmaier anticipates the new tournament to be an ongoing annual event.

“This is the proof of concept I’d say,” Staudenmaier said. “We have a wide range of possibilities here, whether it’s continuing a larger annual event with Aria, collaborating with MGM Grand or even some properties like Borgata (in Atlantic City, New Jersey), MGM Grand in Detroit or Beau Rivage in Biloxi (Mississippi).”

Staudenmaier acknowledged other tournaments going on in Las Vegas in the summer.

“There’s a lot of different operators who use this time in the summer where poker players from across the country come to Las Vegas and run their own events on days where perhaps the other company doesn’t have as attractive an event,” he said. “So it does present an opportunity to leverage the fact that a lot of players have already traveled here as well to make this event a success.”

World Series also underway

The World Series of Poker, the longest-running poker series in the world, has changed locations this year and is just up the block from Aria.

The 53rd annual event is being conducted at Bally’s — which will soon be rebranded as the Horseshoe — and adjoining Paris Las Vegas.

The event in 2020 completed a 17-year run at the Rio, which Caesars sold to a principal of Imperial Cos. in 2019. This year’s event has a celebrity master of ceremonies, actor Vince Vaughn.

The first-ever World Series of Poker was played at the downtown Las Vegas Horseshoe property. Caesars continues to hold the Horseshoe brand.

The World Series will feature a $10,000 no-limit hold ‘em championship, known as the “Main Event,” which in 2021 hosted 6,650 entrants from around the world despite taking place during a pandemic.

This year’s Main Event is back to its traditional time frame around the July 4 holiday, beginning on July 3. The deep-stack tournament will continue play through the final table July 15-16.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.