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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Tribute to Paul “Eskimo” Clark

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My friend Paul “Eskimo” Clark recently passed away. Poker has lost a real legend of the game. A few articles have been written about him that focused on some of the more unfortunate aspects of his life. I have a little different take on Eskimo.

Eskimo was hard to miss. When I first laid eyes on the big guy, he looked like an Eskimo just left Alaska to play poker. I remember he always wanted a piece of my tournament play, and many times he would say let’s go parlay some money on blackjack to play the tournament.  He always had a plan.

Eskimo would say, “I am going to bet $200 and let ride 4 times. If I win, we are both in the tournament.”  It rarely worked.  What I never understood was he would have $100,000 in his pocket at the time, but he would always want to win his or my way into the tournament.

Another time I remember he was staying at the Lady Luck or one of those hotels near the El Cortez in downtown Las Vegas. On one of our blackjack trips, he said, “Robert did you know I can sing like Elvis Presley?” I said no, and he started singing walking down Fremont Street.  After about five songs, I said, “OK, I believe you!”

Eskimo always had business ideas. Once he invested over $200,000 to build his own online poker site. After running into problems, he asked me how he could find the guy who had run off with his money. I told him you can’t. He really was a trusting soul. 

Another time he had just bought a new Lincoln Town car and he walked me outside the Horseshoe and showed me $500,000 in a paper bag, and told me, “These poker players play so badly. They think they can beat me.”

I never knew if Eskimo had $20 to his name or $1 million. He really had a big heart. He helped many poker players and played both sides of the staking game.

In 1999 he wanted to go to Atlantic City to play a $500 buy-in tournament. On Tuesday, he offered to drive a few guys from Los Angles. I saw them six days later. I said, “I thought you guys went to the East coast.” They said, “We did.”

I could not believe Eskimo could drive to Atlantic City, play and be back in less than a week, so I asked one of the guys what happened. He said Eskimo drove non-stop, chain-smoking the entire time. Eskimo got knocked out of the tournament in less than 3 hours. And he said, “Let’s go back.” They never even checked into a room. Imagine riding in a smoke-filled car across the country and back in six days. That had to be the most miserable poker trip in history.

I would see Eskimo playing $6/$12 poker at 2:00, win $300 and move to $20/$40, win $1,000 and move right into a $100/$200 game and win $40,000 not once, but many times. He was a true gambler and did it his way.

One time he called me outside of the Bicycle Casino and said he needed to borrow $100 and could I hold his bicycle until Friday. I asked if he rode this bicycle to the Bicycle Casino, and he said, “Yes, it is a good bike.” I could hardly hold back my laughter, but he was he serious.

I gave him $100 and told him to keep the little red bicycle.  Now the story gets crazy.

A few days later he said, “Robert, come outside. I need to sell my boat. Do you know anyone that would give me $50,000 for it?” As we are walking outside to the parking lot at the Bicycle Casino, I thought about the red bicycle and now here is a 50-foot yacht on a trailer.  It was the biggest boat I have ever seen out of water.

He said, “Robert, I paid $250,000 for it new, but I will take $50,000 for it. I need to go the WSOP.” I have no clue where the boat or the little red bicycle came from but I knew never to judge a book by its cover.

Eskimo was a 3-time WSOP bracelet winner with over $2,700,000 in earnings over his career. His 20 cashes at the WSOP account for $632,005 of those winnings. He won bracelets in 7-card Stud, Razz and 7-card Stud Hi/Lo winning his last bracelet in 2002. He was a master of all games.

Eskimo died this past April in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was 67. Eskimo was a true legend of game, and I will miss all the laughter he gave me over the years. I will never forget him.

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.