Before the Poker Boom: Poker in the 90s

Trump

In the 80s poker had become primarily a west coast phenomenon, but thanks to poker pioneers like Steve Wynn, Jack Binion, Lyle Berman, George Hardie and even Donald Trump, poker would expand across the United States in the 90s.

I became casino marketing director of the Bicycle Casino in 1991. Knowing I was from Alabama, the Bicycle Casino’s founder George Hardie sent me to Tunica, Mississippi, to scout the area for a large poker casino he had planned to develop there.

As I looked out at the cotton fields and the raging Mississippi river, I remember looking forward to running a poker room in the south; it would be going back home for me. I had hosted many games in that area for years and finally would have a chance to offer the players a legal and safe environment to play where they would not have to worry about law enforcement or hijackers.

Hardie had options on land around Robinson and the Tunica area, which would later be sold to Lyle Berman. Berman is one of the best Omaha players in the world. He would visit the Bicycle Casino to play in the Diamond Jim Brady tournaments and became good friends with Hardie. Hardie had an ambition to build the largest poker room in the world in Mississippi and purchased a piece of property called Buck Lake around Tunica.

Hardie had lobbied to have the nearest casino to Memphis, Tennessee. He would later sell that property to Berman, who built the Grand Casino in Tunica in 1996, which helped establish poker in Mississippi. Jack Binion also purchased land to build the Horseshoe casino, which opened the previous year. Poker had finally arrived in the south.

Ken Lambert Jr., Regional Director of Operations for the Heartland Poker Tour, recalls opening day of Jack Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Tunica where he was director of poker operations, “We finally opened in February of 1995 to long lines of excited players. The lines extended hundreds of feet. It was a cold day, but to warm as many of the guests as he could, Jack emptied out his gift shop and began handing out any type of cold apparel that was on hand.”

Lambert continues, “I had 10 poker tables opened and ready to go as players rushed to the room to be the first to play a hand in Tunica at Jack Binion’s Horseshoe. Not long after opening, the poker room expanded to 12 tables and the rest was history. We had the biggest players in the world come play. The new dealers were dealing games they had only heard about, $4,000/$8,000 limit Hold’em and the Pot-Limit Omaha had a $75,000 max bet.”

When poker exploded in the 1980s and 1990s, I felt like Forrest Gump. I was lucky enough to see landmark events in poker history firsthand and even established a record myself. I became the first player to have four consecutive cashes in the WSOP Main Event in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994. My highest finish was 6th in 1994. Ronnie Bardah set a new record in 2014 with five consecutive cashes in the Main Event.

On the east coast, poker was also having its own boom. In Nolan Dalla’s article “The Early Years of the Atlantic City Poker Scene,” Dalla says, “The epicenter of the East Coast poker universe instantly became the Trump Taj Mahal, which opened the sparkling 50-table room in the Summer of 1993.”

Poker Hall of Famer Jack McClelland was hired by Donald Trump in 1996 as poker tournament director to establish a major poker tournament on the east coast. Trump created the United States Poker Championship tournament, which was a prestigious stop on the professional poker circuit for years and was televised on ESPN. McClelland says Trump was a no-nonsense, get-it-done right kind of guy. He really enjoyed working for him.

I remember going to the opening of most of these new poker rooms. Poker now had a showcase across the United States. This developed thousands of new poker players. Poker had arrived as a must-have amenity in casinos to reach out to a new demographic of gamblers.

The 90s was a great decade for me personally as I found success both in casino boardrooms and on the felt. In part 2, I will discuss the poker boom in Las Vegas. Steve Wynn, with the help of Bobby Baldwin as his president, opened Bellagio, which would be a game changer in the history of poker.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiards/casino marketing expert. Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He also helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

Robert has over 30 years’ experience in casino marketing and player development. He can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and coaching. Follow Robert on Twitter @thechipburner.

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Before the Poker Boom: Poker in the 90s

Trump

In the 80s poker had become primarily a west coast phenomenon, but thanks to poker pioneers like Steve Wynn, Jack Binion, Lyle Berman, George Hardie and even Donald Trump, poker would expand across the United States in the 90s.

I became casino marketing director of the Bicycle Casino in 1991. Knowing I was from Alabama, the Bicycle Casino’s founder George Hardie sent me to Tunica, Mississippi, to scout the area for a large poker casino he had planned to develop there.

As I looked out at the cotton fields and the raging Mississippi river, I remember looking forward to running a poker room in the south; it would be going back home for me. I had hosted many games in that area for years and finally would have a chance to offer the players a legal and safe environment to play where they would not have to worry about law enforcement or hijackers.

