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By Peter Nathan

Peter Nathan is a well-known, experienced tournament player. This article is based on his recent experience in the Las Vegas Hilton’s new $1,000,000 Blackjack Classic tournament. Peter tells it like it is.


The Bad

The Las Vegas Hilton attempted to advertise and offer a $1,000,000 Blackjack Classic. [I will refer to this as the "Classic" to distinguish it from Jimmy Wike’s successful "Hilton Million" I, II and III Blackjack Tournaments, which were completed in 2004-2006.] The Hilton printed and distributes an 8-page brochure explaining the Classic. It was intended to be 12 monthly qualifiers with a $2,500 entry fee each time a player tried to qualify. Each monthly qualifier included three complimentary nights at LVH, and each month there would be $35,000 in cash prizes, and four players would receive entries into the finals (the "FINALS") scheduled to be played on June 6-8, 2008. Each $2,500 entry included one entry into the wild card drawing. So if a player failed to qualify, his name would go into the hat and on June 6, 2008, the Hilton would randomly draw 16 more names from these losing monthly entries to play in a 64-player, head-to-head single elimination FINALS.

This tournament sounded too good to be true and, as it turned out, it was too good to be true. I must give the Hilton credit for "anticipating" that such a tournament was "too good to be true," when they clearly stated in the brochure this statement, "All prize money (including the monthly) is based upon a minimum of 65 entries in each monthly tournament." [As a former practicing attorney, this was the necessary "CYA" language to protect the Hilton from a lawsuit if the Classic failed.] However, "CYA" language does not make the players happy. All that tournament players want to know is "WHAT CAN I WIN FOR MY $2,500.00". Thus, the "CYA" language kept most of the players away from entering. The first, second and third monthly qualifiers did not approach the 65 player minimum. The Hilton, again to its credit, still paid the full $35,000 in the first qualifier (which only had 25 players) and in the second qualifier (which only had 39 players).

The Very Ugly

At the third qualifier in August (which only had 24 players), they cut the monthly prize fund by $15,000. However, not to their credit, they waited until the final table was about to start before announcing this 43% cut in prize money (when it was too late to give players their money back). They indicated they were relying on the limitation ("CYA") statement in the brochure. In my opinion, this action was probably the most under-handed action by any casino in the over the thirty-year history of tournament blackjack.

The Ugly

On September 7, at the start of the fourth qualifier, the Hilton attempted to rectify it's August fiasco by advising all players who paid the $2500, that they would announce the prize structure PRIOR to playing the first hand of the first round; and, if any player wanted his/her money back, there would be no problem and the entry fee would be immediately refunded. Amazingly, there were 12 people who paid and played. Most of them were out-of-towners, who had come in for other events (Golden Nugget also had its tournament with a $100 entry fee). Three players told me, "I am here; I might as well just play." One local said, "Well they have collected a prize fund from the first three months worth $160,000, so that is why I am playing." [See below as I calculated the prize fund at $151,000 through the first 3 months]. So the tournament went on with 12 players playing at three tables (effectively they were in the semis). Two players advanced from each table. They picked one of the losers in a wild card drawing and seven players played the finals with a total prize pool of $14,100. The first place winner would receive only $4100 (instead of $25,000) and an entry into the FINALS. The players finishing in second thru fourth place received their $2500 back and an entry into the FINALS. Fifth place received the $2500 back, but no entry, and sixth and seventh still got nothing. They collected $30,000 (no rebuys obviously) and paid out $14,100. The $15,900 will go into the Finals prize fund. [BTW-when I first arrived at this qualifier, they only had nine players and LVH told me that first place would pay $3100. Therefore, they added $333 for each additional player up to the 12].

My calculation of the TOTAL PRIZE FUND for the FINALS based on fourth monthly qualifiers is as follows:

First qualifier had 25 players with 15 advancing to the 2nd round. I assume all losing 10 players paid $500 for the reentry. LVH paid out the full $35,000 so they retained $32,500.

Second qualifier had 39 players with 15 advancing to the 2nd round. I assume all losing 24 players paid $500 for the reentry. LVH paid out the full $35,000 so they retained $74,500.

Third qualifier had 24 players with 15 advancing to the 2nd round. I assume all losing 9 players paid $500 for the reentry. LVH paid out only $20,000 so they retained $44,500.

Fourth qualifier discussed above, they retained $15,900.

