The Best Poker Rewards in the West

Player Rewards

Playing poker in California and Nevada differs in many ways with pluses for both poker markets.

Two major benefits of playing in Nevada is the cost of living is much cheaper and collections are half that of California.

However, California has all the action you could ever want and making money is easier in California. California seems to be the favorite among pros.

A new policy instituted in Southern California will see card rooms put reward money on player cards based on play. Look for players to receive up to $6 an hour to play.

Commerce Casino, the largest card room in the world located just minutes from downtown Los Angeles, features more than 200 tables offering non-stop poker action for all skill levels.

Jeff Harris, VP Casino Manager, outlines the benefits of the new poker rewards program: “While we made changes to our Top Section comp program, we now offer our customers $2 an hour in rewards points. We also offer Double Points for 9 hours throughout the day. “

Jeff continues, “With the industry now offering programs that reward loyalty rather than open comps, we are constantly tweaking and adjusting our program to make it as attractive to the SoCal Poker player as possible.”

At the Bicycle Casino, Mo Fathipour, the Tournament Director, describes the new comp system. “In top section we are paying the first 25 scans $50 and after that $2.50 per scan.”

Hollywood Park Casino, located 10 minutes from LAX, has one of the most lucrative cashback programs paying $2 per hour in Omaha games and up to $6 an hour in select games.

Pechanga Resort & Casino, the largest casino in California located in Temecula’s wine country, has some offers worth driving out for.

Richie Lopez, Pechanga’s Poker Room Manager, explains some of the deals Pechanga offers poker players in its 43-table poker room, such as free meals after 3 hours of play on Wednesdays, pot sweeteners and freeroll tournaments.

Richie says, “Last year, we gave away more than $1.3 million in just promotional winnings including cars, trucks, Vespa scooters, cash and other value-added giveaways. Players also like us because at $4.00, we have the lowest rake in the entire region. This puts more money back in your pocket.”

Las Vegas offers a great weekend getaway for California players to take advantage of the discounted room rates for hours played and the great tourist action.

When I am looking for places to play, I look for casinos that spread Omaha. Three of my favorite poker rooms in Las Vegas offer some of the best Omaha action anywhere.

The Orleans Hotel and Casino poker room, home to some of the best Omaha games in the country, has been a favorite among locals and visitors for many years due to their outstanding Hold’em and Omaha action.

The Orleans hosts the Omaha “Play Your Way In” Tourney where the top 80 hour earners in April will qualify to play in an Omaha Hi-Lo tournament with over $20,000 being awarded.

According to Garrett Okahara, the Poker Room Manager at the Orleans Hotel and Casino, “Orleans poker players earn 750 TG points every hour. This equates to $1.25/hr. when used in all Orleans restaurants/food outlets.”

Boulder Station features one of the few limit high Omaha games around. According to Steve Deuel, Director of Poker Room Operations, this games features “pots so big that small dogs can’t jump over them.”

Boulder Station also offers $1.00 an hour in comps 24 hours a day and $500 Omaha High Hands Sunday, Monday and Thursday.

The largest poker room in Las Vegas, the Sands Poker Room at the Venetian, offers $2 per hour in comps for any game that can be used for food comps, table side massages or as entries into a poker tournament.

According to Tommy LaRosa, the Venetian’s Tournament Director, they offer some of the best discounted rates for their suites when you play 6 hours of cash game play per day or play in a $300 buy in or above tournament.

From the players’ point of view, it is getting very competitive out there, and it is up to the players to decide what comps are most valuable to them and how they contribute to their power to earn.

If you are an everyday poker player, some of these perks can be worth up to $1500 a month. As I said in Part 1, it’s all about earning.

I have traveled all over the world playing poker and there are great rewards everywhere, but what sets poker rooms apart from one another is customer service and the action in that room.

I would love to hear from you about what brings you back to a particular room. Email me at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com.   I may use your suggestions in a future article.

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 also 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 also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.

A Buyer’s Market: The New Poker Rewards Programs

Poker Promotions

I remember something Bill Boyd, a Poker Hall of Fame member and the legendary poker room manager at the Golden Nugget, told me when I worked as a host for him around 1978. I asked Bill for a comp for two very loyal customers who wanted to have dinner in the restaurant.

Bill said to me it’s better to comp after they eat and do it as a surprise. He said if you comp players up front, they will eat you out of house and home.  Bill would walk into the restaurant and pick the check up after they finished eating. He saved the Golden Nugget a fortune.