Hardie had options on land around Robinson and the Tunica area, which would later be sold to Lyle Berman. Berman is one of the best Omaha players in the world. He would visit the Bicycle Casino to play in the Diamond Jim Brady tournaments and became good friends with Hardie. Hardie had an ambition to build the largest poker room in the world in Mississippi and purchased a piece of property called Buck Lake around Tunica.

Hardie had lobbied to have the nearest casino to Memphis, Tennessee. He would later sell that property to Berman, who built the Grand Casino in Tunica in 1996, which helped establish poker in Mississippi. Jack Binion also purchased land to build the Horseshoe casino, which opened the previous year. Poker had finally arrived in the south.

Ken Lambert Jr., Regional Director of Operations for the Heartland Poker Tour, recalls opening day of Jack Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Tunica where he was director of poker operations, “We finally opened in February of 1995 to long lines of excited players. The lines extended hundreds of feet. It was a cold day, but to warm as many of the guests as he could, Jack emptied out his gift shop and began handing out any type of cold apparel that was on hand.”

Lambert continues, “I had 10 poker tables opened and ready to go as players rushed to the room to be the first to play a hand in Tunica at Jack Binion’s Horseshoe. Not long after opening, the poker room expanded to 12 tables and the rest was history. We had the biggest players in the world come play. The new dealers were dealing games they had only heard about, $4,000/$8,000 limit Hold’em and the Pot-Limit Omaha had a $75,000 max bet.”

When the poker explosion happened in the 1980s and 1990s, I felt like Forrest Gump. I was lucky enough to see landmark events in poker history firsthand and even established a record myself. I became the first player to have four consecutive cashes in the WSOP Main Event in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994. My highest finish was 6th in 1994. Ronnie Bardah set a new record in 2014 with five consecutive cashes in the Main Event.

On the east coast, poker was also having its own boom. In Nolan Dalla’s article “The Early Years of the Atlantic City Poker Scene,” Dalla says, “The epicenter of the East Coast poker universe instantly became the Trump Taj Mahal, which opened the sparkling 50-table room in the Summer of 1993.”

Poker Hall of Famer Jack McClelland was hired by Donald Trump in 1996 as poker tournament director to establish a major poker tournament on the east coast. Trump created the United States Poker Championship tournament, which was a prestigious stop on the professional poker circuit for years and was televised on ESPN. McClelland recalls Trump as a no-nonsense, get-it-done-right kind of guy. He really enjoyed working for him.

I remember going to the opening of most of these new poker rooms in the south and on the east coast. Poker now had a showcase across the United States. This developed thousands of new poker players. Poker had arrived as a must-have amenity in casinos to reach out to a new demographic of gamblers.

The 90s was a great decade for me personally, as I found success both in casino boardrooms and on the felt. In part 2, I will discuss the poker boom in Las Vegas. Steve Wynn, with the help of Bobby Baldwin as his president, opened Bellagio, which would be a game changer in the history of poker.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiards/casino marketing expert. Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He also helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

Robert has over 30 years’ experience in casino marketing and player development. He can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and coaching. Follow Robert on Twitter @thechipburner.

Women in Poker: Sweeping Summer Tournaments by Patricia Chavira

Gina Hecht

Gina Hecht, Winner of WPT Legends of Poker Omaha 8 or Better

Women have been dominating some of the biggest tournaments of the summer. The winning streak started at the 2015 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas when Carol Fuchs became the only female winner of an open event this summer by winning the $1,500 Dealers Choice event on June 27. Fuchs, a screenwriter and film producer, topped a field of the best mixed game players in the world to win her first bracelet and the $127,735 first-place prize. The Dealers Choice is one of the toughest events in the entire series as it includes 18 different forms of poker.

Another notable achievement came on July 31 when Loni Hardwood won the 2015 WSOP National Championship at Harrah’s Cherokee in North Carolina. She took home the $341,599 first prize and her second gold bracelet. The final table included such notables as Daniel Negreanu, fresh off his 11th place finish in the WSOP Main Event, and Alexandru Masek, the most successful player on the WSOP Circuit with eight rings to his name. The final table was filmed by ESPN and will be broadcast on August 18.

Harwood now has over $1.6 million in live tournament earnings. She won her first gold bracelet at the 2013 WSOP in a $1,500 No-Limit Hold’em event. She had a spectacular run that summer as the then 23-year-old player from Staten Island, New York, cashed six times and made three final tables, tying Cyndy Violette’s 2005 record for most final table appearances by a female in a single series. Harwood won $874,698 at the 2013 WSOP, setting the record for the most money ever earned by a woman in a single WSOP in Las Vegas.