The Very Questionable Future

When the BJI Editor Henry Tamburin and I first discussed this article, the Hilton had just finished the fourth qualifier, the future of the Classic was in trouble, and he suggested to me to make some positive suggestions in my article that could help the Hilton possible turn things around with players. If you play in or follow the world of blackjack tournaments, then you have probably heard or read that some casinos in the past have indeed followed my "suggestions." In an article appearing in the Blackjack Insider Newsletter in 2006 titled, "TANKS A MILYON," the author Sammy Vaughn credits me with making the "written guarantee" suggestion that saved Hilton Million I, and thus made Hilton Million II and III possible resulting in Sammy becoming a "millionaire" (when he won the Hilton Million III tournament). However, the Hilton decided that the Classic is not worth saving and "unofficially" has cancelled the rest of the qualifiers.

Why would the Hilton cancel instead of trying to save the tournament AND the casino’s reputation, as it did in the Hilton Million?

I would like to give you my thoughts and opinions on this and then you can reach your own conclusions. As Sammy Vaughn pointed out in his article, the Hilton Million was the brain-child and personal property of Jimmy Wike, who at the time worked for the Hilton. What followed were two major casino acquisitions: Harrah’s purchased Caesars Entertainment and Resorts’ purchased the Las Vegas Hilton. Jimmy Wike left the Hilton and went to Caesars while the Hilton was still running Hilton Million III. However, Wyke still "controlled" Hilton Million III while he was working at Caesars. I know this for a fact, because, when I wrote the letter that caused the Hilton to "guarantee" all the money in Hilton Million I, Jimmy Wike personally barred me from playing (or even watching) any Hilton Million tournament. After he went to Caesars, I tried to enter a qualifier in Hilton Million III, but was told that I "still" was not allowed to play. When I asked JoAnne, the lady-in-charge of tournament entries, why I was still barred if Mr. Wike was no longer employed by the Hilton, she said, "It is still his tournament." I subsequently learned that he and Caesars have always owned the "Hilton Million." When Resorts took over the Hilton, they also learned that Caesars and Jimmy Wike owned the Hilton Million. Here’s what happened. Resorts tried to run this Classic using the name "Hilton Million IV" and when Caesars and Wike saw that Resorts was changing the tournament entries, rules, format, etc. from the original format that Wyke implemented in the earlier Hilton Million Dollar Tournaments, they denied Resorts any further rights in the Hilton Million name. So the Classic name was created and Resorts learned the same hard lessons that Wike and the Hilton Million learned which is the following:


However, the difference now is that Resorts does not care about its reputation, whereas, the Hilton did.

Since Resorts took over, they have changed tournaments, they have changed their qualifications for tournaments, they have changed the prizes for tournaments, and they have even changed how the prizes can be played or spent at the casino; ALL THESE CHANGES AFTER THE TOURNAMENT QUALIFICATION HAS ENDED, THE PLAYER HAS QUALIFIED OR PAID, AND THE TOURNAMENT HAS STARTED OR EVEN BEEN COMPLETED.

The following incident was told to me by a player who played in the Classic’s first qualifier. During that qualifier, the people in charge at LVH announced that if a player played live action for five hours at an announced average bet, he/she would be invited to three special tournaments. This player gave them the requested play and even verified the play with the pit boss, but he says he has tried to find out about these special tournaments (so he can make plane reservations) and they refuse to give him any information. At this point in time, he is sure that they will never hold these three special tournaments as was told to him.

My advice is simple: Do not play at the Hilton unless you are currently an invited player to FREE tournaments. If you have to play to qualify, or if you have to pay to enter, BEWARE of RESORTS.


Late Update: So what happens with the $160,000+ that the Hilton has retained?

Just as this issue was going to press, Les Thacker of the Hilton advised me that the LVH brass has decided to cancel the balance of the Classic year long monthly qualifiers. They will, however, hold the FINALS on December 6 and 7, 2007. There will be 16 wild cards drawn from all the entrants who played but did not qualify. They will join the 16 qualifiers in a 32-draw, single elimination head-to-head step-ladder tournament. All entrants for both the wild card drawings and the Finals will be given free accommodations. A letter explaining all this will be mailed to all entrants the first few days of October.

Moral of this story.

Every time a casino changes their tournament rules or formats in mid-stream, or doesn’t guarantee the prize payout, they run into bad press with players, who will stop playing in that casino’s tournaments. Someday, to the delight of all players, all casinos will finally learn how to run tournaments the right way.


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