A Valentine’s Tribute to My Husband Robert Turner by Patricia Chavira

robert-turner

My husband Robert Turner and I recently did a radio interview together on High Roller Radio to discuss my latest article on Phyllis Caro. Robert was asked about how hard relationships were for poker players, and his answer was essentially saying I don’t listen to his advice.

His answer inspired this article. Thanks, Robert.

I admit I may not always take his advice, but even he would readily admit we have very different playing styles. He certainly has earned the nickname “the Chipburner” as I have watched him at the tables the five years we have been together.

He didn’t become a world-class player by being timid. He takes calculated risks, but it is still nerve-racking to watch him play.

Being the wife of a professional poker player is not always easy. Because Robert is one of the one of the hardest-working people you will ever meet in the casino or any industry for that matter, I have spent many holidays at the casino with my husband—New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, my birthday.

But relationships require compromise, so I have established some boundaries—like no phone after 9 p.m. or before 7 a.m. (Sorry anyone who is trying to reach him between those hours!). And one day a week is designated as “Patty Day.” The funny thing is I often chose to spend it at the casino anyways playing a tournament while Robert rails me.

With the World Series of Poker (WSOP) only three months away, I prepare for long days railing my husband. He likes to be able look up and see me and talk to me between hands, so I stay close leaving only to charge my phone.

Robert has changed my life. I learned how to play Omaha from the creator of the game. I learned about the history of poker that I could never have read in books. He told me stories about players you will never see on tv. He knows everyone and everything about poker. He lives for the game.

When we were dating, he had some big ideas about writing books and asked me if I could write. I said, “I can string two sentences together.”

Well, we started a blog together, and then he started writing for Gaming Today. Every week we bounce ideas off each other about poker, writing and life. Robert is an inspiration to me every day.

Patricia Chavira is a freelance writer specializing in poker. She writes the “Poker Scene” column for Gaming Today. Follow her on Twitter @pinkchippoker.

 

Pioneering Women in Poker: Phyllis Caro, Part 1 by Patricia Chavira

phyllis-caro-photo

In the poker world, the name Caro represents integrity in poker. But before Phyllis Caro became the well-respected casino executive she is known as today, she worked her way up the ranks starting as a dealer.

She played 7-card stud in the 70’s at Caesars Palace. At the time, poker was a small community where everyone knew each other. She was going back and forth between Las Vegas and New York, where she is originally from.

While she was in Vegas in 1979, she had a neighbor who was a box man at the El Cortez, which just opened a poker room in Downtown Las Vegas. She was asked to shill for a few days, and so began Phyllis’ first foray into the poker business.

The next day the room had four tables, and they still needed help, so she sat in the box. The room was very successful from the beginning. Over the years, she dealt at the Las Vegas Club, Aladdin and Golden Nugget.

She was dealing at the Golden Nugget in 1982 when Bill Boyd replaced Pineapple with a new game called Nugget Hold’em. This game would become Omaha, which Robert Turner brought to Boyd.

Not only was Phyllis there at the start of Omaha, she would also meet someone at the Golden Nugget who would take her life in a new direction. That person was Mike Caro.

They married in 1983, and Phyllis quit dealing and helped Mike write books. During that time, Mike was invited to a seminar in Redding, California, where George Hardie was also in attendance.

He told them he was going to open the biggest poker room in California and asked Mike to be involved. Hardie wanted to run a clean, honest poker room, and the Caros were the perfect people to help him.

Before the Bicycle Club opened, Phyllis helped interview and audition dealers and set up the casino staffing. She was offered any job she wanted. She became dealer coordinator.

Hardie had a new vision for California gaming, and it was different from the rampant cheating that defined Gardena at the time. It was so bad, Mike said, “I didn’t know poker was a team sport.” They had their work cut out for them.

In Part 2, read about how Phyllis helped shape the future of poker in California.

Patricia Chavira is a freelance writer specializing in poker. She writes the “Poker Scene” column for Gaming Today. Follow her on Twitter @pinkchippoker.

Jerry Stensrud: Making Commerce Casino Great

jerry-stensrud

Jerry Stensrud

If anyone deserves to be in the Poker Industry Hall of Fame, it’s Jerry Stensrud. During his 25-year tenure at Commerce Casino, Stensrud helped develop Commerce Casino into the largest poker room in the world, a distinction it still holds today.

This is Jerry’s story in his own words.

