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Best of John G. Brokopp

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TV gambles that blackjack will follow poker's lead

8 November 2006

Poker has been molded it into fascinating television fare, so it should come as no surprise that blackjack, the most popular casino table game, has been similarly re-tooled to conform to the demands of reality TV and the powerful revenue generating machine it has become.

Two made-for-TV versions of the classic card game, the Ultimate Blackjack Tour on CBS and the World Series of Blackjack on GSN, are proof that watching gamblers competing for big money is still a hot deal in the reality show craze.

The development of mini "rail cams" to allow viewers to see the player's hole cards was among the innovations that transformed poker into a spectator sport, but the challenges associated with turning a similar trick with blackjack were much more complex.

Participants compete against one another in poker, but the basic premise of blackjack is to beat the dealer. There is a special camaraderie at a blackjack table and a mind set that pits players as a team against the house. The competitive factor is questionable, except under tournament conditions.

Throw in the fact that basic strategy in blackjack is pretty much cut-and-dried as opposed to the mind games in which poker players engage one another and things could get pretty boring.

However, if you take some liberties with the traditional version of the game, add some high-tech enhancements, and mix in some good old-fashioned promotional hype, you have the makings of entertaining television fare.

The Ultimate Blackjack Tour, for example, uses a patent-pending format that includes forced eliminations, secret bets and a mini rail cam to reveal to viewers the dealer's hole card.

Perhaps the most ingenious move was to play the crossover card by taking well known celebrities from the world of poker, including Phil Helmuth and Annie Duke, and pit them against professional blackjack players.

CBS is giving the first season of the Ultimate Blackjack Tour, which features more than $1 million in prize money, a high-profile treatment, scheduling it Saturday afternoons as a lead-in to NCAA football. The first of 10 shows aired Sept. 16.

The second season of competition will expand to a world-wide tour schedule and be open to the public which will even be invited to compete for a seat at the final table by playing in free elimination competitions on UBT's official Website, www.playubt.com .

The World Series of Blackjack on GSN, the Network for Games, recently completed its third season but a fourth is in the works.

The game twists added to this version include AOL "Knockout" cards, whereby the low man on the chip totem pole after the deal on which the card is drawn is automatically eliminated, and Burger King "Power Chips", which give players a form of "Mulligan" to trade a bad card for a chance to draw a better one.

The field of 40 included two players from among the more than 300,000 people who entered for a chance to win seats in a qualifying blackjack tournament taped exclusively for GSN's marketing partner in the venture, AOL, which created a new blackjack area, www.aol.com/blackjack.

The prize pool for this year's competition, held at the Las Vegas Hilton, was over $1 million with $500,000 going to the grand prize winner.

CASINO NEWS: The latest figures from the monthly revenue reports of the Illinois Gaming Board (August) and the Indiana Gaming Commission (September) are in, so let's take a look at how the nine properties in the Greater Chicago area stack up:1 - Grand Victoria Elgin: 93.76, 2 – Argosy's Empress Joliet: 92.72, 3 - Hollywood Aurora: 92.28, 4 – Blue Chip: 92.13, 5 – Harrah's Joliet: 92.11, 6 – Majestic Star II: 91.86, 7 – Majestic Star: 91.73, 8 – Horseshoe Hammond: 91.28, 9 – Resorts East Chicago: 90.74.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp