A Healthy Poker Ecosystem

Cristiano Ronaldo

I once told a casino owner that excessive rake would be the downfall to his casino poker business. His response was, “I thought the idea was get all you can as fast as you can.” That reminded me of the lyrics to a song from one of my wife’s favorite groups Depeche Mode from the 80s called “Everything Counts.” They go like this: “The grabbing hands grab all they can, All for themselves. After all, it’s a competitive world.”

I recently played a poker tournament where the assistant tournament director said to me, “Can you believe the turnout out for this tournament? It’s amazing. I don’t think the players realize we are charging 35% juice.” He was right. If the players keep playing such tournaments, why should they change anything. Players don’t seem to mind if the house money is more than first place money.

Those Depeche Mode lyrics also reminded me of PokerStars’ new business model for 2016 that reduces rewards for high-volume players, the ones who have been so loyal to them for so long. The Depeche Mode song describes what is happening with PokerStars and brick-and-mortar casinos. They all miss a valuable point in gambling–that players have to win sometime, or it’s a zero sum game for all.

PokerStars seems to believe that professional poker players and other loyal customers are not as valuable as recreational players. The company seems to be shifting their marketing dollars to hire superstar athletes to appeal to this demographic. This summer PokerStars launched the biggest marketing campaign in its history featuring Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar Jr. PokerStars released two commercials on Facebook two weeks before they aired on television to Ronaldo’s 104 million Facebook fans and Neymar Jr.’s 53 million fans. It seems these days if you are not a superstar athlete, the online poker sites are just not that into you.

Gone are the days when online poker superstars got lucrative sponsorship deals based on results. The brutal truth is no one is into you after all when you are online, and no one knows who you are, and when you’re in public, you hide behind sunglasses and a hoodie and put headphones on at the poker table to tune the world out.

The truth is a company has to have loyal players to survive and thrive. And you as the player have enormous power. Play where they are into you. Play where the rake and rewards are in your favor. Remember you are the customer, and you can spend your hard-earned money where you are appreciated, whether online or in a brick-and-mortar casino.

It’s in everyone’s best interest to do what’s best for all the players. A healthy poker economy is made up of a variety of poker players from the elite professional poker players at the top to the large pool of recreational players at the bottom of the pyramid and all the other players in-between. To offset the reduction in rewards the highest-volume players on PokerStars will receive in 2016, PokerStars announced a series of four $1 million freeroll tournaments planned for 2016. According to a PokerStars press release, “These tournaments will surely create buzz and generate excitement among players at all skill and experience levels, and the injection of $4 million into the economy will help many players’ bankrolls.”

Eric Hollreiser, Head of Corporate Communications at PokerStars, acknowledges there is an imbalance in the poker ecosystem, and PokerStars’ plans to address it includes, “more and bigger online promotions, more consumer marketing campaigns to attract new players and research and development of innovative new products and features.”

Whether PokerStars can retain its position as the largest online poker site in the world remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, big changes are coming to the online and brick-and-mortar casinos in the coming years. The Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New Jersey markets are going to become super competitive. It will be survival of the fittest.

I ask the gaming companies to understand they are now dealing with very smart, savvy millennials, and the next generation after them will be even more so because they have so many more entertainment choices than the generations before them.

Though poker can sometimes seem like a solitary pursuit, what one player does affects the whole. Now is the time we need to use our collective power and not play where the players are being taken advantage of. We do have power in numbers; it’s time to use it. The direction of where poker is headed is in our hands. Support sites and casinos that rewards all of us, no matter whether we are a poker pro or a recreational player. That’s the best way to produce a healthy poker ecosystem for all.

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.

 

The Hidden Value of the Poker Player

Maverick

When I was an executive host for MGM, I once got a call from a casino manager in Los Angeles who said a customer playing small limit poker wanted to go Las Vegas and could I get him a room. As a favor, I booked it at room comp only hoping to get more referrals later.

The customer lost over $100,000, and in the next month he lost a lot more.

I was totally shocked at the amount of money he lost. This was not a unique story. I met a woman playing poker who won about $1,000. I asked her if she would like to go to Vegas some time and gave her my card. That weekend I got a call, and she said she would take me up on the offer, and I booked her a room at room comp only.