“I started playing poker at the tender age of 8. When my grandfather would clear the table at family functions, that meant the poker game was on. Once I got a taste for the game I was hooked.

I played in family games until I joined the Coast Guard. My introduction into poker games in the service was a disaster. It kept me broke and on base for quite a while.

I finally asked guy who consistently won what was wrong with my game, and he said without hesitation, “You play bad.” I talked him into being my tutor for a percentage if I won. I finally had beer money!

After the Coast Guard, I moved to Southern California and discovered the city of Gardena. They had six legal poker rooms holding 36 tables each. The only legal games at the time were draw poker low ball and 5-card draw high.

To Catch a Thief

poker-cheat

It was deal yourself, which meant every kind of poker cheat was spread out in these rooms and many times management went along with it. Most players were just lovers of the game–amateurs mixed in with some tough pros.

The pros hated the cheats but never had the power to stop all of it. When I became swing shift manager at the El Dorado Club in the 80s, I never had so much fun in my life playing cat and mouse with the cheats.

One story stands out from around the time we had started to bring in dealers. I had come on shift and surveyed the room as I did every shift. I noticed an unfamiliar face in a 15/30 lowball game.

This player kept his head down trying not to make eye contact. I go to the office and sit on the guy. He’s got the shuffle, the grip, stacking as he brings in discards, but he never moves.

I sit on him for two hours, and he’s an angel. Finally, it dawns on me that he knows I’m in the office, so I leave, order some lunch and eat at an empty table in plain sight.

While I am doing this, the cameras are rolling on him. I leave the food on the table and sneak in the office from another door, rewind the tape and look at his work.

Oh, my God, I don’t have the typical card cheat; I have the Michael Jordan of cheating! It was beautiful to watch and nobody had a clue. He was working alone dealing bottoms and holding out at the same time.

This was like winning an Oscar! So now I go get him. I walk in front of the table, make eye contact, take my right hand and brush my left arm. The thief will acknowledge this and get up from table without problem almost 100% of the time. A guard and I escort him into the office where we get his I.D. and mug shot.

He wants to tell me his problems. He started cheating at cards at the age of 12 in the Bronx and has been doing it his whole life. He has a Cadillac in the parking lot he’s making payments on, two kids in college, a mortgage and a wife who spends big.

He says he is 54 and too old to go legit. This guy had tears in his eyes. I spotted him years later in Laughlin, Nevada working the blackjack pit for the house. I always wondered if he went straight.

Largest Card Room in the World

Commerce Casino

I went back to playing. When the Bicycle Club opened, it had dealers at every table. The known cheats were told they could not play; it was paradise. I was living the good life when I got a call from the Commerce Casino. My name had come up to manage the poker section.

After much arm twisting, I took the job. Little did I know what I was getting into.

The owners came from other businesses and had hired a bunch of the old Gardena crooks to run the place They were pals with the cheats. The owners were honest but just didn’t know who they had hired, so I became the new sheriff in town come to clean up Dodge.

Commerce became the largest poker room in the world, and I doubt that anyone will ever be bigger. I put 25 years at Commerce and have so many people to thank that I could fill pages. I retired four years ago, but I’m still playing.”

Jerry has done as much for poker as anyone in the industry. It’s been an honor to know him.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino/billiard marketing expert. Robert is most well-known for creating the game of Omaha poker and introducing it 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. He has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM.  He is currently working as a casino consultant.

Robert can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and coaching. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. Subscribe to Robert’s blog “Beyond the Numbers” at www.robertturnerpoker.wordpress.com to receive notifications of new posts by email.

Announcing the Poker Industry Hall of Fame

classic-vegas

The poker industry is over a hundred years old, and many individuals have never been recognized for their contributions to the industry. Many pioneers of poker need to be honored, and what better place than the new Poker Industry Hall of Fame.

The time has come for the creation of the Poker Industry Hall of Fame to preserve and honor those individuals that built the game of poker and established a framework for the players to achieve their dreams.

Today poker is accepted around the world, and I want to preserve its past for future generations by honoring those individuals who built and managed poker rooms, brought innovations to the industry or wrote about the game we all love.

Founders of Los Angeles Poker Industry

GeorgeHardie

George Hardie

When you think of what group of industry leaders who should be inducted into the Poker Industry Hall of Fame, the first ten or so are no brainers. We can start in Los Angeles with the founders of the poker industry:

Russell Miller, original owner of the Normandie Casino in Gardena, California.