It is a lesson I have never forgotten.

I have been on both sides of giving and receiving comps. Most of my meals over the past 25 years have been comped, but I have also used them to great advantage when I have hosted games, so I understand there must be a balance between cost controls for casinos and their value as a marketing tool to retain players.

Comps in Las Vegas always had limits to manage the cost. I remember in the old days the Stardust only had a free buffet, but regardless of the form they take, food comps have been the main marketing hook for casinos for sixty years, especially in California.

The cost of free food for top-section poker players has cost the top card rooms in Los Angeles millions of dollars a year. It was not uncommon for players to order up to $50 at a time and eat a few bites only to discard the food and order again an hour later.

I remember the Bicycle Casino would offer free food to Omaha players in smaller limits during certain lunch hours to get the games started. I would sometimes see 9 steaks and just as many shrimp cocktails and desserts ordered at once.

This kind of abuse reached a tipping point where it just was not cost effective to continue this traditional practice. Starting in March, card rooms in Southern California instituted a new policy.

From now on players will earn a certain amount of money per hour based upon their play. Reward cards and tracking systems are becoming the norm, and they are just as valuable to the players as they are to the casinos.

Both recreational players and pros alike need to understand the system and maximize the value they can derive from it. If you want to survive as a professional player, understanding the reward system is vital for you to be a winner.

Whether the rewards are in the form of freeroll tournaments or other special promotions, such as discounted hotel rates, not taking advantage of them is like throwing money away. Utilizing the money returned as perks can be the difference between being a winning or losing player in poker.

Some casinos do an outstanding job with player rewards such as Hollywood Park Casino. Hollywood Park Casino pays up to $6 an hour in some games, and players can use their points for cash and free massages if they wish.

In some card rooms, players get increased points for certain slow periods and certain days. However, nothing beats cash back or rakeback for players trying to earn.

Because the rake makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the game to be profitable for the players, it is imperative that players research the best rakeback deals. The hourly rakeback added to a player’s reward card can be applied to a player’s bankroll and help offset the heavy cost of the rake on a player’s earnings.

Even as we see read about a number of poker rooms closing, we also have many poker room expansions, such as The Gardens building a mega casino in Hawaiian Gardens, California.

In Bell Gardens The Bicycle Casino is adding a brand-new Hotel Casino, and the most ambitious project of all is Hollywood Park Casino’s new billion-dollar entertainment complex and state-of-the-art poker room.

The power is in the players’ hands now as casino marketing departments scramble for players. The rewards will get even better, so learn to use them to your advantage and remember it’s all about the ability to earn.

In my next article, I will cover specific rewards programs and promotions in poker rooms from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

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 also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting and teaching.

Omaha Poker: Best Places to Play in the West

Omaha

If you’re traveling to the western part of the United States and are ready to practice playing the game of Omaha in a live setting, here is a rundown of the action and where to play.

Many consider Los Angeles to be the center of the poker universe, and Commerce Casino, located about 30 minutes from Los Angeles International Airport, features the largest card room in the world and the best range of Omaha games and limits from which to choose.

Beginning with $4/$8 Omaha Hi/Lo (O8) games and Pot Limit Omaha (PLO) with a $100-$300 buy-in all the way up to a $2,500 buy-in PLO game that is spread every day in the high limit section, the non-stop action at Commerce Casino makes it one of the top spots to play in the world.

Other Los Angeles-area casinos also spread Omaha daily. The Bicycle Casino located in Bell Gardens also features a $4/$8 Omaha Hi/Lo game and a mix game of Stud Hi/Lo and Omaha with a $20/$40 limit. A Pot Limit Omaha game is also offered on certain days. They also have a weekly Omaha tournament on Mondays.

The Garden Casino in Hawaiian Gardens offers a variety of games including $4/$8, $6/$12 Limit Omaha and also a Pot Limit Omaha game with a $100 to $300 buy-in. They have also added a Seven-Card Stud 8-or-Better mix game and will join Hollywood Park Casino and Commerce Casino in offering  a mix game at the $6/$12 limit.

My favorite place to play Omaha in Southern California is the Hollywood Park Casino located just minutes from the Los Angeles Airport. Their offerings include $4/$8 Omaha Hi/Lo, $6/$12 Big O (5-card Omaha), $40/$80 Omaha Hi/Lo and a $20/$40 mix Omaha and Stud Hi/Lo.

Hollywood Park also has added a high stakes PLO game. Hollywood Park Casino hosts a $60 buy-in $2,500 guarantee Big O tournament every Saturday at 3 p.m.

Several Native American casinos in Southern California offer limit Omaha. Pechanga Resort and Casino, the largest casino in California in Temecula, spreads a $3/$6 Big O game daily. Agua Caliente Casino near Palm Springs spreads a great $6/$12 Omaha Hi/Lo game.

Just outside Los Angeles, The Players Club in Ventura, California, offers small limit and pot limit Omaha games full of great action. Omaha on the West Coast is growing, and I predict the amount of games will double in the near future.

Las Vegas is a great place to play Omaha and has some legendary spots like the Orleans Hotel and Casino, which is famous for its low-limit Omaha games and large jackpots. If you need to build a bankroll, one of the best places to play is Boulder Station which features a $4/$8 limit Omaha high only game with some of the best action in Las Vegas. It seems like there are always six people going to the river.

For bigger action, the most consistent place to find it is at the Venetian Las Vegas, which features $4/$8 Omaha and $8/$16 Omaha along with $15/$30 and Pot Limit Omaha. Aria spreads Pot Limit Omaha daily, and Bellagio has some middle limit Omaha if requested.

As far as tournaments go, the LA Poker Classic running now through March 3, 2016, at Commerce Casino is a great place to try your hand at playing mixed games in a tournament setting. Tournament Director Matt Savage and his staff, including tournament coordinator Jeffrey King, have done a great job creating a new tournament schedule with less rebuy and less re-entry events.

The LAPC has a great mix of events that will appeal to both recreational and professional players. Several Pot Limit Omaha and No Limit H.O.R.S.E and other mixed games are featured. I was fortunate to play in several of these events.

Matt explained his philosophy this way: “I have always believed that there is much more to poker than just No Limit Hold’em, and I think it’s important to keep mixed games available not only to play but to introduce to the next generation of poker players.”

He continues, “The last thing I want as a player that loves mixed games is to see Limit Hold’em, Omaha/8, Stud/8, and Razz go the way of Lowball and Draw. I feel really fortunate to be the Tournament Director for a series like the LA Poker Classic where I can be creative with the schedule and even try new variations and games like No Limit H.O.R.S.E., Crazy Pineapple, and Triple Stud.”

I really like when casinos do things that put customers first like Commerce does, such as the Player of the Series with $25,000 added money and food vouchers for all tournament players.

The bottom line is Omaha and mixed games are becoming more mainstream in the Southern California poker scene. If you want to become a professional poker player, it’s time to master these games.

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 spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. 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.

 

Before Poker Was Cool, Part 2: Lyle Berman

Lyle Berman

It’s hard to write in a single article about all the contributions Lyle Berman has made to the gaming industry. Lyle, like Jack Binion and Steve Wynn before him, had a great passion and respect for poker and its players. Lyle was not just a lover of poker but one of the most successful entrepreneurs the gaming world has ever seen. He has headed such diverse operations from the Rainforest Café restaurant chain to Grand Casinos, Inc., and he was instrumental in the development of the World Poker Tour. His name has become synonymous with gaming in the last two decades.

What is unique about Lyle is not only is he a successful businessman, but he is also an accomplished poker player. Lyle has three World Series of Poker bracelets to his name and based on these contributions to the game he was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 2002.

After I had retired from poker in my 30’s, my friend Billy Thomas called me and said, “Robert, how can you not go to California? They have legalized hold’em, and there will be thousands of players who will switch from low ball and draw to hold’em.” I explained to Billy we needed at least $15,000 each for us to go and that I was retired and had promised my wife I wouldn’t use any of the money I had won to go back on the road to play.

He said Lyle Berman will give us a bankroll–all you have to do is call him. I did just that, and Lyle sent around $15,000 each right into the cage at the Bicycle Casino. Lyle helped many poker players in the 80’s and 90’s (more than anyone I know), which turned out to be great investments. But he didn’t do it for the money; he did it because they were his friends. Players from Stu Ungar, Jack Keller and T.J. Cloutier all benefitted from his generosity.

I remember when I called Mike Sexton to tell him I wanted to roast him at the Bicycle Casino. Mike said, “Robert, I am not the one who should be honored with a roast. No one has done more for poker than Lyle Berman.” So the Bicycle had a big party to honor Lyle.

Lyle wanted me to help him turn around the Stratosphere after it had failed. Lyle invited me to meet him for breakfast at the casino. There was a newspaper lying on the table with a headline shouting, “Stratosphere Fails.” Lyle said to me that he had replaced the president yesterday and was meeting with the new president in a few hours. I was wondering how Lyle could handle all the stress.

As we started to eat, Lyle noticed the cream cheese. He couldn’t believe that they were using the wrong brand. He asked to speak to his food and beverage director. Lyle proceeded to tell him that this particular brand of cream cheese was unacceptable. I knew that with this streak of perfectionism Lyle could handle the stress of the casino transition. I wish I could remember the brand of cream cheese that he hated to see if the company is still in business.

Another legendary story involved Doyle, Chip and Bobby Baldwin. We were all at Bob Stupak’s Vegas World during a poker tournament before Lyle bought it. There was a rumor going around that a big Omaha game was being planned, and Lyle was the main attraction. The sharks waited on Lyle to start the game, and after a few hours the buzz around the room was how big a game it turned out to be.

All of sudden it broke up, and everyone wondered what happened. Lyle had busted Doyle, Chip and Bobby out of $400,000 and had quit to go to a dinner or a meeting. The look on their faces was priceless. That was classic Lyle.

From then on Lyle was not the main attraction. He became one of the best Omaha players in the world. He continued to play some of the highest stakes cash games in the world, but no matter how successful Lyle became in business, he never gave up on his friends or the poker world.

Lyle would visit the Bicycle Casino to play in the Legends of Poker and became friends with George Hardie. George 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. George had lobbied to have the nearest casino to Memphis, Tennessee. He would later sell that property to Lyle, who built the Grand Casino in Tunica, which helped established poker in Mississippi.

In my next article I will talk about how George Hardie changed 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.

Minnesota Fats, the Hustler: Part 2

Minnesota Fats 2

Fats made several more visits to the Bicycle Casino, and on one particular visit in December 1994 the Pulitzer Prize-winning sportswriter Jim Murray wrote a feature about him for the Los Angeles Times called “Cue Music, ‘Hustler’ Is in Town.”

I can’t improve on Murray’s description of Fats, so I won’t even try: “The things Fats could do with a pool cue were works of art. He could put a cue ball in your ear as well as a corner pocket if you wanted. He did with a pool cue what Babe Ruth did with a bat, Red Grange with a football, Magic Johnson with a basketball, or Ben Hogan with a two-wood.”

Meeting a character like Fats can’t help but leave a life-long impression on you. After I wrote the first article I was fortunate to receive some amazing stories about how Fats touched other people’s lives as well. Here are a couple of highlights:

Earl Burton, a writer for pokernewsdaily.com, shared how his parents owned a truck stop in central Illinois in the early 70’s that had a good pool table. He recalls, “I don’t know how it happened and don’t know how he had heard about the games that had occurred on that pool table, but one night a gentleman pulled up in a huge Caddy and entered the room. In he strolled, coming to the counter to ask my mom, “Where’s this big game at?” My mom immediately knew who he was and sent him to the pool room, where the game that was going on immediately stopped. I was doing homework at the time but, interested, I headed back to the room to see what was going on.”

Earl continues: “It was Minnesota Fats, as I was to learn from watching ‘Wide World of Sports’ over the next couple of years. He shook hands with some of the players, and then announced a challenge. “Who wants to take on the best player in the world?” Some of the men in the room pulled out $20, a couple pulled out a $100, but Fats said, “No less than $500 a game, boys. Otherwise I’m gonna go eat.”

Two men ponied up the money and, while he proceeded to wax both of them, Fats constantly talked. “You know, I could be in Decatur tonight. Probably would earn a lot more.” Another roll of hundreds came out and, surprisingly, Fats lost his first game. “Gotta be something wrong with the table here,” he said.

After that loss, another couple of rolls came out and Fats went back to beating anyone who came in front of him. After a couple of hours of play, no one was left. I had watched it all and was amazed at how he commanded the table, not only through his play but through his personality. As some of the men left the room, Fats saw me sitting on the side. “You want to learn how to play?” he said. I immediately jumped up!

For the next hour, Fats showed me masses, jumps, the angles to the game and tried to teach me how to “talk the talk,” as he put it. “Anyone can play this game, you just got to make it interesting for some,” he said as I struck a shot.

