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Joining the rest of the Las Vegas Strip, Caesars Palace jumped into the 21st century world of poker when it brought back a poker room for its casino in late December.

Spending $12 million to add a spacious poker room and separate tournament area, it seems Caesars is sparing nothing to allow poker players to enjoy their game in style! It is a remarkable comeback for the game of poker in the legendary casino, which quit spreading poker in the late 80’s.

The poker room itself is decked out with 25 television screens and eleven vintage LeRoy Neiman paintings, which had previously been kept from public view. The tournament area will come into usage especially when the 2006 World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions is played at the end of June.

Since the opening of the room, daily tournaments have been running with buy-ins that start at $80 with $50 rebuys to big weekly tournaments on Fridays and Saturdays at 7PM that will run you $530 (with no rebuys). If tournaments aren’t your style, then there will be ring games spread (and at all levels of action) featuring Texas and Omaha Hold ‘Em as well as Seven Card Stud.

So how do you open up a poker room as grand as this? You invite the cream of the poker world, add in an A-list group of celebrities, and put on a tournament on New Year’s Eve!

Las Vegas socialite Nicky Hilton decided to introduce some of her friends to the game of poker through “The Celebrity Poker Challenge”, which kicked off some high dollar action in the Caesars poker room. The buy-in for the event was $2,000 (with $200 juice) and was also a bounty tournament for those who could take down the celebrities and professionals who came to play as well.

Bright and early (11AM, to be exact!), 92 runners came to the line for the tournament, including Hilton, actress and World Series champion Jennifer Tilly, actress Shannon Elizabeth and a strong outpouring of poker pros ready for battle.

Phil “The Unabomber” Laak joined his lady Tilly at the tables as well as fellow pros Cyndy Violette, Chip and Karina Jett, WSOP runner-up David Williams, WSOP Tournament of Champions winner Mike Matusow and Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari, among others.

With $2,000 bounties on each of the celebrities and poker players, there was some potential for money to be made.

Nicky Hilton showed her mettle at the tables as she lasted about two hours into the event, but there was one bounty that went unclaimed. Shannon Elizabeth was able to outlast the field and take down the first place prize out of the $120,000 pool.

Elizabeth is no stranger to poker. She made a respectable run during the 2005 World Series Main Event, making it to the second day, and also is heavily into the Hollywood poker scene and the Los Angeles casino world.

Could Shannon be on the verge of potentially hitting a run similar to what Jennifer Tilly had in the 2005 poker season? We’ll have to wait and see on that point, but the Caesars Palace poker room is off to a fantastic start.