George Hardie, founder of the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, which at one time was the largest card club in the world.

George Tumanjan, one of the most loved and respected men in poker history, who  founded the Commerce Casino.

Larry Flynt, defender of the First Amendment, who loved poker so much that he built his own poker club, the Hustler Casino, in Gardena, California.

Visionaries of the Las Vegas Poker Industry

bill-boyd

Bill Boyd

In Las Vegas, you have Benny Binion and his son Jack Binion, the owners of Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas who created the World Series of Poker, the largest and most prestigious poker tournament in the world.

Bill Boyd, the father of Las Vegas poker and legendary poker room manager of the Golden Nugget and the person who gave me my first casino job.

Steve Wynn, the visionary casino owner who took poker to the next level with his love of the game and its players.

Bobby Baldwin, a world-class poker player and gaming industry leader who never forgot the game that launch his career and who ensured poker was always showcased in Steve Wynn’s casinos.

Lyle Berman, the successful businessman who loved poker so much he built a gaming company around it and financed the World Poker Tour.

There are so many other deserving individuals that need to be honored and inducted in the new Poker Industry Hall of Fame:

Industry leaders like John Sutton of the Bicycle Casino and Jerry Stensrud of the Commerce Casino.

Mike Caro, poker teacher and writer.

Phyllis Caro Yazbek, the first female Vice President of Poker Operations.

Linda Johnson, the First Lady of Poker who has dedicated her life to spreading her love of poker all over the world.

So many other people who deserve to be in the first Poker Industry Hall of Fame, such as writers Nolan Dalla and David Sklansky; Bruno Fitoussi, founder of the Aviation Club, who established poker in France; Jim Albrecht, who was the tournament director of the WSOP for over a decade; Doug Dalton, who managed the best poker rooms in the world; and Eric Drache, the first poker executive host.

We can’t forget casino owners Leo Chu, who owned three casinos in Los Angeles, and Haig Kelegian, who owns numerous casinos throughout California. The often-forgotten people of the media would also be honored. June Field, the founder of Card Player magazine; Barry Shulman, current owner of Card Player; the late gaming media pioneer Stan Sludikoff; and Eileen DiRocco, who carried on her husband Chuck DiRocco’s legacy by continuing to publish Gaming Today.

The first Poker Industry Hall of Fame has much work ahead of it to preserve the history of the game of poker and honor those who created it.

I look forward to hearing from people in the poker industry with your input.

Email me at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com. All suggestions greatly appreciated.

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 Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995 and Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has over 30 years’ experience in casino marketing and player development. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. He can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.

 

Gardena: Poker Capital of the World

facebook_1461345592678 (1)Robert Turner as part of Larry Flynt’s  Original Hustler Casino Management Team

The Normandie Casino has been rumored to be an acquisition of the Hustler Casino by Larry Flynt. If this happens, the Gardena poker legacy will be gone, and all that will be left is one corporation controlling the remaining two.

Poker was started in Gardena in 1936 by legendary card club owners Ernie Primm and Russ Miller, the patriarch of the Miller family who owns the Normandie Casino.

The six clubs of poker that made up the Gardena landscape are now just a memory, and if Larry Flynt takes over the Normandie Casino, the last of the original six, a poker era will varnish forever.

As I reflect back, it has occurred to me that I managed four of the six casinos in Gardena, a small city ten miles outside Downtown Los Angeles. When poker boomed in California with the legalization of Hold’em around 1986, many characters came out to play in Gardena, including myself.

A Storied History: The Horseshoe Club

Horseshoe Club Gardena

Some were very famous for their play while others were notorious for having a shady past like Shoeshine Nick. Legendary poker author Mike Caro was also part of Gardena history.

Caro recalls of that time, “Old Gardena was a poker garden where money grew, but there was also treachery, and you had to avoid the cheating. You dealt your own cards, which was fine, but so did they, and there was always danger.”

Caro continues, “The producer — weak players who provided you profit — came, and many went broke or disappeared. But along came new producers, so you survived. It was five-card draw, high or low, and the draw could determine your fate for now. But there was always tomorrow. So, we won.”

“Gardena called itself the Poker Capital of the World. And it really was,” Caro concludes.

I agree with him. When I was General Manager of the Horseshoe Club in 1986, I had many problems to solve including rampant cheating, which I solved with stationary dealers. Before that, each player took turns dealing, which led to mechanics and teams plying their trade at the expense of the producers.

