Girls, games and crazy gear at Gaming Life Expo

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Mark Miller beside his $28,000 giant poker chip set.

At 3 a.m. in a casino on the Las Vegas strip, Mark Miller was playing blackjack. Inexplicably, his thoughts wandered to poker.

'Why is it,' he thought, 'that no one has created a large, novelty poker chip?'

It was a fair question, one that Miller answered with the creation of The Monster Chip. The drink-coaster sized items are one of the many wacky poker-themed products lining the aisles of the Gaming Life Expo currently running in conjunction with the World Series of Poker at the Rio.

Stroll up one of the middle rows of the trade show, and you find yourself face to face with the fruits of Miller's idea. Nestled in a giant maple casing sit 480 lbs. of chips - 1,200 of them in all - two oversized decks of cards and one saucer-like dealer button.

As yet, Miller has sold three of the $28,000 chip sets: one went to New York, one stayed in Las Vegas and one was shipped to Dubai. Who purchases such a pricy novelty?

"Really filthy rich people," said Miller while manning his expo booth Saturday.

Whether his fabulously wealthy patrons actually use the chip set is another story. Miller, for one, has big plans for his gigantic product.

"We were thinking of starting a tournament," said Miller, only half serious, "And you'd have to use the giant cards, of course. And we'd build a giant table. And the winner would get something minute and insignificant like a 16-inch black and white TV."

A few booths over from Miller sits Barry Johnson a young man with no sense of humor when it comes to his poker wares. Johnson is the owner of NaughtyChips.com, a collection of pornographic chips featuring pictures of tanned woman spread-eagled and groping their chests Hustler-style.

The idea for the chips came to Johnson, not surprisingly, during a poker game with his buddies.

"One day we were like, 'It would be awesome to have female models on our chips," he said.

What followed was every young and horny entrepreneur's dream. Johnson hired a photographer, hand-picked a selection of X-rated models and had the pictures emblazoned on colorful stacks of chips.

The company offers fully nude chips and, for the more modest player, a PG-13 version with scantily clad babe. The chips come in cash game and tournament denominations and have been popular with strip clubs, according to Johnson, who added that the market audience for NaughtyChips.com is a Playboy subscriber.

That appears to be the target group the whole of the Gaming Life Expo, where strip clubs bring their dancers to twist themselves around makeshift poles on the conference room floor and pose for suggestive photographs with portly sunburned tourists.

In one area, young men hurled tennis balls at a lever that held the fate of a bikini-clad exotic dancer perched over a tub of water. In another, buxom ladies cooed at passersby proffering cans of poker energy drink. Near the door, a senior citizen asked two girls in matching naughty sailor outfits their ethnicity. "I'm a mixture," replied the blond. "I'm a Heinz 27."

But there were no babes shilling at David Miller's booth. His table is filled with the nodding heads of 30-some plastic bobbleheads fashioned after the most popular players in the game.

"Obviously Phil Hellmuth is as popular as any top ball player," Miller said of his reasoning behind creating the models initially reserved for sports celebrities.

Indeed, the Poker Brat is a top seller among a collection that includes notables such as Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Jennifer Harman, Scotty Nguyen, Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson and Johnny Chan, who is part owner of the company.

Other players aren't so popular, though. Among the duds?

"I would probably say David Williams and Erick Lindgren are the worst two," Miller said somewhat reluctantly. "It's very difficult selling them. We basically have to give them away for free."

Such is the name of the game at the Gaming Life Expo, where visitors are bombarded with invites to poker parties on the strip, leaflets for psychic readings, cheap poker chips and complimentary swag bags in which to collect it all.

Customers might be going home empty-headed but they won't leave empty handed.

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