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

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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.

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Announcing the Poker Industry Hall of Fame

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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

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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

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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.

 

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.