“You’re gonna do OK, kid,” he said to me as he tossed my mom a $200 tip. “He’s gonna do you proud,” he said to her as he left. To this day, I still shoot a decent game of pool. And, I’d like to believe, it was because of Fats.”

I’m sure many others can say the same. Pool enthusiast Scott Kennedy is another such person:

“1971, I was 18 years old and was about to see Minnesota Fats play pool at a pool hall in Cudahy, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee. So here’s the Fat Man in front of maybe 50 people and he says, “I understaaaaand (he talks just like W.C Fields really) there’s a young maaan in the audience who thinks he can shooot pool. His naaaame is Scott Kennedy.”

Oh no!!?? Fats calls me down, and we shake hands. He says “Mr. Kennedyyyy, I will let you breaaak ’cause it may be your onlyyyy shot.” I broke very nervously and got something in and maybe made a ball or two. Fats gets up, runs the table and does some trick shot on the 8, and the cue balls goes around the table and scratches. “Wellllll, Mr. Kennedyyyy, looks like I lost.” I just had the thrill of a lifetime.

After the exhibition was over, a crowd gathered around a small table where Minnesota Fats was sitting and signing autographs. I was not prepared and got a small piece of paper from someone and approached Minnesota Fats. He used a rubber stamp instead of a pen to sign. I asked him to please sign this for me because none of my friends will believe I met Minnesota Fats, let alone played pool with him. He signed the paper, “I played pool with Scott Kenedy, Minnesota Fats.” He spelled my name wrong but I didn’t care.”

Now for the story how Minnesota Fats changed my life forever.

After he passed away on January 15, 1996, I received a call two years later from Fat’s widow T-Bell who said she missed the pool tournaments and asked if she could visit for a few weeks. A few days later, she asked if one her relatives named Charity, who loved pool, could come, too. I said, “Sure.”

I ended up marrying Charity, and we had three beautiful children who are now my life. And it’s all because of Minnesota Fats. Our paths were destined to cross, and my life is better for it.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino and billiard 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 Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002, and he also created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino and the National Championship of Poker for Hollywood Park Casino both in 1995.

In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. 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 and managing group.

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

Money Breeds Money: Minnesota Fats, Pool Hustler and Showman, Part 1

Minnesota Fats

Minnesota Fats changed my life. I first fell in love with pool at the age of 15 when a friend invited me to a pool tournament in Tennessee. It looked like something out of a movie. The pool room had two sides, one where we were watching the tournament and a practice side. We were in the middle of nowhere watching these pool sharks in a tournament betting and gambling when all of a sudden the room exploded with excitement.

Everyone started yelling, “Minnesota Fats is here!” and rushed over to the practice area. Fats was standing there doing what seemed like a stand-up routine talking about gambling, and what came out of his mouth just amazed me. He was saying things like, “I can’t believe I’m in this dump in Tennessee.” Though he was insulting people, they loved it. He continued his tirade, “I’ve busted kings and queens and sultans all over the world, and now I’m in this dump where no one has change for a $20. Does anybody in this joint have ANY money at all, or did I just waste my time?”

He was unrelenting: “I’d like to play for $500 if you brokes can come up with the money. I know you’re scared because I’m Minnesota Fats, the world’s greatest pool player. But that’s ok because when I leave this joint I’m going to bust every single one of you. So call your friends, gather all your money and give it to the Fat Man.”

When a waitress walked by, he’d leer and say, “Wow, what a tomato!” He went from bragging about his pool game to his other game: “Women follow me all over the world with a mattress strapped to their backs.” He was a character I had never seen before or since.

Fast forward nearly 30 years later to 1993 when I was the marketing director for the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles. I was starting to promote pool at the time. I often wondered what happened to Fats. I asked Mike Massey, one of the world’s greatest trick shot artists, about Fats. He told me he was living in Nashville and that he had his number. I asked if he thought he would come out to our pool tournament in Los Angeles. He said he’s pretty old but give him a call.

I did just that and spoke to a woman named T-Bell who said she was his wife. I asked her if I sent two airline tickets, would they come out and do an exhibition. She agreed. I will never forget the first thing he said to me when he walked into the Bicycle Casino, “Robert, nice place you have here. What kind of groceries do they have?” I had to think for a minute, then I realized what he wanted and said, “Are you hungry?”

Over lunch I realized I had a problem. Looking at his hands, I noticed he had a severe tremor. I had invited television stations to come that night and wondered if he could perform, but it was too late to turn back now. We went back to meet the news crew, and boy, was I in for a surprise.

