The Future Headquarters of Looney Labs

By Andrew Looney

Part 3: The Tourney Center

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A visit to the casinos of Las Vegas can be just as mind-blowing, and as inspirational, as a trip to Amsterdam. The modern casino is a wonder to behold, and it contains many lessons for those interested in developing new types of game-playing institutions. Not that what I want to build will be anything like a Casino... a better comparison might be with a Chess Club. For want of a better term, I'm calling this new type of establishment a Tourney Center.

Imagine a gaming club where you play interesting new games in an endless series of small open tournaments. Each tournament has an entry fee and an official moderator, and the winner of the tournament divides the income with the house.

Instead of gambling your money away on a pointless game of chance (with your "opponent" often being merely a robot) the games here would be with people, creating an environment for positive socializing rather than mindless gambling. And imagine the added fun of winning a few bucks because you got lucky in a few games of Fluxx or Treehouse? The idea would be to make it feel like Bingo Night at the church or firehouse rather than a trip to Vegas; you pay a few bucks to play in a big game with a crowd of people, and hey, maybe you get lucky and win.

And while most traditional casino games would be shunned, the games we'd be playing will not be limited to our catalog. While those who don't pay attention to the Adventure Game Industry may not be aware of this, CCGs like Magic: The Gathering are already the basis for a growing industry of big money tournament gaming. Some of the events at Origins & GenCon offer cash prizes of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, attract crowds big enough to fill a casino, and even are broadcast on ESPN-2.

Right now, tournaments like these are typically held in the function rooms of hotels, or in big rooms at schools or universities, as well as, of course, game stores with decent-sized gaming areas. Arenas built specifically for this type of battle are still a thing of the future.

Also, there is one classic casino game I'd want to embrace in the Tourney Center: Texas Hold'em. I dislike most casino games because I think few of them really are games... most casino "games" are really just a series of opportunities to bet, then either win or lose money against the house, and repeat.

Poker is the exception, which is why the casinos can only make money on poker by taking a percentage of every pot, or from the prize pool in a tournament. And again, for anyone who doesn't know this, Poker (and specifically the new flavor of Poker called Texas Hold'em) is big and getting bigger all the time. Poker players are hungry for good places to play poker, and there's a whole new generation getting hooked on Hold'em who are looking for places other than Vegas to go play.

Would gambling opportunities of the wacky new forms I'm describing here be legal? That's a question that influences our thinking about where to move to. Once upon a time the only option to consider would have been Vegas, but they've broken down the barriers and more and more casinos are opening all the time (and not just on Indian Reservations).

Moreover, the structure I'm suggesting is obviously quite different from that of traditional gambling venues, and may therefore be easier for us to get away with. I've heard a lot of places nowadays are running Texas Hold'em Tournaments, with admission fees and various prizes, and aren't getting into trouble because they're regarded as contests akin to a lottery drawing or a raffle, rather than gambling. It all comes down to the difference between a bet you make against the house vs. a game in which many are playing but someone in the group (i.e. not the house) is the winner.

Of course, we'll need to learn about what we can and cannot do before we attempt to offer anything of this sort, and first we need the Looney Lounge itself. But this is one of the long-term issues we've been keeping in mind as we formulate our relocation plans.

Also, this brings me back to the beginning point: We need space, lots of space. My idea for the Looney Lounge is to create a series of connected gaming spaces, ranging from the cozy to the cavernous, so that we can host a wide range of gaming events. And that means we need a big building with plenty of rooms in a city where the cost of real estate is a lot more affordable than it is around here.

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