Attempting to sneak into The Real Deal! live poker show at the Venetian a couple of minutes late, my boyfriend and I sheepishly take a seat behind the last row of patrons. Comedian and host Vinnie Favorito catches my eye and shouts into his microphone, “Can I get you guys anything… a watch?” So much for going unnoticed.
New this fall, The Real Deal! is part crowd participation, part gambling with celebrities (well, poker celebs at least) and an experiment that just might have a niche in the Vegas entertainment scene.
Capitalizing on the font of popularity of poker and its famous players, the show welcomes several guests nightly to take a seat at an on-stage poker table and play alongside pros like Doyle Brunson, Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Jr., Jennifer Harman and Todd Brunson. Two poker stars take the stage each night to defend their status against the amateurs.
During the show I watched, the pros were legend Doyle Brunson and Antonio “the magician” Esfandiari. It was a real treat to see Brunson play live and to play along as the rest of the crowd and I tried to make the best hand in Texas hold ‘em using a controller in each audience seat. Audience members who score particularly high can earn a spot at the table on stage.
Watching one of the tourists who landed a seat get overly excited proved the most entertaining part of the entire show.
“I’m having the time of my life,” he told Favorito. To which the host replied, “You need to get out more,” before nicknaming him “Ninja Turtle” for his triumphant karate chop after ousting Esfandiari from the table.
While the pros worked the cards, Playboy model and poker player Lacy Jones amped up The Real Deal!’s sex appeal as co-host. Jones wore a beautiful Canturi necklace that was up for grabs if an audience member hit a straight flush in the interactive 52 card pick ‘em game in which participants randomly choose 5 cards in an attempt to win the top prize. Score a royal flush in this game and you can walk away with a cool million dollars.
In fact, it’s hard to walk away empty handed from The Real Deal! – a constant flow of kitsch and souvenirs hits the crowd throughout the show.
After the poker action wrapped up, I went back stage to meet the pros in person. Brunson was charming as always, sipping on a beer while ladies flocked around Esfandiari.
An admitted club addict, Esfandiari pledged his allegiance to Tao, a club he frequents often. Though he was still fuming over a hand he’d lost to Doyle, Esfandiari was able to get over it as a busty blonde in a leopard print dress began distracting him. In between chit chatting with the ladies, Esfandiari told me that he and Phil Laak are busy filming a new season of the prop bet-based TV show I Bet You. According to Esfandiari, this season’s bets are crazier than ever.
“My favorite bet so far is going to take place this season. We are each taking two Ambien and then betting who can stay awake the longest.”
Ah, the thrilling world of professional gambling. I’ll bet you won’t see that on stage at the Venetian any time soon.