Some of the problems I had to deal with at the Horseshoe not only had to do with the players but also involved the owners. One day I discovered a security guard in the count room area taking chips out of the drop boxes.

After an investigation, it was determined that one of the owners had given him the key. That particular owner was the general partner of the casino; I knew my days were numbered there. The casino was sold, and my contract was bought out. It was closed for remodeling, and it never reopened.

Poker Legends in Gardena

Huck Seed

1996 WSOP Main Event Winner Huck Seed

 

But while I worked there, I added new games, such as seven-card stud and Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO), which was spread in California for the first time at the Horseshoe. These games attracted the best poker players in the world. Regulars in these games were Freddie Deeb, Phil Hellmuth and Johnny Chan.

Hellmuth would fly into Los Angeles, take a taxi to Gardena to play PLO and sometimes he would go broke and turn right around. The first time I met World Series of Poker Main Event winner Huck Seed was in Gardena. He was playing $15/$30 Limit Hold’em and was a consistent winner, who showed greatness even at that time.

The first World Championship of Omaha was played in Gardena at the Horseshoe. It featured a $500 buy-in, and people came from all over the country to play.

I left Gardena for nine years while I managed other clubs, such as the Regency, the Bicycle Club and Hollywood Park Casino. I returned to Gardena in 2000 to open Hustler Casino with Larry Flynt as his executive host in charge of the house players and, of course, promoting Omaha.

Eric Drache and Yosh Nakano created a huge stud game hosted by Larry Flynt himself at the Hustler with great players from all over the world. Regulars in that game included a who’s who of poker royalty—Doyle Brunson, Chip Reese, Barry Greenstein, Phil Ivey, Thor Hansen and Danny Robison.

In 2006, I was hired as the poker manager of Normandie Casino. I remember Mike Sexton roasting me for my sixtieth birthday and referring to my Horseshoe days in 1986. He said, “Robert Turner came a long way in his poker career—right across the street.”

At one time, the Horseshoe was located right across the street from the Normandie Casino. It is pretty funny that after twenty years I had come right back to where I started, the other side of the street.

Today the Normandie is facing some serious fines and legal issues, so passing the torch to Larry Flynt may be their best opportunity.

Only time will tell where Larry Flynt takes Gardena, the former poker capital of the world. He owns it all now.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino/billiard marketing expert. Robert is most well-known for creating the game of Omaha poker and introducing it 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. He has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM.  He is currently working as a casino consultant.

Robert can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and coaching. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. Subscribe to Robert’s blog “Beyond the Numbers” to receive notifications of new posts by email.

Pioneering Women in Poker: Terry King by Patricia Chavira

Terry King

Photo of Terry King from “Poker For Women” by Mike Caro

 

My husband Robert Turner has been playing poker for over fifty years and has met many characters of the game. He directed me to his friend Madison Kopp’s post on Facebook about poker player Terry King. Robert also spoke of Terry in such high regard that it inspired me to write this article.

 

Terry King is one of the trailblazing women in poker. This is her story told in her own words.

Terry says, “I got to Vegas in 1972, right after graduation from high school. My friend played poker, and I sat behind her watching at least ten times before I got the nerve to play.”

Terry continues, “My friend Natalie and her husband really helped me learn how to play better, and in 1978 I won the WSOP Ladies’ event. I was also was one of the first women to deal the $10,000 Main Event.”

Tales of the Legends of Poker

Chip and Stu

Photos of Chip Reese and Stu Ungar Courtesy of Sextonscorner.com

 

Terry crossed paths with poker legend David “Chip” Reese, an event which changed her life forever.

Terry explains, “In 1979, Chip Reese asked me to play in the mixed doubles event. Not long after that, Chip took over the poker room at the Dunes and asked me to play for him to keep games going. Our first date was going to Lake Tahoe to play blackjack.”

“Stuey Ungar owed some rather unsavory people $70,000, and Chip couldn’t play in Vegas, so we helped him get his money back in Reno and Tahoe.”

The couple were together five years and engaged the last year, but they split amicably, and Terry eventually moved to California and went to work at the Bicycle Club. She also helped open Hollywood Park Casino and was a shift manager for 5 years.

Phyllis Yazbek, one of the most respected female executives in the casino industry says of Terry, “Many years ago Terry and my paths first crossed at the 1978 Ladies WSOP Stud tournament final table where she claimed first place and the bracelet. I was just one of the victims of her poker-playing prowess.”

