A comical twist at the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas has been some players showing up in outlandish getups, such as Phil Hellmuth's last year as a Roman emperor.
But when poker pro Shaun Deeb sat down in drag at the Ladies No-limit Hold 'em Championship earlier this month, a lot of people weren't laughing. To the contrary, it underscored a controversy that has the poker world, including top pros, in heated debate.
Sparking the uproar were eight men who joined the field of 1,054 players in the June 11 women's event. The ladies' championship, a $1,000 buy-in, was the 22d tournament in the 57-event WSOP, which runs through mid-July.
Harrah's Entertainment, which owns and runs the WSOP, said it was obligated by law to allow the handful of male players and did so reluctantly.
This is hardly the first time that men have played in advertised female poker events. At the Borgata Poker Open in Atlantic City last fall, a man entered and won a women's tournament.
In Las Vegas, Deeb - a young pro known mainly for his prolific online play - was the lightning rod for some of the sharpest criticism.
In a video on YouTube, Deeb explained that he had lost a bet, that he intended to donate any winnings to charity and apologized for the costume. But he also said he stood by the point he was making, that segregation by sex is wrong in a game whose practitioners claim is one of mental acumen.
Annie Duke, arguably the best-known woman player in the world, agreed with Deeb. Duke wrote on her blog that she advocates discontinuing the WSOP women's championship.
"Are we saying there is a difference between the intellect of men and women that means that somehow we need a separate championship event just for the women?" Duke wrote.
Daniel Negreanu, one of the best-known male players, took on Deeb and Duke in his blog, writing: "Men have had it pretty good, so whining about sexual equality as a man is a pretty lame excuse to take part in a ladies' event. It's beyond lame, it's just plain foolish. You aren't fighting for men's rights, or women's right(s) for that matter."
Linda Johnson, a pioneering woman poker player, gave a keynote address to open this year's women's event. She said that her first WSOP women's championship 30 years ago changed her life.
Vowing that she would quit her post office job and take up poker full time if she did well in the 1980 tournament, Johnson finished fifth in a 65-person field that year. As a result, she embarked on a new career that saw her become one of the first female professional poker players. She has also been a writer and publisher for poker publications and is one of just 15 women to win a WSOP championship bracelet in an open event (meaning for men and women).
Johnson said women-only tournaments serve an important role.
"Frankly, many women are too intimidated to play in an open event," Johnson said.
She makes the point that if not for all-female tournaments, many women wouldn't feel comfortable enough to attempt tournament poker.
"It's not conceding that women don't have the ability to compete with men or about skill levels," Johnson said. "It is about overcoming the intimidation factor, and that includes the socializing element of an all-women's event."
This year, Vanessa Hellebuyck, of France, won the women's title and $192,132. Johnson finished 31st and collected $4,847. The only local player to cash was Chalfont's Karen Perez (87th, $2,124). Of the eight men who entered, the highest finish was 103d.
Interestingly, in the WSOP Seniors No-limit Hold 'em Championship, which began Friday, there were no younger challengers to the age-limit restriction that only players 50 and older may enter.
Racing spin on slots. Decades ago when I visited my first Las Vegas casino, one of the most fascinating games I saw was an old horse racing machine where tiny toy mounts mechanically made their way around an oval with galloping sound effects. You stuck in a quarter and yelled your head off.
Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City has just introduced an updated version of that quaint penny-arcade-style game that incorporates high-def TV monitors, realistic animation, and exacta and quinella betting along with traditional bets on win, place, and show.
The machine, known as Triple Towers, is a multiple-player machine with nine seats and features nine virtual horses, according to Chris Downey, Resorts director of slot operations.
Players have about 45 seconds to place their bets. The odds for each horse are shown on individual screens in front of each player and quinella odds (choosing the first two horses in any order) and exacta odds (picking the first two horses in exact order) are displayed on big-screens in the middle of the playing area. The races take about 30 seconds and feature lifelike animation on the big-screen TVs along with the race call.
Minimum bets are $3 (although they can be spread on more than one horse) and the maximum is $50. The biggest potential jackpot is $50,000. Also, each player is randomly assigned a trifecta without any additional bet.
As with any slot machine, Triple Towers is a game of luck, not skill. Downey said the payouts would be set at levels normally associated with $5 slot machines. New Jersey Casino Control Commission figures indicate that's roughly a 93 percent to 95 percent payback.