Even though he was in the later stages of life, he was still the showman I remember from my youth. With the cameras rolling, he prepared to do a trick shot where he was going to bank the ball from one end of the table to another.

He missed the first three shots. He then looked up at the sportscaster and said, “You better not show this on TV because they won’t believe that I missed a shot.” Everyone burst out laughing.

He continued, “Nothing in life is free. Someone put some money on the table, and I won’t miss.” Sure enough, someone pulled out a twenty, and Fats shot the ball right in. He made the next two shots, the crowd went wild and it was on the news for the next two nights.

He told me the Bicycle Casino put on one of the nicest pool tournaments he had ever been to. He said, “Money breeds money, and you are doing the right thing here. You have all these people gambling, and the groceries are good. What’s not to like about this place?”

I took him to a few pool rooms around Los Angeles during that stay, and everywhere we went he was like a magnet. As soon as people heard he was in the room, people would come running, and if it was an empty room, it would be full in 15 minutes. He regaled them with stories and mesmerized the crowd.

After this trip, I invited him back to the Bicycle Casino for the next tournament, and this visit would change my life forever.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino and billiards 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 and the National Championship of Poker for Hollywood Park Casino both in 1995. He also helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. 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 and managing group.

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

Honor and Integrity in Poker and Gambling

Bicycle Casino

The poker world has been rocked in recent years by various scandals from the Absolute Poker super user and the collapse of Full Tilt Poker to the recent Borgata counterfeit chips scandal. This got me to thinking about honor and integrity in gambling and reminded me of the words a bookie in Alabama told me over 35 years ago.

Eddie was the life of our home poker games for years. Every Tuesday he would come by our game and settle up with the poker players, and then he would throw a little money away in the game. He was not really trying to win; he just liked to gamble.

This week was different. He owed around $25,000 and called to say he would need a week to settle up. This sent shockwaves through our small poker world. How could this happen?

When he stopped by the next week, I called him into a room and said, “Eddie, what happened? You have always been so honorable.” He said, “The truth is I didn’t pay attention to my business. I always wrote the parlays and teasers and put them in a cigar box and looked at them on Monday mornings because they were usually losing propositions. This time they all won, and it was for over $1 million. I got broke. I’m now poor Ed. Robert, you can only be honorable as long as you can be honorable.”

The mistake Eddie made took away his honor, but he had confronted the issue head on; he didn’t try to hide from it. The following story told to me by legendary Las Vegas bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro, now running the South Point’s Race and Sports Marketing division, demonstrates the opposite.

Jimmy was talking to a bookmaker friend of his that was having a bad season. He said, “Jimmy, it has all come down to an airplane game.” Jimmy asked him what an airplane game was, and he replied, “I’m going to the airport to watch the game. If my players lose the game, I’m back in action and have a bankroll. If my players win, then I’m catching a plane to who knows where.”

Poker in California was in a similar predicament at one time. For over 50 years, California had become the training ground for the best cheats in the world because everybody handled the deck in pass-the-deal games. This created games that were plagued by everything from petty cheating to full-blown organized theft.

However, when hold’em was legalized in California, it changed everything. George Hardie and Mike Caro were at the forefront of this change. As Caro says, “I realized that the old days of pass-the-deal and five-card draw would vanish.” He explains that this change would “lead to a complete rethinking of the California poker product with professional dealers and much safer and ethical games.”

After George Hardie cleaned up the games, I remember a couple of cheaters came down from Northern California and cheated the high-limit games at the Bicycle Casino with marked cards which they had managed to get a floor person to put in. This resulted in thousands of dollars being lost at the big game. Hardie instructed his management team to give the players their money back, which was over a hundred thousand dollars.

Hardie could do this because he had the money, and it protected the integrity of the game and the business he founded. He let people know he would do whatever it took to restore the honor of the game.

I faced similar challenges as the General Manager of the Horseshoe Casino in Gardena, California, as we transitioned from the old pass-the-deal days to center dealers. Changing the way people perceived the card room was my biggest task.

Today the new frontier is online gaming, and it is experiencing some of these same growing pains. Caro, along with his colleague Bill Handy, continues to advance ethical poker by working on a new system called COPS to detect online cheating. This shows how things change and still stay the same.