When I checked her play, she had lost $60,000. Again, I could not believe the amount she ended up losing. This is just two stories about California poker players that go to Las Vegas and lose fortunes at other games. I have hundreds of these tales.

Recently I took a weekend trip to Las Vegas to play poker with my wife at the Bellagio. I got involved in a number of hands with a younger player who beat me out of several pots. A few hands later, he said he was taking his wife to play blackjack with the thousand he beat me out of. If Bellagio did not have poker and had not given me a poker rate, they would not have the money I spent staying, playing and dining there.

Now here is some basic math about a poker player’s worth. All Texas Hold’em games can produce 32 to 40 hands per hour, so let’s use 36 hands × $5 drop for $180 per hour as a base. Let’s say a game goes 10 hours for $1,800 per table in revenue a day.

Let’s say our hypothetical player plays every day. If a player contributes those ten hours, he pays $18 an hour for $180.00 dollars per day for the service of the casino providing a table and a dealer. Now if that player plays 360 days at $180 that equals $64,800 a year that the player is worth.

That being said, poker as a stand-alone entity represents a small amount of direct revenue to a casino. But here is the secret–the crossover business is a key marketing tool that California understands, but Las Vegas still has not been able to completely grasp. Visitors from California made up nearly 30% of the visitors to Las Vegas in 2014. Las Vegas’ casinos must cater to the California gambling market.

A Vegas casino can easily build up a database of poker players in California who visit Las Vegas for recreation. California players can play poker at the largest card rooms in the world at home; they go to Vegas to gamble at other games (I’m guilty of this myself), stay in a nice room and eat, shop, dine and watch shows, just like any other gambler. Do not be fooled about a player’s true worth by labelling him simply a “poker player” as if he has nothing to contribute to your bottom line.

Offering poker in a casino is just a just a means to the ultimate end–a profitable casino bottom line. You may not see the profits in your spreadsheet from the poker room, but if you do not look beyond that number, you will miss all the money these players are spending in the other areas of the casino. When players walks in the door, they are going to spend money from the moment they step on your property until they leave. Steve Wynn said it best when he said something to the effect that one thing is for certain: if people pass through your casino, some of their money is magically left behind.

In today’s competitive gambling market, it’s a mistake to shut out any demographic. Any casino that doesn’t have a poker room doesn’t understand gamblers and is doomed to fail.

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.

The First Poker Boom

Stardust

I was discussing music with my wife while we were listening to satellite radio in the car. Some stations were listed by decades. I knew just about every song from the 1960s and 1970s, and I had in fact seen many groups in concert from that era, but I knew nothing of the 1980s, the decade my wife grew up in.

Then the thought struck me that I knew nothing about the 80s because I had gambled away a whole decade. I spent so much time playing poker tournaments and live poker that nothing crossed my mind but poker. I traveled all over the world playing cards seven days a week without stopping to smell the roses.

In that decade, I probably won hundreds of tournament. At the time, it would not be unusual to play in Las Vegas in a poker room with 4-8 tables. The Stardust and Golden Nugget, which were the two biggest rooms in Las Vegas and the world at the time, featured only 15-20 tables.

I felt there was nothing more for me to accomplish, so I decided to retire at 32. I was living in Alabama at the time. I had bought a 2,500 square- foot home with five bedrooms and a huge pool. My mortgage payment was $99.00 a month. It was a great life I had built all from poker.

Then everything changed. California legalized Texas Hold’em around 1986. I was in Alabama thinking of all that gold, and I left for California to seek my second fortune. I was not wrong; poker became huge in Los Angeles and all of California.

In the 80s poker really exploded. George Hardie had a dream to build the largest poker room in the world when he opened the Bicycle Club in Bell Gardens, California, on November 30, 1984. The Commerce Casino opened the year before. These were super poker rooms and brought in new demographics to poker. Hold’em appealed more to the mainstream than lowball. These rooms were no longer considered second class but rather showplaces with the focus on poker for the first time in gaming history.

I was offered a job as a poker manager, then general manager at the Horseshoe in Gardena, California. At the time, everyone was spreading limit poker. Poker players were coming over from Las Vegas and the rest of the world to play poker in California. These players were used to playing PLO and Seven Stud Hi/Lo, so I introduced these games into the game mix in California.

