At the final table of every event here at the World Series, the first place prize is brought out for everyone to see. Unlike many other sporting events where an oversized novelty cheque will do, the purse here is in cash. Cold hard American currency, and it's always presented in stacks of hundred dollar bills.
There's nothing like the sight of a few hundred thousand dollars sitting on a table not ten feet away to inspire some competition among the players vying to take it home. Call me a cynic, but being face-to-face with that much money, the prospect of making it my money would push any thoughts of the gold bracelet or a place in poker history far, far away.
When attempting to discover the specifics of the security measures taken to protect the vast sums of cash here at the Rio I was met with a brick wall. It seems the staff of the Rio don't want to part with any of their trade secrets. Media Director Nolan Dalla told me today that protecting this much money is a lot like protecting the president, the less people know about its movements, the better.
On the surface it may seem like the piles of money that materialize at the final tables of each event are not so heavily guarded, but lest any readers of this article take this as an invitation to storm the Rio Casino, let me tell you, nothing could be further from the truth. The imposing officer towering above the cash prize is just the tip of the iceberg.
An army of Rio managers and staff are perpetually circulating through the poker room keeping a discreet eye on everything that happens. In addition to this are the many surveillance camera bubbles mounted above the tables. Commonly referred to as "the eye in the sky," these cameras are monitored by an equally vigilant staff of security personnel hidden somewhere on the Rio premises.
It wasn't until just after Russ "Dutch" Boyd won the Short-Handed No-Limit Hold'em Event today and found myself up close and personal with the cash prize that I learned the secret of why the tournament staff are able to leave just under half a million dollars lying relatively unattended on the final table. Here's a hint, it has a lot to do with the fact that all American bills are the same color. That's right, the "stacks" of c-notes are nothing more than singles, capped on each end with a genuine Benjamin. Real value of the impressive pile of money pictured above: around $3,000.
So as it turns out, like many things in Vegas, the cash prize on the final table is not what it seems.