This takes me back to the words Eddie said at the beginning of the article. You can be honorable only as long as you can be honorable. And in the case of Borgata, regulation can only go so far; you can only regulate what you can regulate.

If someone is determined to cheat, he will find a way. We, as players, always need to be vigilant to protect each other and the game we love. That is the only honorable thing to do.

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 Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002, and he also created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino and the National Championship of Poker for Hollywood Park Casino both in 1995.

In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. 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 and managing group.

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

The Man Who Lost $127 Million: Responsible Gambling and the Duty of Care

ProblemGambling

Putting a 24-hour casino in every home comes with great responsibility. Ensuring a safe, responsible gambling experience should be of paramount importance. Online gambling companies talk incessantly about revenue, but it is everyone’s responsibility from regulatory bodies to operators, from governments to the citizens themselves to require that all proper consumer protections and safeguards are in place before online gambling can go live. It is imperative that all stakeholders in online gambling be well versed not just in its benefits but its pitfalls as well.

Perhaps one of the most dramatic illustrations of what happens when a gaming company puts revenue before responsibility is the case of Terrance Watanabe who is reported to have lost most of his personal fortune recklessly gambling in Las Vegas. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal published December 5, 2009, “During a year-long gambling binge at the Caesars Palace and Rio casinos in 2007, Terrance Watanabe managed to lose nearly $127 million. The run is believed to be one of the biggest losing streaks by an individual in Las Vegas history.” While Steve Wynn is reported to have barred Watanabe from his casino for compulsive gambling, Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. welcomed him and derived 5.6% of its Las Vegas gambling revenue from him that year.

This case showed such an egregious lack of sound business judgment on the part of Harrah’s, now Caesars Entertainment, that the company was fined $225,000 by New Jersey regulators in March of this year. Gary Thompson, Director of Corporate Communications for Caesars Entertainment said, “Because of the confidential settlement agreement we reached with Watanabe, neither he nor we can make any official comment.” However, he points out that Caesars hired an outside agency to investigate the situation and made procedural changes deemed necessary to prevent recurrences.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has taken a more proactive approach to responsible gaming and has expressed great concern over the potential spread of excessive gambling in his state. When he conditionally vetoed that state’s online gambling bill in February of this year, one of his main recommendations was to increase funding of compulsive gambling programs.

In a statement released with his veto, Gov. Christie said his recommendations are intended to continue “the tradition in New Jersey of a fine, careful, and well-regulated implementation of gaming.” The operative word here is “careful.” In the rush to reap the financial windfall online gambling companies promise, oftentimes the need for consumer safeguards is overlooked. Gov. Christie signed the bill into law once the Legislature agreed to his changes. It is the duty of all jurisdictions considering introducing gambling to its citizens, whether in brick-and-mortar or online casinos, to take such a thoughtful, measured approach to the issue. Doing any less could have devastating effects. Today, November 21, Internet gambling begins a five-day trial run in New Jersey.  This will put Gov. Christie’s promise to the test.

As Keith Whyte, Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), states, “We are concerned that as jurisdictions race to legalize internet gambling, often in an attempt to boost their gaming tax revenues, they are neglecting serious problem gambling concerns. Without comprehensive responsible gaming policies, the massive expansion of internet and social gaming may exacerbate gambling addiction. Our IRG (Internet Responsible Gaming) standards incorporate best practices from around the world, and we strongly urge they be incorporated into online gaming legislation and regulation.” There is no question problem gambling destroys lives. Organizations such as NCPG propose that a comprehensive public health strategy is the most ethical and cost-effective response to the gambling addiction issues raised by internet gambling. The universal adoption of responsible gaming standards by operators and regulators alike, in tangent with well-informed consumers, is an important aspect of this approach. Legislation and regulation of online gambling must keep up with the rapid pace of technology.

While I was marketing director for The Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles, I produced many successful events that created enormous revenue for the casino. The morning after one such event I drove into the parking lot of the casino and noticed an elderly woman crying into her hands. This image has haunted me to this day. I thought to myself, “Did I do this to her?” This is the question all the stakeholders in online gambling should ask themselves. Let’s not forget there is a human face in front of that computer screen.

Resources for Problem Gambling:

National Council on Problem Gambling, http://www.ncpgambling.org, 1-800-522-4700

Gamblers Anonymous, http://www.gamblersanonymous.org, 1-855-222-5542

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and marketing expert.  Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986.  He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He 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 Grand.  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 www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner.  Contact Robert at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing or teaching.

