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.

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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.

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.

Finding the Edge in Poker and in Life: Part 1

image

The movie Casino has a line where the Joe Pesci character says, “I had to earn, didn’t I?” after being barred from the casinos in Las Vegas permanently. Though he resorts to questionable means of making a living, this idea of looking for ways to survive applies to poker. Poker players who want to stand the test of time need to find an edge. This ability to find and exploit an edge is the main factor in who makes it and who doesn’t.

The following story illustrates how you can have both earning power and an edge at the same time. I was heads-up with a player named Mike Harthcock in the last satellite for the World Series of Poker Main Event. I got Mike all-in. We turned our hands over, and Mike showed ace deuce against my ace king. On the flop, an ace hit. Mike was dead to a deuce with two cards to come.

Mike spoke up and said, “Robert, if I don’t win this satellite, I can’t play. What do you want to do?” I said, “Mike, if a deuce comes, I get 20 percent of you. If not, you get 5 percent of me.” He said, “Thanks, Robert. You have a deal.”

The satellite was worth $10,000, so I could potentially earn $2,000 in value if a deuce comes. If not, Mike earns $500 in value.

The river was a deuce. That was a bad beat, but my consolation prize was I now had 20 percent of Mike for my earn.

I could sell that 20 percent, or I could gamble. Mike was a very good player, so why not keep the 20 percent? As it turned out, Mike finished second in the WSOP Main Event that year for $300,000. I earned $60,000 for that dam, I mean, golden deuce.

Let’s talk about tournaments in today’s changing landscape. Nowadays many tournaments have multiple starting days and rebuys. Some of these tournaments are a bad value. Even though I was partially responsible for creating this new landscape, I realize it is not a good deal if you are trying to get an edge and earn.

Deals are made all the time in tournaments, but you first have to cash to earn. The large fields and high variance of these multiple starting day tournaments make cashing extremely difficult. The cardinal rule of tournaments is cash first and win second. Cashing always come first. There are tournaments running every day, so while a thousand dollars in prize money may not seem like a lot at the table, it is a lot in your pocket the next morning.

You must treat your poker playing like a business, not just a game. I cannot emphasize this point enough. You must calculate all the costs of running your poker business. Let’s say your expenses to travel to a tournament where you play a few events are $1,800. On the other hand, if you could stay and play tournaments closer to home, or even play online, that decision may be a way to earn using that $1,800 you saved to play another tournament or two.

One of the best articles I have ever read on the difficulties of becoming a live tournament specialist nowadays is called “Why You’ll Never Make a Living Playing Live Poker Tournaments” by Darrel Plant. I highly recommend reading it if you are serious about becoming a poker pro. In my case, I was fortunate that when tournaments were introduced in the early 70’s, I was able to parlay tournament wins into buy-ins into bigger tournaments, and I did well enough to be able to retire at 36.

I remember the early days of my poker career when getting an edge was the furthest thing from my mind; I just wanted to play. In those days I would go to Las Vegas on junkets several times a year. The routine was the same. I would check-in, leave my bags at the bell desk, take a taxi to the Stardust and play poker for three straight days and nights until my plane was scheduled to depart. I remember always thinking there may never be a game like this one again.

I destroyed any possible edge by my lack of discipline, but experience is the best teacher. Getting your ass kicked until you decide you can’t take it anymore makes you re-evaluate your game and habits, and when you conquer those demons, you’re well on your way to making money at poker.

In Part 2, I will discuss specific strategies, such as choosing the best games and taking advantage of casino promotions, which give you an edge in your game. Every time you sit down at a poker table, remember the immortal words of Joe Pesci: “I had to earn, didn’t I?”

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.

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.