Robert Turner adds, “Terry has played poker at the highest limits, managed the largest card clubs in the world and dedicated her life to poker. She’s a perfect candidate for the Poker Hall of Fame.”

With the World Series of Poker kicking off in Las Vegas in a month, what a fitting time to shine the spotlight on one of the pioneering women in poker.

Visit Madison Kopp’s blog at http://www.madisonkopp.wordpress.com.

Patricia Chavira is a freelance writer and social media consultant specializing in poker. She writes a column called the “Poker Scene” for Gaming Today. Follow her on Twitter @pinkchippoker.

 

Modern Poker Pioneers: Steve Wynn and Bobby Baldwin

Bobby Baldwin WSOP 

Steve Wynn and Bobby Baldwin deserve credit for the poker explosion in Las Vegas. Bobby Baldwin, under Steve Wynn, opened three rooms as President of the Mirage and controlled a third of the poker revenue in Nevada. Baldwin is one of those rare breed of people in the gambling world who has achieved great success both as a legendary poker player and as a successful casino executive.

Poker Hall of Famer Baldwin won the World Series of Poker Main Event in 1978 at the age of 28 becoming the youngest winner in its history at the time. The record was broken in 1980 when Stu Ungar became the Main Event champion. Joe Cada currently holds the record for youngest WSOP Main Event winner ever when he won the event in 2009 at the age of 21. Baldwin went on to win 4 WSOP gold bracelets all between 1977-1979, an impressive record for any poker player.

In the 80s Baldwin transitioned to the casino business when he became a consultant for the Golden Nugget and was named its president in 1984. In 1987 he was selected to head the Mirage, which opened on November 22, 1989 on the site of the former Castaways, which was owned by Howard Hughes. All the way back in 1980, Steve Wynn envisioned building the first major resort in Las Vegas in 25 years at a time when tourism in Las Vegas was in decline.

He used the working nameGolden Nugget on the Strip” for this project. This ultimately became the Mirage, which was the most expensive hotel-casino at the time and set the stage for the implosion of the old casinos and the rise of the mega-resorts that dot the Las Vegas Strip today. Baldwin would help lead this march into the modern gaming era. In 2000, he was named Chief Financial Officer of Mirage Resorts under Steve Wynn and upon the merger of Mirage Resort and MGM Grand, Baldwin became CEO of the Mirage Resorts subsidiary of MGM Mirage.

A major part of this dream team on the poker side was Doug Dalton. Dalton got his start in poker operations in 1978 helping his friend Chip Reese run the poker room at the Dunes. Dalton was hired by Baldwin to work in the Golden Nugget Poker Room, where he worked until 1988. He was poker manager of the Mirage in its golden years from 1994-1998 until he became the Director of Poker Operations at the Bellagio until 2012.

When Steve Wynn opened the billion-dollar Bellagio in 1998 on the site of the legendary Dunes casino, it ushered in a new standard of luxury in Las Vegas. A poker room had to be built that would match Wynn’s high standards. Separated from the main floor by two glass doors, Bobby’s Room offers privacy for its high-stakes players, but always has one glass door open as Nevada law prohibits private games in casinos.

Dalton tells the story of how they originally were going to call Bobby’s Room Chip’s Room, but Reese personally nixed that idea by saying people would rather play with Bobby than him. It was decided to make the game in Bobby’s Room a $20,000 buy-in, and the idea really took off. Crowds would gather to catch a glimpse of their favorite poker stars playing in the “Big Game” and get their pictures taken with the legend of poker. Pots in this game have reportedly exceeded $1 million. Bobby’s Room added glamour to poker that it had never seen before.

Dalton says they decided to open the room the same day Steve Wynn was opening his new Wynn resort. He got a call from a Wynn executive who told him, “Doug, some day you will be retired on a beach somewhere and regret this day.”

With Wynn as the visionary, Baldwin was a poker icon who had the power to make sure poker stayed front and center in Las Vegas. These modern poker pioneers helped set the stage for the poker boom that was about to come. Poker was poised to become a global phenomenon in the new millennium, and the rest is history.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino/billiard marketing expert. Robert is most well-known for creating the game of Omaha poker and introducing it 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. He has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working as a casino consultant.

Robert can be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and coaching. Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner.

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.

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.