The owners offered me ten percent of the casino to spread the new games as it was all new to them, and they had no business to speak of. I soon found myself in charge of a California casino. I developed twenty poker games in 90 days. It was a dream job.

Las Vegas was now trying to catch up to California. Eric Drache, Poker Hall of Famer, said Steve Wynn was interested in purchasing the Commerce Casino, but laws in California prohibited Las Vegas’ licensees from owning casinos in California.

Steve Wynn set a new standard when he built the Mirage in Las Vegas at a cost of $630 million, which was the most expensive hotel-casino in history at the time. When the Mirage opened in November 22, 1989, it featured the best poker room in Las Vegas with 31 tables. In 1990 Donald Trump opened the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, which would feature the east coast’s largest poker room. Foxwoods opened their casino and featured poker a few years later.

All of these great rooms laid the groundwork for the next poker boom that would take place from 2000 to 2010. I was at the right place at the right time to be a part of both history-making decades. With that much poker being showcased coast to coast, you can see how a person could get totally consumed by it.

I worked so hard for so many years that I lost contact with the outside world. The 1980s were a total blur. If something wasn’t poker or casino-related, it wasn’t on my radar. My friend Eric Drache said he lost the 70s when he moved from New Jersey to Las Vegas, so I’m not alone in this.

I became so consumed by work and gambling that it was like I lived in two worlds—one world with family and friends and regular life and then there was this other world that consisted of non-stop grinding.

Was my poker success worth it? Looking back on the amount of work and poker playing that I did, I would say no. I would not recommend that to anyone. But as Eric Drache said, “What else could we have done?”

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.

Finding the Edge in Poker and in Life: Part 2

De Niro

At the end of the movie Casino, Ace, the Robert De Niro character, laments the passing of the old Las Vegas. “In the old days, dealers knew your name, what you drank, what you played.” I miss the old days, too, but if you are to survive today, you have to adapt to the changing landscape. In Part 1, I touched on the subject of finding the edge in poker if you want to survive. I would like to expand on that idea and show poker players how they have the power to improve their playing conditions and even elevate the game itself.

Poker players may not realize how valuable they are. A player supporting a card room could be worth up to $50,000 a year to that casino. If your favorite casino provides all the right deals, you will become loyal and very valuable to them because you support their games with all the hours you play. I have always preached you can’t produce revenue if the players are not coming through the door. Whether you are a professional or recreational poker player, as a group we are worth millions to the gaming industry.

Casinos should understand a high limit poker game is worth over a $1 million in real money per year. When you factor in the money from their friends and other income they bring in, that is the X factor. This is an intangible number the bean counters miss on their spreadsheets, and that’s when you see perks start to disappear. The casinos have a bottom line, but you have to operate your poker business and manage your bottom line above all else.

However, some casinos do understand your worth and really reach out to their players. Many casinos are now adding extra perks for the poker players. They have rakeback up to $6 per hour and even free transportation to and from the casinos. That’s important as players search for the best return on their investment.

One of the casinos that is listening to their players is Pechanga Resort and Casino around 90 minutes outside of Los Angeles. They offer high hand money every hour beginning at noon, a free roundtrip bus ride and $10 in free play for patronizing their casino on certain days. The drop is $1 cheaper per hand than other casinos in Southern California. That alone is a reason to consider playing there. The $50 they give away every hour in high hand money for the Omaha game and $250 per hour for hold’em games is an added bonus. The fact they are adding that much money back to the table really helps a poker player’s bottom line.

Where you spend your valuable time and money is a very important decision that affects not only you, but the entire gaming industry. It’s time for players to take a stand and not just accept the status quo. Express your opinion to upper management. As someone who has spent many years on the tables and in boardrooms, I can say that the higher the decision maker the more receptive they are to suggestions. They did not get to the top without the ability to listen and adapt.

If they don’t listen, play somewhere else. It’s that simple. This is the only way things will improve. The casinos are all vying for your time and money. Take the time to find the best deals and patronize those places that cater to their players and avoid the ones that provide no added value.

