It's all about high stakes, bright lights, and big money at the Poker Dome Challenge in Sin City: a 43-week series of speed-poker tournaments with a grand prize of $1 million airing Sunday nights on the Fox Sports Network (FSN). Sponsored by MansionPoker.net, the series is produced and broadcast in the Neonopolis Complex, a large dome on historic Fremont Street specially constructed by FSN.
Poker Dome follows a speed-poker format — like poker on an NBA shot clock — with approximately 80 to 100 hands played per hour as opposed to the normal 12 to 15. The final will be broadcast live this spring for a winner-takes-all $1 million prize.
The Dome sees participants competing at a table enclosed in glass. Fans seated around the Dome are able to watch the poker proceedings unfold without being seen or heard while the players' reactions, images, heart rates, and hole cards are displayed on individual plasmas and large video screens. Special cameras were installed to capture the hole cards, and cards were even fitted with RFID chips so the audience can see which cards are in play or discarded.
In the past, most poker shows were lit and shot like a sporting event, but Poker Dome is treated more like a game show or sports entertainment. The lighting cues use colors to create starker looks as the game proceeds into higher rounds. Lighting design is by Bruce Ferri with associate lighting design by Ben Carlson, both of New York City Lites, while Tim Saunders of Broadcast Design International Inc. handled scenic design.
The overall design is centered on supporting the intensity of playing poker in an arena atmosphere. The greatest challenge was to prevent illegal play by not allowing the players to see the audience. The players are separated from the audience by a glass wall that has been treated with a graphic-type material called Clear Vision. When lit from the players' side, it turns opaque and prevents the players from seeing the audience.
Ferri uses Martin MAC 700 Profiles, Vari-Lite VL500Ds, MAC 250 Entours, MX-10 scanners, and digital effects from Maxedia Digital Media Composers in his design. PixelRange PixelArc Cs, various PixelRange PixelBricks, Ocean Optics SeaChanger units, and Morpheus M ColorFaders add to the color of the set, while Element Labs Versa® Tubes and accompanying Versa Drive D2 and C1 controllers handle more video effects from the server. Control is via MA lighting grandMA and grandMA Light consoles. Adding to this are a variety of ETC Source Four ellipsoidals and PARs, with dimming via ETC Sensor 48 and Sensor 24 dimmer racks, along with TMBs ProPower 48 Channel 208/110 Distro for power management. Look Solutions Unique 2 Hazers provide beam definition. CYM Lighting Services (account manager Kevin Swank) provides the lighting, and SoCal Scenic Inc. provides scenic services.
“We were going for an effect to create multiple ever-changing backgrounds that could be used to not only enhance the look of the set, but also be able to accent certain parts of the show, giving it a more dramatic look,” explains Justin Garrone, associate art director from Show Partners, which handles art direction, engineering, and operations for the show. “Our canvas for this was a semi-circular array of Versa Tubes that was used as the players' background.” Chris Runnells is the show's art director.
Most of the moving lights are placed in the grid above the poker table in a semi-circular configuration, providing lighting support for the game using the red-carpet floor as a cyc with card suit patterns. The MX-10s are placed on dead hung pipes in the audience area and used to light the audience during game play.
Above the Versa Tube wall is a semi-circular bank of 12 42" Samsung HD Plasma monitors to project graphics. In the audience are two flown banks, each with six 46" Samsung 460P LCD monitors. “We have a bank house left and right,” says Garrone. “These are used to display hold cards, heart monitors, and placings in the game.”
Also in the audience section a Barco SLM R9+ Performer DLP projects onto a DaLite Screen flown house center above the glass wall. “This is to show the audience how the show is being cut by the director and how it will air on the network,” Garrone adds.
Additional crew includes assistant LD Stephen Bourmetis; lighting director/programmer Mike Appel; programmers Mark Butts, Demfis Fyssicopulos, and Andrew Giffen; Maxedia programmer Curtis Cox; lighting crew chief John Lotz; master electrician Stephanie Weiss; and board op Paul Fickett.