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Blackjack Insider Newsletter, Sept. 2003, #44

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH MR. JIMMY WIKE,

VICE PRESIDENT OF OPERATIONS LAS VEGAS HILTON

By Henry Tamburin

Smart Gaming web site

Henry Tamburin is the editor of the Blackjack Insider Newsletter and author of the best-selling book Blackjack: Take The Money & Run. He is a finalist in the Las Vegas Hilton's Million Dollar Blackjack Tournament II. Henry currently is promoting all of his books at 30% off for BJI readers: click here.

Mr. Jimmy Wike is the man behind the Las Vegas Hilton Million Dollar Blackjack Tournament. This is the first time ever that a casino is giving away one million dollars in cash for first place in a blackjack tournament. Their first Million Dollar Blackjack Tournament was launched in March 2003 and consisted of 12 qualifying monthly tournaments. The final round was held in April 2003 and Mr. Edward Rhodes finished first and won the million dollars. Their Million Dollar Blackjack Tournament II was launched in May 2003 and consists of 12 consecutive monthly qualifying tournaments with the finals scheduled for May 2004 when another player will win one million dollars. Mr. Wike was kind enough to take time away from his busy schedule to be interviewed for this exclusive report.

BJI: How long have you been VP of Operations at the LVH?

JW: Iíve been at the LVH since January 2000 or about 3 Ĺ years. I transferred from Ballyís where I held the position of Casino Manager.

BJI: What are your responsibilities at the LVH?

JW: Iím responsible for table games, slots, race & sports book, casino hosts, and player development.

BJI: What made you come up with the idea for a blackjack tournament with a one million dollar first prize?

JW: I had been doing blackjack tournaments in the past when someone approached me with an idea for a million dollar tournament. However, the structure and the format werenít suitable. I reformatted the concept then took it to our Marketing and Executive Committees where it was approved.

BJI: Why did you decide to give the one million dollars in cash rather than an annuity?

JW: I wanted the "biggest bang" and an "instant life changer" for the winner of our tournament, and what better way to accomplish this then to hand someone one million dollars in cash.

BJI: Your tournament is open to everyone including known card counters. Why do you allow counters to play?

JW: How could I proclaim our tournament to be the worldís best blackjack tournament if I excluded a number of skilled players. I wanted to give everyone, no matter what his or her skill level was, a chance to win the tournament.

BJI: How many players participated in your first Million Dollar Blackjack Tournament?

JW: We had 1,613 players.

BJI: Other than the one million dollar prize, what else would you say that makes your tournament unique?

JW: I would say our wild card drawings. Every participant that is eliminated has a chance to get back in to the tournament through the wild card drawings. These are held prior to round 2, round 3, the semi-final and the final round. It adds excitement and players stick around till the end of the tournament.

BJI: The number of players that showed up for the monthly qualifying rounds after you launched the Million Dollar Tournament was below expectations. Did that cause some anxious moments?

JW: More than just a few anxious moments. We were a half million bucks in the hole after the first six months. We finally figured out what was happening. After the tournament was launched we had a large number of players sign up to play that were not eligible to play blackjack in our casino (e.g. card counters). So our side play didnít generate much revenue. Plus there were a lot of questions in regular playerís minds if we would fulfill our obligation and give away the million dollars. I let everyone know that we were committed to completing the tournament. Then our participation level in the tournament with regular players picked up and also our revenue from side play.

BJI: Are most of the players who play in your tournament seasoned tournament players or mostly novice tournament players?

JW: At the start of the tournament I didnít know many of the veteran tournament players. Now that I know them, Iíd say that about 60% of our players are novice tournament players and about 40% are seasoned tournament players. Weíve also had several novice players new to blackjack win our monthly qualifying rounds. So with a little luck itís possible that anyone can win our tournament.

BJI: What was it like watching the 7 finalists play those final 28 hands for the million dollar first prize in front of a large crowd of spectators plus a TV film crew?

JW: To be honest, I remember very little of the final round probably because I was so pumped up and excited. Iím looking forward to watching the finals on TV with millions of viewers.

BJI: What lesson did you learn from the first Million Dollar Tournament and what changes did you implement in Million Dollar II?

JW. When we started the tournament we had time limit restrictions on a playerís betting and playing decisions. However, we realized it became difficult to uniformly enforce that rule so we abandoned it in favor of encouraging players to make their bets and playing decisions in a timely manner. Our original betting maximum of $5,000 was also too high resulting in many rounds being decided in the last one or two hands so in our second Million Dollar Tournament we lowered the maximum betting limit to $2,500. By the way, we are also considering lowering the maximum betting limit further for Million Dollar Tournament III.

BJI: How is Million Dollar Tournament II progressing?

JW: Iím surprised we havenít sold out every month especially since we had the maximum capacity of players in the last two monthlies of our first tournament and, in fact, turned away some 35 players in March. However, our second tournament is considerably ahead in the number of participants compared to the same time last year (66 ahead through the first 4 months).

BJI: Poker tournaments are very popular and getting a lot of exposure on TV. Do you foresee blackjack tournaments ever achieving the same level of popularity?

JW: Yes I do because demographically there are a lot more blackjack players than poker players.

BJI: Are there plans for a third Million Dollar Blackjack Tournament?

JW: Yes, the planning for the third tournament is underway and we already have dates selected in 2004 /2005 for the monthly preliminary rounds. We are also planning to hold the first monthly round on the Sunday/Monday/Tuesday (May 16/17/18) following the finals of Tournament II, which will be held Thursday/Friday/Saturday (May 13/14/15). We offer our tournament players three comped room nights so players who are participating in the finals of Tournament II and stay to play in the first monthly round of Tournament III will get 6 consecutive comped room nights.

BJI: What tips can you offer our readers who might be considering entering your tournament?

JW: Get some tournament experience in low limit mini-tournaments. Most blackjack players are comfortable playing against a dealer but unfamiliar with the concept of playing against the dealer and other players.

 

Note: For more details on the Las Vegas Hilton Million Dollar Blackjack Tournament II, click here.

To read Henry's first article about the Hilton Tournament, click here.

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