Speaking of added value, it’s long overdue for tournaments to add money for the players. In the old days tournament players would say, “That was a great tournament. They treated us so well. I can’t wait for the next year.” Nowadays I often hear players grumbling about the fees, the structure and all the other things they don’t like about the tournaments, yet they continue to play them. Instead of complaining to each other, wouldn’t it be more productive to take grievances to the decision makers who can change it?

At the end of Casino, as the images of the old casinos being imploded are shown, Ace says, “The town will never be the same….Today it’s like checking into an airport.” In the old days, everyone knew your name. Now registering for a tournament does feel like checking into an airport. The accountants have taken over, and casinos can sometimes feel like cold, sterile places. But there are still some places that remain dedicated to their players; it’s our jobs to find and support them.

Remember you are the most powerful weapon. Your choices matter, whether it’s in poker or in life. That’s the greatest edge of all.

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 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.

Casino Marketing: Making Everyone a Winner

kiosk

Over the years I have turned around numerous casinos. Many were at rock bottom when I was brought in, and some even brought me back more than once. There are two facts these experiences taught me: One, keep promotions simple, and two, be creative.

This month a casino sent me an email for my birthday, which I opened on my smart phone. It said just print this offer and bring it to the casino to receive your birthday gift. I thought that’s nice, but how do I print it? Since most things are going paperless nowadays, why ask me to find a printer in this era of bar codes and scanning? Or make it even easier by saying, “Use reward number XXX at guest services.” Sometimes our promotions get too sophisticated; keeping them simple is the key.

Over the holidays I noticed several businesses gave away gift cards with purchase. One restaurant I went to gave away gift cards with an unknown amount that were good after the holidays. The gift cards’ value ranged from $5 up to $1000. That was a simple, well-thought-out promotion that worked because it had that surprise element of what you would win, plus everyone was still a winner. That promotion got me back in the restaurant in January. Casino marketing managers should take note of what other businesses are doing successfully and adapt it to their business. They do not have to re-invent the wheel with every promotion.

Recently I went to one of the largest casinos chains in the world for a few days as their guest. One thing that stood out on this visit was the casino had a kiosk where you swiped your card to see if you won anything, but it was only on Tuesday, and as far as I could tell, everyone got the same message on the screen: “Sorry, you didn’t win.” The fact that we drove 100 miles to a casino property should be rewarded with something, even a hat. It’s simple: Make everyone feel like a winner.

Some marketing genius thought this would drive business on a slow day and since it is all automated, they could eliminate a host. I am sure he told his boss how he created something that saved money. What he did not realize was his bright idea created a dead feeling in the casino.

Besides making everyone feel like a winner, I discovered another marketing secret that will do wonders for any casino. It is as simple as going on the casino floor and inviting your customers (this has to be random) to a focus group and lunch with your management and senior executives. The customers are encouraged to give an honest assessment about what they really like about the casino and what they feel the casino can improve on.

This creates the most amazing feedback. You hear, “You are right, and you know what else…?” The customers feed off each other’s reactions. You can’t do this with surveys; it has to be done in group sessions.

Another problem many casino managers have is doing the hard work required to take a promotion to the next level. Once a marketing manager said to me, “We printed the flyers and placed them around the casino. Now I am going to do an email blast to market this event.” I thought, “Ok that’s just the beginning, but what’s next? That gets you from A to C, but what about A to Z?”

Let me explain what that means. To get to Z requires hard work and connecting with the customers both before and after the event. This is where most marketing managers fail.

To promote my billiard events, I would mail flyers to every pool room and pool bar in Southern California, then I would personally visit the pool rooms to talk to people every night. The result was these events always sold out. People could not understand why they were the most successful billiard events in the country. I did not want to fail and took nothing for granted. That’s the Z factor.

As I said at the beginning of the article, successful casino marketing requires simplicity, creativity and hard work. Marketing is the same whatever business you’re in. Everyone wants to feel like a winner. The kiosk that said, “Sorry, you’re not a winner” was funny to me because I always considered myself a winner.

The casino could reprogram that kiosk to give you the feeling that you are a winner, which would give you a positive feeling at the start of your visit. Marketing managers should always work toward the Z factor or what I like to call, “How can I make everyone feel like a winner?”

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.

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.