Women have also made an impressive showing at the World Poker Tour (WPT) Legends of Poker, running through Sept. 4 at the Bicycle Hotel & Casino in Bell Gardens, California. Three women have won events so far. Gina Hecht, an actress and producer, took first place in Event No. 6: a $235 buy-in Omaha 8 or Better on Sunday, August 2. The next day, Monday, August 3, Diana Yang topped a field of 242 players to win Event No. 9: the $150 buy-in No-Limit Hold’em Deepstack. Then on Tuesday, August 4, Wendy Weissman emerged victorious in Event No. 10: a $150 buy-in P.L.E.O.-Stud/Omaha 8 or Better.

While a debate rages about women in poker on social media, these female champions have proven they have what it takes to challenge the best poker players on the felt.

The New Hollywood Park Casino

HPC

When you hear the name Hollywood Park, it conjures up images of the legendary racetrack founded by studio moguls the Warner Brothers where the biggest Hollywood stars flocked to watch Seabiscuit win the inaugural Hollywood Gold Cup in 1938.

Today the racetrack may be gone, but Hollywood Park Casino is in the midst of a major revitalization that will transform it into the premier casino and entertainment destination in Southern California. While the complex undergoes a physical overhaul, the management at Hollywood Park is committed to making the transition as smooth as possible with some of the best deals in town.

At a time when many Los Angeles-area card rooms are raising their collection rates, Hollywood Park is giving money back to players. For instance, players earn $6.00 per hour in the $8/$16 game. That’s unheard of.

Another unique promotion is the cash spin where you spin a wheel for the chance to win up to $1500 once you reach a qualifying number of hours of play. From No Collection Blackjack and Baccarat to free valet parking, Ramy Wahba, the new Casino Manager, is always thinking of innovative ways to put players first.

With over 25 years of experience at Commerce Casino working his way up from a food server to the management team, Ramy was chosen to lead Hollywood Park Casino into the future by General Manager Deven Kumar. Add Ramy’s experience to a management team that brings over 250 combined years of gaming industry expertise, and you get a deep well of ideas from which to select the best ones to implement.

With a planned state-of-the-art casino and entertainment complex located just minutes from downtown Los Angeles and five minutes from LAX in the city of Inglewood, California, Hollywood Park Casino is situated both to serve its current player base and draw in a new type of patron.

You can play No Limit Texas Hold’em anywhere, but Hollywood Park is focusing on bringing back Seven Card Stud, Mexican Poker and Omaha poker games and building the best $40/80 limit Omaha game in California. In keeping with this new focus, a weekly Omaha tournament has been added to the schedule every Saturday to go along with the No Limit Tournaments offered daily.

Hollywood Park Casino has partnered with the Card Player Poker Tour to present the Westside Poker Championship from October 17 through October 26, which features a $100,000 Guarantee Championship event for a $340 buy-in.

According to Corey Silver, Hollywood Park Casino’s Tournament Director, “The thing that makes us different is we offer players one of the most generous tournament structures. We want to give the players the opportunity to play poker and have a great time.  Tournaments are all about skill; the more chips they have, the more skill they can use.”

A variety of new California games are also offered including Party Craps, which is a Las Vegas style craps game using cards instead of dice. A new addition to the schedule is a Blackjack tournament with a $2500 guarantee.

Another staple at Hollywood Park Casino is a Pai Gow poker tournament held every Sunday with a $2500 guarantee. Hollywood Park Casino is the only place to offer it. According to Redonda Kilpatrick, Floor Supervisor of California games who has been with the casino since it first opened, the tournament is popular and draws an impressive turn-out.

The off-track betting facility draws hundreds of bettors per day to bet horses and play cards. These customers have a management staff that understands what gamblers want and need to enjoy a winning experience.

Ramy is motivated by a philosophy that contributes to the successful operation of a casino. He puts it this way:  “I attribute my success to giving more and taking less.”  It has served him well.

Whether you’re playing cards, betting the horses or watching sports, the management at Hollywood Park Casino wants you to think of Hollywood Park not just as a casino but as an entertainment destination.

One of the biggest challenges for Hollywood Park Casino will be operating optimally while under construction and still being able to provide outstanding customer service. The team is ready.

With innovative and forward-thinking initiatives, Hollywood Park Casino is poised to become a leader in the California gaming industry.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino marketing expert. Robert is most well- known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He also helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.

 Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.