‘Poker Night in America’ coming to Maryland Live to film


Shelamay Novakowski dealt the very first hand at Maryland Live Casino’s 52-table, split-level poker room in August. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post file photo.)

Maryland Live’s high-volume poker room is about to launch its first-ever tournament series, the $1 Million Maryland Live Poker Classic, which begins March 10.

Soon, the poker room will be as seen on TV, too: Maryland Live Casino announced Wednesday that the television show “Poker Night in America” will film the final table of the $1 Million Live Poker Classic main event on March 24.

The production crew will stick around after the $3,500 buy-in tournament to tape two invitation-only cash game sessions on March 25, featuring a mix of well-known poker players, including 2012 World Series of Poker Main Event champion Greg Merson, who grew up near the site of the Arundel Mills casino.

“It’s an honor to be a part of cash game poker returning to U.S television,” Merson said in a text message. (Merson also indicated on Twitter that he plans to play in the $1 Million Live Poker Classic main event.)

[UpdateMaryland Live announced that it has flip-flopped the dates of the tournament final table and the cash games; the cash games will be filmed March 24 and the final table will be filmed March 25.]

Also lined up for the cash game are high-stakes Annapolis poker pro Christian Harder, who plays semi-regularly at Maryland Live; the personable Canadian pro Gavin Smith; and amateur Darvin Moon, the Western Maryland logger whose improbable 2009 World Series of Poker run I covered for The Post.

Moon said Wednesday that he’s played in two “Poker Night in America” events previously, though both were tournaments. “I don’t play cash [games] much,” he said. “I still view poker as a hobby. Hell, I work hard for my money.”

Moon, who said he’d just come in from the woods before calling (“I still go to work, same as it’s always been”), won his $10,000 World Series seat at a $130 buy-in tournament at Wheeling Island Casino five years ago — and parlayed it into a $5.18 million second-place payday.

On most nights, Maryland Live has the second-busiest cardroom in the country behind Commerce Casino in California, with all 52 tables filled and waiting lists that regularly run more than 100 people deep for the most popular games. Putting the six-month-old poker room on television may not generate more business in the short term, since it often operates at maximum capacity. But going on the air “it will be kind of like our coming out party,” said Mike Smith, Maryland Live’s director of poker operations. “We’re doing really, really well, but once this is televised, we’ll be out there a little more, more in the public eye.”

 The timing, Smith added, is ideal, with the Horseshoe Casino opening in Baltimore later this year — complete with a World Series of Poker-branded cardroom. “Obviously, we can’t get any busier,” he said. “But there is competition coming.”

Buy-ins for the televised cash games will be a minimum of $5,000 up to a maximum of $20,000. If that sounds like your idea of a good time, producers of the TV show want to hear from you: They’re holding an open casting call for players who want to take a shot at the big game under the bright lights. Note that it’s BYOB (as in bankroll), and you have to be 21 or older. Producers are asking interested players to e-mail them at castingcall@pokernight.com. 

“We’re looking for entertaining people,” Smith said, adding that the cash games will be more social by design than some of the high-stakes action that’s been on television in the past, with lower stakes and less stress. “It’s a smaller game for some of the pros than they normally play, so they’ll be more engaged because they’re not playing for so much money.”

The game, Smith said, will be $25-$50 no-limit Texas hold’em — “which is not even the biggest game we’ve run here.” (That would be $100-$200 with a mandatory $400 straddle.)

Harder, who has played in televised poker tournaments in the past, said he’s never been in a TV cash game before. “I’m sure it will be a little different. With this cast of characters, especially with Gavin Smith, I’m sure it will be a lively, fun table with good action.”

The shoots will mark the first time a poker event has been filmed for television in Maryland, according to casino officials. “Poker Night in America” — a new series that will begin airing in late April on Comcast SportsNet – has previously filmed at Turning Stone Casino in upstate New York; the Peppermill Casino in Reno; and Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh.

J. Freedom du Lac is the editor of The Post's general assignment news desk. He was previously a Local enterprise reporter and, before that, the paper’s pop music critic.
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