Nothing Left to Lose: Poker Champion Ryan “the Beast” Riess Dominates WSOP Final Table

2013 WSOP Champion Ryan "the Beast" Riess

2013 WSOP Champion Ryan “the Beast” Riess

I am often asked if poker is a young man’s game. Based on my almost fifty years of playing, I would have to say yes.  Let me explain.  The 2013 World Series of Poker November Nine, which was played this week, featured a final table with an average age under 30.  In fact, Ryan “the Beast” Riess, the youngest player at the table at 23 years of age, won the championship title after eliminating four players before entering heads-up play against eventual runner-up Jay Farber.

When I was young myself and had no responsibilities, I played a hyper-aggressive style. I did not care who I played even if they were legends.  I remember playing a pivotal hand the first couple of hours in the Main Event of the World Series of Poker against Doyle Brunson when I was much younger.  I called a small raise from the big blind with 3 5 spades, and the flop came 2 4 6.  I flopped a small straight, but there was a flush draw on the board.  I was very nervous staring at this poker legend across the table, so I just said all-in.  He said, “Kid, I hate to go broke so early, but you must be on a draw to move in or have a pair.  I call.” He had a big pocket pair, so I won the hand and knocked out a legend.  When he got up, he said he could not believe he played the hand so poorly.

That hand helped reinforce my belief that being aggressive was the best way to play poker because it gives you more weapons in your arsenal, and it worked well for me for years.  It helped me to achieve the record for most consecutive cashes in the Main Event from 1991-1994. Dan Harrington said in one of his books on Hold‘em that Stu Ungar, Jack Keller along with myself started the aggressive style of play. I earned my nickname the Chipburner based on this style of play.  My younger kids still tease me about it and say, “Dad, why don’t you change your name to Chip Earner?”  They have a good point.

When you are young, going broke is just another way of saying “in between bankrolls.” According to media reports, current WSOP champion Ryan Reiss was broke a mere year ago before winning second place in the WSOP Circuit main event in Hammond, Indiana in October 2012. However, once you cross into your mid-thirties, many players have families and mortgages.  With these added responsibilities, the prospect of going broke is scary and will affect one’s poker decisions.  When you are young, you have nothing to lose. It’s like that line in the Janis Joplin song Me and Bobby McGee: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”  When you are young, you can afford to take risks you are not willing to take when you are older.

Lyle Berman once said if there are 100 players in a tournament, and you are the best player in the world, you may still never win a title in your lifetime.  The combination of aggression and luck makes No Limit Hold’em very volatile.  Most of the best players now play mixed games to protect their bankroll because so many decisions in No Limit are little more than a coin flip.

There is no question that today’s young players have more information available to them that allows them to become expert players faster than we did in the early years, and it has definitely elevated the game.  The internet changed everything.  The explosion of internet poker has allowed many young players to hone the art of aggression, and they are very hard to beat. It has allowed these kids to get rid of their inhibitions. They do not play the person so much as they play the numbers.

Poker is now much more a math game, whereas in the old days it was more a people game.  We would look for certain players to play and avoid others.  Now you are just an anonymous seat number. This style has also made poker more of a lottery than a skill-based game.  Even though you are the best player, it does not mean you will always win.

After nearly a half a century of playing poker, I have to admit it is a young man’s game.  After seeing it from both sides, I will say this about age.  Playing poker for a living requires stamina.  The effects of aging on one’s poker game cannot be overstated. In 2005 I finished 97th in the Main Event at the age of 58.   The toll it took on my body affected my play. It was extremely tiring.  I blame myself for not being in the best shape, but as a young man, playing three days was nothing.  After a marathon poker session, I would take a shower and look for another game.

Nowadays after 10 hours, I can feel the pain.  My wife has introduced me to yoga recently, and it has helped me immensely because poker is both a mental and physical game.  Once you cross 50 years of age, you have to prepare more for the physical demands of these multi-day poker tournaments.

Now to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this article.  Youth clearly is an advantage in poker, but experience has its place, too.  Doyle Brunson once said, “When we put our feet under the table, we are all one big family.”  And I’m proud to be part of that family for nearly half a century.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert. He created Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the internet in 2002. He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino and the National Championship of Poker for Hollywood Park Casino both in 1995.

Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986.  In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker.  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 apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing and managing group.

Follow Robert on Twitter @thechipburner.  Robert Turner can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and teaching.