THANKS to the array of celebrity poker tournaments on television, it's no surprise that casino games are a popular entertainment option for special events. Here, the experts who know casino games best discuss how to add Las Vegas-style excitement to any occasion.
Geri Windecker, manager at Wild Bill's Interactive Events in Kent, Wash., notes that casino classics such as blackjack, craps and roulette “are still the mainstay of our events.” However, after exploding onto the scene a few years ago, Texas Hold 'Em remains “extremely popular right now, and we offer it as an add-on to our casino packages,” she says. “While Texas Hold 'Em has been played in casinos and card rooms for many years, it was pretty much ignored until Binion's began televising the World Series of Poker from their casino in downtown Las Vegas.” Since then, “We've experienced a huge surge in requests for it in all forms — tournaments, home parties, rentals, corporate events, fund-raisers — it's on the lips and in the minds of almost everyone planning a casino-themed event.”
Dennis Wilson, president of Elite Casino Productions in Beech Grove, Ind., notes that blackjack is “always” the most popular game for his company. He's also getting requests for Pai Gow, Three Card, Texas Hold 'Em and Caribbean Stud poker tables, American and European roulette, and horse-race betting programs — “not really a casino game per se, but a mock wagering game” that allows guests to try their luck, he says.
APPEAL OF THE DEAL
With so many games available, how do event planners pick a winner? Games that encourage the most interaction with other players and the dealers are the best bet, the pros say.
The allure of casino themes and games is that they “offer a great interactive social atmosphere and encourage teamwork,” says Randy Van Hulle, president of Ace Casino Equipment in Tucson, Ariz., although he notes that there's also a place for games such as slot machines that hold less group appeal but still offer players the thrill of winning.
In addition to the social element of the games, there's also the fantasy factor that goes along with winning big, even when there isn't any real money at stake.
“One of the biggest attractions of [real] gambling is when the player goes into the ‘zone’ — that place where winning and losing money at that game is all there is in life,” Wilson says. “We strive to provide authentic staff and games for special events and get players into the zone so they can go a bit crazy, but never have to worry about losing any money because it's all just for fun and prizes.” He adds, “The intensity of winning and losing personal fortunes on a real casino game is missing, but how intense do you really want to get at a party? We let the guests get crazy … just not stark raving mad.”
STACK THE DECK
When it comes to factors that planners should keep in mind when choosing casino games for their events, “I think the most significant thing is the quality of the tables, chips and, most importantly, the personnel,” notes Mark Warren, president of Game World Event Services in St. Charles, Mo. “Clients want quality, and that extends to the people that deal as well.”
Most casino game companies don't simply rent out tables, but provide savvy staff that can teach guests how to play each game. Dennis Register, co-owner of Sunrise, Fla.-based Top Notch Productions — which staffed a three-night celebrity poker tournament for MTV's Video Music Awards in August — notes that games such as blackjack, baccarat, roulette and poker require one dealer per table, while craps tables usually require three dealers. “Hire a casino company that comes self-contained and needs nothing from the venue,” he recommends. “They will handle all the staffing, delivery and removal [of games].”
Van Hulle notes that planners can hedge their bets by “selecting a casino vendor with experience in producing special events — simple things such as adequate staffing, electrical needs, set-up time and layout of the room can be overlooked by inexperienced vendors.”
Windecker also points to the importance of room layouts. “What looks like a cavernous room on the walkthrough can quickly become overstuffed when banquet rounds, chairs, buffets, bars and casino equipment start moving in,” she says. Lighting and noise concerns should also be addressed: “Caterers, bands and DJs want it dark, [but] we need light to be able to see the chips and tell the colors apart.” Dealers also need to be heard when they clue newbie players in on game rules. “Placement near the music can prohibit us from explaining the games,” Windecker notes. “The optimal placement in the room for casino [games] is as far away from the band or DJ as space will allow.”
Ace Casino Equipment, 520/770-9288; Elite Casino Productions, 317/784-3596; Game World Event Services, 636/724-8800; Top Notch Productions, 954/746-2222; Wild Bill's Interactive Events, 425/272-0244